Samsung's Galaxy Camera, the manufacturer's first entry into the world of dedicated shooters powered by Android, was announced with little warning at IFA earlier this year. Besides Nikon's foray into the market, the Galaxy Camera is one of the only Android cameras we've yet seen. Frankly, of the two, Samsung's entry is the only one that seems worth looking at.

The question of how much longer point-and-shoot cameras can see success is a fair one – after all, DSLRs are becoming smaller and more affordable all the time, while smartphone cameras are reaching to fill the gap point-and-shoots would leave behind. Samsung's entry into the P&S market with the Galaxy Camera is an interesting move – it attempts to fill the aforementioned gap not with a better smartphone or a cheaper SLR, but with a third category born from the union of a smartphone (namely the Galaxy S III) and a P&S.

What Samsung needs to prove with the Galaxy Camera is that it has the answer to a dwindling P&S market. After spending some time with the device, I'm not sure it's succeeded, despite being a well-made device.

At A Glance

Before we get started with the in-depth review, we'll take a quick look at the Galaxy Camera. First, its specs:

  • 16MP 1/2.3" CMOS Sensor
  • 21x optical zoom lens (4.1mm-86.1mm) at 1:2.8-5.9
  • Optical image stabilization
  • Pop-up Xenon flash
  • 1080p video recording
  • Android 4.1 Jelly Bean
  • Exynos 4412 quad-core processor at 1.4GHz
  • 8GB Storage (expandable via microSD)
  • 1GB RAM
  • 4.8" 720x1280 Super Clear LCD
  • 1650mAh Battery
  • AT&T "4G" HSPA+

Most of these specs are borrowed from the Galaxy S III. The important thing here is the sensor, but we'll discuss that later. The other thing that stands out is the 1650mAh battery pack. In a world where most smartphones are doing okay with 2000+ mAh batteries, many were stunned by this decision. It isn't all bad news, though, and we'll discuss why soon. For now, let's take a quick look at the overall plusses and minuses offered by the camera.

The Good

  • Build Quality – The Galaxy Camera, while somewhat thick, is (for the most part) well-made. The body is solid, the grip feels great, and – so far – the screen remains unscratched.
  • Display – The Galaxy Camera's display is a much-welcomed LCD panel that is spacious, bright, and a pleasure to look at.
  • Manual Adjustments – The presence of manual adjustments and priority modes is great, especially with the camera's display reflecting exposure adjustments in real time.
  • AT&T HSPA+ – This has little to do with the actual device, but AT&T's HSPA+ is still one of the camera's strong suits – syncing and uploading photos is a snap from anywhere.

The Not So Good

  • An Unclear Market – The primary concern with the Galaxy Camera is that it's a weird device. It isn't a smartphone or tablet, but it also isn't purely a camera. While the idea of combining the Galaxy SIII with a point-and-shoot camera sounds great, I don't see the proposition as providing enough added value to justify a $500 price point.
  • Unnecessary Apps – Surprise! There's bloatware. Thankfully, there's not much. And the non-core apps that do come preinstalled (like AT&T Locker) are at least marginally useful.
  • Inconsistent UX – Sometimes you've got a system nav bar, sometimes you don't. The disappearance of the system bar is at least somewhat predictable, but still takes some practice to get used to.
  • Sketchy Battery Door – The battery door is truly the Achilles heel of the Galaxy Camera. It seems flimsy, doesn't sit flush with the bottom of the camera, and has a weird sub-door that hides the device's microHDMI port.

Where To Buy: Those interested can grab the Galaxy Camera from AT&T for $499.99 with a qualifying monthly data plan.

In Short: The Galaxy Camera takes good photos, feels solid, and has the convenience of mobile sharing through your favorite apps. That being said, the market for a device like this is unproven, and it isn't clear whether the marginal increase in convenience outweighs the price of the camera plus data.

Build Quality and Design

gcam

Samsung's Galaxy Camera is solid. It's fairly heavy without feeling like lead, and it's a pleasure to hold. Its grip takes the display's black bezel around a whiplash curve to the front of the device, and covers it in a great-feeling grippy surface.

gcamr2-3

The camera is big, though. While its 4.8" display is luxuriant, the camera is not thin, and I could deal with a smaller display if it meant a more compact camera. The Galaxy Camera is in a tough position because its thickness is due in large part to its camera components, but as a smart device focused on acting as a dedicated camera, it would be more appealing in a smaller, more manageable package. The camera fits well in a back pocket, but if you want to sit down, you'll need to find somewhere else to put it.

