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Smart Cameras of the Future – The Samsung Galaxy Camera Gives You A Taste Of What’s To Come

Important disclosure: The camera is owned by my 8 year-old son, Marcus. He won it for being one of five Samsung’ Little Artist finalists and I’m just borrowing it.

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You’ll be reading how the Samsung Galaxy Camera is in the real world, acting as a camera phone and a P&S replacement camera for the most part. So don’t expect the usual ISO charts and tech information.

The camera will be assessed as a do-it-all travel camera and street shooter, for the most part. The JPEG photos attached are processed using Lightroom for resizing, sharpening and white balance adjustment.

Connectivity, Sharing, Social

Let’s face it, most of our casual photos end up on Instagram or Facebook, or maybe even Flickr, but regardless of where we upload them, they have to be posted ASAP as a status update.

In this regard, the advancement in camera and lens technology on most of the best-selling smartphones dominated the near-dead P&S market.

Flickr Most Popular Cameras

Flickr Most Popular Cameras 2012

For more advanced shooters who know about Eye-Fi and such, DSLRs or more advanced P&S are still used but it’s rarely our priority to upload photos right away when we’re not using a phone.

A Phone’s Achilles’ Heel

Phones, as good and convenient as they are, have several obstacles that more serious photographers find limiting such as:

  • Lack of zoom
  • Not wide enough lens
  • Lack of “creative” modes (Program, Aperture/Shutter Priority, Manual)

So what do you do? The solution seems simple, fuse a regular point and shoot in front of a smartphone!

There you have the Samsung Galaxy Camera!

Specifications

Camera

  • Camera Resolution – 16MP
  • Digital / Optical Zoom – 21X Optical Zoom
  • Flash Modes – Auto, Red-eye reduction, Red-eye fix, Fill-in Flash, Flash Off and Slow Sync
  • Auto Focus – Yes
  • Smart Mode – 
    Beauty Face/ Best Photo/ Continuous Shot/ Best Face/ Landscape/ Macro/
    Action Freeze/ Rich Tone/ Panorama/ Waterfall/ Silhouette/ Sunset/ Night/
    Fireworks/ Light Trace
  • Expert Mode – (P/A/S/M)
  • Face Detection – Yes
  • Shutter Speed – 16 – 1/2,000 sec
  • Sensor Size – 1/2.3″ BSI CMOS
  • ISO Exposure – 100-3200
  • Lens Focal Length: 4.1 ~ 86.1mm (35mm film equivalent: 23 ~ 483mm) | Aperture Value: 2.8 (w) ~ 5.9 (T)
  • Metering – Multi, Spot, Center-weighted
  • White Balance – Daylight, Cloudy, Fluorescent_H, Fluorescent_L, Tungsten and Custom
  • Geo-Tagging – Yes

Video

  • HD Video Player – Yes, (H.263, H.264, 3gp, MPEG4, WMV, ASF) 1080p @ 30fps
  • HD Video Recording – Yes, (H.263, H.264, MPEG4) 1080p @ 30fps
  • Slow Motion Video Capture – WVGA 768×512 @ 120fps
  • Dual Video Capture – Movie 1080p @ 30fps & Still 4MP
  • Video Streaming – Yes
  • Video Editor – Yes

Audio

  • Multi-format Music Player
  • 3.5mm ear jack

Connectivity

  • Bluetooth 4.0
  • Wi-Fi 802.11b/g/n
  • Wi-Fi Direct
  • Internet HTML Browser
  • PC Sync Application (Samsung Kies)
  • Kies via Wi-Fi
  • Tethering and portable hotspot
  • USB Mass Storage
  • AllShare Play
  • AllShare Cast
  • Group Cast
  • A-GPS
  • GLONASS

Network

  • 3.5G [HSPA+ up to 21Mbps]
  • 3G (850/ 900 / 1900/ 2100MHz)

OS

  • Android 4.1.1 (Jelly Bean)

Processor

  • 1.4GHz Quad Core Processor

Browser

  • Android Browser

Display

  • 4.8″ 16M colours (1,280 x 720 ) HD SUPER CLEAR LCD Touch Display

Dimensions

  • 300g
  • 128.7 x 70.8 x 19.1mm

Battery

  • Capacity: 1,650mAh

Memory

  • Internal Memory : 8GB (including read-only sections such as Android operating system)
  • Phone Book Entries: Limited by Memory
  • External Memory: MicroSD: Up to 64GB

Messaging

  • SMS, MMS
  • Continuous input
  • Handwriting Recognition (English, Chinese and Korean)
  • Predictive Text Input T9
  • Email
  • ChatON

Sensors

  • Motion Sensors

Google Mobile Services

  • Google+, Google+ Messenger, Google Search, Gmail, Google Maps, Google Local, Google Talk, Google Latitude & Google Play

