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Camera Clash: LG G4 vs. Samsung S6 vs. iPhone 6 Plus

Just a month after the Galaxy S6 dethroned the Apple iPhone 6 Plus for best smartphone camera, a new challenger has appeared, boasting some impressive credentials. 

LG's G4 arrives with a 16-megapixel camera (same as the S6), but it features a larger aperture lens (f/1.8 versus f/1.9 for the Samsung), which should result in better low-light shots. Plus, the G4 has a color spectrum sensor for ensuring accurate colors, in addition to the laser autofocus found on the earlier G3. The G4 also has a well-designed pro mode for users who want more-powerful controls and three-axis optical stabilization for crisp, shake-free images. 

MORE: The Best Smartphone Cameras

To see how the phones' cameras compare, I took multiple shots using the G4, Galaxy S6 and iPhone 6 Plus to gauge bright light, low light and flash performance. And to make sure the conditions were fair, all shots were taken using auto mode only. For each round, we awarded the best shot with 3 points, 2 for second place and 1 for third place.

BRIGHT-LIGHT PERFORMANCE

United Nations Building with Shadows

Click to enlarge | Credit: Samuel C. Rutherford

(Image credit: Click to enlarge | Credit: Samuel C. Rutherford)

In a difficult shot of the UN building, the G4 surprised as its auto HDR did the best job lightening up the foreground while also preserving the deep blue sky and the detail in the bricks on the side of the building. The Galaxy S6 wasn't far behind, but the foreground was slightly darker in its photo. The iPhone 6 Plus finished last with a picture that was too dark in front and blown out on the side of the UN building.

Winner: G4. Second: Galaxy S6. Third: iPhone 6 Plus.

Tulips in Madison Square Park

In bright light, the Galaxy S6 edged out the G4 and iPhone 6 Plus with ever-so-slightly better contrast, more detail in the flowers (compare the white tulips from other photos) and more vibrant yellows. 

Winner: Galaxy S6. Second: G4. Third: iPhone 6 Plus

Backlit Sun Seekers in Union Square

Click to enlarge | Credit: Samuel C. Rutherford

(Image credit: Click to enlarge | Credit: Samuel C. Rutherford)

The iPhone 6 Plus came out ahead in this difficult shot by eliminating the most lens flare and haziness from the picture. The G4's massive sun streak rendered its photo almost unusable, while the Galaxy S6 fell in between the two other phones in overall quality. 

Winner: iPhone 6 Plus. Second: Galaxy S6. Third: G4.

Daylight Portrait

Click to enlarge | Credit: Samuel C. Rutherford

(Image credit: Click to enlarge | Credit: Samuel C. Rutherford)

In a shot at Madison Square Park, the Galaxy S6 nailed the perfect exposure balance between a well-lit subject and the dimmer background, without the slight blue tinge seen in the G4's photo. The S6 image also exhibited better detail in the hair and better color in the reddish tones than the iPhone 6 Plus managed. 

Winner: Galaxy S6. Second: G4. Third: iPhone 6 Plus

Daylight Still Life

Click to enlarge | Credit: Samuel C. Rutherford

(Image credit: Click to enlarge | Credit: Samuel C. Rutherford)

The G4 did a good job capturing the slightly blue cast of late afternoon sunlight, but the picture looked flat and lifeless next to the S6's photo, which offered more saturated red, blue and yellow on the paper models.

These shots are also a great example of the difference in depth of field between the three cameras due to their different apertures. Looking at the license plate on the van, the lettering is almost legible in the photo from the iPhone 6 Plus, with its f/2.2 aperture, a little blurrier with the Galaxy S6 (f/1.9) and almost illegible with the G4 (f/1.8).

Winner: Galaxy S6. Second: G4. Third: iPhone 6 Plus

MORE: Best Photo Editing Software

LOW-LIGHT PERFORMANCE

Low Light without Flash

Click to enlarge | Credit: Samuel C. Rutherford

(Image credit: Click to enlarge | Credit: Samuel C. Rutherford)

Starting with the flash off, the Galaxy S6 captured Cherlynn nicely without the gray haziness and greenish hues captured by the G4, although the S6's photo is a little more yellow than ideal. The iPhone's photo looks grainier than the other two, and much too dark. 

Winner: Galaxy S6. Second: G4. Third: iPhone 6 Plus.

Low Light with Flash

Click to enlarge | Credit: Samuel C. Rutherford

(Image credit: Click to enlarge | Credit: Samuel C. Rutherford)

In the same place with flash, the G4 produced some garish yellow-green hues that, when compared to the more neutral photos from the S6, made Cherlynn look like she had the gout. The iPhone 6 Plus photo was even worse, with a too-strong flash that blew out details on her face. 

Winner: Galaxy S6. Second: G4. Third: iPhone 6 Plus.

Low Light Outdoors

Click to enlarge | Credit: Samuel C. Rutherford

(Image credit: Click to enlarge | Credit: Samuel C. Rutherford)

Despite the S6's success in low-light portraits, its shot down 42nd Street was the worst, with an orange cast that bathes the street in a Creamsicle glow. The G4 did a bit better with a more neutral color cast, but paled in comparison to the iPhone 6 Plus' photo. Despite its f/2.2 aperture (which gathers less light), the iPhone was much less aggressive with the light-sensitivity setting (ISO 200 vs. 1,400 for the G4), resulting in less grain and an overall sharper image. 

Winner: iPhone 6 Plus. Second: G4. Third: Galaxy S6.

Low-Light Still Life

Click to enlarge | Credit: Samuel C. Rutherford

(Image credit: Click to enlarge | Credit: Samuel C. Rutherford)

It's close again, but the S6 edges out the G4, with more accurate colors than the G4's overly yellow exposure, and with better detail around the bottom of the bottles. These are slightly blown out by the G4's camera. The iPhone 6 Plus finishes in third, with an underexposed shot. 

Winner: Galaxy S6. Second: G4. Third: iPhone 6 Plus.

Overall Winner: Galaxy S6

In the end, the Samsung Galaxy S6 retains its title for best smartphone camera, scoring multiple wins in both bright-light and low-light situations. It scored 23 points to 18 points for the G4 and just 13 points for the iPhone 6 Plus. Despite not winning overall, the G4's camera still impressed with detailed images, superb auto HDR and accurate colors, thanks to its color spectrum sensor. The pictures also don't demonstrate the speed of the laser-assisted autofocus, which felt just a bit faster than the focus on the S6. 

Our issue with the G4 is that its images often lacked contrast, so photos ended up looking a little flat compared to the Galaxy S6. We also found that occasionally the G4's photos have a haziness that reduces overall clarity, although we noticed this only after direct, side-by-side comparisons. 

Even so, the LG G4 has a top-tier camera, and unlike the Galaxy S6 and iPhone 6 Plus, features a removable battery and expandable storage via its microSD slot.

Sam Rutherford is a staff writer at Tom's Guide. Follow him @SamRutherford on Twitter, and Tom's Guide on Twitter, Facebook and Google+.