Features

Like most smartphones the Galaxy S3's camera is geared towards 'point-and-shoot' operation and all you need to do to capture an image after launching the camera app is press the shutter button. You can also change and/or lock the focus point by tapping and/holding a specific point on the screen. For many users these will be the only controls they ever use on a smartphone and that's totally fine.

However, for those who like to play with options and functions the Samsung Galaxy S III's camera app has a much more comprehensive feature set than its stock Android equivalent. Many of the features we know from digital compact cameras but by smartphone standards the Galaxy S3's camera comes with a comprehensive feature set.

In addition to the features described in more detail below it is worth mentioning the Samsung also offers a range of scene modes, geotagging and the ability to capture stills images while capturing video at the same time.

Burst Mode / Best Shot

Setting the camera app to Burst Mode allows you to capture up to 20 shots at a frame rate of approximately six frames per second in one burst by pressing and holding the shutter button. The images are captured at full size. This works very well for moving subjects in good light and therefore fast shutter speeds.

Image #1
Image #2
Image #3
Image #4

In lower light no control over shutter speeds or ISO in Burst mode means that you often end up with slower shutter speeds and therefore some motion blur in your images. The S3 camera has a tendency to keep ISO to a minimum which in low light typically results in shutter speeds that are not fast enough for moving subjects.

This sample was taken indoors. The camera selected ISO 80 which resulted in a shutter speed of 1/50 sec and a blurred subject. In these situations it would be beneficial to select a higher sensitivity despite the loss in image detail.

In Burst mode you've also got a 'Best photo' option. If this mode is activated the camera takes eight shots in quick succession and then picks the best image based on focus, smiling and blinking and other unspecified criteria. After a Best Shot burst has been captured the camera app suggests the best shots but all shots in the burst are displayed and you can save all of them if you want.

HDR mode

With HDR mode activated the Galaxy S III takes three images in quick succession and combines them to one High Dynamic Range image. Both the standard and HDR exposure are saved. The sample below shows the standard exposure on the left and the HDR picture on the right.

Standard (non-HDR) exposure
With HDR function activated

As you can see the HDR exposure has a slightly 'flatter' appearance but shows more detail in the highlight areas of the scene, such as white cabin of the boat on the left. HDR mode works best with relatively static scenes such as the one in the sample above. With moving subjects in the frame you often end up with a 'ghosting' 'effect in the image.

Panorama mode

There is an abundance of apps available in the Google Play store to create panoramic images and the stock Android camera app offers this feature too. But you don't need to reach for a third-party app - thre's a panorama function included in the S3's native camera app. It essentially works in a very similar way to the panorama modes we have seen on many compact cameras before.  

Once you've set the app to panorama mode and pressed the shutter button you can pan the camera in any direction and hold it vertically or horizontally to create a panorama picture. As you are panning the app draws a frame around the last image that was captured which allows you to align your framing pretty easily.

With static scenes the panorama stitching works well but you get the occasional stitching error, in this sample shot visible on the distant buildings just to the left of the image center. At just over 6000 pixels the panorama images are only double the width of a standard 4:3 capture and not stitched from full-size images.
In scenes with moving subjects, such as this corridor at a trade show venue, the stitching algorithm gets confused, resulting in ghosting effects and the same subject appearing mroe than once.

The app creates approximately a 180 degree panorama but the images are stitched at a reduced size, resulting in panoramic images that are typically just over 6000 pixels wide. Panoramas of static subjects are usually nicely rendered but pretty often show at least minor stitching errors. Like most panorama modes things become more problematic once there are moving subjects in the scene. This can result in 'ghosting effects' and/or the same subject appearing multiple times in the image.

Beauty

This is a filter which retouches blemishes on subject faces. When looking at the image close-up the effect is a little too pronounced for our taste, overprocessing the image and essentially make people resemble display mannequins. This can be a fun feature to play with but the novelty factor wears off pretty quickly and any serious retouching work is certainly better done in a dedicated app or on your computer.

The Beauty Shot feature creates slightly artificial looking results when viewed at a larger magnification but for 'facebook-sized' images it works quite well.

Cartoon

This shooting mode is essentially a filter that converts your image into a cartoon at the time of capture. You can see the filter applied in the live view images which helps create the desired effect but with essentially no parameters to plat with the possibilities are distinctly limited.

The Cartoon shooting mode applies a cartoon style digital filter to your pictures and live view image preview.

Filters

The S3's camera app offers a range of digital filters which have their own dedicated menu button. This includes the follwoing effects:

  • Negative
  • Black and White
  • Sepia
  • Washed out
  • Cold vintage
  • Warm vintage
  • Posterize
  • Solarize
  • Blue point
  • Green point
  • Red-yellow point

In theory these filters work in similar way to the Cartoon and Beauty shooting modes. It's not quite clear why the latter were given Shooting Mode status but it certainly makes the user interface look a little unstructured.

When you tap on the filter icon a list of available filters opens up. Tap on the filter to select it. You then have to tap anywhere else on the screen to close the filter list first before you can take an image. This is a little unfortunate as it prevents you from quickly taking a series of images of the same scene using various different filters.

The filters are pretty standard fare, the same sort of effects we've seen on compact cameras for many years. That said, some of them can render an otherwise boring scene a little more interesting.

 No filter
 Sepia
 Solarize
 Polarize

Digital Zoom

Like pretty much all smartphones the Samsung Galaxy S3 doesn't offer optical zoom, but a 4x digital zoom is available, and can be controlled using the famililar 'pinch-to-zoom' gesture. Image quality from digitally zoomed images deteriorates quickly with the zoom factor and at maximum zoom range image quality is very poor compared to the wide-angle images.

 No zoom
 4x digital zoom

Post-capture Editing (Gallery App)

Out of the box the Galaxy S 3 does not have an image editor installed. If you select the edit function within the Gallery app for the first time the phone will first ask you to download and install the image editor which, once done, offers you a good array of editing options. You find all the standard functions such as cropping, resizing and a range of color and contrast options. More sophisticated editing 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.

In the gallery app you can browse the images that are saved on your phone.
There is a large number of retouching options available including a Pop-Art filter...
...a variety of digital frames...
 ...and 'stickers' that can be superimposed onto your images.

Smile Shot

Smile Shot is another feature we have seen before on various compact cameras. Smile Shot looks for faces in a scene and automatically triggers the shutter once all faces are showing a smile. Like similar features we have tested before the smile required to trigger the system is quite pronounced. So, sometimes facial expressions in Smile Shot pictures can look a little 'artificial' but even though, the function still makes an excellent party trick.

Share Shot and Buddy photo share

Share shot allows you to share pictures right when they are taken with other Samsung devices which support the feature. This includes the Galaxy Camera, the Galaxy Note 10.1 and the Galaxy Note II. Although the feature uses Android's Wi-Fi Direct technology is 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.

Buddy photo share 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.