Samsung Galaxy Camera £295
10th Dec 2012 | 13:15
Android apps on a 'proper' camera
While smartphones are great because they enable you to capture, edit and upload images to Twitter, Facebook and other social networks, they invariably have a piddlingly small sensor and a lens the size of a sequin. Despite technological advances, this combination is a prescription for noisy images, poor tonal range, chromatic aberration and distortion.
So it's not really a surprise that Samsung, a company that makes both smartphones and dedicated cameras, should decide to merge the best aspects of these two devices to create the Samsung Galaxy Camera.
It's a smart camera that has a compact camera-sized sensor and a lens large enough to let a decent amount of light in. Plus it has the control layout and connectivity of an Android smartphone, along with the ability to download and use apps to add extra functionality.
The Samsung Galaxy Camera is currently priced at £399 in the UK, AU$599 in Australia and US$499.99 in the US.
Samsung has plumped for a 16 megapixel 1/2.3-inch CMOS sensor for the Samsung Galaxy Camera. This is the same physical size as the sensors in many compact cameras, including the popular Panasonic TZ30.
This should mean that the Samsung Galaxy Camera is capable of recording a respectable level of detail with reasonably well-controlled noise. Full HD (1920 x 1080) video can also be recorded at 30fps.
The sensor is coupled with a 4.1-86.1mm f/2.8-5.9 lens. That's a 21x optical zoom with the focal length equivalent of a 23-483mm lens in 35mm terms.
It means that the Samsung Galaxy Camera just trumps the Panasonic TZ30, which has a 20x zoom (24-480mm).
The 23mm point is ideal for shooting in cramped rooms or capturing sweeping vistas, while the telephoto end is perfect for picking out distant details.
Having a maximum aperture of f/2.8 at the wideangle end (dropping to f/5.9 at the opposite end) means that relatively fast shutter speeds can be used in low light to reduce blurring of movement, but there's also an optical stabilisation system built in to reduce the impact of camera shake.
Cameras with wide zoom ranges are especially popular with travellers, because they are likely to encounter a huge range of subjects.
These users will also like the Samsung Galaxy Camera's Wi-Fi and 3G connectivity, since it enables them to share images directly as well as browse the internet and send and receive email.
In the UK a micro SIM card for the 3 network is included in the package, along with 30 days of data usage and 50GB of storage on Dropbox for two years. In the US, the Samsung Galaxy Camera is tied to AT&T, and in Australia it's available through Optus.
And of course, because the camera is driven by the Android 4.1 Jelly Bean operating system, the camera can also use Android apps that are downloaded via the Wi-Fi or 3G connection.
Samsung has introduced a new breed of camera with the Samsung Galaxy Camera, and it clearly doesn't want to limit its appeal.
So as well as offering the array of automatic shooting modes that we might expect from a compact, it is also possible to shoot in the aperture priority, shutter priority and manual exposure modes that are normally preferred by experienced photographers.
These users may be disappointed to learn that the camera only saves images in JPEG format and not raw files, though.
Less experienced photographers can use the fully automatic mode or one of the 15 scene modes that tailor the camera's settings for shooting in particular situations.
A snippet of useful advice is displayed when any of these options is selected. When Light trace is selected, for example, you're advised that a tripod is recommended during the long exposure
Meanwhile in Best Face mode we are informed that the camera will enable you to select the best image of each person from five consecutively captured images.
There are also more common options such as a Macro, Panorama, Smart Night and Best Photo mode.
Build and handling
With a 4.8-inch touch-sensitive screen on its back, the Samsung Galaxy Camera isn't the smallest compact camera in the world, and you are unlikely to want to try to stash it in your jeans' pocket. It will slip into a jacket pocket or average-sized handbag, though.
A cover closes automatically over the lens to protect it from harm in transit, but you may want to keep your keys away from that screen.
There's little in the way of physical controls on the camera, since most operations are carried out via the touchscreen, which is very responsive. On the top, however, there is a shutter release button surrounded by the zoom control and the power button, as well as a pop-up flash. That's it, and as a result the Samsung Galaxy Camera has a very clean look.
Those who fear that relying on a screen to make settings adjustments and selections will mean scrolling through endless menu options can relax - Samsung has done an excellent job with the interface, and we got to grips with it very quickly.
If necessary, the camera part of the Samsung Galaxy Camera can be activated by touching the camera icon on the screen. Once this is done, the mode icon gives access to the exposure modes, while the camera and video icons above and below trigger still or video capture.
Tapping the mode button brings up three options, Auto, Smart and Expert. Auto speaks for itself, Smart gives access to 15 scene modes while Expert provides the route to aperture priority, shutter priority and manual as well as additional video mode which gives control over exposure compensation.