DSC_1795

The Galaxy Camera and Nexus 7

On the front of the camera, you've got the lens and that great grip. On the left side is the microUSB port with a little door that's begging to come off after a few months of use, plus a wrist strap loop and a 3.5mm headphone jack.

gcam-7 gcam-5

On the other side is a speaker and the pop-up flash button. The back of the g-cam is purely a screen with a perilously thin bezel, while up top lives the power button, flash, zoom controls and shutter release.

DSC_1788 top

The bottom of the camera is where things get a little weird. There's a tripod mount, which is helpful, and then there's the battery door. The door itself is pretty flimsy, with an action-less release – you slide it one way to open the door, and then when you close the door, you have to slide it back the other way. Another thing is that the door never seems to sit quite flush with the bottom surface of the camera.

Oh, and the camera has microHDMI out. But guess where the microHDMI port is – it's under the battery door (with the microSD and SIM slots). If that isn't confounding enough an idea, the port is accessed through what I'll call a "sub-door." That is, a smaller door that is part of the actual battery door.

bottom

Camera Hardware

Sensor

The Galaxy Camera's sensor is 1/2.3", one of the smallest available for compact cameras. For comparison, a full frame DSLR will usually carry a sensor with a diagonal measurement of ~43mm. A typical high-end P&S will have a 1/1.7" sensor with a diagonal of ~9.5mm. The Galaxy Camera's sensor has a diagonal measurement of 7.66mm. The Galaxy SIII, for those curious, uses Sony's 8MP 1/3.2" sensor (which, by the way, is the same sensor found in the iPhone 4S).

What does this mean? Well, you can check out a great explanation of the importance of sensor size at Digital Versus, but the short version is that 16MP (that means effectively 16 million pixels) crammed onto a sensor with a 7.66mm diagonal will be a lot smaller and less powerful individually than the same number of pixels spread across a 43mm diagonal. This means a 1/2.3" sensor will have more noise issues at high ISOs, less depth-of-field control, and more iffy picture quality in general.

Lens/Zoom

Another important thing to consider is zoom. This is where the Galaxy Camera has a leg up on the smartphone market (besides its slightly larger sensor). Samsung's camera packs a 21x optical zoom lens. Mobile cameras, for the most part, utilize strictly digital zoom when taking photos. For those unaware, I'll attempt a quick explanation of the difference. Optical zoom is what it sounds like – the camera's optical elements do the work. With optical zoom, the camera lens' glass elements move relative to the camera sensor, thus magnifying the real life image on the sensor plane. With digital zoom, the lens remains fixed, and the image is magnified digitally, or essentially cropped and enlarged, to fit the sensor's resolution.

Since the Galaxy Camera doesn't have a viewfinder, it lacks a mirror. A dedicated shutter is also absent, which accounts for the camera's insufferable shutter sound effect.

Image Samples

Auto Performance

Of course, many consumers in the P&S market aren't looking for super fine-tuning capabilities in a camera – they want to hit a button, snap some quick photos, and be done with it. For that reason, it's important to take a look at the Galaxy Camera's performance when simply set to Auto mode.

plane

20121130_14180620121130_14291620121130_143033

Shooting on Auto mode provided more than acceptable results. Fine-tuning your exposure will almost universally achieve a better end product, but for quick photos, the Galaxy Camera performed well.

One thing I noted, however, was that the camera's touted image stabilization did very little in the way of preventing slight motion blur, particularly when shooting at full or near-full zoom.

Sharpness

When shooting in close proximity to the subject, the G-cam's sharpness is excellent. Here's a quick sample followed by a 100% crop. The detail holds up very well, and shooting at ISO 100 there's pretty much no noise.

orchidc

image

When shooting from farther distances, maintaining the same fidelity is a little tougher. This isn't entirely surprising, but take a look:

lo image

The detail loss isn't terrible, but it also isn't ideal. The quality change, again, is due in large part to the camera's small, densely-populated sensor. That being said, photos like these will rarely be viewed at 100%, so slight detail loss isn't anything to really be concerned about.

High ISO Performance

High ISO performance is another important question for the P&S set. While users may not constantly calibrate ISO values before snapping a quick pic, the camera will opt for higher ISOs even in Auto mode when the lighting is low. Here's a quick lineup, from ISO 200 to 3200 (the camera's top value).

20040080016003200

200Full3200Full

Top: ISO 200, 400, 800, 1600, 3200 Bottom: 100% Crop ISO 200, 3200

You can see that at the high end, the g-cam gets quite noisy, details don't hold up, and there's a slight magenta shift. The good news, though, is that even in Auto mode, the camera will very rarely hit 3200 ISO – most of my low light shots opted for 800 or below.

