TIPS: Getting the most out of the Note 4 camera in broad daylight + using VERY high shutter speeds

Started Jan 11, 2015 | Discussions
Menneisyys Senior Member • Posts: 1,458
TIPS: Getting the most out of the Note 4 camera in broad daylight + using VERY high shutter speeds

(Note that this is part 2 of my Note4 camera article series. The first installment, dedicated entirely to shooting in low light and preferably (with mostly static, non-moving subjects) under 1/30s, is HERE. Note that, as with the first installment, this also only applies to Snapdragon 805-based handsets, not Exynos-based ones. Again, currently (11/Jan/2015), as of KitKat 4.4.4, it's only on Snapdragon 805-equipped devices that third-party apps can export RAW-like, almost unprocessed images. This may change with the release of Lollipop in the future. For the time being, however, if you have an Exynos-based Note4, you won't really want to use third-party apps as they simply won't give you less processed output.)

As has been explained in my previous article, the stock Camera app in the Note4 leaves a lot to be desired. It applies unnecessarily too much noise reduction and oversharpening, wiping out the fine textures and giving edges absolutely unnatural oversharpening halos. Regretfully, Samsung doesn't allow for fine-tuning these parameters at all.

Fortunately, at least if you have a Snapdragon 805-based handset, you can easily fix these issues by using third-party apps able to export much less-processed images. While you won't be able to make use of, say, the excellent dual camera mode of the stock Camera app (something I simply love), you'll be more than compensated by the vastly superior image quality.

First, let's take a look at the following 1:1 crop:

(original, full image at Flickr)

And compare it to this one:


Which one do you prefer? I'm absolutely sure the second. The first shot is pretty awfully marred by oversharpening effects and excessive noise reduction (particularly in the bushes below, where fine detail is almost completely "watercolored" away) and there's some prominent purple (cyan) fringing on the left of the pillar in the upper left corner.

The first image, as you may have already guessed based on the awful oversharpening and noise reduction artifacts, has been taken with the stock Camera app. The second one with an almost-RAW-output shooter app, Snap camera HDR, which, in the first installment of this article series, I also heavily recommended for very low-light work, backed up with some (minimal) post processing in Adobe Lightroom. The latter involved some (20) color noise reduction (to get rid of the color noise present even at base ISO, that is, 40), some slight (25) sharpening (I used zero sharpening upon saving from Snap camera HDR) and chromatic aberration reduction to get almost completely rid of the, among other things, cyan aberration to the left of the pillar.

Here are the settings I used (note: in other post processing apps, the, to the maximal amount, relative amount of sharpening & CNR may be similar):

How does the original (non-post processed) output look like?

Basically, if there's plenty of light and the Note4 can stay at base ISO, color noise won't really be an issue; that is, should you want to avoid having to post process your images, you can still safely stay with the images saved right from your smartphone app. Let me show you the unprocessed output of Snap camera HDR:


However, you may want to play a bit with the sharpening setting. For example, in Snap camera HDR, setting sharpening to zero, while it's the best (as non-destructive as possible) for future post processing, results in an image that should be sharpened before “consuming” by humans. That is, if you're absolutely sure you won't want to post process, don't use zero sharpening in Snap camera HDR (or other apps that, as with Snap camera HDR, can save truly post processing-friendly, non-sharpened images) but play around with the setting. Surely you'll find a setting that looks sufficiently sharp, still without the annoying oversharpening halos of the stock app.

What about shooting at ISO1600 in broad daylight?

Often, if you do need to use as high shutter speeds as possible to, say, shoot action, you'll need to shoot at a predefined (high) ISO. I've conducted several tests to find out whether shooting at the maximum manual setting, ISO1600, is usable. (Note that, in automatic mode, the Note4 can go up to even ISO4000. In manual mode, however, ISO1600 is the maximum you can choose.)

First, as you may have already guessed, the color noise will be very high and you'll need to apply as heavy color noise reduction as possible (or convert the entire image to black and white). A crop of the full image below, without any kind of CNR:

ISO1600 daylight crop without color noise reduction


With CNR set to the maximum in Lightroom (in this case, 100), I could get rid most of the color noise but the image retained some low-frequency, very-hard-to-remove blotchy color noise, showing the best is just converting the entire image to black-and-white:

(original. Note that I, as opposed to the ISO40 case, haven't applied any kind of sharpening. Even the smallest amount of it would have further amplified the luminance noise in an absolutely ugly way.)

