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Camera Features

As Samsung's current top-of-the-line smartphone, the Galaxy S4 comes with a very comprehensive list of features. Our review focuses on the S4's camera features and performance, but let's take a quick look at the new non-imaging features on the Galaxy S4:

  • Airview: This feature uses sensors to allow previews and magnification of certain types of content, just by hovering your finger over the screen. Unfortunately, it only works with Samsung's proprietary apps. This is the same feature that we've seen before on the Galaxy Note II and 8.0. However, the Note requires the use of a stylus while only your fingers are needed to use Airview on the S4. 
  • S-Voice drive: A new set of voice commands that allows you to control the device when using it as a GPS navigator. You can also send and receive calls and texts hands-free.
  • S Translator is a translation app that supports text-to-speech and speech-to-text. For example, you can type a question in your language, then get the device to speak it to a person in their language. Their reply will then be recorded, translated and put out as text by the phone. You can also take pictures of written text, such as restaurant menus or any kind of signs, and then use the S Translator application.
  • Samsung Knox was first introduced at the World Mobile Congress in Barcelona and now appears on a device for the first time. The system basically creates two profiles on your device, for personal and for business use, similar to what we've seen on the new Blackberry 10 devices. This gives your company control over the enterprise element of your device but doesn't give them access to your personal data and settings. The system is based on a security-enhanced version of Android. 
  • S Health allows you to monitor your calorie consumption, heart rate, blood sugar level and sleeping patterns with the help of a range of accessories such as heart rate monitor and the so-called S-band wristband. 
  • Adapt Display: the S4's display automatically adapts its brightness and contrast to the displayed content. The aim is to ensure the best possible viewing experience for text, movies, photos, web-browing, etc., or any other type of content you might be viewing on your phone.
  • Air gesture allows you to navigate your device with gestures in front of your screen, without touching it. This is useful if you've just eaten some greasy fingerfood or painted your nails as you can answer a call just with a wave of your hand. For those of us living in colder regions of the planet, the touch screen also works when you are wearing gloves. 
  • Smart Pause automatically stops video replay if you look away from the screen and resumes when your eyes are back on the video.
  • Smart Scroll: When browsing web pages you can slightly tilt the device up or down to scroll the pages.

In terms of camera features, the Galaxy S4 comes with a whole bunch of new shooting modes that we are having a closer look at below. It's worth noting that in almost all modes other than Auto you loose the ability to control parameters such as exposure compensation or ISO and are relying on the camera's automatic exposure systems. It's also not possible to combine shooting modes; for example, you cannot shoot HDRs in Panorama mode. Annoyingly it's also not possible to combine the Sports Mode (which selects faster shutter speeds than Auto Mode) with the burst shooting function.

Drama mode

This feature has potential for some interesting shots, especially when shooting action sports or just playing around. In Drama mode the S4 continuously captures frames over a period of five seconds or so, detects a moving subject in the frame and creates a composite image, combining multiple shots of the moving subject against the background.

It took us a few attempts to create a usable output image as the function struggles with subjects that are too small or large in the frame or move too slow or fast. However, when subject size and speed are within acceptable parameters Drama mode creates good quality composites. You can manually select which frames to include after they have been captured which gives you a little creative flexibility, but as you can see in the sample on the right, including too many frames can lead to body parts disappearing.

The Drama mode worked well in our testing, automatically selecting a few well-chosen captures of our moving subject to create a well-timed sequence. 
You do have some control over the final image made in Drama mode, but be careful of selecting too many of the available choices as overlapping captures of your subject can result in some digital dismemberment.

Animated Photo

Animated GIFs have been around on the web for a long time but have more recently seen a revival and might just be the trendiest file type in the imaging world at the moment. These quirky moving pictures only seem to be growing in popularity, even popping up as a new photo booth trend. Samsung is hopping on the bandwagon with the S4, adding a built-in Animated photo mode. 

After you've recorded your eight-second clip, you'll see options to animate or freeze objects. You can also trim your recording and change the direction of playback to move backward, forward or in a back-and-forth loop. Below you can see an un-edited GIF. The image size is approximately 800x450 pixels and file size could, depending on the size of the animated areas, be anywhere between 2 and 30MB which makes them a little large for sharing from your phone.

Below you can see a sample for which we froze part of the screen. After a clip has been captured you can mark parts of the frame and then select to animate or freeze them.

After the 8-second clip has been captured moving subjected are detected automatically and you can mark areas to be animated or frozen on the screen.
Here we only wanted the person with the hoola hoop to be moving and therefore have "frozen" the persons further to the right.

