The big new buzz in smartphone photography turned out to be a major disappointment
LG built a brilliant little device for its not-yet-released G5 phone called the Cam Plus, but in my hands-on test with a pre-production model, I consider it a huge disappointment.
Smartphone photography is better than ever, with Apple and Samsung competing for specs that rival professional DSLRs .But for all that innovation, one crucial element of shooting has stagnated: the physical experience of making an image.
Photography, at its best, is a deeply tactile art form. You move, duck, and contort to find the perfect angle and light. You twist and press to zoom and focus. You depress the shutter button, then snap at the perfect moment. Even a decade after most photographers last slipped film into an emulsion, a photograph can and should still be something you craft with your hands.
Smartphones have never offered us that sort of tactile experience. Instead, we squint and tap away at the same bright blue screen we squint and tap away at all day. It's a bizarre, discarnate way of rendering reality.
That's why LG's Cam Plus modular smartphone attachment was so exciting to me when it was first announced. It's a physical device that modifies the soon-to-be-released LG G5 to include a seamless camera grip, shutter button, zoom wheel, and record button. In other words, the first major modular appendage to the first major modular smartphone would make it feel and shoot like a true camera.
LG sent us a pre-production model of the Cam Plus to test for just one day. And the device looked and felt like everything they promised. I loved the feel of it in my hand - the grip encouraged me to wield the device one-handed and move like I was shooting with a DSLR. And any photographer will tell you that the most important aspect of gear is whether it helps you feel good in your shooting.
Unfortunately, though, the feel was the last good thing about the Cam Plus.The Cam Plus shutter button should snap a picture the moment it's pressed, if LG wants it to function like a real camera. But instead it seems to just execute the app's built-in photo routine, which begins by readjusting the focus all over again from where you started.
If the G5 had something close to the Galaxy S7's super-fast shutter this might be forgivable. But it doesn't. The result is a device with a theoretically faster shutter speed than most DSLRs ends up taking as much as two seconds to get a single shot off.
At first I was sure I was doing something wrong when I kept getting images like this after snapping perfectly-framed shots:
But that's just what happens when your camera waits until long after your snap to get a shot off.
Any benefit as a framing device is lost when you're futzing with the focus on every shot. Here's the most interesting image I managed to get in my few hours with the device.
(Don't judge the phone by the weird color here. I was playing around with some manual settings.)Now, the big caveat to all this is that the Cam Plus we received was a preproduction model, and we only had it for a few hours. Maybe things will be different by the time of our final review. LG has not yet returned a request for specific comment on this issue. But for now, the Cam Plus appears to be a bust.