Camera Architecture & Still Image Analysis

Samsung's real potential has yet to be realized as a highly vertically integrated silicon and device house. The Galaxy S 4 for example still relied on a Qualcomm SoC with a Sony sensor for the rear facing camera. While the GS5 continues to leverage Qualcomm's silicon, Samsung did transition to its own sensor for the rear camera module as well as the front facing camera.

The front facing camera remains 1080p, despite competitors like HTC moving to 5MP. The front camera uses a 16:9 sensor with 1.12µm pixels shooting at 1080p.

Samsung Galaxy S 5 Camera
Front Camera 2MP
Front Camera - Sensor S5K8B1YX
(1.12µm, 1/7.3")
Front Camera - Capture Resolution 1920 x 1080
Front Camera - Aspect Ratio 16:9
Front Camera - Focal Length 1.2mm
Front Camera - Max Aperture f/2.4
Rear Camera 16MP
Rear Camera - Sensor S5K2P2XX
(1.12µm, 1/2.6")
Rear Camera - Capture Resolution 5312 x 2988
Rear Camera - Aspect Ratio 16:9
Rear Camera - Focal Length 4.8mm
Rear Camera - Max Aperture f/2.2

The rear camera is the interesting one as it uses Samsung's own 16MP 16:9 sensor. This makes the GS5 and M7/M8 the only two modern shooters we have with 16:9 rear facing sensors. The GS5 unfortunately doesn't move to larger pixels, remaining at 1.12µm. To somewhat improve low light performance, Samsung is using its own ISOCELL technology to reduce crosstalk between pixels by introducing additional barriers between individual pixels. The video below does a decent job at summarizing what we know about ISOCELL:

Unlike Apple and HTC, there's no dual-color flash on the GS5 - just a single LED unit.

As always we turn to a collection of controlled test shots and live scenes to evaluate the GS5's camera quality.

Spatial Resolution

We'll start by measuring the rear facing camera's ability to resolve fine details by shooting at an ISO12233 test target. For now we'll be looking at horizontal and vertical resolution using the sagittal and tangential lines in the upper right of the center of the test chart:

ISO12233 captured by Galaxy S 5

The gallery below has links to the original chart captures for all of the phones compared in this review:

The GS4 already did well in this test, easily resolving the entire length of sagittal lines. The GS5 maintains slightly more detail past the 18 mark (units of line pairs per image height). The iPhone 5c and 5s do reasonably well here but can't resolve detail as well at the very left edge of the crop. Google's Nexus 5 has similar struggles, although nothing is anywhere near as bad as HTC's M8. Here we see the real limits of HTC's 4MP UltraPixel sensor as there's serious aliasing around the 12 mark. Sony's Xperia Z1s running in its native 20MP mode on the other hand is the clear winner here.

You can see full 1:1 resolution crops in the gallery below:

The story is unchanged if we look at the tangential crops as well. The GS4 and GS5 remain among the upper contenders in this space, losing out only to Sony's Z1s. Interestingly enough the GS5's image appears to be softer than what the GS4 produced. We'll have to spend some more time with Samsung's ISOCELL sensor to really get a feel for the images it produces.

Outdoor Scenes (Day & Night)

We grabbed test shots from four different locations using the GS5 and its immediate competitors. I've included all of the originals in the galleries below, but let's take a look at crops from a couple of them first.

I'll start with a low light test shot as that's one of the more challenging environments for such a sensor with such tiny pixels. Here we'll be able to see just how much ISOCELL buys us:

The GS5 shot this scene at 1/15s, ISO 2000. The GS4, by comparison, kept the shutter speed the same but ran at ISO 1000. The GS5 is naturally brighter as a result, but without substantially more noise. The image is relatively usable. Toggling picture stabilization (the new word for night mode on the GS5) trades off noise for exposure length, although Samsung obscures the latter in its exif data. When shooting without a tripod, longer exposure times aren't desirable (particularly without OIS).

The GS5's low light performance obviously pales in comparison to devices with larger pixels like the M8 and especially the iPhone 5s. There's an obvious tradeoff here. Samsung delivers clearly better spatial resolution (as seen from our ISO12233 test shots), while HTC on the other hand offers better low light performance. Apple finds itself in the middle of the two with the iPhone 5s. The Xperia Z1s does give us a good example of what you can get from oversampling as we're shooting in the 8MP superior auto mode here.

Moving to the opposite end of the spectrum, this daylight shot gives us an example of where the M8 clearly loses out to the GS5. You lose all details in the tree, and there's quite a bit of noise in the sky on the M8. The GS5 however delivers a substantially better shot.

Lab Scene

The next set of shots use a light controlled lab setup. Here we are immune to natural variances of sunlight and can do some true apples to apples comparisons.

The GS4 and GS5 are pretty close to one another in our scaled/cropped shot. There are some differences in color handling and dynamic range between the two devices. I actually find that there's some loss in detail in the paintbrush on the GS5 compared to the GS4. I've seen a number of situations where aggressive noise reduction on the GS5 seems to mangle detail and deliver a very oil painting like effect, although that's an extreme that we're not seeing here.

