Camera on SGS4

On the camera side Samsung is in an interesting position. The industry trend is overwhelmingly to go to more pixels and push the megapixel count up from 8 MP where most flagships sat last year to around 13 where they will sit this year. Samsung has to push that number to keep itself in a defensible and marketable position and at the same time deliver a camera experience that’s better than the previous year.

I published a table in the One review with the camera specifications from the previous generation. I’ve filled this in with confirmed information from the SGS4 review unit I have been taking samples with. With SGS4 Samsung does make some pretty considerable improvements, many of which undo some of the regressions that I described with SGS3. Focal length is now quite a bit longer, from the very wide SGS3 which was around 26mm in 35mm effective numbers, to 31 mm. This is a notable difference if you’re shooting with the two side by side, the SGS3 was always shockingly wide for a rear facing camera.

 
Smartphone Camera Comparison - 2013
  HTC One Samsung Galaxy S 2 Samsung Galaxy S 3 Samsung Galaxy S 4
Front Camera 2.1MP 2MP 1.9MP 2MP
Front Camera - CMOS OV2722
(1.4µm, 1/5.8")
- S5K6A3
(1.75µm, 1/6")
S5K6B2
(1.34µm, 1/6")
Front Camera - Focal Length ~1.59mm 2.73mm 2.7mm 1.85mm
Front Camera - Max Aperture F/2.0 F/2.8 F/2.8 F/2.4
Rear Camera 4MP 8MP 8MP 13MP
Rear Camera - CMOS ST VD6869
(2.0 µm, 1/3")
S5K3H2YX
(1.4µm 1/3.2")
Sony/Samsung
(1.4µm, ~1/3")
IMX091PQ
(1.12µm, 1/3.06")
Rear Camera - Focal Length 3.82mm
(28mm eff)
3.97mm
(30mm eff)
3.7mm
(~26 mm eff)
4.2mm
(31 mm eff)
Rear Camera - Max Aperture F/2.0 F/2.65 F/2.6 F/2.2
 

At the same time, F-number has improved dramatically, from the F/2.6 or 2.65 (I’ve seen both at times) aperture on the SGS3 to a much faster F/2.2. This dramatically improves the light collection abilities of the camera, by essentially a half stop. It’s difficult optical design to both keep the module thin enough to fit in the device without creating a huge bump (there’s a camera bump on SGS4, it’s there), increase focal length, improve F/#, and improve MTF for a better sensor all at the same time.

On the rear facing camera we see a Sony CMOS who continues to dominate the space, this time with an IMX091PQ sensor. On the front we Samsung’s own sensor, the S5K6B2 get used. Samsung also continues to go with a dedicated Fujitsu ISP inside the SGS4, this time it’s a new M10MO family which there isn’t a whole lot of information about. I suspect this continues to be done to mitigate the differences in SoC ISP between the APQ8064ab variant and Exynos 5 version and make tuning easier on Samsung’s camera team.

Imaging is increasingly a key differentiator for smartphones since it’s that device you always have on your person to take images with. For SGS4 camera is more of an emphasis this time around than it was with SGS3, which largely kept everything the same and just added software features. SGS4 brings better hardware and additional software features to do something with the hardware.

Outdoors in bright light the increased spatial resolution afforded from going from 8 MP to 13 MP helps. Samsung still does a lot of sharpening and there are halos around a ton of different features if you know where to look, but that’s the tuning they have opted for. I suspect we still are outresolving the sensor here, but I’m impressed with what I see with enough light. I took a lot of photos side by side with SGS3 and find SGS4 a notable improvement, but I’m not sure whether that’s just more damning commentary on SGS3 than anything else. I haven’t had time to put together many side by sides with buttons yet. I’ve been shooting with the HTC One on −2 sharpness since I prefer it that way, note that I accidentally left it this way with when making comparisons here since that’s still my daily driver until I can get an AT&T or T-Mobile SGS4 to use.

SGS4: 1/950s, ISO 50
 

In lower light unsurprisingly we see the SGS4 offer better results than the SGS3 but still not quite as good as the HTC One. Samsung recently introduced low light shot on the SGS3 and Note 2, this feature carries over to the SGS4 but gets renamed back to Night Mode, even though behavior appears superficially to be the same. The SGS4 also introduces an auto night mode toggle, although this ships by default turned off. The mode automatically switches on night mode when it senses that you’re going to underexpose using the auto presets, I would advise basically leaving this on all the time. Unfortunately night mode introduces huge shot to shot latency that seems to be on the order of seconds — tap the button, capture runs, then there’s a progress bar that pops up while multiple exposures are ostensibly recombined into one image. You also have to be exceptionally steady to get an image without blur since it appears that this mode takes multiple images to get to the end goal — a better exposed image without tons of noise.

SGS4: 1/15s, ISO 1000
 

In the end there’s really no free lunch for anyone — you can temporally oversample (Samsung low light shot, or longer exposures with OIS like Nokia), or increase the size of your sampling area (larger pixels a-la HTC One), or do nothing and just give up unless you’re in a bright outdoor setting.

Samsung has introduced a bunch of new photo modes in the software on the SGS4, a number of which are actually pretty functional and awesome. There's the ability to create animated gifs from right in the camera, for example, where users paint a mask around the region they want animated from a short capture. This is essentially the same as Nokia's cinemagraph Lens from the Lumia 920, but it's still quite cool. 

There's also dual camera, which lets you include a small overlay of the front facing camera atop the rear facing camera image. It initially struck me as a bit gimmicky but actually can be hilariously fun to share your face atop images to friends. It is also quite possibly the stuff of nightmares. 

Panoramas on the SGS4 also are nicely put together and integrate continuously rather than get combined from a number of discrete images. The result is quite nice. 

