Performance and Image Quality

Like the Galaxy S3, the Note II is fast on the photographic draw. It locks focus quickly and shows virtually no shutter lag. Shot-to-shot time is very good, almost as fast as you can push the shutter button. Switch to burst mode and you can rip off 20 shots at six frames per second at full resolution. That’s faster than some DSLRs.

With its quad-core processor and 2GB RAM the Samsung Galaxy Note II is also quick and responsive when working with apps, viewing images or browsing the web. Apps, including the camera app, open in the blink of an eye and the use of Android 4.1. "Jelly Bean" as operating system means all scrolling is very smooth.

Daylight, Low ISO

The Galaxy Note II's image quality is as good as identical to the Galaxy S3's. Check out our S3 review for a comparison with the iPhone 5, HTC One X and Nokia Lumia 920.

With enough light to work with, image quality is generally good. White balance is accurate and exposures are usually correct, though you’ll want to enable face recognition in portraits to ensure that pale faces don’t blow out. There’s some noise visible in even tones like blue skies, but it’s not objectionable. When viewed at 100% magnification it becomes clear that the Samsung, like its sister model, the S3, is using strong noise reduction to produce a clean image. This comes at the expense of fine low-contrast detail, even in good light.

Dynamic range is limited as with any phone camera with a small sensor, so you may need to dial in a bit of negative exposure compensation when shooting contrasty subjects to avoid blowing out highlights, or switch to HDR mode.

In good light the Note II delivers good results. There’s a little noise visible in the sky, and low-contrast detail suffers from noise reduction but overall the camera does a decent job.
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Exposure is good in this scene but the red channel is seriously clipped, which leads to a slightly artificial look in the face.
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Like on most smartphone cameras highlight clipping is an issue in high-contrast scenes.
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Skin tones are natural in daylight but even at ISO 100 fine details is smeared by noise reduction.
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Low Light, High ISO

As light levels drop and ISOs climb, the Note II obviously has more trouble, but it holds its own with results that are very similar to the Galaxy S3's. That said, image quality deteriorates quickly as you increase the ISO sensitivity, with noise, noise reduction artifacts and detail smearing creeping in quite aggressively -- as you would expect from any image capturing device with a tiny sensor. Nevertheless, images are good enough for typical web use up to the highest settings.

Getting the best possible results in a low-light situation means taking advantage of the camera app’s flexibility. You can avoid overexposure by switching the metering mode or just dialing in negative compensation, and set ISO manually to keep it from climbing too high (as long as you can hold the phone steady).

Like the S3, the Note II offers manual control over ISO but not all settings are available in manual mode. You can choose a range from ISO 100 - 800 but in Auto mode the Samsung goes both below and above this range, capturing images at ISO 80 and 1600, respectively. Turning on the electronic image stabilization lets the Note II push ISO even higher and raises the minimum shutter speed to around 1/30 of second.

At ISO 1250, the Note II delivers an image that’s totally satisfying at screen resolutions. Zooming in reveals the smeary reality of the noise reduction being deployed, but it’s handled pretty well for a smartphone.
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Fine details starts suffering as soon as you go higher than base ISO, as can be seen in this ISO 320 shot.
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Electronic image stabilization raises ISO to 2500 in this shot, resulting in pretty nasty output with a lot of noise and detail smearing.
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The Galaxy Note II's camera app offers a way to improve low light image quality. The Low Light shooting mode also works wonders in terms of avoiding intrusive noise by blending a quick burst of frames into one and averaging out the noise. As with the HDR mode, objects moving through the frame may create strange artifacts, so the tool works best with static scenes. You should also avoid any camera shake while capturing the burst. 

For this shot we've switched to spot metering and manually set ISO to 800, which is enough to get a decent albeit somewhat noisy exposure. 
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 Here we used the camera app’s Low Light scene mode, which delivers exceptionally low noise for these light levels.
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