For the past few years we have been waiting for a functional Android camera, something that we deem to be “unavoidable”, so we were very glad to see Samsung launch its Galaxy Camera at IFA in Berlin in September. One of the previous attempt was released by Polaroid at CES 2012, however the design was far from being good enough, and much needed to be improved (design, performance, optics, Android version…).
Since we got our hands on the Samsung Galaxy camera last month (during the official US launch in NYC), we knew it was the first successful integration of Android in a compact camera.
We’ve taken the camera for a spin, and after using it for about one week, here is our complete review of the Samsung Galaxy Camera in which we try to draw a picture of how good it is as a camera, and what benefits Android brings to the table.
The AT&T model with HSPA+ retails for $499 or $599 while the Verizon model with 4G LTE costs $599 ( both prices do not include the monthly data plan). The review unit we tested was powered by AT&T.
What’s in the box?
- Lens: 23 mm wide angle lens, aperture F2.8 / F5.9, 21X long Zoom
- Display: 4.8” HD (1280 x 720) Super Clear LCD
- Sensor: 16 MP BSI CMOS (unknown size)
- Flash: Number 5 Xenon Flash
- Wireless Connectivity: AT&T 4G HSDPA CAT 14/ HSUPA CAT 6 // Verizon 4G LTE – Wi-Fi, Bluetooth 4.0
- Connectors: HDMI out, micro USB
- OS: Android 4.1 Jelly Bean
- Processor (SoC): 1.4 Ghz Quad-Core Exynos 4412
- RAM: 1 GB
- Internal Storage: 8GB (actual formatted capacity is less)
- MicroSD: up to 64 GB (card sold separately)
- Max image size (still): 4608 X 3456
- Video recording: MP4 – max 1920×1080 @ 30 fps
- Size and weight: 2.79 (H) x 5.07 (W) x .75 (D) inches, 10.76 oz
- Battery: 1650 mAh – up to 4.5 hours in-use time (AT&T estimate) – up to 2 hours in-use time (Verizon estimate)
- AT&T specifications
- Verizon specifications
Overview / goals
The Galaxy Camera is basically a compact camera with a large (4.8”) touch screen that allows users to access all their favorite Android apps, check the images they shot on a high-resolution display and upload them via Wi-Fi or 3G. It looks like Samsung took a Galaxy Smartphone and glued it to the back of a compact camera, except that you cannot place phone calls. However, voice calls are available via VoIP applications such as Skype.
The Galaxy Camera aims at delivering a higher-quality image than what is available on smartphones while offering top-notch Android capabilities, including wireless connectivity (cellular and WIFI) and the ability to use various applications directly from the camera.
Industrial Design (very good)
The Samsung Galaxy camera is designed to fit somewhere between a pocket camera and a large smartphone in both size and performance. The camera is larger and heavier than standard point-and-shoot cameras to allow room for the large display and the extra quad-core processor horsepower (aka SoC) needed for Android and wireless connectivity.
Our review unit has a white plastic body with a hint of black on the edges and on the back side, which is totally covered by the display. The textured grip on the right side makes it comfortable to hold the Galaxy Camera in one hand and press on the physical shutter button at the top.
A virtual shutter button for shooting still images is also available at the top right corner of the display, video capture can only be triggered via a digital “recording” icon. The tiny power button is found on the top as well, at the left side of the shutter button and the zoom commands. A tiny microphone can be seen right by the the shutter button.
The pop-up flash placed at the top left is operated with the button located on the left side, close to the top corner.
On the right side (when looking at the display) the HDMI connector is palced in the middel and the 3.5 mm audio jack at the top.
The speaker is located on the left side (when looking at the display side) close to the bottom corner and at the top, you will find the flash physical button.
The battery compartment is at the bottom of the camera. When you open it, you will find the (removable) battery itself, the HDMI connector, the MicroSD slot and the MicroSIM card slot . The standard tripod socket is visible in the middle. Nothing out of the ordinary here.
How I use it
Before we go on, I think it’s important that you know how I’m using my cameras (I own a Sony NEX-5N compact camera with interchangeable lens, a Canon EOS 50D DSLR) and my smartphone camera, as this setup inevitably shapes how I perceive the Samsung Galaxy Camera qualities and pitfalls. Also, in the reviews, I mainly use the fully-automatic mode or the shutter-priority mode as most people do want to simply “point and shoot” (not “all” people do that, I agree).
