Ever since cell phones entered the era of Android, it has been a struggle to find a decent camera phone. Back in the day, you could just go for one of those Sony Ericsson Cyber-shots and most certainly get a feature-packed point-and-shoot. Nowadays, though, picking a fine gadget is quite a challenge, since such categories as ‘camera phone’ or ‘music phone’ have died out.
Instead of specialized devices like the outdated Cyber-shots and Walkman, we now have dozens of average-looking models offering very similar functionality. Not only do these phones lack personality, but they also fail to deliver. The new smartphones are what you call ‘a jack of all trades yet master of none’. You get an average camera, average sound quality and average cell reception, and unless you buy a flagship phone, it will more or less stay that way no matter which model you pick.
But if everything was that bad, I wouldn’t write this post, would I? Fortunately, you can still find some gems among the faceless bunch, and today we’re gonna take a look at two such phones — LG G3 Stylus and Samsung Grand Prime G530H.
On the outside, LG G3 Stylus and Samsung Grand Prime are very similar — LG G3 Stylus packs a 5.5” screen while Samsung Grand Prime comes with 5 inches, both with the same entry-level resolution of 960×540. Although Grand Prime has a TFT screen instead of IPS as seen on G3 Stylus, it provides decent color reproduction and wide viewing angles.
The real differences kick in when it comes to the cameras — while LG G3 Stylus features a 13-megapixel sensor with an F/2.4 lens (as reported by EXIF), Samsung Grand Prime sports a ‘humbler’ 8-megapixel sensor with an F/2.2 lens. To be honest, it doesn’t mean much, since there is no proven information considering the sizes of the sensors. It’s also worth noting that Samsung received quite a decent front camera with 5 MP on-board while LG is limited to disappointing 1.3 megapixels.
Here’s a closer look at the camera modules of each phone:
As you’ve probably noticed, both phones have an LED flash but it’s nothing to write home about.
When it comes to stock camera apps LG pales in comparison to Samsung. For some reason, the engineers at LG decided to cater their app with babies in mind – meaning that it’s so primitive, even a baby could handle it. Take a look — it’s pretty self-explanatory:
Samsung, on the other hand, remained conservative, keeping all the usual controls, including metering modes, exposure compensation, white balance and ISO:
Also, contrary to LG, where you can only switch between normal and panorama modes, Samsung offers a much wider variety (including HDR mode which LG lacks):
The following are unedited sample photos (click image to open full-sized original) from both phones taken with stock camera apps set to Auto mode:
Both phones resolve good detail in close and middle distance, but objects farther away like the building on the right are better detailed on LG. Samsung simply blended the bricks of the building together making the walls completely smooth. However, if you take a look at the yellow shop signs on the left, the difference between the two seems rather subtle.
LG demonstrates a shallower depth of field which may mean a slightly bigger sensor, considering that the lens on LG is slower than that of Samsung. However, Samsung beats LG at automatic white balancing which can save you the trouble of fiddling with the settings before taking a shot.
LG is the absolute winner here — the stones look noticeably crisper and there’s no pink tint. It’s worth noting, though, that Samsung performs considerably better at rendering detail in the shadows.
Under the tree
Samsung underexposed this scene, thus burying detail in the dark, while LG delivered a well-balanced photo with plenty of detail.
When it comes to a crazy dance of shadows and highlights, LG gives up on detail in the dark, trying to prevent overexposure. Samsung, on the other hand, features an HDR mode which handles such situations without a hitch.
Complex patterns present a struggle for any camera, especially a point-and-shoot. As you can see, LG does a much better job of avoiding patterning than Samsung, but there is still room for improvement. Also, in this particular shot, LG clearly picked a more realistic white balance.
Another challenging scene for both cameras — and although LG delivers very good detail, there is nothing like HDR for expanding dynamic range.
As I mentioned before, LG has an awful camera for selfies — see it for yourselves:
Now, Samsung is a much better contender:
Unfortunately, I failed to compare the phones directly while I still had LG on my hands, but I did make an indoor ISO test for G3 Stylus — click here to check out the samples.
Photo mode conclusion
All in all, LG delivers great detail in outdoor shots but there’s little benefit from a 13 MP sensor, especially when it comes to landscapes where LG and Samsung (which only has 8 MP) are almost on par.
Samsung delivers good detail but I’m afraid an old 5 MP point-and-shoot will still beat it. On the positive note, though, Grand Prime comes with an HDR feature that helps significantly in resolving extra detail in shadows and highlights, making this phone a wiser choice for a casual photographer.
Have you ever thought there would be a pocket-sized device that shoots sharper videos than your DSLR (Canon 600D in my case)? Neither have I. But now it’s a reality. Well… with some phones.
Samsung exposes the highlights considerably better but adds a little bit of pink tint to the shot. LG, on the other hand, overexposes the sky and badly lacks detail.
None of the phones seem to render white balance absolutely correctly with LG giving preference to green tint and Samsung to pink. As for detail, shadows and highlights, Samsung wins this round hands down.
LG does a better job of determining white balance, but Samsung provides better detail in shadows and highlights.
Video mode conclusion
What can I say — with great photo mode comes crappy video. Having a sweet 13 MP camera, LG delivers very sub-par video quality, as if upscaling video clips from 720 to 1080. Moreover, once you move indoors the fps count drops from 28 (why not 30?) to 22, turning your videos into a choppy mess.
Samsung, on the other hand, shows off impressive detail and can easily substitute a mid-range camcorder. Also, the videos are stutter-free — Grand Prime maintains a constant 30 fps, no matter the lighting.
As for the bit rate, both phones are limited to 17 Mb/s unless rooted. At the time of the test, I rooted G3 Stylus and increased the bit rate to 35, though it didn’t improve much due to the naturally low level of detail.
Samsung Grand Prime and LG G3 Stylus are both very capable and affordable camera phones priced under $200, so if money is an issue for you — certainly check them out. I personally picked Grand Prime, since I’m keen on shooting videos. However, If you are more of a photographer than a filmmaker and don’t shoot much at nighttime, LG G3 Stylus is the way to go (and it’s much better than G3s and such, too).
Closing remarks: I’ve been preparing this review for too long, so the phones have already become a little outdated. If you still manage to get your hands on a Grand Prime — go for it, it’s a steal, but beware: the model number has to be G530H. Avoid G531H at all costs — however illogical it might seem, it’s a downgraded version with poor camera performance. You can also check out Samsung J5 (J500H) — it’s virtually an upgraded Grand Prime with AMOLED screen and newer Android version.