White Balance

White balance controls on the Galaxy Camera are fairly straight-forward. If you're shooting in one of the "Expert" modes, you'll have access to five presets – Auto, Cloudy, Daylight, Fluorescent H, and Fluorescent L. There's one more preset called "Custom," which allows you to sample part of a scene for a custom white balance, but more often than not it will match what you'd get when opting for the "Auto" setting.

autocloudydaylightfluoroHfluoroL

Auto, Cloudy, Daylight, Fluorescent H, and Fluorescent L on neutral gray.

The preset list also includes a "custom" option, which will allow you to sample a nearby white surface for a custom color temperature. Seeing the color shifts above is handy, but how is the real-world performance? Here's a shot in the same sequence of presets:

whb

Top: Auto / Bottom: Cloudy, Daylight, Fluorescent H, Fluorescent L

It's clear that Auto white balance does just fine, and frankly I find preset white balance values are often too extreme for normal use. In this case the preset that should have worked best was "Cloudy," and it came pretty close to a correct exposure, but in most cases Auto will get you the shot you want.

Video Sample

Video recording on the Galaxy Camera is not fantastic. It isn't terrible, and I'd honestly consider it decent for a smartphone camera, but the Galaxy Camera isn't a smartphone camera, so I'd hoped for better. The level of detail is decent, and under the right lighting conditions video may even look vibrant, but the actual process of recording is iffy – in auto mode, pressing the camcorder icon will instantly start recording video. The camera takes a second to refocus when something is moved or when the scene is zoomed, and the microphone (like most built-in mics on P&S cameras) is very sensitive to wind, and doesn't pick up great sound otherwise. Here's a quick sample clip:

Camera Software

The software that controls the camera functionality of the Galaxy Camera is obviously the bread and butter of the device. For this reason, it should be polished and well-made, and by all accounts it is. Navigation and control is pretty easy, with plenty of redundancy in the manual modes to allow for versatility when shooting. In auto mode, there's literally nothing you'll need to touch except the shutter button. You can still tap-to-focus, or hit the bottom arrow for some fun filters, but it couldn't be much easier to use.

Screenshot_2012-11-30-17-05-31

M, A, S, and P

Thankfully, the Galaxy Camera includes Manual, Aperture, Shutter, and Program modes for those that like to fine-tune their exposure settings. Even if you've never messed with Manual settings on a camera, the G-Cam has you covered – each setting has a helpful little word bubble that will explain briefly what you're looking at. Again, controlling this camera could not be much easier. Once you've adjusted all the "dials" to your liking, you're ready to shoot, and the faux-lens interface will get out of your way.

Screenshot_2012-11-29-23-08-37

Metering, Focus, Flash, and More

settings

The Galaxy Camera has plenty of advanced settings tucked away in the manual adjustment mode. Among these are the typical settings like white balance, flash, focus, timer, face detection, image quality, and others, but there are a couple of more advanced options worth mentioning.

First among these is Drive, which allows for single shot, continuous shooting, and bracketing. Bracketing, for those who don't know, is shooting a photo at multiple exposures (often used in making HDR photos).

The list goes on to include focus area adjustments, and metering. The Galaxy Camera's metering modes include spot, multi-zone, and center-weighted.

In case you're wondering, metering is what allows a camera to determine a scene's exposure.

Users can choose spot metering to meter just one spot of a scene, multi-zone to come up with a sort of average exposure for a scene (like if you wanted to expose someone's backlit face without losing the sky behind them), and center-weighted metering puts emphasis on the center, spreading sensitivity outward from the middle of the scene. This means the center of the frame will (ideally) have an even exposure, with things getting slightly more chancy as you move outward.

 

 

'Smart' Modes

Smart Modes are just what they sound like, offering things like macro shooting, some automated functions like "Best Shot" and "Beauty Face" which do some automated retouching, and then specialized modes like "Rich Tone" or "Light Trace" which allow for easy shooting of photos that may take a while to set up in Manual mode.

Screenshot_2012-11-30-16-23-38Screenshot_2012-11-30-16-23-45Screenshot_2012-11-30-16-23-53Screenshot_2012-11-30-16-24-02Screenshot_2012-11-30-16-24-10Screenshot_2012-11-30-16-24-19Screenshot_2012-11-30-16-24-25Screenshot_2012-11-30-16-25-17Screenshot_2012-11-30-16-25-25Screenshot_2012-11-30-16-25-45Screenshot_2012-11-30-16-25-52Screenshot_2012-11-30-16-25-59Screenshot_2012-11-30-16-26-08Screenshot_2012-11-30-16-26-15Screenshot_2012-11-30-16-26-22

System Software

The system software included on the Galaxy Camera is just what you'd expect and largely the same as what you'd find on the Galaxy S III. There are a few Samsung or AT&T-specific apps to be found, which is mildly annoying, but otherwise nothing of note.

