Hereís the Samsung Galaxy Camera (Iím going to call it the ďCameraĒ with an uppercase ďCĒ). Itís basically the result of a wild night between a camera and a smartphone. Itís a digital camera with a 16 megapixel sensor and 21x zoom lens with a Samsung Galaxy S III complete with HSPA modem and 4.8Ē screen grafted onto the back.
Itís safe to say that these days, most pictures end up on the web and will never be printed out. So, digital cameras have it rough these days. You see, theyíre just too inconvenient.
What would you rather do? Snap a picture, wait till you get home, download it to your PC before you upload it to the web and then tag it with the location? Or would you rather snap a picture with your Smartphone and then choose to upload it to the web complete with location information.
Why would anyone bother using a dedicated camera if itís so much less convenient to use? There are 2 reasons; dedicated cameras usually have higher quality plus they usually offer you more flexibility/capabilities.
Camera phones usually lack a real zoom and optical image stabilization. They have small sensors which arenít that great in low light plus, have weak flashes and usually only allow you limited control over how it takes photos.
So you end up trading a lot of flexibility for convenience. Still, dedicated cameras are trying their best to play nice with your phone or tablet in an effort to make themselves easier to use.
I recently purchased a Sony NEX-6. Basically, itís a camera with interchangeable lenses. In the context of this review, its big feature is that it has built-in WiFi. You download a Sony app to your Android or iOS device which allows you to grab photos off of the NEX. While it sounds cool in theory, from my personal experience, itís a complete and utter disaster. Transferring one photo takes a few MINUTES so transferring a few pictures takes forever. Itís a complete joke. While Iím sure Sony will fix this eventually, right now itís pretty much a useless feature.
The goal is to marry your pictures with the power of your phone. Hereís where the Samsung Galaxy Camera shines.
With all the connected options available Iím a little disappointed that the Camera lacks NFC. This means that it doesnít support Samsungís S-Beam which is a bit confusing given how much Samsung pushes it. Still, thereís WiFi direct support. Itís not the easiest feature to use but once you get it, it actually works quite well. Each picture only takes 2 or 3 seconds to transfer.
If youíre not close to a WiFi hotspot, the Camera also has a built-in HSPA modem. It doesnít support AWS so you canít really use it on Mobilicity, Wind or where T-Mobile hasnít refarmed their PCS spectrum yet. The built-in HSPA allows the Camera unparalleled flexibility but in my opinion it should have just been an option. HSPA makes the Camera too expensive and Iím pretty sure anyone who would buy a Galaxy Camera has a phone which supports tethering anyways. While I hate tethering and think itís very inconvenient, a built-in modem is just not worth the extra expense.
Still, the inclusion of a HSPA modem makes the Galaxy Camera an intriguing choice for businesses. Insurance adjusters could take pictures and then upload them immediately, that sort of thing. Then again, a Galaxy S III, iPhone 5 or Galaxy Note 2 may offer sufficient image quality for businesses.
There is All Share Cast support so if you own a really fancy Samsung TV or have an AllShare Cast dongle you can share the screen on the Camera wirelessly with it. From the demoís Iíve seen AllShare cast, while cool, isnít ready for prime-time. It was laggy and choppy if youíre viewing video.
If you want to share the screen, use the micro HDMI connector. Iím very annoyed that Samsung put the connector on the bottom instead of the side. Since itís on the bottom you can put the camera down when you use it. Clearly, no one at Samsung has actually tried this feature. Note that you don't have to open the battery cover to access the connector. There's a tiny door that I wasn't able to photograph.
Youíll notice that the Camera has a 4.8Ē LCD display and not a Super AMOLED like the Galaxy S III. Itís not a big deal since generally speaking, LCD displays work better outdoors in bright sunlight anyways. The LCD also has a conventional pixel layout so itís less grainy looking than the GS3ís screen anyways. It looks great with respectable viewing angles. The GS3 has superior black levels plus the screen looks like itís painted on whereas the Cameraís screen looks like itís sitting behind a window.
If youíre used to a camera phone, youíll love how much flexibility the Galaxyís zoom gives you. First off, at the wide end, itís like a 23mm lens which is really wide. You can capture a lot of detail in close quarters with this.
wide angle: 23mm
It can zoom 21x which means itís the equivalent of a 483mm at full telephoto.
At 483mm, itís maximum aperture is f/5.9 (means the lens doesnít let in much light). There is image stabilization, which helps a lot but even with it on, max zoom is only really usable outdoors during the day unless you have a tripod.
I like how the Camera tells you how much you're zoomed in.
When youíre hand holding it indoors and there isnít a lot of light, youíre realistically limited to around 5x zoom.
The Galaxy focuses pretty quickly but I wish the shot-to-shot speeds were faster. Unless you enable burst mode, it takes a about a second to chew on each photo before you can take another.
Iím not crazy about the camera interface. I guess normally, Iím used to my cameras having control knobs and dials. The only separate buttons on the Camera are the zoom level, power button and camera shutter button. You have to adjust the settings using the touch-screen which is a less efficient.