The results are not too impressive. As you can see below the function simply animates the marked areas, but makes no attempt to isolate a moving subject from the background like some third-party apps do. It's also important to keep the camera very still, otherwise you'll see camera shake in the moving portions of the frame. 

Animated Photo mode is fun to play with but we like Cinemagram, recently launched for Android, better. The app offers more creative choices for constructing your moving images and a more user-friendly interface. Overall we've seen the best animated GIF results from the Cinemagraph app that is currently only available for Nokia Lumia Windows Phones.

Eraser

Eraser mode works by snapping a series of images and identifying and removing moving objects from the final composite image. After the images have been captured, moving objects are automatically identified and marked in purple. You can then select to hide or show them and save the final image.

In our testing this worked quite well for the scenario we see it most likely to be applied: when a passerby walks directly in front of a subject in a busy public setting. How many ruined snapshots taken at tourist hotspots could have been saved with this feature?

The Eraser feature finds and highlights moving objects in your scene. 
The final image does a quality job of removing the passerby from the scene, as well as a person moving in the background. 
Eraser will also identify moving cars and remove them from your scene. And though the newspaper boxes are also highlighted here, the final image only removed the moving car.
A screenshot of the final output image — the car is seamlessly removed from the final image.

Dual Shot

The S4 is the first smartphone that we know of which is capable of recording images from its front- and rear cameras simultaneously. This has resulted in one of the more gimmicky photo features of the S4: the Dual Shot mode which allows you to capture images with both cameras at the same time and create a picture-in-picture effect, with a variety of frames to surround your front-facing camera capture.

The default is a stamp frame that creates a postcard effect when combined with a scenic vista. While this might be fun for vacation photos, we imagine you'll find your kids clamoring to play with this effect more than you will. To access it, select the Auto mode and then tap the Dual Shot icon, the overlapping image of both the front and back of the camera symbol. Tap the arrow at the bottom of the screen to experiment with more borders around the front-facing camera image.

In Dual Shot Mode you can choose from a range of frames for your front-camera image.

Some app makers have been playing around with the dual camera idea before the arrival of the S4: DuoCam and 2sidez create click-to-flip pictures with the front-facing camera capture on one side, the rear-facing camera capture on the other. Dblcam makes a blended image from the two captures. However, none of these apps take pictures simultaneously (simply because that's impossible on any other phone), but capture the images very quickly one after the other. Of course live preview or picture-in-picture video is not possible. 

Panorama Mode

Panorama modes and apps aren't anything new. However, what's new on the Galaxy S4 is that the end-results are very large. When shooting in landscape orientation the image is approximately 22,000 pixels wide and 1,600 pixels tall. In comparison, on the S3 panoramas are only 6,000 pixels wide, only about double the width of a standard 4:3 frame.

Stitching and exposure are typically fine too, so if you manage to capture an attractive panorama shot on the Galaxy S4 it could potentially be printed in a very large format. You can shoot both in landscape or portrait orientation. If you don't want or need to capture a full 360-degree panorama, you can press the shutter button any time to stop capture. The app will then create a panorama with the images you have recorded so far.

 This panorama was shot in landscape orientation and measures 22,096 x1568 pixels.
 This was shot in portrait orientation. The end result measures 19,552 x 2976 pixels.
This 180-degree panorama measures 11,552 x 3008 pixels.

Night Mode

The Galaxy S4 comes with the same Night Mode we've seen on the Galaxy Note II before. It avoids intrusive noise by blending a quick burst of frames into one image and averaging out the noise. As with the HDR mode, objects moving through the frame may create strange artifacts, so the tool works best with static scenes. You should also avoid any camera shake while capturing the burst. 

However, the main advantage of the Night Mode is that you can still achieve a decent exposure when the Auto mode reaches its limits. For the night scene below Auto mode selects the maximum ISO (1000) and the slowest available shutter speed (1/15 sec) but still the scene is underexposed. By combining various exposures Night Mode can create a brighter image and allows you to shoot night scenes like the one below hand-held. The camera app can be figured to automatically switch to Night Mode when the light conditions make it the most suitable shooting mode.

Auto Mode, ISO 1000, 1/15 sec
Night Mode

Rich Tone (HDR)

The Galaxy S4's HDR mode is very similar to its predecessor's. The camera takes three frames at varying exposures in quick succession and combines them into one "High Dynamic Range" image. Given the limited dynamic range of the tiny sensors that are currently being used in smartphones, this feature can be a life saver when shooting high contrast scenes.

There are no parameters to play with when using the HDR mode, but luckily Samsung's implementation produces very natural results. As you can see in the sample below the HDR image shows visibly more detail in the clouds while at the same time the shadow areas in the trees have been slightly lifted.