The compact camera follows me when I roam around trade shows or go on a vacation. I also own a Canon 50D, which is a really good -but bulky- camera. In most instances I prefer shooting with the DSLR for the fast AF, the shutter responsiveness and the great image quality, however, I recently started to use a micro camera for its small size and weight, and for the video capture feature (the Canon 50D DSLR I own only shoots still images and the NEX-5N delivers better video quality than the smartphone).
In both situations, I tend to shoot in difficult lighting conditions (dim yellow incandescent lighting + shiny objects = “difficult”), whether it is on a poorly lit showroom or at a dinner with friends. But whatever happens, I rarely use the flash as I personally prefer photos without it. Also, I tend to use my photos only on the web, and I rarely print anything larger than letter-size, if at all.
For your information, the EOS M camera we are refering to in the following review features a 8 MP 22.3 x 14.9mm CMOS sensor, complete specifications on this product page; and the Sony NEX-5N features a 23.5 X 15.6mm – 16.7 MPExmor APS HD CMOS sensor, complete specifications on this product page.
Android and integrated Wireless Connectivity
Obviously, the Wi-Fi/4G connectivity with direct access to a browser and sharing capabilities via email or social media applications is the unique value proposition of this shooter. Android and the large 4.8” touch display are certainly the main differentiators for this point-and-shoot camera, and the reason why we were so excited to get our hands on it.
Large 4.8” touch display
For once, in a high-end Samsung device, the 4.8” display is not a Super AMOLED, nevertheless the HD 1280×720 Super Clear TFT LCD (308 ppi) offers good contrast and realistic color reproduction, which is great for photography.
Camera User Interface Video
While this is hardly anything to do with image quality, charging with a micro-USB port is simply awesome. Why? Because you probably have many micro-USB cables or chargers. If you don’t, you can hop into any store that sells electronics stuff and get what you need for cheap.
The worst nightmare for any traveler (and tech blogger) is to lose or fry the proprietary charger at the wrong time. It is often very difficult to get a replacement within hours. Although the charger provided in the box is 700mA/5V, the camera can be charged (although a bit slower) via a standard the (500mA, 5V) USB port. If you need faster charging time, it is easy to find standard 2A/5V chargers for tablets in the commerce as well. I love it.
Photo quality (good)
Note: I have uploaded the full-resolution photos to our Ubergizmo Flickr account if you’re curious to see the in their full glory.
I shot most of the photos in the automatic mode, since we know that most people use smartphone cameras or compact cameras in automatic mode. Overall, I find the quality to be good, including low-light.
For this review we have compared the image quality of the Galaxy Camera to the Canon EOS M, and the Sony NEX-5N, two great mirror-less interchangeable lens cameras that features slightly higher pixel count than the Samsung device. We assume that the Samsung Galaxy Camera sensor might be smaller in size than the ones in the Canon and the Sony devices, since Samsung did not disclosed it in the specification sheet. The EOS M features a 18 MP (22.3 x 14.9mm) CMOS sensor , the Sony NEX-5N features a 16.7 MP (23.5 X 15.6mm) Exmor APS HD CMOS sensor and the Samsung Galaxy Camera gets a 16 MP BSI CMOS). Keep in mind that those cameras come out with different kit lenses.
The comparison is not meant to help you choose between those cameras, but rather to show you what’s out there and how the Galaxy Camera performs to solid non-Android cameras. They also happen to be the cameras that we are most familiar with. Comparing the Galaxy to more pricey cameras allows us to judge whether the image quality is good enough for the price and if the connectivity advantage is worth paying for.
The image quality and the definition offered by the Galaxy Camera are really good, the color balance is pretty realistic and it does not shift to a dominant color (it more or less matches what my eyes see). The contrasts are good, however the images are a little bit overexposed compared to the other two cameras, especially the NEX-5N.
In our controlled environment, the Galaxy Camera did better than the NEX-5N in terms of color-balance (with the automatic settings) as its photos offer a good representation of what we’re looking at. The NEX-5N gets the upper-hand if we switch to manual mode and change some settings. The Canon EOS-M outperforms them both in low or bright light (full-auto mode again) but its auto-focus in low-light was much slower and relatively tedious to use. (See low resolution images above(bright light) and below (low light) – original photos with original resolution on the Ubergizmo Flickr page)
I have uploaded a number of sample images to our Ubergizmo Flickr account so that you can see for yourself what the unprocessed photos look like. I’ll shoot more high-resolution photos if there’s a demand for it, but you will probably get the idea with what we have now.
