Features

The Galaxy S5's camera app comes with many features and functions that we've already seen on the Galaxy S4, so in this section we have focused on the most important and new ones. To make the S4's already very busy user interface not feel even more cluttered Samsung has decided to remove a few of the old modes, such as Animated Photo, Sports Shot and Sound & Shot, and make them available as optional downloads for those who really want or need them. 

A tap on the mode button opens up a selection of shooting modes.
More modes can be downloaded and installed from the Samsung App Store.

Some modes, such as the new Selective Focus, can be found in the menu, others are accessible through the mode button. Read on to find out how they performed in our test.

Rich Tone (HDR Mode)

The Galaxy S5's HDR mode works in a similar way as on most other devices. The camera takes three frames at varying exposures in quick succession and combines them into one 'High Dynamic Range' image. The S5's 1/2.6-inch sensor is a little larger than the tiny 1/3-chips on most smartphones but its dynamic range is, compared to most dedicated cameras, still limited, so this feature can be a life saver when shooting high contrast scenes.

Overall the S5's HDR mode is one of the best we've seen so far and there is a strong case to be made for leaving it on all the time. There are no parameters to play with but the S5 Rich Tone mode produces very natural results with additional highlight and shadow detail, adapting its intensity to the scene automatically. In the first sample below Rich Tone recovers some detail in the sky and lifts the shadows just a touch, without giving the scene an artificial look.

When looking at the full-size image you can see that there is no ghosting on the cyclist in the scene and generally subjects that are moving at moderate speed are dealt with very well. We hardly came across any ghosting or blurring in the many HDR images we shot for this review.

HDR Off
HDR On
100% crop
100% crop

In the sample below the impact on highlight detail is only minor but the dark shadows inside the abandoned building are lifted moderately to reveal additional shadow detail. Shadow noise is well-controlled and the end results still look natural.

HDR Off
HDR On
100% crop
100% crop

The intensity of the effect appears to be adapted automatically depending on the scene. In the sample image below the strong back light caused the camera to meter for the sky and underexpose the lawn and building in the lower half of the frame. Rich Tone detects this underexposure and lifts the shadows quite extremely. Nevertheless the end results is more than usable, with decent detail and noise levels. 

HDR Off
HDR On
100% crop
100% crop

Panorama

The panorama app seems to be working in a very similar way to the Galaxy S4's and the results are equally impressive. Image size varies between shots but landscape panos tend to be around 20,000 pixels wide and around 3000 pixels tall. Vertical panoramas aren't as wide but, as you'd expect, a little taller. In any case they offer more image detail than most other panorama modes we have seen.

Stitching and exposure are typically fine too, but occasionally you'll find some ghosting on moving subjects, or, like in the first sample below, a subject that appears twice in the scene. That said, overall the S5's panorama mode is dealing well with motion in the scene and its image output is suitable for large format printing. You can shoot both in landscape or portrait orientation and if you don't want or need to capture a full 360-degree panorama, you can press the shutter button any time to stop. The app will then create a panorama with the images you have recorded up to that point.

Horizontal panorama, 360 degrees, 19584 x 2912 pixels
100% crop, good image detail and stitching
Vertical panorama, approximately 180 degrees, 7392 x 3184 pixels
100% crop, minor ghosting on moving subjects

Dual Shot and front camera

The Galaxy S4 was the first smartphone capable of recording images from its front- and rear cameras simultaneously and of course its successor comes with the same feature. Dual Shot mode allows you to capture images with both cameras at the same time and create a picture-in-picture effect with a variety of frames to surround your front-facing camera capture.

Like on the S4 the default is a stamp frame that creates a postcard effect when combined with a scenic vista. The size of the inserted image and frame is adjustable, in the sample below we are showing the maximum dimension. 

Dual Shot feature
Front camera with 1080p resolution

The front camera offers a fairly standard 1080p Full-HD resolution which is in line with most of the competition but cannot keep up with the 5MP and 8MP equivalents in the HTC One M8 and Huawei Ascend P7 respectively. As you would expect the image quality is far inferior to the rear camera module, with a lot of detail blurring through noise reduction and noise in low light, but it's good enough for the occasional selfie or Dual Shot image in decent light.

Night Mode

The Galaxy S5's Night Mode avoids intrusive noise by blending a quick burst of frames into one image and averaging out the noise. The mode works in a very similar way to what we've seen on previous models but it appears this latest version has slightly improved at dealing with moving subjects. The latter can still create artifacts but at least on slow moving subjects, such as walking persons, ghosting is hardly noticeable. Nevertheless it is still recommendable to avoid any camera shake while capturing the burst. 

While on the S4 with its maximum ISO of 1000 one of the mode's main advantages was the ability to still achieve a decent exposure in very low light, on the Galaxy S5 with its higher maximum ISO of 2000 this is less of an issue. You still get the benefit of cleaner images though, just keep in mind that you pay for the cleanliness with a total lack of fine detail and a slight image softness, as can be seen in the crops below.

Standard Auto mode
Night mode
100% crop
100% crop