Now when you take pictures, itís always a good idea to hold onto the camera as securely as possible. When I do this with the Camera, I find I often touch the screen accidentally. Usually it just causes it to focus on the top right of the frame.
You can pop the flash out by pressing the flash button on the left side. Popping it out will not necessarily cause it to fire when you take a picture. You still need to make sure the flash is turned on. Enabling the flash requires you to tap the screen 3 times.
There is an option to automatically share pictures you've taken.
The on-screen menus are relatively straight forward. There aren't pages and pages of options.
When taking pictures there are Auto, Smart and Expert modes. Auto mode is what you use when you want the Camera to figure everything out for you. All you control is the zoom and the shutter button.
Smart modes are like the scene modes you get on other cameras: Macro, Action freeze, Rich tone, Panorama, Waterfall, Silhouette, Sunset, Night, Fireworks, Light trace, Beauty face, Best photo, Continuous shut, Best face and Landscape.
Macro mode allows you to capture an area thatís about 1.5Ē wide - not bad. Just to compare, the Galaxy S III in macro mode is able to capture an area about 2Ē wide - also pretty good.
The only problem with the Macro mode is that it locks the zoom near the wide end and so you have to get really, really close to capture such a small area. Then again, this is typical of most point and shoots so I donít hold this against the Camera.
Fireworks mode stops the aperture down and holds the shutter open for a couple of seconds. Youíll need to use a tripod with this mode.
Panorama allows you to stitch up to 8 photos together. It only allows you to move in one horizontal direction. I didn't find it worked very well. I got better results with Sony's sweep panorama.
Action freeze raises the ISO and tries to use faster shutter speeds to help freeze action.
Continuous shot aka is burst mode. It takes pictures at 4 frames per second and allows you to capture up to 20 frames.
Expert mode allows you to access is the usual P A S M and movie modes. P is program mode which allows you to adjust the EV (exposure value) along with the ISO. A mode allows you to change these settings along with the aperture. S mode is like A mode but it allows you to adjust the shutter speed. M mode allows you to adjust all 4 settings.
While there is a movie mode, you can take videos from pretty much any mode using a separate on-screen movie button. The movie mode itself allows you to adjust the EV before you shoot a video. You can capture pictures and operate the zoom while shooting video (not all cameras allow you to do this).
Video is captured at 1920x1080 at 30fps. I like how thereís an option to slow down the zoom so that it makes less noise when youíre shooting video. Thatís a smart idea.
Samsung Galaxy Camera
Samsung Galaxy S III
While the ISO goes up to 3200 in normal shooting itís capped at ISO 800. If you want to go up to 3200 youíll have to set it manually or use night mode. Here is a low light shot next to a Galaxy S III. Both shots are at ISO 800 though the GS3 uses a shutter speed of 1/15 while the Camera uses ⅛. Anyways, since the Camera can go up to ISO 3200 is better than the GS3 in this regard.
shot in a very bumpy moving vehicle
Image quality seems fine. Iím not setup to really test a camera nor do I own a point and shoot to compare with the Galaxy Camera. Iíll say this, the camera is much more capable than the Galaxy S IIIís.
The image stabilization is a real boon for when you use the zoom and especially, when youíre shooting video.
Since the Galaxy Camera has a small point and shoot sized imaging sensor you wonít mistake itís pictures with those taken with something with a bigger sensor. Pictures arenít as clean looking.
So, while Iím not sure how good the Galaxy Camera is compared with other point and shoots, itís image quality is better than a Smartphone and worse than an SLR.
There is a tripod mount but Iím a disappointed that itís not centered on the camera sensor. This makes the Camera less useful for panoramas.
Now, when you turn the Galaxy on, it takes you straight to the camera mode. If you want to access Android, you have to hit the home button which is usually around the top left corner of the camera screen. In ĎAndroid modeí, the Camera supports both landscape and portrait modes.
Once you switch to ĎAndroid modeí, there are on-screen menu buttons like on many Nexus devices.
I was actually surprised that Samsung has taken very little out of the Galaxy Camera. The software looks and feels just like a Galaxy S III. At a glance, the dialer, text messaging app and various Samsung hubs are missing from the Camera.
Most of the cameras Iíve owned (besides the NEX-6), require you to take the battery out of the camera and charge it in a separate charger. Iíve always hate this idiotic setup. I love how the Camera allows you to charge it using a microUSB cable, just like you can on many phones. You never need to take the battery out unless you own 2 of them.
Powering the show is a quad-core Samsung Exynos processor thatís clocked at 1.6Ghz (the same one as the Note II. The Galaxy S III and Note II both come with 2GB of RAM so I was a little disappointed that the camera only comes with 1GB. However, after thinking about it, 1GB is about right. The Galaxy Camera is a camera and even though it runs Android, all of itís use revolves around the camera functionality. So you donít really need 2GB of RAM.
There is 8GB of storage built-in of which 4GB is available along with a MicroSD card slot.
Performance-wise, itís up to the task of juggling the Cameraís 16mp images.