For a point-and-shoot, the auto-focus (AF) speed is good, however, you should know that DSLRs and the interchangeable lens cameras from Olympus (EP-3, OM-5) are much faster, but their price point is much higher too. In that regard, I don’t think that the Samsung Galaxy Camera AF is fast enough for many sports, especially if the subject goes towards you, or away from you.
The panorama mode works well and I enjoyed using the Rich Color mode, an effect that saturates the colors to turn a dull photo into a vivid image.
Video quality (very good)
As expected, the Galaxy Camera video quality is noticeably better than the Samsung Galaxy Note 2 smartphone. We shot a video in low light to check on that (see them in our flickr account).
We also tested it against our Sony NEX-5N* which is supposed to deliver better image quality given the higher price point and the better hardware (interchangeable lens, different sensor). In low-light conditions, the video shot with the NEX-5N is a bit more fluid and is less noisy.
Nevertheless, we were pretty happy with the Samsung Galaxy camera performance with full-HD video capture at dawn. Check the movie clip in our Flickr account.
Surprisingly, when we tested both cameras in a controlled environment, we noticed that, in automatic shooting mode, the Sony device produces videos with a slightly blue dominant while the Galaxy Camera reproduces the white color almost perfectly. To get an accurate color balance with the NEX-5N, we had to shoot a movie in manual mode.
The camera can records MP4 files, and the higher resolution it can capture is 1920×1080 (full HD) at 30 FPS (frames per second). Three other resolutions are available: HD 1280×720 @30 fps, Slow Motion 768×512 @ 120 FPS, and low resolution 320×240 @30 fps (useful for real time sharing over the internet).
For casual use, the quality of the video is good. If you want to post something on YouTube, it will come out as a quality video. However, keep in mind that other cameras can record in 1080p 60, which is much better than 1080i and would probably have earned an “Excellent” rating for this section. However, none of those cameras offer Android capabilities with WiFi and 4G connectivity.
User Interface and Controls
(very good – manual modes could be easier to use on the fly)
The controls are very simple and straightforward, although the digital user interface for the camera is slightly different from the regular Galaxy Smartphones. I personally would like to see more consistency in that area. The Galaxy Camera unit we briefly tested in NYC last month did not offer a digital shutter button to capture still images, the feature that has been added in the final product that we have now.
In the camera application, the main addition compared to the regular Android camera app found in the Samsung Galaxy smartphones is the Expert mode in which you can access the standard manual shooting modes (photo a few paragraphs below). The manual modes user interface is very easy to use, it displays a large virtual dial that spans over two third of the screen, making it comfortable to operate. The downside is when you want to change the manual settings on the fly while shooting pictures: you need to tap twice on the screen to go back in the manual dial menu.
Making decision regarding manual settings is easy, you can see a preview of the image exposure directly in on the screen in real time and change it according of the desired result.
Android User Interface
Most people who will buy this camera probably already know what the Android interface looks like and what its capabilities are. The camera application is slightly different in the galaxy Camera than in other Samsung Android powered mobile devices, and the camera icon is always displayed on every home screen (lower-right).
From the Galaxy Camera, you can access the Google Play app store and buy or download for free you favorite applications. We briefly tried the email and the Facebook app, which are useful for photo sharing. They work exactly the same way than in other Android devices.
Most controls for the camera including the manual controls are integrated in the digital user interface provided by the camera application. The physical shutter button at the top exclusively commands still images capture. The slider on its side allows for zooming. You can switch the flash on and off either from the physical button on the right or from the display. Everything else including manual controls are available from a digital interface.
The camera interface is different from the one you will find in Samsung smartphones. The still image capture and video recording buttons are different, and there is a mode wheel from where you can select from three different shooting mode: Auto, Smart, Expert.
The auto mode is the automatic mode and allows to simply point and shoot pictures. The Smart mode provides various preset modes for different shooting conditions or special effects including panorama, landscape, action freeze, continuous shooting, best photo, best face, night, fireworks, light trace and more. Most of these modes are available in the Samsung Galaxy Note 2 camera application, from the settings menu.