Application and Services

  • Live Wallpapers
  • Samsung Apps
  • YouTube Client
  • Mobile Widgets
  • S Suggest
  • S Planner (Calendar & Scheduler)
  • Learning Hub, Readers Hub (downloadable from Samsung Apps)
  • Game Hub
  • Pop Up Play
  • Alarm
  • S Suggest
  • S Voice
  • Voice Search
  • Voice Editor
  • Photo Wizard
  • Paper Artist
  • Instagram
  • Block Mode
  • Dropbox
  • Find My Mobile (SamsungDive)

 

Actual Usage Review

I’ll say it now – I absolutely love the camera. Note, I said camera, not necessarily the photographs. Stay with me here.

Shortcomings

Let’s get the ‘bad’ stuff over with first, as I truly believe that in the grand scheme of things, these are all pretty minor.

Price

Yes, the Galaxy Camera isn’t cheap, in fact, at an average retail price of US$600, it’s priced at the same level of entry-level mirrorless cameras or premium point-and-shoot cameras with proven image quality.

The Galaxy Camera basically has the imaging hardware of it’s cheaper P&S cousin, the Samsung WB850F. They share the same 21x zoom lens and 16MP sensor, for the most part. That camera costs a shade under $300.

However, let’s not forget that the whole rear side of the Galaxy Camera is essentially the much-heralded Samsung Galaxy SIII phone, sans the telephony part of it, which on average, costs $500 by itself.

With that in mind, the Samsung Galaxy Camera at $600 makes perfect sense as a gadget, but not a good enough dedicated camera. If you think about it, however, if all you’re after is a camera without the connectivity, why consider this at all, right?

Battery Life

There’s no way around it, with a quad-core processor, 4.8″ high-res touch screen, and internet connectivity, your battery life suffers.

Since my son’s camera doesn’t have a SIM card inserted, we just turn on the Airplane mode to shut off the antenna and turn on Wi-Fi only when we need to or when we’re at home.

Using the camera without playing games, watching videos, browsing the web, going on Skype, etc. The camera can last you a day of shooting, if not more.

However, once you start using it like a smartphone or a mini-tablet, the battery, like all other tablets and phones, can barely last half-a-day.

Luckily, the Samsung Galaxy Camera uses the same battery as the discontinued Samsung Galaxy SII phone, which makes buying additional batteries easy no matter what major city you are in. Heck, I grabbed 3 extra ones on eBay just to make sure.

Zoomed AF Accuracy

At 1-7x zoom, the AF is quite accurate and fast. But like virtually all other super-zoom lenses on small-sensor cameras, AF accuracy and speed drops off tremendously when you reach 12-21x. The lack of contrast when zoomed out really kills any AF-detect camera system’s ability to lock onto anything.

In good light and high-contrast subjects, you can get pretty good images, but I found that the hit rate for accurate AF is quite low at 21x zoom.

That applies to all super-zooms though, so it’s not a Samsung-only thing.

Image Quality

As mentioned above, the imaging part is a $300 consumer point-and-shoot. Images tend to be a bit soft, though the photos respond well to sharpening.

But a bigger issue for me is high-ISO quality. I can honestly say that the safe limit is 800 max, anything higher, it gets really smudgy and you won’t be able to get many decent, detailed images beyond 1200px screen viewing or 5R prints.

Android Bugs

Now this isn’t exactly the camera’s fault but the 3rd party-apps. But I’ve experienced a couple of apps that sent the camera haywire. Like not focusing after the app is closed, lens not closing, etc.

On a positive note, however, when Android updated the firmware to 4.1.2 Jellybean, the Smart modes gained a couple of new features.

Durability

The camera is all-screen at the back. With the lack of an edge or bezel, dings on the large screen will be common and worrisome. It doesn’t help that as of this article, the only protective case I’ve found costs a whopping $80 each.

Having said all that, to not applaud Samsung for trying out something really innovative that the market really wants is just short-sighted snobbery, in my opinion. It’s a first-gen product and it already has a lot of things right.

Touch, Swipe, Drag

You’ve never seen a camera with a screen this large. The Samsung Galaxy Camera‘s screen boasts a 4.8″ HD touch screen that gives you really sharp and clear images. I’ve never had an issue with it under the sun as well.

If you like how easy it is to use your apps, browse photos, and do anything on your phone or tablet device, this feels EXACTLY the same, if not smoother. That’s why even 5-10 year olds find it so easy to use.

I own an Olympus OM-D as well, and comparing that touch screen to the Galaxy Camera’s feels like you’re looking at 1.8″ LCD screens of the mid 2000s (like my Canon EOS 10D) coming from a Canon EOS 5D Mark III LCD.

