Samsung gives us a vision for the future of all cameras – its just not quite there yet…
When Samsung unveiled this camera just before Christmas, many were a bit confused. Why on earth is it putting a smartphone operating system on a camera? Smartphones with cameras have already become advanced enough now to start killing off the el cheapo compact camera market – why go there?
¨¨IS IT A PHONE OR A CAMERA?¨
Samsung has done something ingenious here, and presented us with an effective prototype of how all consumer-grade cameras will one day operate. This camera is essentially a Samsung Galaxy S3 (quad core processor and all) stuck on the back of a 21x zoom, 16.3-megapixel camera.
To be fair, it borrows a lot of ideas from the Nokia Pureview 808 cameraphone, but the Galaxy Camera runs the full Android 4.2 operating system (rather than the dead and buried Symbian). This means it works as well as any smartphone in the market, running all your favourite apps, games and, of course, photo editing software.
ANDROID IS NOW THE BEST CAMERA OS
For this reason along it is incredibly flexible – instead of being stuck in Nikon or Canon’s locked down operating systems, this means your Galaxy Camera already has access to your GPS (and Google Maps), Dropbox (for automatic file storage), Facebook and Instagram (for sharing photos).
No more pulling the memory card out of your compact camera, plugging it into your computer, loading up your graphics editing program, resizing and cropping your images, uploading to Facebook, tagging your friends and pressing save.¨¨The Galaxy Camera (GC) lets you do everything, automatically, as soon as you’ve taken the picture. You can do all the editing you like with onboard photo software (or download your own if you want).
The GC has a built in Micro-SD – so the internal memory of 8GB is expandable to 64GB. It also supports 2G, 3G and 4G networks and Wi-Fi. While it does’t have a built in cellular radio (so no mobile network calls), its connectivity options mean you can use Skype, Viber and Whatsapp to call and text friends and family.
A PROTOTYPE RELEASED TO RETAIL
Sounds good so far? Unfortunately, I call this a prototype because I feel it is exactly that – the processor is powerful, but the glasswork (the camera lens etc.) isn’t. But Samsung’s effort here definitely points a very clear arrow about where the camera market is going. ¨¨Samsung’s camera-focused rivals better sit up and pay attention, or they risk going the way of the Nintendo and Sony handheld gaming machines – killed off by tablets, phone-tablets and smartphones running mobile operating systems.
HARDWARE DESIGN A MIXED BAG
The trade off for this impressive piece of hardware is its usability. Cramming a 1.4Ghz quad core processor (as mentioned earlier, basically a Samsung Galaxy S3 minus the cell radio) into a compact camera size doesn’t really work. It is heavy and unwieldy.¨¨Most of this processing power is being used on the smartphone features (and whether you need all those feature is debatable). Cameras themselves are actually pretty simple devices, requiring little more than a light sensor to record the world, and then a mechanism for processing and recording it to an SD card.
As a result, the Galaxy Camera is much bigger than a lot of compact cameras, and is much, much heavier than most smartphones at 300g – the Nokia Lumia 920 (a heavy boy itself is only 185g). Everyone in the office that picked it up for a play was shocked at how heavy it was.¨¨This is because the device itself is actually pretty well designed on the outside – it is quite attractive, a high quality build and made out of a hard cool plastic that feels metallic. ¨¨Unfortunately corners have been cut – the xenon flash that pops up is very rinky-dink and when the lenses are fully extended, the camera falls over.
WHAT DO YOU MEAN THE CAMERA ‘FALLS OVER’?
That’s right – you didn’t misread that – the camera falls over.
The camera’s body isn’t balanced against the extended lenses. So anyone that wants to set up the camera on a table or on a timer will need to use a tripod – it simply falls forward on itself. This is a pretty appalling design failing – a trade off for getting that 21x zoom.
A BUTTON-LESS CAMERA THEN?