Depending on the scene, the effect can be stronger but if you end up with an image that looks a little too flat it's easy to optimize with a level adjustment in the image editing application of your choice. You can also set Rich Tone to save both versions of an image, standard and HDR, so you can pick the version you like best.

 Auto mode
 Rich Tone (HDR) mode

All HDR modes struggle with moving subjects or camera shake while the exposure series is being captured and the Galaxy S4 is no exception. If you don't keep the phone still while shooting you can end up with a shadow effect like in the sample below. That said, normal handheld shooting works totally fine and it appears the S4 does to a degree compensate for subjects moving at a moderate speed, for example a walking person. 

Camera shake or moving subjects can result in a ghosting effect in your HDR images.
 100% crop

Comments

Total comments: 44
trinkner
By trinkner (3 months ago)

Continuation from my previous post:

No doubt I could have learned to improve the photos by tinkering with the ISO settings, but the "auto" pictures were truly horrible. I put my SIM card back into my 808 and used it for the rest of the holidays with excellent results without tinkering.

Yes, it's true that Symbian is a dying (dead?) OS. But, for the moment, I can still use the phone nicely for all my PIM needs, checking ESPN scores (via bookmarks in the Opera Mini browser), watching YouTube videos, etc. On the 808 I can't use 2014 apps, as development for Symbian has largely stopped. But the camera, with its powerful xenon flash and incredible color sensitivity and focus is phenomenal. People ask me which "camera" I used to take my photos... people never ask me which "phone" I used.

I'm hoping that Sony's next camera phone will have a xenon flash and better image processing than the Z1. Then I might jump from the Symbian flagship.

0 upvotes
trinkner
By trinkner (3 months ago)

In December, I tried switching from the Nokia 808 PureView to the S4 because I wanted the wide library of apps available to Android users. Sadly, I've become so spoiled by the high quality of the 808's camera and xenon flash that I returned the S4 to my local T-Mobile store after 24 hours. Although the camera was nice for well lit outdoors shots, indoor shots of people were virtually unusable. I tried taking photos of family while people sat on a couch: still, posed, optimal setting for indoors photos, and the photos came out unusable. They were grainy beyond belief.

I tried using the volume rocker as the shutter: terrible position for my hands and the result was shaky pictures. I tried using the on-screen tap to take pictures: same problem. I have steady hands, but could rarely get the phone to take a crisply focused photo. There are lots of neat bells and whistles to the S4, like the burst mode, but all it gave me was 10 grainy and blurred photos.

0 upvotes
manuelDabs
By manuelDabs (3 months ago)

Bad phone. The LDC got damaged. Samsung wanted to charge me for a manufacturing defect. Phone looks nice but is unreliable and not built well. I have 2 Samsung devices - S4 and Note2. I am going to get rid of these and buy an iOPhone5. My whole family (five in number) have always had iPhones and they never had any problems. Also Apple support and customer service is much much better than Samsung. Stay away from Samsung products.

0 upvotes
TheJeebus
By TheJeebus (5 months ago)

No mention of framerates, particularly 24fps?

0 upvotes
sderdiarian
By sderdiarian (6 months ago)

Based on reviewing the downloaded JPEG results closely, the S4 looks to these eyes as superior to the 5S by a small margin, and to the 5 by a wide margin, to the One by a wider margin still. I'm viewing zoomed in to the same level on each, to where noise crops up in a major way on the latter two above,

Add in the 20% larger screen (simply a phenomenal advantage in viewing and usage) than the 5S and I'd say Apple's fallen well behind the times. This from a 4S owner/photographer (numerous DSLR's and mFT's) whose contract has passed and is now looking to upgrade.

Off to the store today to compare the S4, One and 5S in hand, but so far the 4S is the standout.

0 upvotes
sensibill
By sensibill (6 months ago)

"the camera app cannot be opened directly from the lock screen though."

This is not true. You can put a photo app icon on your lock screen and unlock the phone -with- the icon, going straight to the camera.

0 upvotes
Kromeo
By Kromeo (8 months ago)

cant' wait to see IPHONE 5S VS S4 , that's cool.

0 upvotes
Mooman
By Mooman (6 months ago)

So the 5s review just came out, and I'm a little perplexed. They gave the S4 an 8.0 and the 5s an 8.1, yet if you look at the bar graphs for the 6 different categories in the ratings box, the S4 overall wins out. In fact, I even measured the pixel length of the blue lines and found that the S4's bars are a net 88 pixels longer. Or said differently, the average bar length for the Apple is 320 pixels whereas the average bar length for the Samsung is 334, yet they somehow rank the Apple as better...?
Unless they have some *really* weird weighting scale, the final scores and the bar charts are out of whack.

