I've seen the future of smartphone photography, and it no longer means tapping onscreen buttons whenever I want to capture a shot. With an LG G5 in one hand — and an LG Cam Plus module plugged into the phone's new modular design — I have dedicated buttons for photo-taking right there on the bottom half of the smartphone.
The LG Cam Plus is one of the LG Friends introduced by the phone maker alongside its new G5 flagship at last month's Mobile World Congress in Barcelona. LG sees these modular add-ons and standalone accessories as a way to extend the functionality of its phone. And now that I've had a chance to test out a pre-production unit of both the G5 and the Cam Plus — after getting a preview of the LG G5 and its many add-ons at MWC — I have a better idea of just what the Cam Plus adds to the G5's photo-taking prowess.
MORE: LG G5 Top Features
While LG hasn't set pricing on either the G5 or the Cam Plus, the company says its photo module will be available with the G5 when the phone arrives in early April. Featuring a real two-step shutter button like you’d get on a big DSLR or mirrorless camera, dedicated video recording button, scroll wheel for zooming and a switch for launching the camera, the Cam Plus is laser focused on delivering a high-level experience for photo and video enthusiasts.
Setup and Design
Connecting the Cam Plus to the G5 is as simple as pressing the module release button on the phone’s bottom left side. That lets the stock lower section fall out, allowing you to swap the Cam Plus back in its place. Even on the pre-production unit that LG sent us, this process was super slick and took only a couple seconds to do.
When it's released, the Cam Plus will also have the added bonus of significantly boosting the LG G5’s battery. The module will feature a 4,000 mAh battery by combining the G5's 2,800 mAh removable battery with a a smaller 1,200 mAh built into the Cam Plus.
Once attached, the Cam Plus’ raised leather-topped grip provides a much more comfortable way of holding the G5 when taking photos. With it, not only is it easier to operate the phone with one hand, but important features such as shutter and zoom are located very conveniently within reach.
My favorite feature on the Cam Plus is the toggle switch that lets you launch straight into the camera even if the phone is locked. It’s even faster than double pressing the home button like you would on a Samsung Galaxy S7, and now it’s something I wish LG would put on the G5 by default.
The scroll wheel on the corner of the Cam Plus rotates smoothly, unlike the dials you’d normally get on a regular camera. That wheel also lets you push in and out with a fair bit of precision. Compared to Asus’ Zenfone Zoom, which has a rocker bar for zooming in and out, a G5 with a Cam Plus zooms in significantly faster. That said, the G5 only features digital zoom as opposed to the Zenfone’s 3x optical zoom so there are limits as to how far you can creep in before you notice significant noise and pixelation in your images.
Even after this extended hands-on time, I still have a couple reservations about the pre-production version of the Cam Plus. Even though the shutter lets you pre-focus by pressing halfway down, the button’s travel distance is super shallow, which leaves very little difference between a full and half press.
It's also hard to assess the software management for LG Friends like the Cam Plus that comes built into the G5. At the moment, there's not much you can do with that software, as the only thing I saw when opening up the Cam Plus Manager was an alert telling me my software was up-to-date. I’d really love the ability to turn the zoom wheel into a shutter or exposure compensation. Here’s hoping LG adds some customization options for launch.
That said, as someone who spends quite a bit of time taking photos with his phone, LG’s Cam Plus module feels like a pretty useful tool for anyone who wants more full featured controls without the need to carry around a second device. Heck, the bigger battery is pretty enticing by itself, although we’ll have to wait on final pricing on the Cam Plus to find out how enticing.
Most importantly, the Cam Plus really makes me feel like LG has something with its upcoming roster of LG Friends, which also includes a 360-degree camera, a plug-in speaker that delivers 24-bit audio and a VR headset. This simple camera add-on means is already off to a pretty good start.
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Sam is a Senior Writer at Engadget and previously worked at Gizmodo as a Senior Reporter. Before that, he worked at Tom's Guide and Laptop Mag as a Staff Writer and Senior Product Review Analyst, overseeing benchmarks and testing for countless product reviews. He was also an archery instructor and a penguin trainer too (really).