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LG V40 ThinQ: How 5 Cameras Push the Bounds of Phone Photography

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As we’ve written before, adding zoom capability — especially telephoto — is one of the final frontiers phone photography needs to address. Digital zoom, no matter how cleverly implemented, has not been able to replicate the quality of a good optical zoom. So phone makers have started adding a second, longer-focal-length lens to their flagship devices to help users zoom in, and also get more-natural-looking portraits. LG has taken this approach further, with a full three cameras on the back of its new V40. In addition to the now common 2x telephoto, it has a wide-angle lens. On the front, the V40 has a pair of cameras to allow it to produce more accurate depth estimation and therefore more-pleasing background blurs for portraits or artistic shots.

The V40’s 5 Cameras By The Numbers

The V40 includes three main (rear-facing) cameras: a 16MP wide-angle with a 107-degree field of view, a 12MP standard with an f/1.5 lens, and a 12MP 2x telephoto. Worth noting is that LG has also crammed a larger sensor into its main camera, so it features larger 1.4-micron pixels — the same size as in the new Apple flagship phones. The rear camera system uses Phase-Detect Autofocus (PDAF) which LG says provides 50 percent faster focusing than previous models. Shutter lag has also been cut in half.

The front-facing cameras are a 5MP wide-angle with a 90-degree field of view, and an 8MP standard camera. The dual cameras allow for adjustable background blur created synthetically using stereo depth estimation. We haven’t gotten to use a V40 ourselves, so I can’t comment directly on image quality, but early demo images and reviews indicate that while each camera is a solid performer, they aren’t quite up to the standard set by other top flagships. In particular, the telephoto camera doesn’t have optical stabilization, so it has trouble in low light. The Verge also complained about over-sharpening of images from the main camera.

The V40’s 3 Cameras Harken Back to the Age of Rangefinders

Both my father and grandfather shot with rangefinder camera systems that eventually became the ones I learned on. They each featured a wide-angle, standard, and slight telephoto prime lens. You could see the framing you’d get with each lens by looking at the pre-marked frames in the viewfinder. The Camera app on the V40 comes as close as anything I’ve seen on a phone to recreate that sensation. While looking at the scene on the screen you can choose one of the three preview thumbnails to switch between the cameras. Basically, you get some of the flexibility of interchangeable lenses without having to physically change lenses. One unique benefit of the multiple cameras is that you can capture images from all three at once using what LG calls Triple Shot.

You don't need to choose between perspectives with the V40. It can capture all three focal lengths at once with Triple Shot

You don’t need to choose between perspectives with the V40. It can capture all three focal lengths at once with Triple Shot

Of course, the lenses are each fixed aperture, so they can’t optically change their depth of focus. That is left to computational imaging software that uses depth estimation from the multiple cameras to approximate the appropriate level of blur for the desired simulated aperture. This has become fairly common in dual-camera phones, and Google even uses a single camera with dual pixels to do the same thing. By adding a third, wide-angle camera, the V40 has the capability to do stereo depth estimation throughout the entire field of view of the main camera (while dual-camera systems with one telephoto camera only have stereo over the center of the main camera image).

Lots of Fancy Photo Modes, Gimmicks or Not

It seems each new phone camera has to outdo the others by adding new photo tricks. I’m sure they get used, but for many photographers, they’re just gimmicks. In that spirit, the V40 features Cine Shot (a sort of living image), 3D Light Effect (think Portrait Lighting), Makeup Pro (Beautification), Custom Backdrop, My Avatar, and AR Emoji modes.

AI Composition May Be the Sleeper Feature of the Year

Most reporting on the V40’s camera modes has focused on the now-standard tricks of portrait lighting modes, living images, and background blur. Like the G7, the V40 also includes LG’s AI Camera functionality, that will automatically adjust camera settings — now including shutter speed — and suggest appropriate filters based on the objects it recognizes in the scene.

The V40's AI Composition feature suggests ways to frame the scene

The V40’s AI Composition feature suggests ways to frame the scene

But having a wide-angle camera always on gives the V40 a new trick — suggesting composition and framing. While others have used AI to help suggest framing and cropping, the feature has limited usefulness if you’re stuck at a particular focal length. The V40 can look at the larger scene captured with its wide-angle lens, and use its AI to suggest options for how to frame portions of it using either the standard or telephoto lens. It’s early days to say how well the AI performs, but for those who always complain that their photos look boring, it should be able to add some interest, or at least help them expand their creativity by thinking about options.

2 Front Cameras for Both Selfies and Group Shots

While most selfies still feature a portrait of the photographer, group selfies are an increasingly popular way to document and share events. For large groups, or when seeing the location in the background is important, the small field of view of the typical front camera is limiting. A selfie stick can help by allowing you to put the camera further from the group, but it is hardly an ideal solution. The V40 provides a second front camera with a 90-degree field of view for just this situation. If you simply captured a group shot with a lens that wide, the distortion would be pretty bad, so the V40 software works hard to clean that up for you.

A wide-angle front camera lets you do a better job of framing group selfies

A wide-angle front camera lets you do a better job of framing group selfies

How Many Cameras Is Enough?

Phone vendors certainly aren’t going to stop with four or five cameras, at least as an option for those interested in getting the most out of phone photography. We already know that Light.co is working on a version with at least five rear-facing cameras. Additional cameras and improved computational imaging are currently the only ways to improve phone photography without resorting to the larger form factor of add-ons like the Hasselblad module for the Motorola, or the larger form factor of the RED Hydrogen One camera. The bigger question is what types of additional cameras will be added, how their images will be combined, and whether Light.co’s use of folded optics will become common.

Now Read: The Tech Behind the RED Phone Display, Best Android Phones for Photographers, and Phone Photography on an African Safari.

 


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