The GS5 once again defaults to 1/15s at ISO 2000, compared to the same exposure time but ISO 1000 on the GS4. Here we really see what Samsung's sensor can do as the resulting image goes from unusable on the GS4 to passable on the GS5. The final image isn't particularly great by any means but it's at least usable. If you're looking for ultimate low light winners here there really are only two: the 5s and the M8.


The GS5 has a very fast and usable HDR mode. You can toggle the mode on directly from the default camera UI (tap the icon on the left side of the display) and you get effectively instant HDR captures:

The GS5's HDR captures do a good job of retaining detail in the shadows while bringing in detail in the highlights.

Introduction & Hardware Capture Latency


View All Comments

  • theduckofdeath - Wednesday, April 09, 2014 - link

    If you don't understand what Android is, I really don't see why I should discuss it with you.

    Android is a free to use open source platform. This means, manufacturers has to compile the code to their specific hardware, which takes a few months. NO ONE IN THE REAL WORLD CARES ABOUT THIS DELAY NIVA. NO ONE.

    People who are been obsessed with stock experience pushed to their phones the minute Google announces a new update buy a Nexus phone. Everyone else buys the phone they feel best suits them. Most people teds to buy Galaxy S phones, simply because they are the best, and one of the very few with an OLED display.

    Skinning Android is a necessity to create a feeling of an ecosystem the buyer feels at home with. For instance, I could never live with the skin Sony crams into their phones, in my opinion it's ugly in really incoherent. I have a Nexus tablet too, but I prefer TouchWiz, simply because it gives you a lot of really, really useful add/on features.

    Anyone arguing a Nexus phone is the only choice, just because it has stock Android doesn't understand what a smartphone is. The Nexus 5 is a mediocre phone. At best.
  • jezzgoodwin - Wednesday, April 09, 2014 - link

    I have to agree with the parents here. The Samsung Touchwiz UI suffers from lots of stuttering when in motion. When doing simple things like sliding between home screens, there is stutter.

    My friend has an HTC One which has a different UI and his phone is really smooth when doing transitions.

    The Samsungs are brilliant phones, but they should really fix the stutter.
  • theduckofdeath - Thursday, April 10, 2014 - link

    Try putting the exact same widgets on those two phones when you scroll. TouchWiz doesn't stutter from simple scrolling. However all operating systems stutter for instance when information has to be swapped from storage to RAM. Even my 8GB quadcore Haswell desktop PC does that fairly often.

    You should really try one out for real instead of basing your ideas off something you've basically read on a forum on the internet.
  • Kidster3001 - Wednesday, April 30, 2014 - link

    Just use a different launcher from Touchwiz. My Note2 struggles a little in Touchwiz. I use Nova Launcher now and everything is much smoother. No root required, just install it and set as default launcher. Reply
  • Latzara - Wednesday, April 09, 2014 - link

    pls --- a Nexus is on par with the currently leading phones for about 2/3 of the price -- that doesn't a mediocre phone make. And the usefulness of the Touchwiz addons is completely subjective -- had a Galaxy S and an SIII and in both cases it wasn't long till i flashed a custom ROM to get rid of all the crammed in usefulness...

    Don't paint a product with your personal experience and then extrapolate to everyone else. It just doesn't work that way and if you had any intention of being fair you'd know that. I don't like Touchwiz. Some do (i.e. you) but you can't argue that they add a bunch of apps that aren't directly tied to core functionality (like messaging for example which can't be removed) without even giving you a choice to uninstall what you deem unnecessary .... Lack of choice is always a grade down for me. I don't need the multitude of hubs for this and that and i can't get rid of them.

    and btw, on the "NO ONE IN THE REAL WORLD CARES ABOUT THIS DELAY NIVA. NO ONE." part -- there is a large modding community that begs to differ ...
  • theduckofdeath - Thursday, April 10, 2014 - link

    The Nexus phones are nice. But they are not on par. They're good value high/end phones, where the manufacturers cuts corners on pretty important things like display quality, camera and other things that are not easy to present in tech specs but are pretty obvious when you use them. Reply
  • Max(IT) - Saturday, April 19, 2014 - link

    You are right, nexus aren't on par: they are better. When it comes to build quality, Samsung's devices disappear. A nexus 5 is far better build than a 700$ Galaxy S5 ....
    The nexus 5 isn't perfect, for sure. Battery and camera aren't the best on the market, but still is superior to any Galaxy S .... at a lower price point.
    Stock Android makes it fast and responsive, without tons of gimmicks added by Samsung.
    The only Samsung I would consider is a GPE.
  • theduckofdeath - Friday, April 25, 2014 - link

    Build quality is better in the Nexus 5? Just because it's different materials, it definitely does not mean it's better built. The GS5 is IP67 certified, which actually requires higher precision and build quality than, you know, no IP certification.... :) Reply
  • DiHydro - Friday, April 25, 2014 - link

    I work for a company that has IPX certified our products just this year, and I know first hand that IPX certification does not account for build quality or materials. I could get a cellphone made with cardboard and cellophane tape IP67 certified. This doesn't mean it is durable or well made. Reply
  • Kidster3001 - Wednesday, April 30, 2014 - link

    I'd much rather have my plastic phone that bounces a little than a metal one. My personal opinion. Reply

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