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As professional travel photographers who routinely use Nikon DSLRs, we didn't expect to like the LG G4 camera as much as we did. On a recent Canary Islands cruise assignment, we evaluated the camera of an unlocked LG G4, model LG-H812, with Android 5.1 (Lollipop) OS.

Baked Alaska in dimly lit dining room
Baked Alaska in dimly lit dining room
Photo © Barb & Ron Kroll

The cell phone's black leather back made it easy to grasp, minimizing the risk of it slipping from our hands. After just one day of use, we realized that it could resolve several deficiencies experienced with our professional cameras.

Low-light photography

We were amazed at the quality images taken by the camera of the LG G4 in dimly lit places such as restaurants, hotel rooms and museums, where we would normally use cumbersome tripods, flashes and reflectors. The G4's large aperture f1.8 lens allowed plenty of light to reach the 16 MP sensor.

What impressed us the most was the minimal grain/noise of images shot at high ISO settings, even when cropped and enlarged. (The LG G4 has an ISO range of 50 to 2700.)

Tapping the lightning bolt icon allowed us to set the LED flash in OFF, ON or Automatic modes. Although the flash worked well, we preferred the natural look of images without shadows, taken when the flash was disabled.

Candid photo of waitress serving diner in cafe
Candid photo of waitress serving diner in cafe
Photo © Barb & Ron Kroll

Candid images

The small size of the LG G4 made it perfect for shooting candid images in places where our large Nikons made it difficult to be inconspicuous (e.g., markets, stores and restaurants). The smartphone measures 14.9 x 7.6 x 0.6 to 0.98 centimeters (5.9 x 3 x 0.2 to 0.4 inches).

Sometimes our assignments take us to locations where we don't want to flaunt our photographic gear and risk being targets of grab-and-run thieves, such as crowded train and bus stations, festivals and precarious neighborhoods.

It's easy to hide the LG phone under clothing. (We carried it in a neck pouch for easy access.)

Shutter sound

We are unable to silence our Nikons' shutters, which resound with a loud click whenever we press the release buttons. The sound volume on the LG G4 smartphone was easy to adjust, making it much easier to take discreet photos in churches, museums, theaters and conference rooms.

Another bonus for photographers is portability. The weight of the LG G4 is only 150 grams (5.3 ounces).

Carrying heavy pro equipment on long, strenuous hikes is difficult. It's often tempting to leave a few of our heavy camera bodies, flashes and lenses behind and risk missing some images. We brought the lightweight LG G4 with us everywhere.

In high-contrast street scenes, the LG G4 maintains details in shadow areas without washing out brightly lit sections
In high-contrast street scenes, the LG G4 maintains details in shadow areas without washing out brightly lit sections
Photo © Barb & Ron Kroll

Manual vs Automatic

The Manual mode of the LG G4 allowed us to adjust the shutter speed (from 30 seconds to 1/6000 second), the white balance, ISO and exposure compensation (plus/minus two stops in 0.5-stop increments). After trying Manual mode for several images, we concluded that the Auto setting resulted in very satisfactory exposures, color balance and focus, saving us time.

Color and skin tones were accurate, even in low-light locations such as bars. With our Nikons, we normally have to add one or two stops when photographing bright sunny beaches. To our surprise, the camera on the LG G4 compensated automatically.

Accurate exposures

The Dynamic Tone (HDR) setting combines images taken at different exposures to create an accurately exposed photo, even in backlit situations. We found this feature especially helpful for high-contrast images such as street scenes with sunny and shady areas.

Turning on the 3x3 grid made it easy to compose images (the Rule of Thirds) and ensure straight horizons, a challenge when taking photos from bouncing boats and vehicles. When we tapped the Camera icon, the shutter responded quickly.

After a few tries, we were able to differentiate between a quick tap to release the shutter and a longer touch-and-hold that resulted in multiple shots. (This Burst mode was helpful for taking photos of children, sports and fast-moving objects.)

Horizontal Panorama photo of fishing boats in Los Cristianos, South Tenerife
Horizontal Panorama photo of fishing boats in Los Cristianos, South Tenerife
Photo © Barb & Ron Kroll

Panoramic pictures

The LG G4's Panorama mode was especially impressive when we discovered that we could pan the smartphone oriented either vertically or horizontally to take ultra-wide or ultra-high images. A blue line on the viewing screen helped us keep the camera within the focus area as we panned.

The resulting images had virtually no distortion compared to the obvious barrel edge distortion in our ultra-wide Nikkor lens images.

Learning curve

We quickly learned how to hold the smartphone so that we didn't include our fingertips in images, especially when shooting panoramas.

