The Samsung Galaxy Camera is the first camera to offer not only Wi-Fi functionality and 3G data connectivity. This is combined with the 4.8in touchscreen, 21x optical zoom and Android OS, meaning the Galaxy camera truly bridges the gap between smartphone and traditional digital camera. We see if it's the future of digital photography in our Samsung Galaxy Camera review...
The Samsung Galaxy Camera looks to bridge the gap between smartphone and compact camera with an impressive imaging specification and unprecidented digtal camera connectivity.
There’s no denying that smartphones are becoming the take-everywhere camera of choice for many photographers. Of course, there are still limitations to conventional smartphones, and this disparity between smartphone and full-blooded digital camera has created a gap in the market for a marriage between the two. In to this gap arrives the Samsung Galaxy Camera.
Samsung Galaxy Camera review – Features
Dubbed the ‘Connected Camera’, the Samsung Galaxy Camera boasts the bare bones to rival many a conventional digital camera. At the core of the model sits a back side illuminated 1/2.3in CMOS sensor, the same found standard compacts like the Samsung WB850F, and larger than that found in a smartphone. The sensor offers full HD video capture at 1080p and 30fps alongside traditional stills capture.
As mentioned, an area in which the digital camera still trumps the smartphone is with regards to optical zoom. This is a fact Samsung is clearly aware of, as the Samsung Galaxy Camera packs quite the optical punch. It features a 21x optical zoom that covers a focal range of 23-483mm in 35mm equivalent terms and has a maximum aperture of f/2.8 at the zoom’s wide angle. The lens is also supported by optical image stabilisation technology.
The Samsung Galaxy Camera is, in many ways, the epitome of convergence technology. It could be described as a smartphone with a serious digital camera, or a digital camera with smartphone technology – both of which themselves are convergence devices. In no area is this more apparently than on the rear of the camera, where the largest and most high specified screen ever found on a digital camera resides.
Impressive LCD screen
The Samsung Galaxy Camera’s screen measures in at 4.8in and features a resolution of 1280 x 720 pixels, thus gaining the HD moniker from Samsung, while it also benefits from full capacitive touchscreen technology. The screen features a 16:9 aspect ratio that, while perfect for HD video capture, does mean that if you’re utilising the full resolution of the camera’s sensor you will have to shoot with black tramlines down the sides of the image.
Samsung has placed an emphasis on connectivity in its compact and CSC cameras of late – such as the Samsung NX20 – as is evident in the incorporation of Wi-Fi in these devices. The Samsung Galaxy Camera also benefits from integrated dual-band Wi-Fi technology, although that’s just the start of its connected capabilities, as the Galaxy Camera is the first digital camera to feature integrated 3G technology and offer cellular network connectivity.
Google Android OS
It does so through the implementation of the Android 4.1 – also known as Jellybean – operating system, thus offers access to the Google Play store and over 600,000 applications sold therein. Not only does this mean that you can finally play Angry Birds on your camera, but you can access a wide range of photography applications to both edit and share images on the go, as well as expand the functionality of the camera and keep it up to date.
When you purchase your Samsung Galaxy Camera it’ll come boxed with a micro SIM card on the 3 network, complete with 30 days of data usage. Furthermore, purchasers will be given 50GB of Dropbox storage for two years, to which you can upload your images remotely from the Galaxy Camera.
Samsung is keen to push the serious photo capabilities of the Galaxy Camera, and as a result it features full PASM image capture functionality. Alongside this advanced functionality are the traditional shooting modes to make life easier for the relative novice. This includes the default ‘Auto’ settings, as well as a range of Smart settings including ‘Action freeze’ and ‘Rich tone’.
Design and Performance
Samsung Galaxy Camera review – Design
As you would expect for a camera that possesses the largest screen ever seen on a digital camera, the Samsung Galaxy Camera is by no means small. The rear of the camera is dominated by the touchscreen with physical buttons noticeable by their absence – although this comes as no real surprise as physical buttons aren’t entirely necessary when you’ve got such a large touchscreen. While there’s no denying the benefits of having a 21x optical zoom when it comes to imaging prowess, offering a real benefit in this regard over a smartphone, its presence in combination with this large touchscreen does turn the Samsung Galaxy Camera in to a bulky shooter.
Although the majority of the Samsung Galaxy Camera’s functionality is accessed and controlled from the ample touchscreen, the rest of the body does feature a few control buttons. On the top plate sits a shutter release button complete with zoom lever, as well a power button. As the device is half-smartphone half-smartcamera, there’s no surprises that these buttons serve dual purposes – the zoom lever serves as a volume control for the device, while the power button not only activates the camera, but also puts it in to locked mode.
The only other physical button found on the camera is the button used to trigger the camera’s flash on the left hand side. Outside of this, the rest of the body is noticeably minimalist and as a result it does have a certain sleek appearance. One possible oversight in the pursuit of keeping the body as minimal as possible is the absence of any functionality around the lens ring. Other Samsung cameras have previously featured an ‘i-Fn’ function ring – essentially a customisable control wheel – around the lens and thus made better use of the area. Hopefully future Samsung Galaxy Cameras will feature the same functionality.
The right hand side of the Samsung Galaxy Camera’s body houses a reasonably-sized handgrip which, in combination with the protruding lens, offers a steady grip that’s welcome when shooting at longer focal ranges. It does present a bit of an issue when using the Galaxy Camera in traditional portrait smartphone orientation as it’s difficult to get a steady grip on the camera – either you have the handgrip in your palms, which is far from comfortable, or you have the handgrip at the top, which makes the device top heavy.