The Galaxy Camera, unlike the SIII, relies on a system navigation bar, but the bar is not always present – in some apps, like Photo Wizard, Gallery, or the Camera, the bar disappears, sticking you with navigation buttons at the top of the screen that change depending on where you are in the app. The lack of system buttons in the camera app is understandable, but it makes for an inconsistent experience everywhere else, and one that takes some getting used to.

Of course, the camera includes two main apps that may make your life easier when you want to quickly edit photos or videos before uploading – Photo Wizard and Video Editor.

Photo Wizard

For those that don't want to pick up a third party app but still want to tinker with photos before sharing them, Photo Wizard will get the job done. It includes basic adjustments like cropping and rotation, along with some visual effects, filters, and "decorations" including a variety of stickers and other miscellaneous flair.

Screenshot_2012-11-29-14-58-39

Screenshot_2012-11-29-14-58-51Screenshot_2012-11-29-14-59-48Screenshot_2012-11-29-14-59-04Screenshot_2012-11-29-14-59-39

It's not the most powerful editor in the world, and frankly I'd recommend Pixlr Express over Photo Wizard any day.

Video Editor

Unlike Photo Wizard, Video Editor relies on the system nav bar, adding extra navigation buttons to the rest of the screen when necessary. Actual editing in the app is pretty straight forward – first, you'll need to choose a theme (or forego a theme altogether) and choose your video files. After that, you can manipulate the video's time line, adding effects and trimming as necessary.

Screenshot_2012-11-30-16-40-56Screenshot_2012-11-30-16-41-10

Screenshot_2012-11-30-16-41-31Screenshot_2012-11-30-16-51-08Screenshot_2012-11-30-16-51-15

Interestingly, the Video Editor app has an "Auto Edit" option, which attempts to splice together your video files in a cohesive manner. The key word here is "attempts" – during my test, I found that the Auto Editor sliced out seemingly random portions of video in favor of fade-to-black transitions, and made speed adjustments on a totally unknown basis. Your mileage may vary, but I found this particular feature to be of little use.

In the end, neither of these apps are fantastic at what they do, and users would be better served by paying a visit to the Play Store and grabbing a few apps like Pixlr Express for on-the-go-editing.

Battery Life

Battery life is one of the biggest questions we had about the Galaxy Camera. 1650mAh certainly does not sound like a beastly battery capacity, and it isn't. But Samsung has made a few calls that allow the battery to last as long as you'd expect for a P&S camera. Namely, the camera will go into a sort of hibernation after a certain amount of time. It isn't completely powered off, but you'll need to hold the power button until the device buzzes, then press it again to turn the camera on. This is inconvenient when you want to take a photo quickly, but does save the battery. The feature can also be turned off for those who don't want it.

Screenshot_2012-11-29-14-54-43

If you're using the camera just as you would use a point and shoot camera (as above), it will last plenty of time. Even syncing photos, G-Mail, and other services, I got the camera to last just over two days. If you're playing games, streaming video, or otherwise making use of the Android base upon which the Galaxy Camera is built, the battery may sing a different tune. Those thinking of picking up a Galaxy Camera and using it to its full potential would be well-advised to pocket a second battery for a full day of shooting.

Conclusion

The big question, after using this device for almost two weeks, remains – is this a product that answers a question or fulfills a need? The jury is still out. Time will tell if this is something consumers want, but in my opinion it's a strange product entering the P&S market at a pretty bad time.

What I can say without hesitation is that it's a well-built device in terms of design and quality. The camera aspect of things is better than a smartphone, but not as good as some other P&S options, and certainly not as versatile as a DSLR.

Another important factor to consider is the camera's data consumption. Since receiving the review unit, I've used close to 2GB in data simply syncing photos and videos while keeping other services like G-Mail running. That's a lot. Of course, you can down-size photos from their native 16MP resolution before upload, but that kind of defeats the purpose of such a dense sensor.

If Android 4.1 and an ample LCD display provide enough added value to make this camera worth $500 (plus data) to you, I say go for it. If you're looking for a great P&S camera that you'll use primarily for picture taking, I'd look elsewhere.

backoverall