Finally, given that the Note4 lacks an ND filter and its maximal shutter speed is also restricted (albeit in no way as much as that of, say, the Nokia 808) to 1/65536s, you may run into problems with burnt-in highlights and/or generally overexposed image in very strong daylight. For example, the ISO1600 image below used the maximal shutter speed of 1/65536s but was still overexposed by about 1.5 EV's (see the maths below); hence the pretty much burnt-out skies around the Sun (which is just behind the tree in the upper right corner. Note that the last, Fuji image in this article shows how a non-overexposed shot of the same scene would have looked):

(original; the same as the one previously linked)

Additional negative exposure compensation (which, as you may know, would reduce the number of photons arriving at the sensor by further increasing shutter speed), therefore, fail. This is why for example THIS shot, with an exposure compensation of -2 (meaning it'd use four times higher shutter speed), still delivers the same overall brightness as the Note4 can't use higher shutter speeds than the above-mentioned 1/65536s. Positive exposure compensation, of course, works in this case. For example, the same scene shot with +2EV, used 1/35840s, and the overall brightness is also higher in the original shot HERE (this also proves the phone can indeed increase the shutter speed to 1/65536s – otherwise, the 0EV shot wouldn't be less exposed than the 1EV one). Given that 35840 divided by 65536 is 0.54, you can already see why the 0EV, original shot is overexposed – the shutter speed just can't be set to around 1/35840*2*2 = 1/143360s.

Keep this in mind when shooting in broad daylight. Fortunately, 1/65536s is more than sufficient for freezing any kind of movement you can imagine, incl. for example bullets. In this regards, the Note4 is far-far superior to the Nokia 808, which, again, has a severely restricted maximal shutter speed of 1/675s, making it fully impossible to properly shoot even falling water drops, let alone faster-moving subjects.

Note that as the phone uses a LED flash, the flash can be used at even the highest shutter speed, unlike with the Xenon flash and non-leaf-shutter combinations. For example, THIS close-up ISO1600 shot shot at 1/11744s using the flash, you can see the water drops aren't elongated. Not so with THISone not using the flash but relying on the ambient light (here, fluorescent light; hence the flicker-induced, vertical bars in the image), resulting in orders of magnitude lower shutter speed (1/341s). (Excuse the pretty bad focus.)

All in all,

All in all, you will really want to use third-party apps in broad daylight (too) to produce orders of magnitude better shots.

And, as has been also pointed out above, thanks to the very high maximal shutter speed of the Note4, you can shoot even the most extreme and fastest action, assuming you manually set the ISO as high as possible.

Appendix: How does the low-ISO image quality compare to the Nokia 808 and the Fujifilm X-Trans cameras?

All photo / camera geeks know the (WRT camera phones) Nokia 808 and (WRT APS-C bodies) Fujifilm's X-Trans sensors (and, of course, glass) rule when it comes to pure image quality. Let's compare to the maximal achievable quality of the Note4 to these, in any serious comparison, standard compare-to cameras. Naturally, you'll want to compare the best possible achievable images created by Note4 to those of these two pinnacles of technology. That is, forget the bad images produced by the stock Camera app right away but go images created by third-party shooter apps (in this case, Snap camera HDR).

The Nokia 808, as you may have expected, produces a generally better image. After all, while it has at least two years older technology, the significantly bigger lens and sensor pixel size still results in a significantly better image quality (less shadow noise, better overall resolving power, less purple fringing).

Here's a crop from the out-of-camera, 41 Mpixel JPEG shot exported at normal quality (in high-res mode, because of the restricted pixel-level resolving power, it's pretty much pointless to use “Fine” encoding on the 808):


And here's the Fuji crop:

Fuji DR400 shot


WRT the ISO1600 shots of the Note4, here's a crop of the shot of the Fuji X-E1, with the 18-55 shooting at 18mm at its, in order to maximize per-pixel sharpness, sweet spot (f/5.6):

Fuji shot of the same ISO1600 scene as with the one discussed in the ISO1600 section


As you can see, the Note4, even if you use third-party apps while shooting and post process the images, can't beat the Nokia 808 (let alone the Fuji). Nevertheless, it still produces, for a current smartphone with a popular OS (iOS or Android at the moment – Symbian and Windows Phone are, unfortunately, ruled out), outstanding results.

Fujifilm X-E1
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Johan Borg Senior Member • Posts: 2,744
Excellent on Note 3 as well

Thanks for the tip, I have switched to Snap Camera HDR for my Note 3 where it also delivers far more detail than any other app I've tried.

Sure, there's color noise, but that's easy to remove on a computer for critical use and I much prefer a bit of grain over smeared water colors. Highly recommended.

frosti7 Senior Member • Posts: 1,082
a Question

Thanks for the overview, i've found your thread because i'm interested in samsung galaxy phones but i've noticed the exaggerated processing of the new Galaxy S7 phone (its way more extreme then s6)

Do you think there's any way to dial up the processing in the original samsung app? i really dislike using third party camera apps and having an external gallery, i find myself not using thouse after a while...

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