To review the Samsung Galaxy Camera, Popular Photography's Dan Bracaglia lends his photographic expertise to talk about the camera from a photog's perspective, while Popular Science's gadget reviewer, Dan Nosowitz, reviews the camera from a gadget-geek's perspective.
Dan Nosowitz: I wasn't optimistic about the Samsung Galaxy Camera. The idea of a camera with a big touchscreen and a full version of Android, complete with 4G LTE connection, is enticing, but I do not care much at all for Samsung's other Galaxy products, which to this point have just been smartphones and tablets. I find their hardware chintzy and their software difficult and confused, as the company insists on mucking up Android (which is really great!) with their slow and bloated skins. Yet to my surprise, the Galaxy Camera is by far my favorite product in the Galaxy line.
As an Android device, it's got pretty much the same guts as a modern Galaxy smartphone. That means a huge 4.8-inch screen, a quad-core processor, a Samsung-ified version of Android 4.1 Jelly Bean, and 4G LTE connectivity. It even has a microphone, intended to be used while taking video, so theoretically you could ditch your phone, make calls with a VoIP service or Google Voice, and use this as your exclusive camera/phone. And of course it has access to the entire Android app store, which has fairly recently been renamed Google Play. But this is not a Galaxy smartphone with an improved camera; this is a high-end Samsung point-and-shoot with Android.
Using the Galaxy: Performance is pretty good; it's not as fast getting around as the screamingly-fast Nexus 4, but it's certainly not laggy. Android 4.1 is very nice; the Galaxy Camera has all the benefits of Google Now and all kinds of other great Android stuff. The screen is not the best screen I've ever used (not quite as sharp as the iPhone 5 or Nokia Lumia 920), but it is a very good screen, and it is definitely the best screen I've ever used on a camera. I think 4.8 inches is too big for a phone, but man is it awesome on a camera. You can actually share photos with a group on this thing!
Samsung's software is, as always, annoying. It's not as in-your-face with a million new gestures and pop-ups and buzzword-y features that plague its Galaxy S III and Galaxy Note smartphones. It's not wildly different from stock Android but aside from the camera interface, there's not a single thing I like better about the changes Samsung's made. Even the soft buttons (Menu, Home, Back) work differently on this phone than on other Android devices. Why? And the keyboard I think is pretty poor (autocorrect is unhelpful, word recognition isn't good), though it's very easy to download a new keyboard from Google Play.
It's only a little awkward to use as an Android device; I'm not sure exactly how to hold it, as it's thicker than a regular Android phone and also has the lens mount protruding. Dan Bracaglia's solution left his finger sitting on the little door in from of the lens--not good, since that door is notorious on compact cameras for breaking or locking up, rendering the camera useless. But it's not that hard, and I found it pretty capable for browsing Twitter or the web, checking email, and doing most other things you'd do on a smartphone. And that's kind of an achievement in itself; this isn't a skimped, shitty version of Android--it's high-end, just like on a top-tier phone.
I think the camera interface is great; the new stock camera app on Android is innovative and excellent in its own right, but it doesn't offer as many manual controls, so I think Samsung's camera app is a perfect solution for a more capable camera. For someone who's not an expert photographer, I really loved how Samsung guides the user through the app. And everything is done on the touchscreen; the only buttons are a shutter, a zoom toggle, and a flash trigger. That's great for novices who are much more comfortable with navigating menus on a smartphone than navigating the airplane-cockpit-like controls of a DSLR. Everything's right out in the open: you don't have to guess at what a switch means, because it's spelled out on the screen.
The sharing options are easy and intuitive; when you look through photos, the top bar gives you sharing options, and it places your most recently used sharing option in its own little spot up there. For me, that means posting to Instagram is a one-tap affair, right from the camera app. Love it.
Image quality for me is kind of an interesting beast. It will take, without question, the best Instagram photos of any device that actually has Instagram on it. (Yes, I know you can take photos with a DSLR and post them to Instagram. But that's not really what Instagram is about.) It's no question that the Galaxy Camera takes better shots than any smartphone I've ever used.
Size: But the camera is too big. For me, a camera's physical size is second only to image quality as the most important element, and then only barely second. The Galaxy Camera is not pocketable. (I do wear skinny-ish jeans, but I can't imagine what kind of pockets could comfortably hold it.) I actually like the hardware design a lot; it's all plastic, but, unlike Galaxy smartphones, doesn't feel cheap at all. It feels really well-constructed, sturdily and simply designed without getting too basic. It's one of the most attractive gadgets Samsung's ever made, frankly, but I would much rather it had a slightly smaller screen in return for a smaller footprint. Dan Bracaglia noted that the weight also has the benefit of stabilizing the camera; light cameras can sometimes move around too much, and he thinks Samsung "nailed" the weight.
