Samsung Galaxy Camera review
1/2.3in 15.9-megapixel sensor, 21.0x zoom (23-483mm equivalent), 300g
Image quality is either outstanding or disappointing, depending on how you view this device. The 21x zoom means it's far more capable and versatile than any conventional smartphone camera. However, while the 1/2.3in sensor is physically larger than top-end smartphones' 1/3.2in sensors, it's the same size as the sensors in conventional pocket ultra-zoom cameras costing around £200. 16-megapixels is excessively high for this sensor size, boosting noise as well as detail levels. As a result, noise reduction took its toll on details even in brightly lit shots, with a notable lack of definition in darker areas of photos.
Focus is reasonably sharp but there's not much to see in the darker parts of this photo
The camera struggled in low light too. It chose very slow shutter speeds in an effort to keep noise at bay, but this usually resulted in blurry subjects. When we manually intervened by switching to Program mode and adjusting the ISO speed, blur was replaced by multi-coloured splodges of noise.
Even if you can hold the camera steady for a 1/3-second exposure, moving subjects will be blurry
Manually increasing the ISO speed to 1600 avoids blur, but noise becomes invasive
It was by no means all bad, though. The lens delivered sharp focus throughout its zoom range, and the unusually wide 23mm minimal focal length is particularly welcome.
The 21x zoom lens is just as useful for wide-angle as for telephoto shots. Focus is pretty good into the corner of frames, with little evidence of chromatic aberrations
The telephoto end of the zoom is reasonably sharp too, although skin textures are lost to noise reduction here
The Galaxy Camera leaves us in no doubt that this is the shape of things to come. There are a few kinks that need to be ironed out, though. The Camera app has room for improvement, both in terms of operation and automatic exposure settings. Given the superb controls in various other Samsung cameras, that shouldn't be too hard to achieve. However, we feel that the hardware needs some refinement, too. At £400, it needs to be a great camera and a great smartphone, but this is a so-so camera and a bulky smartphone that can't make calls.
We can see why Samsung would want to differentiate its specifications from 8-megapixel, fixed-zoom smartphones. We welcome the 21x zoom, but a 12-megapixel sensor such as those found in the Panasonic TZ25 and Canon PowerShot SX260 HS would give a better balance of detail and noise levels.
As it stands, you'll need an additional SIM card to get the most from the Samsung Galaxy Camera, which will add at least £5 to your monthly bills. You could make do without the camera's 3G functions, though. We had no problem tethering it to a standard Android phone via Wi-Fi to share the phone's 3G connection, but this is a hassle and you could instead use a standard camera and then link it to your smartphone via a Wi-Fi memory card such as the Eye-Fi.
An Android camera with a Bluetooth headset for calls, fitted with a more modest 12x zoom lens, and perhaps a slightly smaller screen, to keep the size and weight down, would be seriously tempting. Samsung is the most likely manufacturer to crack it, but for now, we'd recommend holding out to see what the future holds.