The Expert mode is unique to the Galaxy Camera and allows a total control of the shutter speed and aperture for still image capture. You can access several menu options from there: A, S, Camcorder, M, P.
Each option is well explained in a pop up windows automatically activate when each letter button is pressed. A gives priority to the aperture, you can select the shutter aperture, and the camera will automatically set the speed. S gives priority to the speed, you can select the shutter speed, and the camera will automatically set the aperture accordingly. The camcorder mode allows to select the type of exposure you want to record your videos, with this feature it is possible to overexpose or underexpose a movie. M allows to manually set everything, the speed and the aperture. P allows to set the exposure for still images.
The manual mode is easy to use since you can see the end results before shooting directly on the screen, on the small part that is not covered with the large digital interface which takes roughly 75% of the real estate on the display.
Because this is an Android camera, the user interaction is radically different from any other classic camera. This is truly a small Android computer with a very good embedded optics system. It acts and feels like a smartphone or a media player, but it shoots like a compact camera.
You can use pretty much any Android app from the Google Play store, so the system performance is an important aspect that is usually not (too much of) an issue with fixed-functions cameras that can’t execute apps. We looked at a few benchmarks, and here are the results:
Antutu 3.3 is an overall system performance benchmark (CPU, graphics, storage), and what it shows is that overall, most recent phones land in a comparable performance footprint. This means that unless you do something very specific (like “gaming” or “downloads”), those phones should provide a similar overall performance.
With a score of 15767, the Samsung Galaxy Camera does really well. Just to give you an idea, the AT&T Galaxy Note 2 scored 17714. This means that the Samsung Galaxy Camera is nearly as fast as top of the line smartphones on the market. and because it has a quad-core chip, applications that do image processing and video editing could do very well — if developers have optimized their apps for multi-core systems. Quad-core is a very judicious in this case.
GLBenchmark Egypt, offscreen 1080p: this test has been designed to “stress” the graphics processor (GPU) by running a game-like demo which features a fight between various characters in many different environments (indoors, outdoors…).
With 15FPS, the Galaxy Camera us 50% slower than the fastest Android smartphone we’ve benchmarked so far (the HTC Droid DNA), but it still matches the graphics performance of handsets like the Galaxy S3 (Snapdragon S4), the Meizu MX or the RAZR Maxx HD. Not bad, right? This means that you can play casual games without an issue, but when it comes to the latest and greatest, you may see lower frame rates when compared to the fastest Android hardware. Try that on your regular camera…
“Perceived performance”: Synthetic benchmarks can only carry us so far. What they don’t show for example is the user experience is smooth and responsive (responsiveness is not always solved with brute-force processor power). In the end, what good is raw performance if you can’t perceive it?
Basically, the Samsung Galaxy Camera user interface behaves like a modern smartphone. It looks, feels and acts like a fast smartphone. It’s incredible to see this type of system performance in a camera – it opens a world of possibilities.
What could be better?
I highly appreciate the ability to access a user friendly manual mode, however it could be better designed. The large wheels that act as controls for the shutter speed, aperture, exposure and ISO could be significantly smaller, and they should be displayed at all time on the screen, so users could be able to change the manual settings on the fly when shooting.
With the current design, you always need to go back to the manual mode in two clicks to change the settings.
Who is this for?
The Galaxy Camera is for those who want the best ratio between photo-quality, connectivity and access to applications. It’s that simple.
For $500 to $600 you can currently get higher quality (in the photographic sense) cameras with interchangeable lenses, but you do not get any connectivity, a great OS and the ability to access hundred of thousand of applications.
Across the board, the Samsung Galaxy Camera delivers good image quality and, as a connected device running Android, it offers a ton of benefits that a traditional digital camera will never provide, including seamless photo-sharing on multiple channels from anywhere.
The Samsung Galaxy Camera lived up to our high expectations and we were pleased to see that it felt almost like using a high end Smartphone while delivering high-quality images and manual controls. The manual mode interface should be slightly re-worked to make it perfectly functional.
Samsung just invented the Smart Camera category.
I hope that this review gave you a good feel for how it is to use the Samsung Galaxy Camera in the real world. If there’s something else that you want to know, please leave a comment, and I will try to address your question while I still have the camera on hand. Thank you for stopping by! Let us know what you think.