That size means I have the camera in my bag rather than my pocket. When I'm out and about and see something I want to shoot, it's just faster and easier to snag my phone out of my pocket than fish around in my bag. And unlike a DSLR, which takes photos that are in a completely different league than my phone, the Galaxy Camera is merely "better" than my phone. I found myself not always bothering; if I can get a B- photo with my phone, who cares about a B+ photo from the Galaxy Camera? It's not like I'm going for an A-level photo from my DSLR.
Price: And that brings us to the most salient point in this whole review: who is the Galaxy Camera for? Its image quality is not wildly improved from a nice $200 point-and-shoot, though it is certainly a superior product, thanks to its connectivity, interface, and bonus access to all of Android. At $500, the camera is right at the very top of the price pyramid for compacts; in fact, for that price, you could snag any of several very nice mirrorless interchangeable-lens cameras from Sony, Olympus, or Panasonic, or even a low-end DSLR like last year's Nikon D3100. All of those cameras would thoroughly trounce the Galaxy Camera on image quality, but they're also less capable in a lot of ways.
The other problem is that to get the full benefit of the Galaxy Camera, you really need to spring for the 4G LTE plan--yeah, yet another monthly bill. So it's not even just $500--it'll be several times that over the course of its life.
That puts us in the weird position of having a gadget that's really cool that we can't really recommend to anyone. It's much better than a phone's camera, but the device as a whole is very similar, so do you really need both, especially at this price?
In Conclusion: What's most interesting about the Galaxy Camera is how obvious it now is that this is what consumer cameras will look like in the future. A mirrorless camera with interchangeable lenses but with this kind of connectivity and interface? That would be amazing. It's so much easier and faster to use for non-professionals than the more traditional camera control schemes, and the sharing options are the wave of the present and future. Of course you should be able to instantly upload photos to the cloud, to Facebook and Twitter and Instagram, to email them to your friends and family, to edit them in a mobile version of Photoshop. The Galaxy Camera isn't quite right for most people, but it's so close. Someone's going to do this right, and soon, so let's just consider the Galaxy Camera a sneak preview.
On page two, read Dan Bracaglia's take on how the Galaxy Camera is as a camera.
This old fart lugged around a trusty Pentax K1000 for years. Even up Mt. Washington 1/2 dozen times. Film canisters and all.
A decent camera with optical zoom that's meant to capture images outside of photobucket and other quickshare apps isn't likely going to fit in your back pocket (for a while anyways).
I'm a Samsung fanboy starting in 2004 or so, and bought a Galaxy S3 last month for a new phone to end my 5 year Crackberry era. I'm fine with the camera on it for "everyday" shooting. My old Powershot A560 will likely get orphaned until I buy a new real camera.
3G/4G on a camera is kinda weird, Wifi is good enough. It's a bit lukewarm for me to consider as a quality shooter. Unless the consensus raves, pass... Sorry Samsung, try harder.
I enjoy ALL Samsung products!!!!!!!!!!
When I first saw this article's title, I thought it was going to be about an addon piece of hardware that converts my Galaxy S III INTO a better camera, with interchangeable lenses and such. That is what Samsung should have made. Not a device that is half cell-phone, half camera. I might have even considered buying such an addon. But I certainly would not buy this. Given that so many of us are already paying for 3G/4G plans on our phones, who would want such an added expense? This is a niche novelty at best, and likely won't sell very well because of that. Major disappointment.
"but I can't imagine to whom I'd recommend it." Not sure I'd pass you guys on your "Product Development Black Belt" or your "Hey can we patent this" subgroup.
Here's the deal -- previous market leaders in cameras have been lens and receptor folks who got the best out of images with those technologies. Yeah there have been image processing computers in Cameras for a while, but I just bought the latest prosumer DSLR from Canon, and in order to get it to communicate the pictures to my stupid computer (that can talk every wireless mode known to man) without a thick cable, I have to buy an after market combination flash card and WiFi called "Eye Fi". And the camera is the first of its class to have touch screen.
Fast forward two years and your just OK images and movies from your smart phone are going to be DSLR quality because they came from something that looks just like the Galaxy -- but the plug in lens will be an extra cost accessory and the device without the lens will be as thin as a Galaxy S IV.
I always wondered how Steve Jobs could innovate those such obvious products and product improvements -- Looks like to most they aren't that obvious.