Before we kick off, it's worth pointing out a couple of things first. The V30 we used was a pre-production device. As a result, the final picture quality may be marginally different to what we show you below. Our iPhone 7 Plus already had iOS 11 installed, and last but not least, the Galaxy Note 8 and Galaxy S8+ are both devices in a same series. Here's a bit more on the cameras on some of the phones:
We took three pictures with each smartphone, and selected the best to show you here. To keep the conditions as consistent as possible, we took all pictures consecutively. We also used the standard camera app settings for each phone.
Subject 1: Nature
We took this first series of photos in the woods. The challenge here was the high difference of brightness, and the various green tones. The LG V30 and Samsung smartphones create vibrant colors and intense green tones. The photo taken with the iPhone looks pallid in comparison.
The photographs from the Samsung Galaxy S8+ and the Galaxy Note 8 are a little too green for me. They seem to lose character somewhat. In my opinion, the LG V30 is the perfect middle ground.
Subject 2: Night
For this one, the smartphones had to flex their low-light capabilities. On paper, the LG V30 has the best specs for this with its f1.6 aperture. But its built-in image sensor, the Sony IMX351, is smaller than its competitors' - at 1/3.1 inches. This increases light sensitivity. So in this comparison, the LG V30 loses out.
At 1/3.0 inches, the light-sensitive chip in the iPhone 7 Plus is indeed rather small. To compensate, Apple probably ensures the signal processing is great. The iPhone photos look the most balanced and offer the best depth details. Even the color rendering is more accurate than the Samsung devices, which deliver more blueish results.
Subject 3: Macro
In macro mode, detail reproduction is important. The rose in this subject features intense red tones, which are generally fairly challenging for cameras. While we only trimmed the pictures slightly in the last few tests, here we showing you an enlarged portion of the picture. The iPhone 7 Plus is ahead in the race, with its rose leaves looking the most realistic. Nevertheless, the iPhone still struggles with light watercolor artifacts.
The fine details unfortunately turn into a red smattering with the LG V30. Photos from the two Samsung smartphones also lack the definition and detail that I hoped for. There simply isn't enough contrast in the leaves.
This shows the results again from another perspective. The iPhone 7 Plus simply produces more detail in the rose petals.
Subject 4: Contrast
Our fourth subject tests the contrast and different brightness levels of the phones' cameras. Here we have clouds passing over some rooftops. The light and dark parts of the picture are well depicted by all phones but the LG V30 appears a little dull - the contrast in the clouds is less pronounced.
The photos from both Samsung phones are very saturated using the standard setting. The iPhone 7 Plus in comparison holds itself back somewhat, but moves the cloud contrast higher up. Which photo is the best will surely be a matter of opinion.
Subject 5: Still life
This last test focuses on color rendering. And to suit the season, we've chosen that subject to be a pumpkin. For me, the iPhone 7 is clearly a cut above here. The colors of the mandarin and the pumpkin are as different in the photograph as they are in real life. On the other hand, both the V30 and both Samsung devices drift towards orange.
The differences between the smartphone cameras aren't restricted to picture quality, but they also concern hardware. While the Galaxy S8+ has a simple camera, the Galaxy Note 8 and the Apple iPhone 7 Plus both have an additional tele-module on board. The LG V30 also offers a wide angle lens, which produces particularly spectacular results for scenic shots.
For this article, we focused on the standard sensor in the name of fairness. We'll put the wide angle lens, tele- and portrait function under the microscope another day. Hopefully, we'll be able to compare this to the new iPhone 8 Plus by then.
The camera of the iPhone 7 Plus, despite being older, puts in a great performance in most situations. Perhaps the fact that we updated the Apple phone to iOS 11 played a role here. Image processing is an enormous component of the resulting quality.
My expectations for the new iPhones in regard to image quality are accordingly high. I'm also excited for the Google Pixel 2 and Huawei Mate 10, both of which we'll see in October.
What is your pick for the best smartphone camera of 2017? Share your thoughts in the comments below.