1 upvote
sensibill
By sensibill (6 months ago)

Honestly, I think their weighting in this particular case points to some bias for Apple and against Samsung. They're rather critical of the S4's flaws and rather forgiving of the vagaries and limitations of the iPhone.

0 upvotes
Tazz93
By Tazz93 (9 months ago)

STAY AWAY FROM THIS PHONE!

I hate to say it, because I liked it, but the fact remains its just too fragile. The plastic body is just not up to par. I broke the LCD in my pocket purely from tension from my jeans and my leg. No contact with anything else. A hard case may help but you shouldn't need it.

0 upvotes
BlackZero
By BlackZero (8 months ago)

Buy Nokia 3310

0 upvotes
uzeziu2
By uzeziu2 (8 months ago)

I love my S4

0 upvotes
uzeziu2
By uzeziu2 (8 months ago)

Mobile telephony should be enjoyed, hence, high -end phone like s4 didn't come as a surprise. Do you like a HEAVY BUGGY of an object in the name of phone. Though its light, you won't know what you are carrying. S4 is the best, but, you have don't mess it up with carelessness.

0 upvotes
sensibill
By sensibill (6 months ago)

Good quality polycarbonate is what you want surrounding a glass screen and fragile micro electronics, not aluminum or magnesium alloy. How many projector carry cases do you see made of solid steel or aluminum without heavy padding? The best are nylon infused high impact polycarb/plastic.

My iPhone 4 shattered when I tossed it underhanded onto a table (wood) with a soft tablecloth. My Galaxy Note, S3 and S4 have all gone through the same treatment (and worse) with no issues. The Samsung is the more durable by a mile, IMO. You can also easily replace the back face if it cracks.

0 upvotes
Uzinuzin
By Uzinuzin (9 months ago)

I discovered 169 reasons as to why Galaxy S4 is best of the lot at:
BRAND COLLAGE

1 upvote
dbateman
By dbateman (9 months ago)

You need to clarify that picture in picture video "Dual shot" is not possible with 3rd party apps or other phones (page 4). As its written is seems it not possible with the S4.
The Dual shot mode I see as very useful, but only in video. Makes interviews very easy!! You can have you in the top right asking questions in video, while the person your talking to is present answering the questions. Similarly great for demo work too. Your talking about something and showing the video of the object or what your fixing or manipulating.
This I think is the First single camera capable of interview video.

Comment edited 2 minutes after posting
2 upvotes
armanalom
By armanalom (9 months ago)

i think this is a best smart phone of the world.

Comment edited 23 seconds after posting
3 upvotes
BlackZero
By BlackZero (8 months ago)

In fact it is. Owning it since June 2013, 3 months now. Going fantastic. Smooth and Easy.

0 upvotes
Henrik Herranen
By Henrik Herranen (9 months ago)

Please add "Sensor Size" as a standard field to your first page "Key Photographic / Video Specifications" table. It should be there.
Sensor size, along with lens focal length (both real AND equivalent) and speed (both real AND equivalent), are the numbers that specify the upper limits for image quality as well as what can be expected.

Comment edited 2 times, last edit 1 minute after posting
5 upvotes
Lars Rehm
By Lars Rehm (9 months ago)

so far only the Nokia 808 has had a different sensor size to everybody else. We'll see if that'll change now with the new Nokia and maybe Sony on their way,

0 upvotes
King Penguin
By King Penguin (9 months ago)

Mmmmmm, I think I'll stick to my iphone 5, me thinks.......

2 upvotes
pablolie
By pablolie (9 months ago)

I have this phone. The camera is very spotty. I'd rather have 2mp with decent low light performance.

4 upvotes
Peiasdf
By Peiasdf (9 months ago)

Some one please explain to me the point of Dual Shot. Thanks

0 upvotes
dbateman
By dbateman (9 months ago)

See my comment above. For photos I see limited use. For video, I see endless possibilities!

1 upvote
dpLarry
By dpLarry (9 months ago)

13mp on a tiny sensor in a phone. Huge grainy file. I'd prefer 5mp with over 2 1/2 light gathering ability.

1 upvote
Lars Rehm
By Lars Rehm (9 months ago)

HTC tried that with the One and I did not go too well. With the Samsung at least you can always downsample the file if you want to.

5 upvotes
dpLarry
By dpLarry (9 months ago)

The HTC One has got universally positive reviews and is the #3 top selling phone behind the iphone and samsung. It has frequently been described as the best android phone ever. Not sure why you said "I did not go too well". Freudian slip? The Koreans greased you to not go well with HTC?

