Samsung Galaxy Camera in-depth review
On the Samsung website the Galaxy Camera is listed in the camera section rather than under mobile devices. This differentiation is further emphasized by the fact that the camera app is launched automatically when the device is powered on. You can also return to the camera app at any time by pressing the shutter button, no matter what you are doing on the device. Once you're in the camera app you have easy access to the familiar Android home screen by tapping on the home icon in the top left corner of the screen.
The operation of the native camera app itself is not too dissimilar from what we've seen on Android smartphones. You can tap on the live view image to set the focus point. However, exposure is not linked to the focus point. To the right of the live view image you have shutter and video buttons and a mode dial. On the left you find the home button and a link to view the last captured image or video via the Gallery app.
However, this being a more photo-centric device than your average smartphone, there are a few crucial differences. Given the Galaxy Camera has a physical zoom rocker there is no on-screen zoom-slider or pinch-zoom support. You can use the on-screen shutter button to capture an image but the physical shutter button with its half-press option offers better control.
It's also important to note that all camera app settings return to auto mode after a re-start of the device. Very occasionally this also happens after the Galaxy is woken up from sleep mode, but we haven't been able to pinpoint out exactly when and why. The occurence pattern seems random, but luckily doesn't happen very often.
By default the camera app operates in auto mode, with only very little control over shooting parameters. You can select the flash mode, set the self-timer and specify sharing options, but you have no manual control over exposure at all.
Unlike most smartphones, the Galaxy Camera allows you to operate in PASM shooting modes. These are accessible after you switch to Expert mode on the main mode dial. Here you can manually select ISO, apply exposure compensation and select aperture and/or shutter speed if you shoot in A, S or M modes. The interface looks very neat, with all settings arranged as rings on a 'virtual lens barrel.'
The downside here is that the animation is a little laggy; it may take a second or two before you can actually change any of the settings. This can be quite annoying if you frequently change ISO or apply exposure compensation.
The third option on the mode dial engages the smart modes. These modes are displayed as sample images in rotating gallery style that you can flick through using a swipe gesture. These are basically the same scene modes we've been seeing on digital cameras for a long time. The more interesting ones include the HDR mode (called Rich Tone) that combines three exposures to create a scene with greater dynamic range, the panorama mode and a night mode that combines two exposures to reduce noise.
A range of digital filter options can be accessed by tapping on the arrow at the bottom of the shooting screen. The options aren't too exciting and the same we've seen them on the Galaxy S3 before. They include Sepia, Black and White, Nostalgic, a Comic filter and 'Gothic Noir.' If you select one of them the effect is immediately applied to the live view image, so you get a preview of your final image.
The Galaxy Camera's native camera app offers one feature that you wouldn't find on most conventional compact cameras: voice control. Tap the little arrow in the top left corner of the live-view image to open up a row of settings. Tap on the microphone icon to activate the feature, enabling the following commands at your disposal:
|Take picture||Smile, Cheese, Capture, Shoot|
|Record videos||Record video|
|Take picture with 10 sec timer||Timer|
|Auto mode||Auto settings|
|Beauty Face mode||Beauty face|
|Zoom||Zoom in, zoom out|
|Flash||Flash on, flash off|
|Go to gallery||Gallery|
This can be useful as a remote-control substitute in situations when you don't want to touch the camera to avoid shake or simply for shooting a self-portrait. Voice control works surprisingly well, the camera usually reacts swiftly to commands and even deals well with my German accent as can be evidenced in the video below.
Out of the box the Samsung Galaxy Camera comes with the three pre-installed editing apps: Photo Wizard and Paper Artist for stills images and Video Editor for movie editing. You can select the first two apps when tapping on the editing option in the Gallery app. The latter you have to open by tapping the app icon.
The editing options of Photo Wizard are pretty much the same that we've seen on the Galaxy S3 smartphone before. In addition there are now also a number of options for improving portraits. You can remove red-eye, pull-up shadows if the subject is underexposed, smooth skin and isolate the subject by blurring the background. These functions work reasonably well, but the results can look a little artificial.
You'll also find standard editing functions such as cropping, resizing and a range of color and contrast options. More sophisticated options include effects such as Pop-Art, Retro, Sepia and Old Photo filters, a variation of digital frames and options that allow you to put 'stickers' on an image or directly draw on it. Bear in mind though that when you save an edited image its size is reduced quite dramatically to 1280 x 960 pixels.
If you are planning to print edited images or display them at a large size, for example as a desktop background image, you should do your editing on a computer or on a third-party editing app that is capable of saving larger size images.
Paper Artist app
Our test model Galaxy Camera came with Samsung's exclusive Paper Artist app installed. It can also be found on the Galaxy Note II 'phablet.' Paper Artist applies a range of 'paper-based' filter effects to your images. You can then use different sized brushes to 'paint' a second effect on top of the original one. The effect combinations and the entire app feel a little random, but with the right image and some playing around you can create some neat effects.
