Dan Bracaglia: The general idea of camera connectivity is something I can get behind, and frankly, as a camera field tester, I am surprised that this level of connectivity has taken so long to get to the consumer level. And of all the consumer electronics companies out there, it makes sense that it was Samsung to take the first real stab at this kind of hybrid device. Despite all that, I was uneasy about a smartphone/camera--it wasn't until I played with it in person at Photokina that I started to get excited about the Galaxy Camera.
So, from a camera specs perspective, the Galaxy Camera is pretty much an average compact shooter. It offers up a 16 MP 1/2.3-inch backside illuminated sensor, 21x optical zoom with a 35mm equivalent of 23-483mm. That sensor is actually a bit small compared to other high-end compacts like the Canon S110, and much smaller than the Sony RX100's massive sensor. That'll affect image quality, and that sacrifice was largely made to make room for the huge 21x optical zoom.
The zoom was probably the feature, outside of the connectivity, that most impressed me with this camera. When zoomed out to the 35mm equivalent, the lens is a reasonably fast f/2.8, but by the time you’re zoomed all the way in, you’re looking at a fairly lackluster f/5.9 low aperture. I like the huge zoom--it definitely separates this camera from any smartphone camera--but I might rather have cut back on it and had a larger sensor.
The image stablization on this camera is damned impressive. Even when zoomed in all the way, I had no issue getting a clear shot--in daylight, mind you.
The camera features a tiny, run-of-the-mill xenon flash, which does a terrific job of blowing out subjects at a close distance. Placing a small piece of masking tape over the flash and compensating for the slight loss of light via exposure compensation can help with this problem, though whether most people that buy this camera will know to do that is anyone's guess.
Video: The Samsung Galaxy is capable of 1080p (or 720p) capture at 30 fps, but with no option for 24 fps. Considering the small size of the sensor, and the slow lens, getting any real cinematic shallow depth of field is virtually impossible. But the image stabilization does do a decent job during video capture of producing a shake-free shot. You can also shoot at 60 fps at 720p or 480p, which is a nifty feature.
Image Quality: Image quality and noise is about what you’d expect coming from a camera with a 1/2.3-inch sensor. It offers the following ISO’s: 100, 200, 400, 800, 1600 and 3200. My personal rule of thumb for shooting with any camera is to never venture higher than the second highest ISO. In the case of the Galaxy Camera, that’s only a meager ISO 1600. And even at ISO 1600, the images look noisy when viewed at full resolution. At ISO 3200, unless you're sending it right to Instagram or grey-scaling the image, forget about it.
Interface: I spent about half my time with the camera shooting on Auto mode and the other half shooting on manual or “Expert Mode.” Auto mode does a pretty terrific job in most situations of nailing the exposure. “Expert Mode” allows you to choose between Aperture Priority, Shutter Priority and manual mode. Seeing as controls like these in a compact are pretty rare, I was impressed to find them here. The interface is a series of concentric part-circle dials that looks sort of like a side view of a lens. It'll let you adjust shutter speed, aperture, ISO, and more, depending on how manual your mode is. It's definitely an intuitive way to adjust these settings, and Samsung is good at guiding novices through the process. But for experts, it's a bit slow--it'll take a couple taps and swipes to adjust, say, your ISO, whereas on other cameras, you can just twist a physical knob.
Speaking of things that are slow, when the camera is fully shut off, it occasionally took an incredibly long time to fire back up. That meant that I missed a couple of shots while testing it. Oddly, sometimes it'd fire up super fast, sometimes slow, with no obvious reason why. But I do like the smartphone-esque “Sleep Mode,” in which you just tap the power button to unlock it super fast, with all your previous settings, rather than booting it up after it's been powered down.
It should be noted that during testing I completely ignored Samsung’s “Smart Modes,” as I do with most compacts I test. Generally speaking, these modes do a decent job of what they claim, but as the editor of a photography magazine, I tend to warn folks away from sticking to them. Why learn the 18 modes on the back of your camera when you can learn the basics of exposures, get the photo you want, and know how you got it? I realize that many people, specifically non-photographers may disagree with me on this.
It's also worth noting that the huge touchscreen and access to Android apps gives the Galaxy Camera on-camera editing abilities that completely outstrip any other camera on the market. Samsung includes both a photo and video editor; the photo editor is pretty capable, though of course there are about a million photo editing apps in the app store.
Battery: It’s no secret that 4G drains battery, but the battery is actually fairly good--you'll get about a full day of average use, about the same as any 4G smartphone. Any more than that, and you’re going to need a second battery, but since it uses the same 1650mAh battery as Samsung smartphones, they're easy to find and very inexpensive (about $15 at Amazon).
In terms of storage, the Galaxy Camera offers 4GB of internal memory, which I think is actually a great idea. That'll hold about all the photos you need, without having to mess around with removable cards, and it should be able to access the storage much faster. For bonus storage, it features a microSD card slot, which is kind of lame. MicroSD cards, compared to SD, are expensive, easy to lose, and much less common. Your laptop probably has an SD card slot, but for microSD, chances are you'll need an adapter. MicroSD might be standard for smartphones, because you hardly ever remove the storage from a smartphone, but it's not well-suited for cameras.
In Conclusion: This camera marks an incredible important leap forward for photography and it's only a matter of time before more companies jump on this bandwagon. And, to be fair, I actually like this camera much more than I thought I would--but I can't imagine to whom I'd recommend it. Its firepower is beyond overkill for an avid Instagrammer, considering no one views Instagrams on anything larger than a smartphone screen (though once Instagram pushes web profiles, my opinion on this may change). Anyone looking for a solid compact who doesn’t care or is reluctant to pay a monthly 4G fee is better off turning to Canon and grabbing something like an S110. And the lack of really solid image quality, no RAW capture and mediocre low-light performance will surely cause most professional or serious photographers to ignore this camera all together. Conceptually brilliant, this forward-thinking camera deserves a footnote in the history of photography, and not much more.single page
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