Samsung Galaxy S4 review - Still a contender

A gorgeous screen and a big battery, the Samsung Galaxy S4 is a surprisingly compact handset that's packed with extras

Our Rating 
5/5
Price when reviewed 
600
inc VAT
Buy it now for 

Specifications

Android 4.2.2, 5.0in 1,920x1,080 display

Samsung has opted for a 13-megapixel backside-illuminated sensor and the resulting images are excellent. There was plenty of fine detail to be seen in our still life tests and exposures were consistently well judged throughout the varying light levels. The relatively big resolution also helps when cropping images without resulting in too much pixellation.

Samsung Galaxy S4

Taking the camera out and about in the spring sun also produced good results. Its exposures dealt with the strong contrast created by the sunshine, and colours looked accurate. It also has a 20-shot burst mode that's activated by simply holding down the shutter button. The front camera has a 2-megapixel BSI sensor and takes pretty decent little snaps too.

Samsung Galaxy S4 sample shot

We saw good results across our range of test shots ...

Samsung Galaxy S4 sample shot

... this 1:1 pixel crop shows up some nice detail in the fur

Photo modes

There's lots more to Samsung's new camera than good image quality and specifications, though. With a raft of playful extras that should provide at least momentary amusement and possibly a lot more than that.

Dual shot

By far our favourite of the various fun photography modes is dual shot. The concept is actually quite simple, the S4 uses both the front and back cameras to simultaneously capture two images, which it combines into a single image.

Now you might just ask why not just take two shots and fit them together later, but that would miss out on the immediacy of Samsung's take. This way you take one picture, hit share and get a great shot up on Facebook, plus your smug, smiling mug in one easy step. It's the next logical step for the much-beloved 'Selfie' style of photography, and unless Samsung has a patent we can see this appearing on every other smartphone by next year.

Samsung Galaxy S4 photo modes

This vertiginous dual-shot captures our News Editor's love of heights

Now Samsung's take on Dual Shot is to put proud parents in the shot with the mewling darlings – not a bad idea given that one parent is often noticeably absent from a whole holiday's worth of snaps. In practice though we found it a great little creative tool, the ability to juxtapose two images together on the fly is great fun and can create some quite striking compositions.

You can change the size and shape of the second, superimposed image, with various shapes or just a plain box. It will even take the two full images and tag them side by side into a super-widescreen effort – good for more serious efforts or adhoc vistas. You can also switch the cameras around at a tap, making you fill the screen with just a small image of your surroundings to add context.

Samsung Galaxy S4 photo modes

There's a good range of frames for the shot-in-shot mode

Best of all, it just works, what you see is what you get. It can be a little hard to line up at first, but you soon get used to it and then you're away. It even has its own shortcut, so no messing with the mode menu to activate it.

The fun doesn't end there though, as Dual Shot can also be used with video. You get all the same options as to how it combines the two images and the ability to switch. It really adds something to short clips and could be great for those who love to shoot and talk to camera.

Animated photo

Samsung is trying to get in on the craze for GIF animations with this clever mode. It takes a short video clip, identifies moving parts from the results and then allows you to freeze or animate those while the rest of the frame remains still. You can choose how the animations loop and where the start and end points are. Once you're done you can then upload the results to Facebook or share it online.

Samsung Galaxy S4 photo modes

You can freeze most of the image and keep just one part moving to create a GIF - which our website doesn't support, so you'll just have to imagine the cars moving by

Eraser

The Eraser effect could be useful, as it lets you remove unwanted moving elements in a shot by combining five shots together. For example you could remove someone who walk across the background of the shot.

Samsung Galaxy S4 photo modes

Remove moving elements from a shot, like people or cars

It sounds good, and it works in terms of the results, but it's not useful in practice. First, you have to activate the mode before shooting, it can't be used retroactively from any run of burst shooting. Of course with such pre-planning you could easily just reframe the shot or wait for the moving object to pass by – it's moving after all. A rough-and-ready content aware fill feature, as seen in Photoshop Elements, would be far more useful, allowing you to remove moving or still elements after shooting.

Drama Shot

Drama Shot creates an action-effect shots with multiple instances of the same moving subject, see below for an example. Although it creates a still image it looks to be using the video function to create it, rather than burst shot. It captures a short clip and then picks out frames which it combines into a single shot.

Samsung Galaxy S4 photo modes

This basic example shows how it works

The effect is a bit hit and miss, it's rather fussy about getting the subject to move across the whole frame and about you keeping the camera dead still while it captures it. You can use tick boxes at the bottom to add or remove instances of the subject to get some control over the finished image. The resulting image, in 16:9 aspect ratio, was 1,888x1,062 – good enough for posting online, but not great for printing if you've put a lot of effort into a shot.

Sound and shot

The most straightforward of the oddball shooting modes, Sound and Shot simply captures 9 seconds of audio with the image. We're not quite sure what the point is over simply capturing a short video clip and the fact you can't share the combined image and audio online makes it even more pointless.

Best Face and Best Photo

Two variations on a theme. Best Photo simply takes a short burst of eight shots and then you can pick which of them (if any) you want to keep by putting a thumbs up on a thumbnail. It's a great way of getting the best shot using burst mode, but without cluttering your phone with loads of almost identical images.

Samsung Galaxy S4 photo modes

Even given a choice sometimes it's hard to choose a 'best face' - not the S4's fault though

Best Face is a variation on this, with face detection used. It takes five shots in quick succession and then you can choose which face you want from each shot. It allows you to combine the exposures so that in a shot with multiple subjects you can get them all smiling and with their eyes open. Genuinely handy for group shots.

In both modes it's quicker than the S3's take on the same functions, with the thumbnails appearing almost as soon as the last frame is snapped.

Story Album

A separate app from the camera but one that allows you to select pictures from your gallery, or have them selected for you based on GPS location and date, and then create picture albums from them. Initially these are just virtual albums that you can page through on your phone, but you can also order physical copies if you wish directly from the handset.

Samsung Galaxy S4 photo modes

Layouts can look a bit messy if you've been abusing Dual Shot heavily

You can add or remove photos from the selection, add captions and change to one of six different layouts/themes. It all works fairly well, but you can't fine tune it in the same way as you can with many online album creators.

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