Samsung gets serious with the Galaxy S4: Camera review
11 Conclusion & Gallery
Conclusion - The Good
- Good exposure even in difficult lighting situations
- Very good detail in bright light
- Good flash performance
- Quick and responsive operation
- Very comprehensive imaging feature set
- Excellent screen and decent ergonomics
- Some customizability in camera app
- Comprehensive Gallery app with selection feature
- Fast shot-to-shot times and 3.5 fps continuous shooting
- Useful voice control feature
- Panorama mode capable of creating very large images
- Efficient HDR-mode creates natural looking output
- New Dual-Shot mode is fun to play with
- Slow motion video mode
Conclusion - The Bad
- Strong noise reduction leads to loss of detail in low light
- Very slow shutter speeds in low light can result in camera shake
- No control over image parameters such as sharpening or contrast
- Access to key parameters such as exposure compensation or ISO could be better
- Exposure can’t be linked to focus point
- Sports Mode cannot be combined with burst shooting
- No optical image stabilization
- Inefficient digital image stabilization in video mode
The Galaxy S4 is Samsung's current top-of-the-line smartphone and as such comes with impressive hardware specifications and a feature set that is hard to compete with. The fast processors and 2GB RAM translate into very quick and responsive operation in daily use. Apps open and run and smoothly and there's no mobile task the S4 can't deal with swiftly. The 1080p AMOLED-screen is very sharp and it's a pleasure to frame and review photos and videos on it.
The Galaxy S4 feels solid in your hand and is comfortable to hold, even without a case, but Samsung's design team hasn't been too adventurous when working on the S4 and it's probably fair to say that some rivals, such as the iPhone 5 and HTC One with their slick metal bodies, have the edge over the Samsung in the looks department. Dpreview Connect reviews focus on the imaging features and capabilities of the devices we test, but there is no doubt that as a smartphone and mobile device the S4 is right up there with the best.
Features & Operation
The Samsung Galaxy S4's camera app offers you some customization, but this is generally geared toward point-and-shoot operation. You can "pin" frequently used parameters, such as ISO or exposure compensation, to a quick access menu bar but even then it takes at least two taps on the screen before you can actually modify them. That said, you get very quick access to the multitude of available shooting modes and picking a shooting mode for a specific situation, such as Night Mode, HDR or Sports Mode, can often lead to better results than trying to optimize image output by changing shooting parameters. Those who prefer a physical shutter button over a virtual one have the option to assign this function to the volume rocker.
In terms of imaging features the Galaxy S4 is hard to beat. It comes with an impressive number of shooting modes in its camera app, some of them more useful than others. Dual Camera, Drama Mode and Animated Photo are fun to play with but have their flaws and the novelty factor wears off pretty quickly. Eraser Mode is arguably more useful as it detects unwanted subjects and removes them from an image pretty efficiently. However, as it's impossible to predict if and when a passerby strolls through your frame, you would have to shoot in this mode by default for it to be most efficient. Given that in most special shooting modes you lose all manual control over shooting parameters, for many users that might be too much of a compromise. Still, at the very least the feature makes for a good party trick.
The two features we liked most on the S4 are old favorites. The Panorama mode has been improved and is now capable of creating very large images of approximately 20,000 pixels wide. In combination with good stitching quality, this allows S4 panoramas to be viewed or printed at very large sizes. The HDR mode creates very natural looking results and compensates a lot for the S4's lack of dynamic range. Occasionally the HDR results can look a little flat but a quick level correction in Photoshop or the image editing app of your choice can get you really good results, even in high contrast situations.
Of course the Galaxy S4 is running Android 4.2, the latest version of Google's mobile operation system. If the Samsung is lacking a specific feature that you want or need, or you're not quite happy with one of the default implementations, you're more than likely to find an appropriate app in the Google Play Store.
With its 13MP CMOS sensor the Samsung Galaxy S4 produces very good detail in bright light that can rival many consumer compact cameras. With strong sharpening applied at a 100 percent view the images can look a little overprocessed. Unfortunately, you don't have any control over imaging parameters such as sharpening, contrast or noise reduction, but overall the Samsung images look very good next to the competition. Exposure tends to be spot on, too, and the lens provides good sharpness across the frame.
Like all smartphones in low light the S4 suffers from a loss of detail through noise reduction, but noise is well under control and the images relatively clean. The S4's high 13MP sensor resolution also means that when images are downsampled to screen viewing sizes noise will be much less noticeable than at a 100 percent view. That is important to keep in mind considering that almost all smartphone images are reduced in size for editing and/or sharing. Camera shake can be more problematic as the Samsung tends to use very slow shutter speeds, as slow as 1/15 in low light, in order to keep the ISO down but does not feature an optical image stabilization system. You can, however, engage digital image stabilization which will limit the slowest shutter speed to 1/30 sec.
The Samsung's flash unit is fairly powerful and usually does a decent job in dim conditions. If you would like to see the Samsung Galaxy S4's image quality next to the HTC One, Apple iPhone 5 and Nokia Lumia 920, we recommend you also have a look at our Smartphone Super Shootout that we published in April.
The Final Word
The Samsung Galaxy S4 is an excellent Android device with imaging capabilities to match. The camera's image quality is among the best we've seen so far on mobile devices and the comprehensive camera feature set means you won't run out of new functions to try any time soon. The lack of an optical image stabilization system means you are risking some camera shake in very low light and the camera movements in your hand-held videos won't be quite as smooth as on the HTC One or Nokia Lumia 920, but otherwise the Samsung Galaxy S4 is an easy recommendation for any photo-centric Android user.
Samsung Galaxy S4
Category: Mobile Phone
Camera and Photo Features
Ergonomics and Handling
Still Image Quality
Speed and Responsiveness
The Samsung Galaxy S4 features one of the best smartphone cameras we have seen so far. It combines very decent image quality with a simple but customizable camera app and a multitude of innovative features and modes. An optical image stabilization system would have been the icing on the cake, but it seems Samsung will make us wait at least another device generation for that. The Galaxy S4 is an easy recommendation for Android users on the lookout for a device with strong imaging capabilities.
There are 44 images in our Samsung Galaxy S4 samples gallery. Please do not reproduce any of these images on a website or any newsletter/magazine without prior permission (see our copyright page). We make the originals available for private users to download to their own machines for personal examination or printing (in conjunction with this review), we do so in good faith, please don't abuse it.
Unless otherwise noted images taken with no particular settings at full resolution.
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