Thursday, May 16, 2013

Samsung Galaxy S4 camera tests

One of my favorite parts about purchasing a new cell phone is when the sales reps try to talk up the camera. I try to interrupt their pitch as politely as possible, explaining that I'm a photographer, but they go on anyway. The truth of the matter is, a cell phone camera is not going to do what I want it to do. I've been testing out this highly talked about 13 megapixel cell phone camera and I wanted to share the results with you. I'll also be showing you comparisons shot on my Canon 5D Mark III. You can tell the difference by the watermarks I use. The photo above is from the cell phone and just has my logo. The shots from my Canon will have my logo with my name.

The top photo was the first one I took on the S4. I was fairly close to the tulip to test out the macro settings. It's a nice shot. I like the shallow depth of field in this case and the yellow tulip is pretty darn sharp and it looks even better on the AMOLED screen of the phone. The first issue I have with the S4 camera, and I will admit I haven't played around with the settings enough to see if I can turn this off, is how it wants to focus. It's trying to center focus, which for most people is probably what they're going to want. I purposefully placed my subject off center and had to fight with the phone to get it to focus where I want. You tap the screen and it focuses, but as soon as you recompose the shot, it reverts back to what's in the center of the shot. In this case, the trees in the background. You can double tap the screen and if you're quick enough, it will take a picture or you can try to hit the shutter button. The S4 is a big phone, I'm not going to lie, it's a little ridiculous. At 5.4 inches, it's not the easiest camera to hold steady one handed while trying to tap the shutter button. And at the price I paid for it, you better believe I'm not going to drop this thing!

I returned to the tulips the next morning and saw all the dew drops on them. I once again fought with the focus. After a few shots, I pulled out the DSLR because I was getting frustrated. I know it's only a cell phone, but I can't stand not being able to control the settings. Below is what I was seeing, and unable to capture with a simple camera phone.

Cropped in at 100%

I was seeing the beautiful reflections in the water droplet and there was no way that the camera phone was going to focus on that.

Again, cropped in.

Am I expecting too much of a cell phone camera? Absolutely, but this is my argument with the sales people.

I will give credit where it's due. The shot of Grace was taken indoors with the flash. Grace has striking blue eyes, that will more often than not turn to red when taken with a point and shoot camera. The LED flash on the S4 sits below the lens. It sends out a focus assist beam before the picture is taken which might have helped remove the red eye. I was shocked when I saw the result.

But...this isn't always a good thing. Enter Addy, my favorite test subject. The flash not only gave her ridiculous pet eye, the animal equivalent to red eye, it really annoyed her. This is also an example of the refocus issue with the camera. Addy was in focus when I tried to take the picture, but by the time the S4 was done with the flash focus assist, it returned to center focus, the spider plant behind the cat. I should point out this was taken at night with little light in the room.

Just to prove that Addy doesn't always give me stink eye, a shot with the DSLR

How could I not test the S4 in a concert setting? This was taken at Cafe 9, which has absolutely miserable light. I put the camera on night mode and made sure the flash was turned off. Again, I'm pretty impressed with this shot. There's a good amount of motion blur from the performers, but I can deal with that. It's a decent exposure from a cell phone. I have no doubt that if I were at a well lit venue, it would take solid pictures. Here's a quick comparison shot from the DSLR.

I still have to do a lot more testing. The S4's camera surprised me in a couple of instances, but I'm far from sold on it. I'd still choose my point and shoot camera, even though it's only 10.1 megapixels, over the cell phone; it's much more comfortable to hold and I can control what I want to control. Don't get me wrong, I'm being very critical here, the S4 has a decent camera. For the average person, they will be impressed and the automatic sync up to dropbox is a great feature. You get 50 gigs for free on dropbox for two years just for purchasing the phone, which I am thrilled about for business purposes. I'll be sure to share more thoughts on this the more I shoot with it.

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