DPReview smartphone reviews are written with the needs of photographers in mind. We focus on camera features, performance, and image quality.

Introduction

The Samsung Galaxy S III is the latest incarnation of Samsung’s hugely successful Galaxy S smartphone line and Samsung’s best-selling smartphone to date. The first model in Samsung’s flagship series, the Galaxy S, was introduced in 2010 and featured a five megapixel camera and a, for a smartphone at the time, innovative imaging feature set including panorama mode, smile-shutter and 720p video recording. 

The second generation Galaxy S2 was launched in 2011 and came with the usual improvements such as faster processing and an updated OS (Android 2.3 Ginger Bread vs 2.1 Éclair on the Galaxy S) but also had significantly improved image capturing capabilities. With an eight megapixel backlight-illuminated sensor and 1080p video capture the Galaxy S2 was one of the best specced smartphones, in terms of its photographic capabilities at its launch.

On paper the S3, launched in May this year, comes with identical imaging specification as its predecessor but offers some interesting new camera features such as a burst shooting mode, simultaneous HD video and image recording,  a reduced shutter lag and a Best Shot function that recommends the best picture based on colors, lighting and sharpness.

Please note: We tested the US version of this phone which at the time of review was running Android V4.04 ‘Ice Cream Sandwich’. Samsung is currently rolling out Android 4.1 'Jelly Bean' for the international and US versions of the S3. Once this update is available we will have a closer look and update this review if it offers any new camera functions or changed image quality.

Click here to read our guide to the Android operating system

Key Photographic / Video Specifications

  • 8 megapixel backlight-illuminated CMOS sensor
  • F2.6 lens
  • 4.8 inch, 1280 x 720 dots (316ppi)
  • ISO 80-1600 (100-800 manually selectable)
  • 4x digital zoom
  • Burst mode
  • Panorama Mode
  • HDR mode
  • Touch to focus and hold to AF lock
  • 11 Filter effects
  • Image Stabilization
  • Best Shot recommends best pic based on colors,lighting and clarity
  • Zero shutter-lag
  • 1080p 30fps video mode with stills capture during recording

Design & Operation

Since the introduction of the original Galaxy S in 2010 Samsung has maintained the general design language on its flagship devices. Nevertheless the S III is clearly distinguishable from its predecessors by its thinner profile and tapered edges. The screen has increased further to 4.8 inches and now takes up almost the entire face of the phone, with only a very thin bezel all around.

The Galaxy S3 slightly deviates from the standard Android hardware specification in so far that the navigation buttons at the bottom of the screen are hard-buttons rather than soft-buttons as it has been Android standard since the introduction of version 4.0 'Ice Cream Sandwich'.

The camera app on the Galaxy S III offers more options than the standard Android app but is still easy and simple to use. You focus by tapping on the screen and you can lock focus by tapping and holding. The shutter button is located to the right, the control above lets you switch between stills and video capture. On the left there is a column of customizable menu icons that gives you access to a range of camera settings.

By default, autofocus is acquired at the centre of the frame but you can tap anywhere on the screen to move it within the scene. If you tap and hold you lock the focus and can then recompose the scene. The controls to the right of the screen are dominated by the large 'virtual' shutter button. Unfortunately the shutter cannot be assigned to any of the phone's physical buttons. Above you find the stills/video switch and at the bottom a thumbnail of the last captured image which takes you to the Gallery app when tapped.

On the left you find another array of icons. Apart from the settings icon at the bottom these can be customized and set to any of the following functions:

  • Scene mode
  • Resolution
  • Auto Contrast
  • Exposure Compensation
  • White Balance
  • Guidelines
  • Focus Mode
  • ISO
  • Self-Timer
  • Metering Mode

The settings icon at the bottom gives you access to those parameters that are not set as a shortcut and a few additional options which cannot be assigned to a menu button:

  • Image Stabilization
  • Image Quality
  • GPS Tagging
  • Shutter Sound
  • Reset

Like most latest-generation smartphones these days the Galaxy S3 has very few external controls. The power button is on the right, the volume rocker is on the left and on the front you'll find the Home button. The other Android buttons, the Back and Multitask buttons, are implemented as capacitive touch-buttons left and right to the Home button. They light up as you touch them.

The Samsung's excellent 4.8 inch screen is great for framing photographs but it inevitably makes the Galaxy S3 one of the largest smartphones around.  And while the thin tapered edges look quite elegant in combination with the S III's size they make the phone a little more 'slippery' to hold as a camera than some of its rivals. If you use your Galaxy S3 a lot for taking pictures we would recommend the use of a case. It does not only protect your device but also makes it more comfortable to hold when taking pictures.

The only hard-button on the front is the Home-button (pictured here) but left and right of it are the capacitive Back and Multitask buttons which light up when touched.
The flash LED is located next to the camera lens and microphone on the rear of the phone. It can be set to On, Off or Auto mode. It's not as powerful as a compact camera flash but good enough for a close-range portrait or a little fill-light. There are also apps available to use it as a flashlight - useful when trying to find your keys at night.

The Galaxy S3's flash settings are very simple. You can turn it on, switch it off or set it to Auto mode and let the camera decide if it wants to use the flash. In video mode the flash LED can be used as a permanent video light. On the S3 camera app the LED does not provide any anti red-eye or focus light functionality but it can be useful for non-photographic purposes. There is a variety of apps out there that let you use it as a flash light.

From the phone's lock screen you can directly open the camera app by tapping the camera icon and swiping across the screen. This directly opens the camera app but from there you can continue using the phone as usual.

There are four customizable short-cut buttons on the Galaxy S3's lock screen, one of them takes you directly to the camera app. Simply tap the icon and swipe anywhere on the screen.

Apart from the flash options the Galaxy S3 offers a range of shooting modes which cater for different shooting situations. There is an HDR mode which combines three exposures automatically in-camera in order to increase the dynamic range of the photograph. Other modes incluse a burst mode, of roughly 6fps, a panorama mode and a smile shot mode that takes a picture automatically when your subject smiles.