The fact that the screen on the Samsung Galaxy Camera is so huge makes on-screen menu controls and settings less of a chore than traditional point and shoot cameras.

The LCD display for the camera’s software is pretty well designed.

Instead of giving you gazillions of menu to scroll, which just annoys me to death (hey Olympus and Sony, I’m talking to you!), the main screen only offers 1 main button that expands to show the shooting modes.

More importantly, the “Expert” (PASM) mode features a digital lens adjustment knob thingy that lets you swipe the usual adjustments easily, one after another, for the ISO, Aperture, EV (for PAS modes), and shutter speed.

It’s more intuitive than you think.

On the top-left of the screen, you’ll find the standard Android settings menu that you can pull out. It lets you change the settings such as voice control (more on that later), flash, timer, etc.

You can also make changes to the image size, display options, sharing options, sounds, and such.

The flash pop-up button on the upper left side of the camera is quite annoying if you’re using the camera two-handed as you’ll inevitably pop it up unexpectedly, but other than that, I’m OK with the ergonomics of the camera.

Thank goodness the have a grip bulge built-in.

For the other exterior and feature stuff, just watch the video below by Samsung:

Photo Samples

Most photos are taken either in Program mode or Auto mode, unless indicated. I rarely used Shutter or Aperture priority on the Samsung Galaxy Camera because the Program or Auto mode is pretty darn good, I only use Manual in low-light or if I want more control on the depth-of-field and shutter speed..

Rich Tone (HDR) Mode

I’m not fan of scene modes but they do come in handy for quick snaps, and the Samsung Galaxy Camera‘s Smart Modes are, well, pretty smart.

In particular,the Rich Tone mode is the most useful for me.

It’s basically an in-cam HDR mode where the camera takes three images in rapid succession (shutter speed-dependent) and merges them into an HDR image.

It works very, very well for non-moving subjects, good light, and when your camera is still as any movement will induce edge ghosting.

Take a look at the two images, the left is shot using Program mode, the right using “Rich Tone”.

Standard, Program Mode, Exposed for Sky

Standard, Program Mode, Exposed for Sky

HDR Rich Tone Mode

HDR Rich Tone Mode

Black and White Street Shooting

I love shooting monochrome, partially because I like focusing on shapes and contrast more than colors.

I wish the Samsung Galaxy Camera has a bit more image parameter controls rather than the standard preset picture styles they have as the B&W processing is pretty flat (straight-up desaturation, for the most part). I hope future firmware or Android updates allow us to change at least the contrast.

In any case, I’ve found that shooting -0.3 to -0.7 EV gives me the best “look” in terms of exposure in almost any scene short of backlit or night scenes.

In addition, the 16:9 frame size on the Samsung Galaxy Camera strangely feels very natural and unique when compared to using 16:9 on traditional cameras as the LCD is 16:9 native.

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As I’ve mentioned, the straight-from-camera B&W photos are pretty dull, as it lacks true blacks and whites, but at least it doesn’t clip either ends during capture and a simple contrast adjustment in post-processing can yield you pretty nice images.

Color and More Standard Shots

For day-to-day snaps, the resulting photos are pleasing and just right for online sharing or small prints. With good light, you can take some really nice snaps with ease.

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“Rich Tone” Mode

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“Rich Tone” Mode

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“Food” Mode

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Sunset Mode

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My Little Niece

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“Waterfall” Scene Mode – Slow Shutter

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“Macro” Mode

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“Landscape” Mode

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Zoomed

Connectivity and Special Bells

I’m a Facebook addict, I just love the immediacy of posting images online in near real-time. When you’re attending parties, special events, etc. it’s really awesome to instantly tag and upload your friends’ photos as soon as you take them.

The other cool features such as sharing a shot across other Android devices in real time, “Best Face”, and all those nifty, software-based tweaks are more useful than you think.

Conclusion

So what’s the verdict?

Personally, I really like the camera. I find myself borrowing it more often from my kid rather than bring my Olympus or Canon replaceable lens cameras.

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In addition, for a guy like me who takes at least double-digit photos every time I step out of the house, having a camera that I can instantly upload and share images saves my real phone’s (a Note 1, which is a battery hog as well) battery quite a bit.

Who should consider the Samsung Galaxy Camera?

Hmm, in my opinion, it’s a great gadget for those shooting a lot of mobile photos that crave for more exposure and focal length control. It’s also good for those who have a solid understanding on exposure and using point-and-shoot cameras.

Many DSLR users are really poor P&S users as they often can’t work around the limitation of the sensor and adapt to the lack of controls available in a P&S.

However, if you’re comfortable with P&S cameras, there’s nothing like the Samsung Galaxy Camera in terms of seamlessly integrating your photography hobby and the social aspect of it that made taking photos such an integral part of our society today.

 

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