Samsung Galaxy Camera in-depth review
On this page we examine the Samsung Galaxy Camera's image quality in a variety of real-life shooting situations. For our comparison shots under controlled studio lighting please go to the studio comparison page in this review.
Daylight, low ISO
The Galaxy Camera's 16MP sensor captures 4608 x 3456 pixel images with vibrant saturated colors, decent edge contrast and typically good exposure. However, at a 100 percent magnification the rendering of image detail is slightly underwhelming. Fine detail is blurred and smeared by heavy noise reduction. At the same time blurred luminance-noise speckles are still visible in areas of plain color, even at base ISO. In combination with pretty heavy sharpening this gives the Samsung images a mushy appearance when viewed at 1:1 magnification.
The Galaxy Camera's 21x zoom lens also contributes to the general softness to the images, especially toward the edges of the frame. The degree of softness varies slightly with the focal length and is more prominent at wide angle, but the lens isn't perfect at any zoom setting. There are also some traces of fringing to be found in high-contrast image areas that are close to the edge of the frame.
Dynamic range is on par with other small-sensor compact cameras. There is a tendency to blow out overcast skies and the highlights in other high-contrast scenes, but it's not any worse than on most consumer compacts we have used. In static scenes the camera's HDR mode can help to increase the captured dynamic range.
Low light, high ISO
The zoom lens is, compared to a smartphone, one of the Galaxy Camera's unique selling propositions. However, you will have to use higher ISOs in anything but the best light if you are planning to make good use of it. While at its wide end the lens sports a reasonably fast F2.8 aperture, at the long end this goes down to F5.9. This is not unusual at all for a compact long-zoom camera but it also means that if you want to achieve a fast shutter speed, to freeze the motion of a player in a sports game for example, and you are shooting indoors or under a cloudy sky, you'll have to crank up the ISO.
In terms of image processing Samsung sticks to its approach: noise is eliminated by fairly ruthless noise reduction, at the expense of image detail. The loss of the latter is evident from ISO 400 upwards and at ISO 800 not much fine low-contrast detail is left. On the upside, high-contrast detail and color accuracy are maintained throughout the ISO range and the images are, for a camera in this class, relatively free of chroma noise.
At a 100 percent view the images might not look pretty, with a lot of grain and noise reduction artifacts, but thanks to low chroma noise levels, even at the highest ISO 3200 setting, the camera's output is usable at small print sizes and for web publishing. For static scenes, the Night Shot mode is a good way of capturing cleaner images.
Given that, at pixel-level, the rather soft and mushy image output of the Galaxy Camera and the fact that many users will edit their images on-camera to later share them online, there is a case to be made for not shooting at 16MP. When shooting at 5MP you don't actually loose much detail compared the the larger files and, as a bonus, upload to Dropbox or the Amazon Cloud is quicker. Below we have included a few 5MP samples.
Flash photography is one of the areas where the Galaxy Camera gives you a real advantage over using a smartphone. The Samsung comes with a Xenon pop-up flash that has maximum reach of 6.2m at wide angle and 5.1m at the tele end of the lens (using Auto ISO). While in camera terms this is nothing to write home about, it's way better than the tiny LED-flashes you find on most smartphones. Besides more power and reach, with red-eye reduction, fill-in flash and slow sync modes, it also offers more control over your flash images. The recycle time is approximately four seconds.
Overall image quality
In summary, the Galaxy Camera delivers pixel-level image quality that is typical for a low-end to mid-level compact camera. It looks perfectly alright at screen size, with punchy colors and good exposure but slightly limited dynamic range in high-contrast scenes. If you zoom in to a 100 percent view, things get a little ugly though. The JPEGs look overprocessed with visible noise reduction and other artifacts, even at base ISO. Things get worse at higher sensitivities with low-contrast detail being annihilated by noise reduction. There is also a lot of smeared noise but on the plus side chroma noise is well under control which makes even high ISO images still usable for smaller print sizes and on the web.
The crucial question is: how much does pixel-level image quality matter for a device like the Samsung Galaxy Camera? And for many users, the answer -- probably -- is not very much. The Galaxy Camera allows you to do two things you cannot do with a traditional compact camera: process images with an abundance of editing and filtering apps and share them on the go. Most editing apps limit their output files to smaller sizes and don't allow you to save an edited version of 16MP image. Pixlr-o-matic, which we reviewed recently on Connect, is an exception.
Sharing works pretty much in the same way. While some social networks and most image sharing sites allow you to upload full-size images, it doesn't make any sense to upload the Galaxy Camera's 16MP files, which range from approximately three to six megabites in size via a mobile device. Essentially this means that if you're using a Galaxy Camera how it is meant to be used, you shouldn't be too worried about pixel-level image quality.
Compared to a traditional compact camera, the Galaxy Camera offers very sophisticated sharing features and the ability to install apps, while compared to a smartphone, you get a 21x zoom and a decent flash. This combination makes the Samsung Galaxy unique and while it's certainly not appealing to everyone, despite its sometimes underwhelming image quality it's a great device for the photo-centric smartphone user who wants optical zoom and a better flash.
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