It took some practice to become comfortable with the camera. Although the Question Mark icon gave us a quick description of how various camera functions worked, we frequently referred to the LG G4 manual/User Guide (available on LG's website).

Good depth of field on Los Cristianos walkway
Good depth of field on Los Cristianos walkway
Photo © Barb & Ron Kroll

Depth of field

The camera's depth of field was surprisingly good. We took one photo of people walking in Los Cristianos, South Tenerife. The LG G4's laser auto-focus ensured that foreground strollers as well as background palms and buildings were all in focus.

Trade winds make the Canary Islands a windy place. One island is so windy that its name, Fuerteventura, means "strong wind."

The LG G4 optical image stabilization prevented blurry images despite wind gusts that made it difficult to steady the smartphone. On our ship, the technology resulted in shake-free images even with the rocking pitch and motor vibrations.

Zoom close-ups

Using the rear camera lens, we could drag the screen bar graph to zoom by 0.1 increments up to 8 times enlargement. The digital zoom on the LG G4 doesn't move, so it actually crops the image.

LG G4's zoom photo of wooden balcony
LG G4's zoom photo of wooden balcony
Photo © Barb & Ron Kroll

Enlarged cropped images showed no apparent degradation.

Although we still require our SLR cameras' 400-to-800 mm telephoto lenses for wildlife photography, we found the LG G4 zoom very useful for photographing scenery, street scenes, architectural details and people.

Saving images

Manual mode allowed us to save raw DNG files for post-processing manipulation without compression flaws. Unfortunately Auto mode doesn't support DNG file format, but it's still possible to crop and manipulate images saved by Auto mode as JPEGs.

Although the smartphone has 32 GB internal storage (enough to hold about 3,000 JPEG images), you can expand the storage up to 2 TB with a microSD card. After we inserted a 16 GB card, the camera prompted us to select whether we wanted to save images to the camera's internal memory or the SD card after each photo.

You can't store to both simultaneously, so at the end of each day, after editing images saved chronologically in Gallery folders, we manually selected the in-camera images that we wanted to copy to the microSD card.

We added our Dropbox account to the smartphone before our trip. When we found Wi-Fi zones, we shared our images to Dropbox to back them up.

Display screen

The 14-centimeter (5.5-inch) LG G4 screen has a resolution of 2560x1440 pixels (538 ppi). By tapping images, we could zoom in-and-out to edit them.

Yellow hibiscus viewed on LG G4 screen
Yellow hibiscus viewed on LG G4 screen
Photo © Barb & Ron Kroll

After selecting an image, we simply tapped the three-dot Display Options icon, and then tapped on Details to see the ISO, shutter speed, exposure times, JPEG size and other technical details.

In very sunny locations, we found it harder to compose images on the display screen compared to through-the-lens viewfinder cameras. Increasing the screen brightness to 100% made it easier to see them.

Battery life

Battery charge was never a problem with the 3,000 mAh removable battery, even after a full day of photography. Each night, we plugged it in to recharge.

Because we only used the LG G4 as a camera, we kept it in Airplane mode and didn't use the phone, messaging, GPS and other features. We also minimized the number of apps in use and the screen's brightness to conserve power when shooting indoors.

The smartphone setup allowed us to customize many icons. In the status bar, we added a percentage of charge remaining notification next to the Battery icon.

Spontaneous image of nun walking her dog taken with Quick Photo feature
Spontaneous image of nun walking her dog
taken with Quick Photo feature
Photo © Barb & Ron Kroll

Spontaneous photos

To save time and battery life, we put the smartphone to sleep with a couple taps on the home screen or status bar and woke it up with two taps when we wanted to take a photo.

What if you want to capture an image so quickly that you don't even have time to tap the phone or enter your code to unlock the screen?

When we were in La Laguna, Tenerife, a nun appeared out of nowhere, walking her dog. We took advantage of the LG G4's handy quick shot feature. Simply double tapping the Volume Down button below the Power Key on the back allowed us to take an instantaneous photo even though the screen was locked.

Photo features

We have not yet tested all the camera features offered by the LG G4, including the camcorder, gesture shots, voice control, the shutter timer and the 8 MP front-facing camera (no selfies, so far!).

Opening an image in the Gallery and tapping on the Pencil icon allows you to crop, rotate and alter the color. Although this feature would be advantageous for sharing photos, we preferred Nikon Capture NX2 and Adobe Photoshop for image processing.

After just one photography assignment, we concluded that the LG G4 is a useful and convenient addition to our professional gear. For consumers, its size, image quality and technical features make it an ideal smartphone alternative to point-and-shoot cameras.


LG G4 smartphone camera