You get Android 4.1 AKA Jellybean. Frankly, it doesn't really matter that it ships with 4.1 and not 4.0. Android is just there to allow you to run apps and share your photos. Still, if youíre bored you can always put games on the Camera. With its powerful processor It should be able to run anything you throw at it.
Samsung includes some apps to let you edit your pictures and photos. Besides the editing tools built into the gallery application you also get Photo Wizard and Paper Artist. Since this is Android, you can also download your own photo editor like Snapseed.
To edit videos you can use the included ĎVideo Editorí app.
While you can setup your email, Facebook Messenger, Flickr, etc they should only be used to upload stuff to the clouds. Trust me, receiving new email/messages on your camera is really annoying. So try to only set up what you need.
Samsung includes a ĎSmart networkí feature which will disable the Cameraís WiFi and HSPA when the screen is off. This helps save battery life though it also means it goes crazy downloading emails, Facebook messages when you turn the screen on.
One thing thatís tough is that anyone with a Smartphone should protect it with a password or pattern unlock. The problem is that the security can get in the way when you want to take a picture quickly. So if you use the pattern unlock and want to take a picture, you press the power, then unlock the screen and then press the shutter button. It makes the Camera less spontaneous to use but itís a necessary evil.
What is it worth?
The Camera is a very powerful and very cool device. But what does it cost? A Galaxy S III is around 600 bucks no contract. The Camera has half the amount of RAM and storage, a smaller battery and lacks NFC, LTE, a Super AMOLED display and most importantly, the ability to make calls using your carrier.
On the other it has the same quad-core processor as the Galaxy Note II. While most Android tablets have similar specifications as Smartphone, they usually cost less because theyíre not able to make calls using your carrier. Itís a market segmentation thing but the ability to make calls can add a few $100 to a device. Letís assume that thereís $375 worth of Smartphone left over.
I canít say for certain which camera the Galaxy Camera is based on but based on the 16MP sensor and 24-483mm lens with image stabilization, itís probably based on the Samsung WB850F which is currently on sale for 200 bucks at Futureshop. Of course the Camera lacks the 850ís 3Ē AMOLED display and battery. Looking more closely at the 850, I noticed that it has a Schneider Kreuznach lens while the Galaxy Cameraís is just a ĎSamsung Zoom Lensí. I have no idea if theyíre the same lens or not but but leaving the Schneider brand name off of the Galaxy Camera probably saves Samsung a few dollars. My guess is thereís about $125 worth of camera left over.
So we have a $375 Smartphone mated with a $125 camera. Turns out the Galaxy Camera costs $600 so you're paying a $100 premium for the convenience of having them together.
So is it a good deal? Thatís really hard to say. For around 600 bucks you can pick up an entry level SLR from Canon or Nikon which contains an imaging sensor thatís many times bigger than the Galaxy Camera, takes much better pictures and in general, is a much more focused picture taking device. On the other hand a SLR will lack Android. Uploading your photos requires many more steps.
I was also going to compare the Galaxy Camera with a Galaxy Nexus but theyíre purpose is just too different. Just like my SLR comparison.
The Galaxy Camera isnít cheap but consider that the Galaxy Camera is a first generation device and itís priced like one. I expect subsequent versions will be cheaper.
Besides the high price, hereís the worst thing about the Galaxy Camera. If you donít use it for awhile, it will shut itself off. Itís the equivalent of pressing and holding the power on an Android phone and then telling it to shut off instead of just shutting off the screen. When this happens the Camera takes a full 30 seconds from pressing the power button to it powering on and you being able to take a picture.
I donít know about you, but even though I own a dedicated camera I donít use it every single day because I still use my camera phones a lot. So my dedicated camera can sometimes go unused for a while. So, while I understand why it takes this long to turn on itís still inexcusable that it takes this long to turn on. In 30 seconds, you may lose your shot.
Still, if you use it regularly then itís ready to take a picture in about 2 or 3 seconds which is normal.
In the end, the Galaxy Camera is a very interesting device. If someone's showing off their camera you can ask them if it's able to run Angry Birds. Still, Iím a little disappointed that Samsung choose to stick it on a point and shoot. They should have stuck it on one of their NX series mirrorless cameras. To me, that would have been a no-brainer. Imagine putting together the flexibility of a connected device with the flexibility of a camera system with interchangeable lenses.
That would be a match made in heaven and a tremendous advantage Samsung has over itís competitors. After all, if you were looking for a Camera with Android, would you want one from Canon or Nikon or Panasonic? No, intuitively youíd think Samsung would do the best job or maybe Sony. Samsung is the undisputed leader in Android though Sonyís imaging pedigree is ahead of Samsungís.
While thereís nothing really wrong with the Galaxy Camera Iíd hold off till Samsung marries Android with one of their NX series cameras. It just seems like a better fit. Donít forget, while Android adds a lot of flexibility, it also adds some caveats like the long boot times.
- Itís a camera with Android!
- 23mm wide angle
- 483mm telephoto
- image stabilization
- can take a long time to turn on
- Screen gets in the way when gripping the camera
- lens is slow at full telephoto