Samsung Galaxy S4 camera first look: Imaging features
With the Blackberry Z10, Sony Xperia Z and HTC One, 2013 has already seen a number of interesting smartphone launches but the Samsung Galaxy S4 has no doubt been the most high profile one. With its large 5-inch 1080p Full-HD Super-AMOLED screen with a pixel-density of 441ppi, Android 4.1, a new 1.6 GHz Exynos 5 Octa processor (quad-core in some regions, including the U.S.) and 2GB RAM, the new Samsung flagship boasts an impressive spec sheet. The camera module is no slouch either and comes with a 13MP backside-illuminated CMOS sensor and a fast F2.0 lens.
However, not only the new phone's hardware specs are impressive; Samsung's software engineers have worked some extra hours and implemented a few cool looking new camera features and modes in the S4. Since we pitted the Samsung Galaxy S4 against some of its top smartphone competitors in our Smartphone Super Shootout, we've been experimenting with the device's camera as we complete our full review of Samsung's newest flagship phone. We're still analyzing and assessing the device in detail as only Dpreview Connect can, but until then we offer a look at some of the more innovative camera features of the S4.
This feature has potential for some interesting shots, especially when shooting action sports or just playing around. In drama mode the S4 continuously captures frames over a period of five seconds or so, detects a moving subject in the frame and creates a composite image, combining multiple shots of the moving subject against the background.
It took us a few attempts to create a usable output image as the function struggles with subjects that are too small or large in the frame or move too slow or fast. However, when subject size and speed are within acceptable parameters drama mode creates good quality composites. You can manually select which frames to include after they have been captured which gives you a little creative flexibility but as you can see in the sample on the right including too many frames can lead to body parts disappearing.
Animated GIFs have been around on the web for a long time but have more recently seen a revival and might just be the trendiest file type in the imaging world at the moment. These quirky moving pictures only seem to be growing in popularity, even popping up as a new photo booth trend. Samsung is hopping on the bandwagon with the S4, adding a built-in Animated photo mode.
After you've recorded your eight-second clip, you'll see options to animate or freeze objects. You can also trim your recording and change the direction of playback to move backward, forward or in a back and forth loop. Below you can see an un-edited gif. The image size is approximately 800x450 pixels and file size could, depending on the size of the animated areas, be anywhere between 4 and 30MB which makes them a little large for sharing from your phone.
We still like Cinemagram, recently launched for Android, better. The app offers more creative choices for constructing your moving images and a more user-friendly interface. Overall though we've seen the best animated gif results from the Cinemagraph app that is currently only available for Nokia Lumia Windows Phones.
Below you can see a sample for which we froze part of the screen. After a clip has been captured you can mark parts of the frame and then select to animate or freeze them.
The results are not very impressive. As you can see below the function simply animates the marked areas, including camera shake. Other third-party apps are more sophisticated and actually attempt to isolate moving subjects from the background.
Animated Photo mode is fun to play with but we like Cinemagram, recently launched for Android, better. The app offers more creative choices for constructing your moving images and a more user-friendly interface. Overall we've seen the best animated GIF results from the Cinemagraph app that is currently only available for Nokia Lumia Windows Phones.
Eraser mode works by snapping a series of images and identifying and removing moving objects from the final composite image. After the images have been captured moving objects are automatically identified and marked in purple. You can then select to hide or show them and save the final image.
In our testing this worked quite well for the scenario we see it most likely to be applied: when a passerby walks directly in front of a subject in a busy public setting. How many ruined snapshots taken at tourist hotspots could have been saved with this feature?
The S4 is the first smartphone that we know of which is capable of recording images from its front- and rear cameras simultaneously. This has resulted in one of the more gimmicky photo features of the S4 - the Dual Shot mode which allows you to capture images with both cameras at the same time and create a picture-in-picture effect, with a variety of frames to surround your front-facing camera capture.
The default is a stamp frame that creates a postcard effect when combined with a scenic vista. While this might be fun for vacation photos, we imagine you'll find your kids clamoring to play with this effect more than you will. To access it, select the Auto mode and then tap the Dual Shot icon, the overlapping image of both the front and back of the camera symbol. Tap the arrow at the bottom of the screen to experiment with more borders around the front-facing camera image.
On the S4 a picture-in-picture mode is also available for Skype calls, so the person on the other end of the line can see your face but also the scenery behind the phone's rear lens.
Some app makers have been playing around with the dual-camera idea before the arrival of the S4: DuoCam and 2sidez create click-to-flip pictures with the front-facing camera capture on one side, the rear-facing camera capture on the other. Dblcam makes a blended image from the two captures. However, all these apps don't take pictures simultaneously (simply because that's impossible on any other phone) but capture them very quickly one after the other. Of course live preview or picture-in-picture video is not possible.
Panorama modes and apps aren't anything new. However, what's new on the Galaxy S4 is that the end-results are very large. When shooting in landscape orientation the image is approximately 22,000 pixels wide and 1,600 pixels tall. In comparison, on the S3 panoramas are only 6,000 pixels wide, only about double the width of a standard 4:3 frame.
Stitching and exposure are typically fine too, so if you manage to capture an attractive panorama shot on the Galaxy S4 they could potentially be printed in very large formats.
Sound & Shot
We're really struggling to find a practical use for this feature that will first capture your image, then continue recording for up to nine seconds of sound afterward. Problem is, the Sound & Shot files can only be played back on the S4. A JPEG file is saved for the still image but it appears the audio portion is stored in a proprietary file type which means it's not widely shareable. We'll have a closer look at this for our full review.
There's potential for a reminder function here: perhaps you can think of a situation in which you would want to take a photo and then verbally make a note to yourself about it. Without a way to share these audible images widely, we can't see this one catching on though - we'd rather just shoot video.
Video and Image Samples
Below you'll find a selection of video samples and a preview samples gallery containing 35 images for you to browse and make your own judgement about the Galaxy S4's image quality. Make sure you also check our Smartphone Super Shootout for a variety of samples and image quality assessments in different light and shooting situations.
Standard video mode sample in bright light
This video was shot in good light using the Samsung Galaxy S4's standard 1080p 30 fps video mode.
Standard video mode sample in low light
This 1080p video was shot indoors in low light.
Slow motion video mode sample
The Samsung Galaxy S4 also offers slow motion video at three different speeds - 1/2, 1/4 and 1/8. Frame size is 800 x 450 pixels for all speeds. Below you can see a sample for the 1/8 setting.
Fast motion video mode sample
For those who prefer things faster rather than slower a fast-video mode is available at full 1080p frame size. You can choose from 2x, 4x and 8x speeds. Below is a sample of the 2x variant.
There are 35 images in our Samsung Galaxy S4 samples gallery. Please do not reproduce any of these images on a website or any newsletter/magazine without prior permission (see our copyright page). We make the originals available for private users to download to their own machines for personal examination or printing (in conjunction with this review), we do so in good faith, please don't abuse it.
Unless otherwise noted images taken with no particular settings at full resolution.
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