On the positive side of things, the implementation of the Android 4.1 – or Jellybean – on the Samsung Galaxy Camera means that the integration between digital camera and smartphone is as true as we’ve seen to date. Once you’ve got over the handling issues and the bulk of the device, the interface is seamlessly navigable – there are no compromises as those found in other similar devices such as those found with Wi-Fi access such as that in previous Samsung ‘Smart’ cameras.
Samsung Galaxy Camera review – Performance
The sheer size of the touchscreen on the rear of the Galaxy Camera strikes you the second you pick it up. At 4.8in, it’s the very same as that found on Samsung’s acclaimed Galaxy S3 smartphone and on the whole it offers much the same high-level performance. The capacitive touchscreen technology offers quick operation of the device, as well as the camera functionality – as you’d expect for a device driven by a touchscreen, the Galaxy Camera offers touch focus control, as well as a touch shutter button on the model’s screen as an alternative to the physical shutter button on the top of the device.
One slight drawback with the screen is its aspect ratio. While the 16:9 format is perfect for capturing HD video and watching video content, it doesn’t match the sensor size. As a result, if you wish to shoot full 16MP stills you’re presented with black tramlines down the sides of the image.
It’s worth noting that this wide array of advanced technology does present certain issues. The large LCD screen, GPS and 3G technology are all notorious culprits when it comes to draining battery life and this is once again the case with the Samsung Galaxy Camera. If you are using any of the elements independently the battery life isn’t too bad, however as soon as you start to use the Galaxy Camera to the full extent of its capabilities battery life quickly depletes.
In the field
During the testing process we took the Samsung Galaxy Camera out shooting through the centre of London, navigating using the Google Maps app, editing images with the on-board Photo Wizard and Adobe Photoshop Express apps and uploading to Facebook on the go. Now these are all fairly battery-sapping tasks, but they are the tasks upon which the Galaxy Camera is sold, and although we did manage around four or five hours of shooting the battery soon ploughed through its charge. As mentioned previously the Galaxy Camera utilises the same battery as that found in the Galaxy S2 smartphones, and as a result spare batteries are affordable and readily available, and certainly a wise investment.
When you consider the amount of varying technologies the Samsung Galaxy Camera combines – essentially the splicing together of smartphone and smartcamera – you have to say that operational speeds are reasonably prompt. The camera functionality can be access through either the physical shutter button on the top of the camera or by pressing on the camera app button, and either of those two processes will have the camera up and running in a matter of seconds. Once shooting, shot to shot speeds are reasonable, while a quick press of the ‘Home’ button will almost instantly close the camera down and drop you back in to the pleasing Android interface.
This full-blooded Android interface and 3G technology are a real benefit to have on the camera. While it does allow for the dalliances associated with smartphone usage, such as playing Angry Birds or Cut the Rope, it really does add another dimension to digital photography. The model’s sharing capabilities are seamless, while the fact that you can back-up to the cloud as you shoot without the need for Wi-Fi is also welcome.
Image Quality and Verdict
Samsung Galaxy Camera review – Image Quality
Tone and Exposure
Images display a good balance between shadow and highlight detail on the whole, and as a result images display an even tone. There is a fairly regular tendency to underexpose, although owing to the fact that detail is sometimes lost in highlights this isn’t the end of the world.
White Balance and Colour
While colour is generally accurate, erring towards the more vivid end of the spectrum, the same cannot be said of the Galaxy Camera’s white balance performance. Results can vary greatly in a host of different lighting conditions – images captured in artificial light swing from warm to cold, and even in good natural light there is a lack of consistency. Thanks to the advanced shooting features it is possible to set the manual white balance manually, and this is the preferred option.
Sharpness and Detail
Whenever a large optical zoom is placed into a body as slim as that found on the Samsung Galaxy Camera, worries are going to arise over the sharpness of images. When viewed on the ample LCD screen images appear sharp enough, although softening is apparent on closer inspection.
On the whole the Galaxy Camera controls noise reasonably well, and certainly better than the majority of smartphones. Images do suffer from fairly aggressive noise reduction, and above ISO 400 this creates some real issues with sharpness. At ISO 800 and above fine detail is smudged and difficult to decipher, although if you’re not looking to make large enlargements with your prints these settings remain usable.
Samsung Galaxy Camera review – Verdict
The Samsung Galaxy Camera is an impressive combination of technology. As far as features go it’s as well specified as any on the market, with the only real missing feature being Raw capture for advanced shooters. It’s also well designed, with the main focus of operation rightly devoted to the stunning touchscreen on the model’s rear.
However, it’s not a camera without its faults – the burden that the ample touchscreen places on the battery means that you’ll need to be packing one or two spares for a full day’s shooting and usage. There’s also the fact that image quality, though much better and more versatile than your average smartphone, stumbles in a host of areas.
Putting these faults aside, Samsung must be applauded for leading the way in the digital camera market and launching a device that generally impresses. If the Galaxy Camera is anything to go by, it certainly won’t be the last 3G-enabled digital camera.
Sample Image Gallery
These are just a small selection of images from our Samsung Galaxy Camera review. For more, head on over to our Samsung Galaxy Camera sample image gallery.