Samsung has been tearing up the world of Android and they aren't stopping at just phones. Samsung recently released the Samsung Galaxy Camera, a digital point and shoot powered by the Android OS. Samsung is not the first manufacturer to launch an Android camera--Nikon launched the Coolpix 800c in August of 2012--but with the popularity of their smartphones and their existing camera lineup, Samsung already has a strong following and market share.
The Samsung Galaxy Camera is a true point and shoot camera, the only difference is the touch screen Android operating system. The Galaxy Camera's key specs are its 16-megapixel sensor, 21x zoom with 23-481mm equivalent focal length, and 1080p (30fps) video recording. The camera is available in both Wifi and 3G versions. We've been testing the 3G version, and with a SIM card inserted, the uploading of pictures to Instagram, Facebook or Twitter from virtually anywhere is possible.
Gone are the days of crappy, fuzzy Instagram photos now that you can use a real camera. The ability to play Angry Birds Space on the camera is an added plus as is the ability to use image editing programs such as Photoshop Plus or Snapseed. You can't make phone calls with the camera, but the use of VoIP services such as Skype works perfectly.
Ergonomics & Controls
The body handles well for a camera with no controls on the back. The front grip provides a solid place to hold the camera, and your thumb rests on the smooth glass screen on the rear. Fingerprints are definitely an issue and carrying a lens (screen) cleaning cloth is highly recommended. Zoom control is logically located, which conveniently also acts as the volume up-down button when listening to music or watching videos. A manual flash button is located on the side of the camera body, raising the flash well above the body in an effort to reduce red-eye.
The on/off switch is well placed on the top, but more on that later. A headphone jack is included as is a micro-SD card slot for charging and downloading images to a laptop or computer. Inside the battery door is a micro-SD card slot (supports up to a 64GB card), SIM slot and a removable battery. Lastly, and very importantly Samsung decided to use a metal tripod socket.
Operation & Menus
I included these two parts together, because with touch screen operation one is not really possible without the other. The touch screen interface is very simple, but allows a decent range of adjustments from WB, ISO, EXP compensation, as well as full manual control for adjustment of apertures and shutter speeds. Flash options include fill, red-eye, slow and rear sync. The Smart Menu contains scene modes for varying shooting situations such as Macro, Landscape, Fireworks and Portrait, amongst others.
Accessing the controls while shooting takes some getting used to; fast changes on the fly are not as easy as when using a DSLR. Admittedly, the more time spent with the camera, the easier the settings are to adjust.
The single biggest problem with the camera controls is the on/off switch. When using the camera regularly (every few minutes), start up is acceptable: about 1.5 seconds from off to pressing the shutter. If the camera is off (e.g., overnight or picking up to quickly snap a picture after it's been off for a few hours), it takes 28 seconds to power up before you can press the shutter. 28 seconds... that is simply unacceptable.
To put that in perspective, if you were at the Men's 100m final at the London Olympus and wanted to capture a picture of Usain Bolt crossing the finish line, you would need to turn on the camera a full 20 seconds before the starter's gun even went off. Granted, this only applies if the device is off and being prepared will nullify the majority of situations like this, but it is definitely a limitation of the camera.
The camera's AF is typical of any consumer point and shoot: quick enough to capture most normal everyday situations. Tracking birds in flight however, is not this camera's forte and it's best left to wildlife photographers and their DSLRs.
The camera offers 4 frames per second continuous burst mode at full resolution for approximately 20 shots. As usual, this is best achieved in good light and your burst rate may differ depending on various factors. Subjects traveling parallel to the camera always yield better results than those of the subject running directly towards the camera.
Battery life is acceptable, but almost impossible to rate as it also depends on whether you are also using the camera as a smart device. We had no problem getting through a full day of shooting while accessing email, Facebook, and Twitter. The removable battery is not the same as the one found in the Samsung Galaxy S3; and being able to switch them if one ran out would have been a nice option.
Image quality is miles ahead of most smartphone cameras currently available and generally on par with today's entry-level point and shoot digital cameras. In good lighting and normal zoom ranges, the Galaxy Camera offers decent, sharp images. At the wide end of the zoom, distortion is prevalent, especially in architectural situations; at the long end of the zoom, the lens is decidedly soft. Full zoom images of large static birds shot in good light left us feeling less than impressed. Even though the camera has image stabilisation, the camera is so light that it's very difficult to hold steady when trying to photograph subjects from a distance.
The camera sports adjustable ISO up to ISO 3200. Images shot at even base ISO of 100 show signs of noise and lack of fine detail and by ISO 800, noise and smudging of images is prevalent. While ISO 1600 and 3200 are also available, for usable images, keep the ISO at 800 or lower. For web and small prints ISO 1600 will be sufficient.
Image quality notes aside, I was able to take many good quality photographs in normal situations, much better than I would have been able to do with the majority of smartphones. The zoom, within reason, allows you to properly frame your subject and eliminates the need for cropping. Within the limits of the camera, it's very reasonable to expect good results.
Camera manufacturers are constantly upping the megapixels and extending the zoom. If they started concentrating beyond offering a more sensible megapixel count and a reasonable zoom, there's no telling what they could achieve. With the tiny noise-prone sensors, an 8MP 4x zoom camera makes much more sense and the image quality would improve as a result.
MEGATechie Stellar Shooter or Meteoric Mediocrity?
The Samsung Galaxy Camera attempts to offer the best of both worlds: smartphone connectivity and the benefits of a point and shoot camera. On most levels, Samsung has succeeded in creating a device that replaces not only a digital point and shoot, but the smartphone as well. With the lack of radios and less than stellar image quality, I'm not sure who this camera is for. Photographers will turn to a trusty backup like the Fuji X100s and most enthusiasts are already using something more sophisticated.
On a practical level, the absence of a wireless radio for voice calls means we still need to carry an actual phone and, if top image quality is desired, you still need to carry a DSLR or one of the newer mirrorless cameras.
If this camera came with a wireless radio and was capable of making phone calls, I would buy one in an instant. The ability to take a decent camera with you when you go for a bike ride or on a hike makes its limitations worthwhile. The Android OS makes it truly a connected camera and hopefully it's a sign of things to come.