Comment edited 1 minute after posting
2 upvotes
CortoPA
By CortoPA (9 months ago)

I was thinking about getting the HTC One as well, but now im glad I waited as the N1020 was announced.

But Im sure the HTC is great and you should be happy with yours Larry.

1 upvote
TrojMacReady
By TrojMacReady (9 months ago)

@Dplarry:
You're confusing the sales success of a phone as a whole with the qualities of the camera.
In good to medium light, the camera of the One lags behind most competitors by some margin, in low light, it's pretty similar to some of the others, including the S4.
See for example this blind test at the same output size done amongst hundreds of people (Google Translate will help out):
http://mobile-review.com/articles/2013/blind-comparison-result.shtml
And some context:
http://www.mobile-review.com/review/phototest2013.shtml

Comment edited 2 times, last edit 2 minutes after posting
3 upvotes
Lars Rehm
By Lars Rehm (9 months ago)

@dpLarry there is no doubt the HTC is a great phone but it's camera is not that great as we found in our own review. I wouldn't say it's terrible but I think I would personally prefer the S4 camera.

2 upvotes
BlackZero
By BlackZero (8 months ago)

dpLarry, did you have a look at in-depth reviews of HTC One full resolution with its Ultra Pixels and Samsung's 13Mpix tiny pixels??
Downsample the 13MPix file to 4Mpix and you'll see the difference. S4 is far better.

0 upvotes
IcyPepsi
By IcyPepsi (9 months ago)

"Some customizability in camera app"
Sorry, I think its way more customizable than iOS. The best would be Nokia 1020's camera app.

Love the awesome S4 features. But hate its build and how thin its plastic back is.

Either ways, start copying, Apple!

Comment edited 3 minutes after posting
2 upvotes
Lars Rehm
By Lars Rehm (9 months ago)

I agree but that doesn't make our statement incorrect. We listed this as a pro by the way...because other apps are less customizable

1 upvote
BlackZero
By BlackZero (8 months ago)

Yeah.. its time for Apple to copy..
With their high noses, they would now be beating around the bushes how to copy such that no body says they copied..

0 upvotes
h2k
By h2k (9 months ago)

Is there anywhere a comparison with the S3, image-quality wise? So that S3 users get an idea if photo-wise, the S4 is smarter? I didn't read all pages, but i checked the conclusion page and the iq page and i didn't see the S3 mentioned, or am i wrong?

1 upvote
Lars Rehm
By Lars Rehm (9 months ago)

We compared the S4 to the current generation of high-end phones as the S3 has been on the market for much longer now. However, you'll find plenty of samples and analysis in our S3 review from last year: http://connect.dpreview.com/post/9831991152/samsung-galaxy-s-iii-camera-review

0 upvotes
TrojMacReady
By TrojMacReady (9 months ago)

You can add a camera shortcut to the lockscreen (without the need of 3rd party apps or rooting, it's just a simple settings change). Here are a few ways to do it:
http://www.androidcentral.com/three-ways-add-camera-shortcuts-galaxy-s4-lock-screen

Comment edited 3 times, last edit 1 minute after posting
3 upvotes
TrojMacReady
By TrojMacReady (9 months ago)

Wow, you guys are fast. I see it's already removed from the list of "The Bad" on the conclusion page. Kudos!

I assume page 3 adjustment will follow.

Comment edited 3 minutes after posting
0 upvotes
whtchocla7e
By whtchocla7e (9 months ago)

Why are these called phones? They are mobile computers, the calling capability is just an add-on.

2 upvotes
viking79
By viking79 (9 months ago)

Which fits my use exactly, I rarely use a phone any more.

7 upvotes
bikinchris
By bikinchris (9 months ago)

I have this phone and find that in good light the camera does a fine job. See my gallery for a few examples.

Comment edited 18 seconds after posting
2 upvotes
FreedomLover
By FreedomLover (9 months ago)

Is this one of your examples, Chris?
http://www.eaglewheel.us/images/Travel/Schwabacher%20Landing%20WEB.jpg

Comment edited 4 minutes after posting
0 upvotes
Mr Darma
By Mr Darma (9 months ago)

exciting image capability...about equal to watching grass grow...

1 upvote
Mkins
By Mkins (9 months ago)

I have the S3 and haven't been very happy with it. I was thinking of waiting for the iphone 6, then I come across this article http://www.gottabemobile.com/2013/07/15/after-iphone-6-apple-rumored-to-plan-working-with-samsung-again/. I know it won't be for a few years but it makes you wonder.

0 upvotes
Total comments: 44
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