The entirety of the back of the camera is taken up with a very clear 4.8-inch 1280×720 screen. While well illuminated and fairly high resolution, the colours represented are a bit dull. ¨¨It is great for playing back photos and videos though – superior to most DSLR camera’s screens. Unfortunately there is no viewfinder, so the screen is all you have to shoot with, and mostly follows smartphone mechanics (touch the screen to focus). The shutter button on the top of the device zooms.
While so far this seems excellent for casual snappers and travellers, the screen itself is among the worst muck magnets I’ve ever seen. Whereas most smartphones are used in a single or dual finger prodding motion, the Camera’s screen means that holding the device like a camera often means your hands will smear the screen, and I regularly bumped the settings button with my thumb while trying to line up a shot.¨¨As a smartphone, running apps and the like, the power inside the Camera means it never misses a beat in games or any other app. Photo editing is a swift breeze with minimal delays. If anything, most delays will come from upload/download times on your internet connection.
BATTERY LIFE ISSUES
Another tradeoff is that the camera needs to boot up like a smartphone or computer, which takes a huge 25 seconds. This makes it completely useless for a camera as any ‘magic moment’ is lost in that time. ¨¨However, If you go into settings and use ‘fast power on’ (which lasts for 24 hours), the turn on time is instant. ¨¨However, much like tablets and smartphones’ ‘always on’ usage – this means your camera is continuously burning through your battery charge. If you plan to take this backpacking or into the jungle for multiple days – tough – either turn it off fully each time (and potentially miss the photo of a lifetime) or have it in ‘always on’ mode and potentially have the charge run out before you get back to civilisation. ¨¨Given the whole point of these smartphone style features is to enhance photography’s mobility and connectivity, this is a pretty tough call for buyers to make.¨¨During testing of ‘always on’ the camera lasted around 24 hours before needing another charge (combination wi-fi and 3G). Powering off and on lasted 2-3 days with sporadic usage. This quite simply does not match up to any dedicated camera of any kind unfortunately.
LIKELY CUSTOMERS WILL BE CONFUSED
The Galaxy Camera’s size suggests that its a high end compact camera, similar to a Canon G1X. It isn’t unfortunately, and is probably more akin to the lowest levels of cheap £100-£200 compacts. ¨¨If you want to compare it to smartphone cameras – not terribly fair since it has a full optical set and zoom – it thrashes pretty much all of them in day to day situations. But then this is a £400 device that can’t make cellphone calls.¨¨It does have two great features for casual snappers. Firstly, it has an incredibly wide field of view – 4.1mm. This is more than almost every other camera out there (professional or not), and means that everything fits in frame – about as much as your eyesight. The 21x optical zoom is also very useful for the opposite reason. Again, the trade off for these two feature sets is the image quality. ¨¨The Galaxy Camera does offer more options than most low end compacts. If you keep your camera stuck on auto mode, you may never notice. But the Galaxy becomes very useful once you put it on manual, and fiddle with the exposure, shutter speed, aperture and the ISO (digital ‘film speed’).¨¨However while these attributes hurt it as a still camera, it remains a very good video camera. It takes a good 1080P video, plus its size and weight makes much easier to lug around and shoot pretty decent quality video. The huge back screen helps immensely for shooting home videos – and this is a where I predict the Galaxy Camera could become a sleeper hit. It is streets ahead of most smartphones when it comes to video quality – but again suffers graininess in low light. In moving images, however, this is less noticeable.¨¨It also has a screw mount on its base, so can easily be attached to dolly or tripod.
PHOTOGRAPHY TESTED: VS NIKON D90 AND APPLE iPhone 4S¨
What Mobile decided to test it against a Nikon D90 D-SLR camera and an iPhone 4S (the most popular camera on Flickr). The D90 straddles the line between an enthusiasts camera and a ‘prosumer’ device. It is using a top quality Nikon DX 35mm f/1.8 lens.
Outdoors – general scenery test – Bunhill Fields Cemetery – Midday, clear overcast day.
Both the D90 and the SGC were put on a tripod and shot at 1/160, f/5.6, ISO 200. ¨The D90 has superior contrast, sharpness and detail. The SGC still produces some pretty good results, but has low contrast.
