Samsung Galaxy S5 camera review
Image Quality and Performance
With its cutting edge hardware and latest Android version the Galaxy S5's performance is impressive all around. Apps open up quickly, scrolling and swiping is very smooth and processing tasks, for example in editing apps, take very little time. In our test only the gallery app seemed a bit sluggish at times but Samsung has fixed that with a firmware update, so make sure you have the latest software version running if your gallery seems a little slow.
With Burst Shot activated in the settings the camera captures 30 shots in approximately two seconds. While this is quite an impressive number, as usual you don't have any control over shutter speed, so in low light you will inevitably end up with motion blur due to a slow shutter. This makes the mode pretty much unsuitable for the capture of indoor action.
The performance of the new phase detect AF system is reasonably fast in good light but not noticeably quicker than the competition with more conventional systems. However, in low light the S5 AF is one of the best, with fast and reliable performance even in very dim conditions. We found very few focus errors in our hundreds of samples shot while working on this review.
It's also worth mentioning that the S5's battery performance is quite impressive, taking us easily through the day, even with heavy use. However, not only does the battery last long, it also charges quicker than most other devices we have used. So even if you do run out of juice on the Samsung, it'll take little time with the charger plugged in for you to get going again.
With its 16MP 1/2.6-inch BSI CMOS sensor the Galaxy S5 offers one of the most intriguing camera specs among current smartphones. Read on to find out how the high pixel count and slightly larger than usual sensor translate into real-life image quality.
Daylight, Low ISO
In good light the Samsung Galaxy S5 produces some of the best image output we have seen from a smartphone. Despite some blurring of fine low-contrast detail the S5 captures excellent detail with just the right amount of sharpening. At a 100% view the images look crisp without being oversharpened.
Some grain can be seen in shadow areas or areas of plain color but it's all within well acceptable smartphone levels and at low ISOs noise reduction is less intrusive than on most other mobile devices. The high pixel count makes the Samsung's images more vulnerable to lens imperfections though and you'll find some softness towards the edges of the frame.
The images are free of artifacts, chromatic aberrations are well-controlled by the JPEG-engine and we could not find any moiré patterns in our samples. Colors tend to be a touch saturated and images are usually well exposed, although the HDR mode can be a useful tool in high-contrast scenes.
The samples below show how much detail is captured by the Galaxy S5 camera. There is some smearing of detail in the distant foliage but overall the levels of detail are excellent for a smartphone. In the right image you can see some of the edge softness mentioned above.
Both images below show again good detail but on the left the S5's relatively strong saturation leads to an unnaturally warm rendering of skin tone. In the right image you can see that in bright and contrasty conditions the Samsung is, like most smartphone, prone to highlight clipping.
These are two more samples to demonstrate the level of detail captured by the S5 camera. For flower shots, like the image on the right, captured in Macro mode, the high saturation works better than for portraits.
Low Light, High ISO
In lower light the Samsung Galaxy S5 again performs well. Good color is maintained across the ISO range and well-balanced noise reduction means that, while grain is visible at all sensitivities, it never becomes too intrusive or turns into ugly looking "noise-blotches". Traces of chroma noise are visible at large magnifications from early on but overall color noise is again well-controlled across the ISO range. The S5's high megapixel count also means that when images are down-sampled for web use or social sharing noise is averaged out, making even the ISO 2000 exposures usable for those purposes.
Like on most smartphones the S5 uses very slow shutter speeds in low light to keep the ISO down. Without an optical image stabilization system this often leads to a slight softness through camera shake. If you need a 100% sharp low light shot it is therefore always recommendable to shoot a batch of images to increase your chances of having at least one good one.
For the indoor portrait below the S5 only has to raise the ISO to 200 but increased noise levels are noticeable in the shadow areas if you view at 100%. Overall the image is still pretty clean though. The bigger problem is the slight overall softness caused by camera shake and the relatively slow shutter speed. In situations like this we would prefer the camera to opt for a slightly higher ISO and accept a touch more noise in return for a shake-free image. The ISO 320 image on the right shows some loss of detail at 100% but looks clean with pleasant colors when viewed at only slightly smaller sizes.
Shadow noise and blurring of detail through noise reduction becomes more obvious as the ISO increases but again you have to zoom pretty far into the images below before those imperfections become too intrusive. The camera used a shutter speed of 1/17 sec for both images which poses a high risk of camera shake. Both pictures are the sharpest out of a series including various slightly blurry exposures.
Compared to the output of many other smartphones the Galaxy S5's output still looks decent at the highest ISOs. There is a lot of grain but still some fine detail left. Edge sharpness is still good and chroma noise well under control. Color is maintained very well.
For the image on the left the camera selected an unusually high shutter speed of 1/100 sec which freezes the motion of the moving subjects but also pushes the ISO to 1250. Nevertheless the image is still more than usable on the web or in social media. The same is true for the right image for the capture of which the S5 pushed ISO to its highest setting, ISO 2000.
Tiny LED flash units mean that flash use on smartphone cameras is generally best avoided. Low output power often leads to noisy images and blurry subjects. The Samsung Galaxy S5 is no exception but still performs at least slightly better than many competing devices.
Its LED flash provides enough power to keep the ISO relatively low, even in very low light, and by doing so can reduce image noise and maintain more detail than many competitors. As you can see in the samples below skin tones are rendered a little warm but that's arguably preferable to the cool color casts you'll get from some other devices. Red-eye effect is very well controlled as well.
As with most smartphones the only control over flash exposure you have is to switch it on, off or into Auto mode. The shutter speed of 1/30 sec is not going to freeze any fast motion but should help you get reasonably sharp images in most circumstances.
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