Convenience Trumps Fidelity: A Samsung Galaxy Camera Review
At the risk of sounding overly defensive, there’s really nothing weird about the Samsung Galaxy Camera.
(Editor’s Note: Luis Buenaventura is the brains behind Infinite.ly, an online service that lets anyone launch great-looking websites that work on the desktop, mobile, and Facebook. An avid photographer and well-articulated geek, he has written numerous in-depth reviews for Technograph)
We’ve been crossing phones with cameras for well over a decade, and the ability to instantly share photos as you take them is practically a necessity on modern smartphones. Yet the first time you whip the Galaxy Camera out in public, you’ll get strange looks when people realize that you’re not taking a picture, but checking your email.
It’s probably the form factor—the Galaxy Camera looks more like a large point-and-shoot than a phone, so having all those mobile-related bits mixed in can be a trifle disconcerting. What’s strange is that internally, this is actually an immensely capable phone.
Plenty Power Under the Hood
The Samsung Galaxy Camera runs on Android Jelly Bean, has a quad-core Exynos processor, a gig of RAM and 8gb of storage, a microSD card slot, wifi, bluetooth, 3G/HSDPA and (in some markets) even LTE.
If those specs sound familiar, it’s because they’re almost the same as a Samsung Galaxy S3, which is about $200 more expensive. What’s missing? Well, therein lies the rub: it has no GSM voice capabilities. This singular omission is probably the only thing preventing the Galaxy Camera from being a contender as your primary mobile device. (Apart from the fact that it’d look patently ridiculous when brought up to your ear, of course.)
As a Camera
Ironically, it’s on the photographic side of things that the Galaxy Camera is not quite as impressive. Its 16.3-MP, 1/2.3″ sensor hooks up to a decent 23-481mm equivalent optical zoom lens with an aperture of f/2.8-5.9. (The minimum aperture is, inexplicably, just f/8.0.) This 21x zoom range is reasonable, if slightly aggressive, for your average point-and-shoot. I suppose Samsung decided that optical zoom is the one thing this device has that sets it apart from your average iPhone or Lumia, and they’d largely be right.
The sensor’s definitely good, but only when measured against the diminutive sensor of your average smartphone. Against competing point-and-shoots, it doesn’t make much of a splash. (Although at 300+ grams it’s also so heavy that if you chucked it in the pool it would probably make a huge splash.)
The size is something you’ll either love or hate. When I took it out of the box I was shocked by how big it was; I was expecting something like an S3 in terms of footprint, but it was also very thick and had a real heft to it.
A Pleasant Screen
When I flipped the device over though, my reaction became significantly more positive. Its LCD is huge: 4.8″ across, which makes it one of the largest screens you’ll see on a camera. To give you an idea of how big that is, my entire iPhone 4S fits inside the active area with room to spare. Even a professional-level camera like Canon’s 5D Mark III only has a 3.2″ LCD, and most point-and-shoots will have something in the 3-3.5″ range.
This makes previewing your images a very pleasant experience, as the screen has a resolution of 1280×720 and a pixel density of 306ppi (the iPhone’s retina display is just a touch more dense, at 326). There are almost no physical buttons on this device, so everything photography-related is done on the sturdy Gorilla Glass 2 touchscreen. The only hardware buttons are the power, shutter release, zoom lever, and flash.
I’ve never preferred cameras with onscreen controls, but in this one case, where the entire back of the thing is a gorgeous LCD, I’m willing to make an exception. It’s still slower than having physical buttons, but it does seem as if the tactile approach is by-and-large reserved for only the professional imagers these days.
As a Photography Tool
Performance-wise, the Galaxy Camera is a mixed bag. The image stabilization is quite good, allowing me to handhold a reasonably sharp exposure at 0.5-second at its widest angle. The shutter release is responsive enough, although don’t expect to be shooting alot of sports or fast action. Autofocus hunts like a dog in low-light, but that’s a common ailment in cameras of this class.
Disappointingly, there are only two settings for the flash: “Auto” and “Off.” You’d think they could at least give us a three-stop crank for the flash power, but sadly, that wasn’t on the cards. Still, there’s enough manual control to allow for some creativity here, and I can imagine that quite a few pros would find this a rather fun camera to have with them when they’re not on the clock.
Samsung was generous enough to throw in 50gb of Dropbox space with the Galaxy, and you can set it up so that all of your images and video are automatically synchronized as you take them. It’s an awesome feature, and I can foresee a scenario where you could be covering an event with several of these cameras and have all your images uploaded in real-time to a central, shared Dropbox folder for processing and posting. No more swapping SD cards, or waiting to upload images in bulk at the end of the day.
Battery Life and Image Processing
The one area where the camera is unequivocally weak is battery life, lasting less than 5 hours when shooting continuously. For a camera of this size and make, that’s not terrible, but for a phone it’s downright awful. Thankfully, it uses the same replaceable battery as the Galaxy S2, which you can purchase for just 900php ($20).
It’s the cheapest camera battery I’ve ever bought by far, so when I first acquired the camera I immediately purchased 2 extra backups for good measure.
The other area that badly needs improvement is in-camera photo-editing, although this is largely one of those “cart-before-the-horse” problems. There are only a handful of photo-editing Android apps out there that retain the full image quality of a photo as it’s being manipulated, because neither lens quality or processing power have really reached the necessary levels to warrant that sort of fidelity until now. The problem of course is that the Galaxy Camera is capturing well over 5mb of data per image, and these cameraphone apps simply aren’t built to handle that kind of size.
Even Adobe Photoshop Express – and boy does that name have a lot to live up to – fudges things up tremendously by reducing your high-res photo to a terribly-compressed facsimile of just under 150kb in size. About the only app I could find that retained the image quality was the Pro version of PicsPlay, which although incomplete in its featureset (seriously, no Straighten?) at least preserves the very thing that this camera is meant to be good at.
After a little under a week’s worth of walking around with this thing around my neck every day, I’m still on the fence on whether I’ll be using it as my primary photographic device. I’ve owned DSLRs from both Canon and Nikon, and my current “serious” kit is a Panasonic Lumix GH2 with a Voigtlander 25mm f/0.95, and the Galaxy Camera is nowhere near any of those in terms of image quality or handling. (To be fair, only a handful of the very best P&S’s will ever approach DSLR or m4/3 levels of quality, and that’s a consequence of the laws of physics more than anything else.)
It is however a sterling example of that oft-quoted notion that “convenience trumps fidelity,” because it’s both smaller than any of my other cameras and has the unique ability to process and share images without having to switch devices. There’s no question that it’s a tweener device – it’s neither the best P&S you could buy or the best phone – but the intersection that it finds itself at is undoubtedly a useful one. After all, how many optical zoom cameras do you know that can turn themselves into podcast players, GPS navs, or portable wifi hotspots on demand?
Note: You can check out more sample images from the Samsung Galaxy Camera here.
This entry was posted on Monday, January 21st, 2013 at 11:24 am and is filed under Reviews. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.