Once one of the expert stills options is selected, a neat graphic of a lens with a series of rings appears on the screen and the sensitivity (ISO), exposure compensation, aperture and shutter speed are adjusted by 'rotating' the virtual rings with a flick of a finger.
This graphic disappears after a few seconds, but if you need to make any further changes to the exposure, just tap the exposure setting figures at the top of the screen.
Touching the arrow at the bottom of the screen enables you to select one of 14 effects to apply. These include the usual black and white, sepia and retro modes, along with a few - such as Comic and Gothic noir - that are less common in the camera market.
A cog icon at the top-left of the screen gives a route to a settings menu where you can select aspects such as the white balance, flash, drive and focus mode. There are also image sharing and more general camera settings options such as screen brightness and GPS tagging.
It would be nice to have a quicker route to the focus mode, since you're likely to need the macro option on a frequent basis.
A Voice Control mode, as the name suggests, enables you to control the camera with your voice. It's possible to zoom in and out or take a shot with a voice command.
This sounds like a really useful option for self-portraits, but because the Samsung Galaxy Camera's screen is fixed, there will be a little bit of guesswork involved with the composition - although you can use the remote viewfinder app on another smart app to compose the image.
We found the Zoom command a bit hit and miss, but the camera usually took a shot when told to, only struggling in noisy surroundings.
Android 4.0: Ice Cream Sandwich review
After the images have been captured, the Samsung Galaxy Camera's Gallery displays them in searchable folders based on time and location, and you can also create your own albums.
As you might expect, images can be selected for viewing with a tap of the screen, and scrolled through with a swipe or two of the finger - just as you would with a smartphone such as the Samsung Galaxy Camera's cousin, the Samsung Galaxy S3.
In the Photo Wizard app, there are controls to make simple adjustments to images, such as rotating and cropping, as well as making colour and brightness edits using on-screen sliding controls.
Images can also be shared in a number of ways, including via Dropbox, email, Facebook, Twitter, Google+ and Bluetooth, to name just a few options.
Generally speaking the Samsung Galaxy Camera produces nice-looking images that are correctly exposed and sharp at normal viewing sizes.
As from some other Samsung compact cameras, the results can look a little hit and miss when examined at 100% on screen. Some look detail-rich and nice and sharp, while others taken in similar circumstances are a bit softer.
Noise is generally pretty well controlled, with little sign of coloured speckling even in images captured at the maximum sensitivity setting of ISO 3200.
There is, however, some softening of detail to conceal the noise, but nothing out of the ordinary and within acceptable levels. Dropping to ISO 1600 sees a significant improvement in detail reproduction.
Colours are normally well represented when the camera is in its standard configuration in one of the expert modes. Switching to Landscape shooting modes boosts blues and greens, however, and blue skies and water look a bit too intense and oversaturated to appear natural.
Our lab tests show that the camera's dynamic range is respectable rather than impressive, since it can't quite match the Panasonic TZ30. This is borne out by our real-world images, some of which have burned out areas of sky as well as a cyan band that merges into blue.
As a compact camera, the Samsung Galaxy Camera uses contrast detection autofocus, and it copes pretty well with most subjects. It only starts to struggle in very dark conditions, or when the subject has very low contrast.
Because the whole screen is available for AF point selection, it is usually possible to find a suitable area within the scene to achieve sharp focus.
It would be easy to assume that the 21x zoom lens is compromised at one end or the other, but it performs well throughout the entire range, with no point delivering appreciably softer images than another.
Fringing is also controlled well, just subtly appearing along a few backlit edges towards the edges of the frame, and then only really being noticeable if you look for it when images are at 100% on the screen.
We particularly enjoyed using Best Face mode. In this mode the camera instructs you to hold the camera steady (and you need to tell your subjects to pose) while it takes a sequence of up to five shots. It takes a few seconds to process before displaying an image with boxes around the faces.
Tapping on each box in turn brings up the shot options for each face. Simply tap on the version you want for each face, to create a composite image. Obviously it will struggle to cope if the subjects move around a lot, but we found it does a great job of merging the image.
Image quality and resolution
As part of our image quality testing for the Samsung Galaxy Camera review, we've shot our resolution chart.
If you view our crops of the resolution chart's central section at 100% (or Actual Pixels) you will see that, for example, at ISO 100 the Samsung Galaxy Camera is capable of resolving up to around 22 (line widths per picture height x100) in its highest quality JPEG files.
For a full explanation of what our resolution charts mean, and how to read them, check out our full explanation of our camera testing resolution charts.
Examining images of the chart taken at each sensitivity setting reveals the following resolution scores in line widths per picture height x100:
ISO 100, score: 22 (Click here to see the full resolution image)
ISO 200, score: 20 (Click here to see the full resolution image)
ISO 400, score: 18 (Click here to see the full resolution image)
ISO 800, score: 16 (Click here to see the full resolution image)
ISO 1600, score: 14 (Click here to see the full resolution image)
ISO 3200, score: 10 (Click here to see the full resolution image)
Noise and dynamic range
We shoot a specially designed chart in carefully controlled conditions and the resulting images are analysed using DXO Analyzer software to generate the data to produce the graphs below.