Outdoors – detail test – Tombstone¨
All devices hand held, set to ISO 200 f5.6 and 1/125 shutter speed (the iPhone 4S shot in Auto)¨. The iPhone was brighter than the SGC, but softer. The SGC struggled with contrast, which made it muddier.
Outdoors – colour, contrast test – Scooter
All devices shot in auto mode. This is very close – all devices reproduce the colour and sharpness accurately. The D90 has better definition in the dark areas, otherwise a dead heat – so an excellent result for the iPhone 4S and Galaxy Camera.
Indoors, night – noise, low light performance test – Pub
All devices shot at f/2.8, 1/30 shutter speed. iPhone Auto (f/2.4, 1/15). ¨The D90 provides an excellent reference point – an example of why phones still lag in low light situations. The iPhone provides a bright, sharpish image – but the quality is poor, noisy and with incorrect colours. The SGC, suprisingly, performs worse here – the colours are closer, but sharpness and detail are lacking – everything mashes together into a muddy nothing.
Studio lighting test – fruit – ideal conditions.
All devices set to auto. Lighting: 2x 55W 5400K studio. The D90 produces the ideal output. The iPhone (and we tested a iPhone 5, a 3GS and a 4) fails completely – it can’t handle the lighting and gives off a flickering banding wrecking the image. The SGC gets the colours right, but the focus is a bit soft.
While the Samsung Galaxy Camera is generally better than the iPhone 4S in daylight situations, it is very average shooting in the dark. It starts showing digital noise in your images at around ISO400 – which is very low. ¨¨The iPhone 4S is only marginally better using HDR, but remains poor and very noisy. For example, the Nikon will go all the way up to 1600 before it degrades.¨¨ This is not a party camera for nights out or indoors shooting, but is still very respectable for outside, sunny day shooting. But then again, so are most compact cameras – and they don’t cost £400.
WHAT MOBILE VERDICT
In conclusion, this is a tough call to make. £400 seems expensive when compared to the compact cameras you can get for the same amount of money from Canon, Nikon and Sony.
Its feature set makes it more at home being compared to smartphones – you can after all do almost everything you can on your Android smartphone here except cell phone calling (although you can make voice calls through Skype and Viber) – but you get a pop up flash, 21x zoom and a huge field of view.
Unfortunately ramming phone components into a camera has left the device a bit bulkier – and the camera components still aren’t as good as dedicated cameras. Until the price comes down, and the bulkiness is shed, normal users will probably be best sticking to using their existing compacts or smartphones.
So who would buy it? Early adopters for one, it is definitely a fantastic proof of concept for where consumer cameras will go. Samsung have absolutely nailed it here, and Nikon, Canon and Sony better get with the program quick.¨¨¨Unfortunately this remains a prototype – the compromises made overall mean its an average device – but I can’t wait until Samsung does it properly.
¨¨+ A vision into the future of consumer-level photography
+ Fantastic feature set – Dropbox/Facebook integration is excellent
+ Superb back screen¨+ Great wide field of view and terrific 21x zoom
+ 4G compatible¨+ Great for video¨¨- Camera’s photographic quality is dubious, especially in low light
– Battery life doesn’t compare to real cameras
– Physical design is unbalanced – it falls over
– Heavy and awkward to handle – feels fragile
– No viewfinder; flash is poor
¨Dimensions 128.7 x 70.8 x 19.1 mm
OS Google Android 4.1 Jellbean (upgradeable to 4.2)
Screen 4.8-inch @ 1280×720 (306 PPI), Gorilla Glass
¨Processor Samsung Exynos Quad Core A9 @ 1.4Ghz¨GPU Mail-400MP
Storage 8GB + up to 64GB via MicroSD
Camera 16MP, 21x zoom, plus pop up xenon flash.
¨Wireless Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, 2G, 3G,4G.
Ports MicroSD, MicroSIM, HDMI, 3.5mm Headphone jack, MicroUSB 2.0. Tripod mount.