We take an in-depth look at the camera experience found on the new LG-made Google Nexus 5X.
2013’s Google Nexus 5 is in many people’s eyes one of the bright spots in the Nexus family’s history. Despite how fondly we look back on it though, it wasn’t perfect. One of the issues alongside its lacklustre battery life was its so-so 8-megapixel camera.
It didn’t fair well in low light or high contrast environments and struggled to offer comparable levels of colour accuracy and detail when compared to the flagships that occupied the market alongside it. Two years on and its spiritual successor, the Nexus 5X enters the fray with a heavy emphasis on packing a solid camera experience.
Google Nexus 5X: User interface
As true here as it ever was, the Nexus 5X is the debut device (along with the Nexus 6P) for the latest build of Google’s mobile OS – Android version 6.0 Marshmallow. Many qualities of previous Android builds have endured when you launch the phone’s native camera app, including the look of the interface.
Nexus devices typically offer maximum resolution stills in a 4:3 aspect ratio (some rival Android devices shoot such stills in 16:9 instead) meaning some of the on-screen controls, such as the shutter button, camera switch button and camera roll shortcut sit in a dedicated grey bar to the side of the viewfinder.
When shooting stills the top right corner of the viewfinder features simple toggles for flash and HDR mode (which can both be configured to ‘on’, ‘off’ or ‘auto’) as well as a timed shutter function with increments of the three and ten seconds.
Swiping from right to left on the viewfinder switches the camera from shooting stills to capturing video, offering up a full-screen, 16:9 aspect ratio viewfinder and quick toggles for a video light and slow motion recording mode.
The top left of the viewfinder lets you pull out options for more advanced shooting modes, like Photo Sphere, Panorama and Lens Blur as well as finer control over some of the camera’s settings. From the settings menu you can toggle location data paired to your photos as well as whether you’d like an on-screen grid. You can also configure shooting resolution for stills and video as well as the quality of panoramas.
Despite the Camera2 API that arrived in the last release of Android, this simple camera UI feels clean, but also a touch restricted versus the likes of the LG G4, which boasts manual control over aspects like ISO, shutter speed and aperture, but it’s unquestionably easy to use and offers a host of smart features.
Google Nexus 5X: Rear camera
The star attraction of the 5X imaging experience is its rear-facing 12.3-megapixel camera. The sensor in question comes courtesy of Sony (an Exmor R IMX377) and packs 1.55μm pixels, which are larger than your average smartphone camera’s and in Google’s opinion should counter the need for an OIS (optical image stabilisation) system when snapping in low light conditions, as well as an f2.0 aperture.
Being an LG-made device, the rear camera’s abilities are augmented by way of a dual LED flash and a laser autofocus array, similarly to the one found on the company’s own flagship smartphone, the LG G4.
In practice the camera really does impress. As promised autofocus is fast and seldom could the shots it captures be considered unusable. Low light is it’s biggest adversary, with grain and colourful noise creeping in in more extreme circumstances, however it still makes for a great rear snapper in most conditions and unlike its predecessor, looks to stand alongside similarly specced phones like the iPhone 6s rather than one step behind.
Macro photos are exceptionally attractive, with a pleasing level of bokeh and impressive clarity, whilst HDR mode produces balanced results that even out exposure in high-contrast scenarios without appearing overly-processed.
Google Nexus 5X: Front camera
If you find yourself snapping selfies on the regular, this is the best Nexus yet for such tasks. The 5-megapixel sensor doesn’t pack the same dynamic range, low light performance or colour reproduction of the 5X’s main camera, but it does boast accurate exposure and a respectable amount of detail.
Natural light or warm lighting produces the best results (as it shoots a little cool) and the wide-angle lens should accommodate multiple faces without needing a selfie stick.
Google Nexus 5X: Video
The silicon powering the Nexus 5X is powerful enough to offer up 4K video at 30fps and footage looks good if you’re looking to future-proof you home videos, but even capturing content in Full HD and 720p HD will yield great results.
Thanks to that rear laser unit, autofocus is fast and the rear camera also appears to adjust exposure rapidly without too much hassle either. The only shortcoming, if you can call it as such, is that you don’t have access to the frame rate adjustments that other handsets offer, so even at lower resolutions you can’t capture footage in anything other than 30fps.
If it’s slow motion you’re after, you can capture 720p video at 120 frames per second and the editing experience lets you determine a start and end point for the effect to kick in and cease, although it doesn’t pack quite the same elegance as the easing utilised by iOS.
Google Nexus 5X: Verdict
If you’re a Nexus fan and an Android purist, the camera experience found on the 5X is deeper than any of its predecessors and falls more in line with the premium imaging experience other flagships offer. Manual control and full resolution shooting in 16:9 would have been nice, but the 5X clearly still boasts a great all-round skill set.
Aside from obvious rivals like the iPhone 6s, Samsung Galaxy S6 and LG’s own G4 the only other phone that obviously overshadows the 5X is its launch sibling, the 6P. The differences are negligible, with the addition of fast capture and 240fps slow motion being the most notable benefits, but you then have to weigh up whether it’s worth it for a bigger, pricier handset.