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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  • danbob999 - Thursday, April 25, 2013 - link

    Glasses are fashion accessories. You don't choose a specific model because it is more powerful or will give you better vision. You choose a model because it looks good. Reply
  • UpSpin - Thursday, April 25, 2013 - link

    I need glasses. And I choose the model which not only gives me better vision, but perfect vision. You can choose between glass or plastic, with adaptive dimming in sunlight, a flexibel titan frame, or a huge bold hipster frame, with large or small glasses, with color enhancements, polarisators, AR coatings, ...
    If I had perfect eyesight, I wouldn't choose any model at all, so I only buy it because I need it, not because it's a fashion accessory, but this doesn't mean that the glasses I buy must look ugly as hell. I choose the model which fits to my person.
    The same with watches. I had a watch, because I had no mobile phone but wanted to know the time. Of course did I choose the watch which had the functions I wanted at a reasonable price and which looked the best for me. We're not talking about Rolex, or whatever, but the useful traditional watches (in my case Casio).
    The same with smartphones. And here again do we also not talk about Vertu, etc. but a competive priced high end smartphone, which, even with all those features, can and should still look good, especially if it costs +$600.
    Reply
  • danbob999 - Thursday, April 25, 2013 - link

    You are talking about the lenses. With any model of glasses you can get lenses which will give you perfect vision.
    The glasses themselves are fashion accessories.
    Unlike your glasses and your watch, a smartphone isn't a fashion accessory. You wouldn't pick a phone just because it looks good. Specs are the most important things to consider. At least that's what I expect on a tech site. If I wanted to know which phone looked the best I woul be reading fashion magazines instead.
    Reply
  • UpSpin - Thursday, April 25, 2013 - link

    I think you try too hard to justify that design isn't important for you. I'm not a native english speaker, so I assumed that the meaning of glasses is the whole lenses+frame (dictionary confirmed this), just as the meaning of smartphone is the whole thing, not just the electronics or the casing. Now you reduced it to glasses frame, fine, but this makes absolutely no sense, because you always have to buy and use both and the frame can't be freely choosen either. Some frames only support glass, some require plastic lenses. Some frames only work for thin lenses some people with bad eyesight and thick lenses have to use other frames. You pick what both suits your needs and looks good on you. The same with a watch, the same with a car, the same with a smartphone the same with everything you spend money for. Both design and specs go hand in hand.
    Or would you like a 1kg heavy, 10cm thick smartphone if you don't care about design? What's design and what's specs for you?
    Again: At such a high price point it should look and feel great, too, thus design is important, too. Sure, if the specs are crap, then the best design is worth nothing. But the HTC One specs aren't crap, they are on par with the S4. And it's a fact that the S4 looks like the S3, and both look like all the other cheaper Samsung smartphones, and all of them have a highly glossy finish which looks, for me, very cheap. So the specs are great, but it just doesn't look like it.
    Reply
  • danbob999 - Thursday, April 25, 2013 - link

    Most glasses can be paired with any type of lenses. I am sure you understood my point. Going back to phones, I do care about design. I care about size and weight. I care about the resistance of the phone (if I drop it). I care about the placement of the buttons. I prefer hard buttons than capacitive ones. All these are part of the design. I just don't care how it looks, and even less how it "feels". I knew schoolgirls cared about the look of their phones but I didn't imagine so many people cared about it on a tech site. It's beyond me. Did you also choose your home phone or your TV based on their look? Did you really tell yourself that you can't buy that $2000 TV because it looks like a black rectangle which looks as cheap as that $500 TV next to it? At least home phones and TVs constantly in sight, and not hidden in your pocket most of the time. Reply
  • TedKord - Thursday, May 02, 2013 - link

    Lenses are custom ground and fitted into the frames you choose. You can literally get most any lenses in any frames (except if your vision is so bad it requires super thick lenses, then you may have limitations on what frames you can pick)

    I've gone through this with my daughter, who has 20/200 vision. I've been lucky so far - while the rest of me is falling apart, my eyesight is still 20/18.
    Reply
  • mrochester - Friday, April 26, 2013 - link

    Personally I don't see why as a consumer I can't have both functionality AND looks. Apple and HTC show that you can have both, so I don't see why I would settle for an S4 when I already have an iPhone 5. Reply
  • danbob999 - Monday, April 29, 2013 - link

    The iPhone 5 doesn't have the functionality of the S4. It's more to the level of the S3, 6 months late to get that shiny metal box.
    The One is a good phone but it does make some compromises in order to fit metal. These compromises are SD card, battery capacity and replaceability, overall phone size, included sensors, and even a little CPU speed. The S4 even supports more LTE bands (T-mobile's version supports 6 different ones)
    Reply
  • TedKord - Thursday, May 02, 2013 - link

    It depends on which you value more. I'll take functionality/versatility over aesthetics any day, so I chose the S3 over the 4s/5. I would choose the S4 over the 5/One simply because it still has expandable storage and swappable battery, and Samsung releases source/updates much better than HTC. (I've got my S3 in a Seidio Active Extended case, so you can't even tell it's got a plastic back. Plus, I can get an aluminum back for my S3 for $10 off Amazon, if the plastic bothered me - but I prefer to keep the stronger signal) Reply
  • TedKord - Thursday, May 02, 2013 - link

    But many people DO choose a smartphone based solely on looks, or what others own. Probably not the folks in forums like this, but they're a small minority. The general public is sold on shiny and pretty. Reply

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