Samsung Galaxy Camera $350
10th Dec 2012 | 13:15
Android apps on a 'proper' camera
With a 4.8-inch Super HD Clear LCD touchscreen, the Samsung Galaxy Camera isn't likely to be the smallest compact camera you'll ever see, but it feels very nicely put together and is both responsive and intuitive.
The device is basically a pro-consumer class camera that is driven by Android 4.1: Jelly Bean.
Even better news for many is that the 16 million pixel CMOS sensor inside the camera is a 1/2.3-inch device, the same size as in many compact cameras and considerably bigger than those in the average phone. This should mean that the Samsung Galaxy Camera is capable of recording a respectable level of detail with reasonably well controlled noise.
The sensor is coupled with a 4.1-86.1 mm f/2.8-5.9 lens, which gives the focal length equivalent of a 23-483mm lens in 35mm terms. This makes it a very versatile optic, suitable for shooting wide landscapes or cramped interiors, as well as picking out distant details.
It could make the camera a popular option for travellers, especially those who want to be able to share their images with the rest of the world via the camera's Wi-Fi connectivity.
The Galaxy Camera also made an appearance at IFA 2012, and we were only able to spend a relatively short time playing with it at Samsung's Mobile Unpacking event. But it was enough to convince us that this is a camera that will attract a lot of interest.
There's little in the way of physical controls on the camera as 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 switch and the power button as well as a pop-up flash. That's it, and as a result the Galaxy Camera has a very clean look.
Those who fear that relying on a screen to make settings 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. It has had plenty of UI design practice with its other Galaxy products, such as the Samsung Galaxy S3 and Samsung Galaxy Note 2 smartphones and Samsung Galaxy Tab 2 10.1 tablet.
As you might expect, there's a selection of shooting options for the inexperienced photographer, but Samsung also included the more advanced Program, Shutter Priority, Aperture Priority and Manual exposure modes for experienced users.
These options are accessed via the Expert option in the Camera menu. Once this is selected, a neat graphic of a lens with a series of rings appears on screen and the sensitivity (ISO), exposure compensation, aperture and shutter speed are adjusted by 'rotating' the rings with a flick of a finger.
In addition to the Auto and Casual mode that are designed for keeping photography very quick and easy, there's a Smart Pro option that enables you to choose the most appropriate scene mode for the shot.
This includes options such as Waterfall Trace, which records moving water as a blur; Blue Sky mode, which ensures blue skies are saturated and not washed out; and a Light Trace mode for shooting car light trails and so on at night. There are also more common options such as a Macro, Panorama, Smart Night and Best Photo mode.
There's also a Voice Control mode that, as the name suggests, enables you to control the camera with your voice by getting it 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.
After the images have been captured, the Galaxy Camera's Smart Content Manager organizes them into searchable folders based on time and location.
There are also options to tag faces in the images, rotate pictures and crop shots as well as view them in a slideshow. Images can be selected for view with a tap of the screen and scrolled through with a swipe of two of the finger - just as you would with a smartphone such as the Samsung Galaxy Camera's cousin, the Samsung Galaxy S3.
A Sharing widget is claimed to make light work of uploading shots to all your favorite social media sites, and Auto Cloud Back-up is available for remote storage straight after they are taken.
Samsung Galaxy Camera apps
Again, everything is driven by Android, and as such can run basically any Android application from the Google Play store. Yes, you can play Angry Birds on a camera. But the focus is clearly on picture taking, and the Galaxy Camera comes pre-loaded with special applications.
This includes Best Face, which shoots multiple images of a particular scene instantaneously. It's primarily for friends who like group shots, but can never agree on which was the best picture, since one person is looking away in one image, and someone else is blinking in another.
What Best Face does is tallies all the images and mixes and matches the best faces from everything, to combine them into on perfect shot. It's essentially Photoshop on the fly and was extremely impressive.
Another feature that was pushed was Paper Artist, which adds a host of artistic filters which is sure to appeal to Instagram fans. Both Best Face and Paper Artist are also available for the Galaxy Note 2, and Paper Artist may be best used with the Note 2's stylus, but it works just as well on the Galaxy Camera.
Another app is S Suggest, which is a curated recommended app engine. It will ship with every Galaxy device, but its suggestions will be dependent upon the hardware. In the case of the Galaxy Camera, the first thing that pops up is recommended apps from the Camera & Images category.
Images shot can be immediately uploaded to any social network or cloud service wishes, from Facebook to Dropbox, and everyone in between. One can even send a text message from the camera, since it is again an Android device.
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.
Sensitivity and noise images
Full ISO 100 image, see the cropped (100%) versions below.
We now have a production sample of the Galaxy Camera and our full review in on its way. The camera has a high-quality feel and although it has lots of options and some pretty advanced controls, it's very easy to use.
The Samsung Galaxy Camera will have a full price of around £399 (around $630) in UK, and will be available from around mid-October.
The 16 million pixel, 1/2.3 inch CMOS sensor should be capable of capturing images that are on a par with other compact cameras and significantly better than those from the average smartphone. However, the lens has a wide zoom range (21x) and it will be interesting to see if this compromises the image quality at all.
When asked if the camera can be sold sans data plan, or unsubsidized, Hanna Tong, the director of the product group for the Galaxy Camera, was unable to comment. Though she did state that AT&T will make an announcement very soon that will contain such details.
We're looking forward to receiving a full-production sample for our full Samsung Galaxy Camera review. As well as testing the usual photographic aspects, looking at sharpness, dynamic range and the like, we'll try out a few apps and share images via the Wi-Fi connectivity.