Samsung Galaxy Camera Review: Experience
Samsung sent me a Galaxy Camera for review just before Christmas. For the most part, I’ve been using it in place of both a regular point-and-shoot camera and my Smart Phone since then. I’ve even taken skiing a few times. But for the most part, I used it so I could have more control with my Instagram photos. Having that 21x image-stabilized optical zoom lens and manual exposure controls means I can take way better food photos than I can with my camera phone. And having the Android OS, apps and 4G connectivity built right into the camera means I can post photos right from the bar or the ski resort. As much as I love my Eye-Fi wireless SD card, not having to transfer images from my camera to my phone is really nice. I really love being able to zoom to whatever focal length I want, choose the exposure settings myself, process my photos (mostly with Snapseed) and then upload to the Web – all from one device. That’s the perfect workflow!
Other than it not being a phone, the Samsung Galaxy Camera is an awesome mobile device. As a mobile device, that’s actually my biggest issue – that it’s not a phone. If you’re going to make the effort to design a camera with an Android OS and 4G connectivity, why not just make it a phone, too? The Samsung Galaxy Camera currently costs $499 with a two year mobile contract (AT&T). That’s over twice as much of an initial investment as an iPhone or a Samsung Galaxy S III. For that kind of scratch you shouldn’t have to pay for and carry two mobile devices.
As a camera, there’s no doubt the Samsung Galaxy Camera is better than a Smart Phone. It’s got a large 16-megapixel (for a mobile device) 1/2.3-inch sensor that has almost twice the surface area of the sensor in the iPhone 5 and Samsung Galaxy S III Smart Phones. And more sensor surface area almost always means better image quality – especially in low light. So you can see for yourself, I’ve included Galaxy Camera and Samsung Galaxy S III Smart Phone comparison images in the Image Quality section of this review. The Galaxy Camera also has a 21x optical zoom lens with optical image stabilization, a pop-up flash and a really nice custom camera app with excellent manual controls as well as scene modes like Landscape, Night, Sunset, Panorama, Action Freeze and Macro. I’m a manual exposure guy so I really like the P,A,S,M manual shooting modes.
I think the biggest benefit of the Galaxy Camera compared to a Smart Phone is the lens. The 21x (35mm equivalent) 23-483mm zoom offers an incredible range allowing you shoot everything from wide group photos of people to wildlife photos. The two photos below show the huge difference between shooting all the way wide and zoomed all the way in with the 21x zoom lens. Both photos were shot from the same spot at the same time. You’ll have to click on the first photo and zoom all the way in to locate the people in the photo on the right.
The 21x zoom lens also allows you to take advantage of the optical affects you get from using different focal lengths. It’s true you could just crop your fixed lens Smart Phone images to match different zoom lengths. There are two problems with that, though. First, you lose resolution and that degrades image quality. If all you’re doing is posting to Facebook or Instagram, the loss of resolution probably doesn’t matter much. But the different optical affects you get from changing focal length are very important. Taking a picture at 200mm and cropping to frame your subject the same way do not give you the same picture. Using a telephoto lens (or zooming in) flattens the space and makes the background appear closer to your subject as well as dramatically changing the depth-of-field. Experienced photographers use telephoto focal lengths to pull the background in closer and isolate their subject against a soft, out-of-focus background. You just can’t do the same thing with a fixed lens Smart Phone. Check out the three photos below to see what I mean. The photo on the left was taken zoomed to about 170mm. The photo in the middle was taken at about 35mm – comparable to a Smart Phone camera lens – and then cropped. For the photo on the right I “zoomed with my feet” and walked up to the house to try to frame it the same way I did in the first photo. You’ll notice each of the photos is very different. This is why I think having a zoom lens is so important.
So that’s not to like with the Samsung Galaxy Camera? With a better lens, a better sensor and better controls, it’s certainly a far better camera than any Smart Phone. Unfortunately, it falls short of most point-and-shoot cameras. Even though it uses a 1/2.3-inch backlit CMOS sensor size just like a point-and-shoots, I found the image quality lacking compared to the competition. I’ll go into more detail about the image quality in the next part of this review but suffice to say, it didn’t meet my expectations. I also had problems with image storage, startup speed and access to the controls. The Galaxy Camera has 8 GB of internal storage as well as a slot for a MicroSD card. I like using a memory card because it’s easier to transfer photos to the computer with a card reader than it is to plug the camera into the computer. Unfortunately, I had trouble consistently saving photos to the Micro SD card. Sometimes the camera would prompt me to save to the card and sometimes it would default to the internal memory – there didn’t seem to be a way to make my preference stick. As a result, about half the time I went to download my images from the memory card, I’d find they were stored in the camera’s internal memory and then I’d have to put the card back in the camera and transfer the photos from the internal memory to my MicroSD card. It’s not the end of the world but it’s annoying and a waste of time – especially the third or fourth time it happens.
Unless you’ve used the camera very recently, startup takes about a second and I often had to push the power button a couple of times and hold it down to get it to respond. I’m sure it’s a sleep mode that’s designed to preserve battery life. But compared to a point-and-shoot camera or a Smart Phone, the startup is slow and a little frustrating. And one second is certainly enough time to miss an important photo. As far as the controls go – even though the Galaxy Camera’s custom camera app is great, it’s still slower than the dedicated buttons and controls on a normal point-and-shoot camera. I love the look of the app and it does offer way more control than the standard iPhone or Android camera apps. However, I still feel the dedicated buttons and controls on a regular point-and-shoot camera are quicker and more intuitive to use. That said, anyone moving from a Smart Phone to the Galaxy Camera should be very pleased with the increased control Samsung’s camera app offers. How good it is really depends on what you compare it to.
Everyone knows that size really does matter. And the Galaxy Camera is too big. At about 5 x 2.75 inches, the back of the camera – the touchscreen – is about the same size as a Smart Phone (see photo below of my Samsung Galaxy S III phone next to the Samsung Galaxy Camera). That doesn’t take into account how thick the Galaxy Camera is with the grip and lens, though. Plus, all the big camera companies now make pocket superzoom cameras (Pocket Superzoom Camera Guide) with smaller bodies and a comparable zoom range. For reference, take a look at the second photo below of the Galaxy Camera with a Canon PowerShot SX230 HS. The current version of that camera, the PowerShot SX260 HS, is the same size, has a 20x optical zoom lens and better external controls than the Galaxy Camera. What it doesn’t have is an Android operating system, Android apps, or 4G mobile connectivity. On the other hand, put an Eye-Fi card in the Canon and you can wirelessly transfer photos and videos from the camera to your Smart Phone and have all the functionality you’d have with the Samsung, but with a smaller, better camera. And any of the current pocket superzooms from Panasonic, Nikon, Canon, Sony, Olympus and Fujifilm will easily fit in a pants pocket. You actually don’t even need the Eye-Fi card anymore. Most of the camera companies now make a pocket superzoom camera with built-in Wi-Fi. But the Samsung Galaxy Camera is the only option with a SIM card and real 4G mobile connectivity built right into the camera.
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