The user interface on SGS4 is a departure from the interface which has been present on previous Galaxy smartphones, and instead takes much UI/UX from the Galaxy Camera. Gone are the customizable toggles on the left side, instead options are in an expandable menu at the very top, and then another separate window. I got used to it pretty quickly but do miss the ability to customize the quick settings buttons on the left side and used to think that Samsung had the most powerful camera interface around. Things are moved around generally in a logical fashion however and I can understand how much this works to make transitioning between Galaxy Camera and SGS4 easy. 

Video

When it comes to video, the SGS4 is records 1080p30 video at 17 Mbps H.264 High Profile.

I've done the usual thing and uploaded a sample to YouTube as well as our own servers for your inspection.

Video quality looks really nice and sharp on SGS4 from what I can tell by default. Anti shake (EIS in this case) is disabled out of the box, enabling it pops up a box warning you that stills captured during video record will be a different field of view. 

NAND Performance Display
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  • xaml - Friday, April 26, 2013 - link

    This is one beautiful device, if you can't see that and you're trying to blame the materials for it, I'm sorry but it shows. Reply
  • Random Kkkkk - Friday, April 26, 2013 - link

    " what will probably be 2013's most popular smartphone" Did you somehow forget about Apples iPhone 5? You can't be serious if you think this will outsell it considering the iPhone 5 has had a quarter of sales already. Reply
  • Spikey01 - Friday, April 26, 2013 - link

    There is a difference between popular and units sold...
    The S4 will be a huge sucess!!
    Reply
  • medi02 - Sunday, April 28, 2013 - link

    Check charts on these page:
    http://tech.fortune.cnn.com/2013/03/16/apple-iphon...

    Galaxy is only slightly behind iphone sales, on the other hand, its sales were doubling with every release.
    Reply
  • puremind - Friday, April 26, 2013 - link

    Brian, what color meter do you use for display checks? The color temperature on the HTC One in your comparison seems like an overestimation. In my measurements, it should be 7200K for the Taiwan factory (serial numbers starting with HT) and 6670K for the Argentina factory (serial number starting with FA).
    It does not change the results, though, seeing as all your phones are measured with the same color meter, this is still a fair comparison.
    Just to give you an idea, on the HTC One, the Eye One Display Pro overstimates color temperature by up 500K depending on the spectral profile used, the Spyder 4 usually overestimates even more.
    When I look at the color temperature values for the other LCD phones, it also looks to me like there is a 500K overestimation as well compared to what I have seen elsewhere. This is also why we see wild fluctuations of color temperature across all reviews.
    Could you maybe post the first two letters of the serial number of your HTC One unit, as it could be yet another factory with a different screen calibration. Either way I am curious about this.
    Of course even a spectro like the i1 Pro 2 has a temperature shift of up to 300K upwards depending the point of initialization. Again, the comparision still holds because the same method and instrument was used for all phones, and usually even if some color meters have errors in color temperature readings, the rest of the spectrum is usually read correctly on those newer devices.
    Reply
  • mike 3283 - Friday, April 26, 2013 - link

    ok people just to shut all of of you up about the aluminum htc one. samsung is already in the works making their next phones metal.including a metal s4 later this year. and also dustproof and waterproof s4 too. So when the phone that's better in every way already except it's plastic will murder the htc. listen the s4 is selling ten million units to htc's 2 million. So wait till the s4 is metal. then what? then everyone who gets the htc now will be wishing they hadn't. come on the s4 is way ahead of htc. it has so much more to offer. all the extra features and gorilla glass3 which is way stronger and ddr3 memory which is faster and uses less power. all the accessories coming out for the s4. expansion of memory and removable battery. and not to mention the repairability of the s4 kills the htc. if you break anything on the one you are screwed. there's no replacing a cracked screen. if you even try to take the glass off you will ruin the phone. check out the review on ifixit for the htc. worst rated phone to repair ever. s4 rated easiest to repair. htc tried but failed. and anyone who says they are buying the metal htc because it's more durable is an idiot. they are buying it so they can brag to their friends and say look at my phone. it's htc. it's just a boring phone with no wow factor except the body which is useless. their blinkfeed is a ripoff of Windows tiles and flipboard both of which are better. as far as phones go htc has high end hardware but anyone can put that on phone. there are all kinds of companies that have the same stuff as htc coming out on their phones. but samsung at least has innovations with that hardware. That's why they will flat out sell htc 5 to 1 if not more.in fact they are probably going to beat iphone sales for a 3 month period. New record coming and its plastic. OMG! HTC ONE will fail just like every other htc that had ever tried. they just don't have what it takes. and their stupid speakers on the front ate worthless. nobody ever listens to their phone out loud or if they do its for a very short time. in headphones is where it matters and s4 has a wolfson chip which is the best sound chip in the biz. So as a conclusion s4 wins htc loses. That's life. htc one x failed to the s3 so how well this be any different. it won't it will be even worse. Reply
  • fackamato - Friday, April 26, 2013 - link

    Do you have to try really hard to write such useless, false and unreadable posts or does it come naturally to you? Reply
  • bhima - Saturday, April 27, 2013 - link

    It isn't just the fit and finish of the htc one... the camera is the most useful camera in real world lighting scenarios. If it had a removeable battery, I'd have already bought it. Reply
  • gaasedal - Friday, April 26, 2013 - link

    Thanks Samsung for keeping the plastic back plate:) I don't care if it is plastic, alu or paper, as long it is light weighted. I have an HTC Desire HD and I don't want a heavy smartphone again, and I want to insert a 64GB MicroSD card and I want to be able to change the battery.
    SG4 is better than HTC One in all parts.
    On monday I will have a new SG4 :)
    Reply
  • Roy2001 - Friday, April 26, 2013 - link

    No plastic and AMOLED which SUCKS. Reply

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