Video Editor is the pre-installed video editing app on the Samsung Galaxy Camera. In terms of features it's comparable to basic desktop video editing applications such as Windows Movie Maker. You can select a theme for your video which places a frame around it. Then you can add video clips, stills images and music to a timeline, change the order, cut the clips and add effects and titles. Working on a small screen probably isn't the most efficient way of editing a video, but the app is suprisingly powerful and useful for putting together a quick video on the go.
Sharing and cloud storage
The Galaxy Camera's connectivity features give you a plethora of options for sharing your images via Wi-Fi or 3G/4G. You can post your images to Facebook, Google Plus, Twitter and any other social networks, just as you would from your smartphone. It's also easy to save your images directly to the cloud via apps such as Dropbox, Google Drive or Amazon Cloud Drive, and then access and view them from any device or share them with others.
The Galaxy Camera also comes with various Samsung-specific sharing functions. Share Shot allows you to share pictures right when they are taken with other Samsung devices which support the feature. This includes the Galaxy S3, the Galaxy Note 10.1 and the Galaxy Note II.
Although the feature uses Android's Wi-Fi Direct technology it does not work with all Wi-Fi Direct capable devices, only Share Shot capable ones, so make sure the person you want to share with owns a compatible phone or tablet. It takes a moment to setup the connection between two devices but once that's done share shot works reliably. The video below shows the setup and image transfer process between the Galaxy Camera and a Galaxy S3.
There is also the Buddy Photo Share feature which uses facial recognition to match your photos with your contacts. By tagging photos you can send and share pictures, and sort them in your gallery by faces.
Because the Galaxy Camera is an Android device you can install most apps available through the Google Play store. I've used the camera as a phone substitute (minus the actual phone call element) when I was traveling for a week and used all my favorite apps on it without any problems. This included Google Maps and Navigation, Yelp, Facebok, Twitter, Instagram, Kindle, Amazon, Evernote, NBA Game Time, Flipboard, Google Drive and many more. I also installed and used the Lapse IT Pro time-lapse app which works well on the Samsung although white balance and exposure varies a little between frames.
I also found that even though some apps are not officially compatible with the device, they do work when sideloaded. The Flickr app is an example.
But most interesting was learning how the Galaxy Camera works with third-party camera and editing apps.
Third-party camera apps
As we've mentioned, the Samsung Galaxy Camera's default camera app, despite sporting a rather nice design, is a little slow to operate, especially if you prefer manual control over auto mode. However, one of the advantages of running a mobile operating system like Android on a camera is that you can install any camera app you like from the Google Play Store (which comes installed on the device, but of course you could install apps from the Amazon Appstore or any other). In theory that sounds great, but in the case of the Galaxy Camera there are still some limitations to overcome.
We've downloaded and installed two of the more popular third-party Android camera apps: ProCapture and Camera FV-5. Both are compatible with the Samsung Galaxy Camera so the Google Play Store allows you to install them, but that doesn't mean they are optimized for the device. Camera FV-5 is one of my favorite camera apps for Android, its user interface is very intuitive and gives you very quick access to many shooting parameters. Exposure compensation, for example, can be applied much quicker than in the Galaxy's native camera app.
However, Camera FV-5 does not recognize the Galaxy's zoom lever. Moving it actually changes the device volume. On an Android smartphone you can customize the function of the volume buttons and use them for zooming or as a shutter button in the app. Changing this setting has no effect on the Samsung's zoom-lever though. You can still use the app's pinch-zoom but the non-working zoom-lever renders the app pretty much useless. You are further limited by the app's ISO scale maxing out at 1600. While this is the current maximum on most Android phones, the Galaxy Camera offers you a maximum sensitivity of ISO 3200.
Of the two apps we have extensively tested with the Galaxy Camera, ProCapture is the better option, as it allows you to use the zoom rocker. However, image resolution is limited to 10MP and you have no control over ISO.
We'll have to wait and see if the Galaxy Camera sells well enough to become an interesting device for third-party developers. The possibilities would be virtually endless.
Third-party editing apps
In contrast to the third-party capture apps mentioned above, most of the popular editing apps are fully compatible with the Samsung Galaxy Camera. You can install and use them exactly the same way as you would on any Android phone or tablet. We've tried out Snapseed and Pixlr-o-matic, two of the most comprehensive editing apps currently available for Android and, with the help of the Samsung's quad-core processor, things run smoothly and swiftly.
However, one thing to bear in mind is that most editing apps don't allow you to save an edited image at full size. On the one hand, this makes images more easily shareable via wireless connections, but on the other it also means that your output images might not have enough pixels for printing or displaying at large size. At 612 x 612 pixels, the popular filter and sharing app Instagram is one of the worst offenders in that respect. Snapseed's maximum image size is a more useful 2304 x 1728 pixels.
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