A high signal to noise ratio (SNR) indicates a cleaner and better quality image.
For more more details on how to interpret our test data, check out our full explanation of our noise and dynamic range tests.
Signal to noise ratio
These results show that the Samsung Galaxy Camera's JPEG files have a better signal to noise ratio than those from the Nikon S800c, Panasonic TZ30 and Nikon S6400 at mid-range sensitivities, but they perform less impressively at ISO 100-200 and at ISO 1600 and above, only beating the Nikon S6400 at these settings, as well as the Panasonic at ISO 3200.
JPEG results for dynamic range are more consistent than those for signal to noise ratio, with a less pronounced peak and plummet. The Samsung Galaxy Camera produces results most similar to the Nikon S800c, less impressive than the Panasonic TZ30 and with a greater range than the Nikon S6400. The Samsung has less dynamic range in its images than the Nikon S800c at ISO 200-800 and at ISO 3200, but beats it at ISO 1600.
The colour of the late afternoon sun has been washed out by the automatic white balance system here.
Switching to the Daylight white balance setting produced a more natural result.
The Galaxy Camera is a great option fro shooting subjects when you are out and about and something takes your eye
There's no shortage of detail in this indoor shot and the colors a spot-on.
The relatively limited dynamic range has cause the blue sky here to burn our in the brightest area and turn cyan in some other parts.
Using Landscape scene mode has made the blues of this scene go a bit over the top.
This version taken a little earlier just after sunrise looks a lot more natural. The Automatic white balance setting has managed to capture the warmth of the light as well.
We used Best Face mode here to select each person's preferred expression and avoid any blinks being recorded.
Sensitivity and noise images
Full ISO 100 image, see the cropped (100%) versions below.
We think Samsung has a hit on its hands with the Samsung Galaxy Camera, which is priced at £399/AU$599/US$499.99. It seems to have grabbed the attention of lots of people. Many of the people we showed it to - both photographers and non-photographers - have told us that they want one.
The combination of a compact camera-sized sensor and a 21x optical zoom lens in a relatively thin body with a huge (by camera standards) touchscreen is very enticing. The good news is that this isn't all window dressing, the Samsung Galaxy Camera delivers the goods.
Some people have an issue with the camera's size, saying it's a bit on the large side for a compact. But we think that Samsung has got it about right.
The Samsung Galaxy Camera needs to make a statement and stand out from the crowd so that people recognise it for what it is - a camera that combines the best elements of a compact camera with those of a smartphone.
Shrinking it down in size would make it less easy to distinguish from standard touchscreen compact cameras. It would also mean a smaller screen and more fiddly operation.
Samsung's Galaxy Camera has responsive touchscreen controls and intuitive operation, making it quick and easy to use. Uploading images to your favourite social media site is a doddle via a 3G or Wi-Fi connection, and on the whole the images are worth sharing.
Photographers will love the fact that you can use the advanced exposure modes you are used to from your DSLR or CSC, but novices will find you are also well catered for. Both camps will find it hard resist the draw of modes such as Best Face.
Then there's the apps - we love the apps that enable you to do so much with the camera, from helping with day to day chores to turning your shots into retro masterpieces.
As we mentioned earlier, some may find the camera a little too big, and while we disagree on one level, it might be nice if it could be slipped into a jeans pocket. This would have major implications for the screen and lens, though, and image quality might be compromised.
One of the first questions everyone asks about the Samsung Galaxy Camera is "can you use it as a phone?" The answer is no, which seems a shame.
On a photographic note, we'd like a quicker route to the macro focusing option. It would be useful to be able to change focusing modes direct from the screen.
Android 4.0: Ice Cream Sandwich review
It may not be the best compact camera on the market, but the Samsung Galaxy Camera is certainly one of the easiest and most fun to use. The image quality is also good, way beyond what the average phone can produce and on a par with some of the most popular compact cameras on the market.
Enthusiasts are likely to be willing to forgive it any image quality shortcomings because they want it to take more creative shots than their phone can manage and then share them with their friends and followers. It is also smaller, lighter and better connected than DSLRs and CSCs.
For the moment the price seems very high compared with compact cameras such as the Panasonic TZ30, although it is low in comparison with a smartphone such as the iPhone 5.
When Samsung first announced the Samsung Galaxy Camera, we were told the price would be around £100/$160 less than it is on sale for now. While we can expect the price to drop over the coming months, consumers are currently being asked to pay a high premium for the camera's connectivity and Android operating system.