Samsung Galaxy S5 camera review
It appears on the current generation of smartphone cameras some kind of fake narrow-depth-of-field effect is a must-have feature. Nokia started it all with the Refocus app, Sony's Xperia Z2 has Selective Focus and HTC even opted for a hardware solution with the Duo Cam. However, even if you have an older or lower-spec phone you don't have to live without this kind of effect as it is now also available in the latest version of the Google Camera App that can be downloaded free of charge on the Google Play Store and runs on most devices.
So far none of those variations of the same thing, even the HTC hardware solution, have been able to convince us. Rather than creating a smooth fall-off in sharpness they introduce a very abrupt transition and the foreground/background separation tends to lack precision, giving the images an artificial look. Sadly the Samsung version, also called Selective Focus, is no different . The mode takes a series of images at different focus settings and then lets you choose a focus point after capture and save your preferred image. According to instructions you should not be any farther from the subject than 1.5 feet and the background should be at least three times that distance from the subject.
In reality the mode simply doesn't work most of the time, even if you stick to the recommended subject/background distances. I tried the feature with living subjects and static scenes but almost always my efforts were followed by a 'Subject not detected' message which means the effect could not be applied.
The sample above is one of the few that actually let me choose the focus point. As you can see I was able to set the focus on the Nowitzki action figure in the foreground and the garden scenery in the background. However, the image would not let me select the Pan Focus option. All in all most users won't be too bothered by the limited functionality of the mode but given it is there, Samsung should make sure it improves its operation with a software update at some point.
Virtual Tour is another new feature and lets you create an interactive virtual tour by combining several still shots using pans, zooms and fades to create smooth transitions. The app also guides you in terms of framing of those shots. The end result can be viewed in an interactive Google Streetview-like fashion in the gallery or can be saved as a video.
You'll have to have a specific use case for this feature but it's a good way of virtually showing you around a home, office or other space. Below you can enjoy a video that was taken at my parent's house, showing the route from the terrace into my first floor temporary office space.
As you can see the transitions and stitching are far from perfect but in certain circumstances that don't require professional grade quality the feature could be useful and preferable to a standard video.
There is a plethora of filter apps available on the Google Play Store but for those who want the feature out of the box Samsung includes a range of effects in the default camera app. There are twelve filters in total and most of the effects we've seen before on previous Samsung devices. The list of filters can be customized, so you don't always have to scroll through the entire list if you only tend to use a few of the available effects.
The filters are all pretty standard fare and don't offer any control over the strength of the effect. They have the advantage of live preview and are fun to play with but most users will likely find third-party editing apps, such as Pixlr Express or Snapseed, that give you more control, more useful. Then of course there is also Instagram and its various clones.
Shot & More
The Shot & More mode combines the Best Photo, Best Face, Drama Shot and Eraser features we already know from the Galaxy S4 and adds Panning Shot to the mix, to make for a less cluttered user interface. In Shot & More mode the camera takes a burst of shots and then offers a variety of options, depending on the moving subjects that have been captured during the burst.
Best Shot suggests the best image from your burst but also allows you to pick your favorite manually. Best Face does the same for images with human subjects, putting a focus on open eyes and smiles. Drama shot allows you to create an action composite image and Eraser to delete unwanted objects that moved through the scene while you were capturing the burst. Finally, Panning Shot identifies moving subjects and allows you to apply a blur effect to the rest of the image, giving it a fake panning effect.
Overall the Shot & More features have a rather gimmicky character and the results are never quite predictable. They are fun to play and experiment with for a while but most mobile photographers won't use them on an ongoing basis.
The Samsung Galaxy S5's Gallery App is more comprehensive than most default Gallery apps. It comes with a good selection of editing options, including selection tools for selective editing of image areas. There are a few new filter options, including some light streak effects, but overall the app is similar to what we've seen on previous Samsung devices.
The app offers all the standard editing options such as rotation, cropping and a range of color and tonal modifications, but you also get a number of filter effects, frames and the option to draw on the images or put "stickers" on them. You can also share images to social networks, other devices or other apps.
Overall the gallery app offers a lot to play with and is well worth a closer look if you haven't found your favorite editing app in the Google Play Store yet.
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