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Samsung Galaxy S4 camera first look: Imaging features

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With the Blackberry Z10, Sony Xperia Z and HTC One, 2013 has already seen a number of interesting smartphone launches but the Samsung Galaxy S4 has no doubt been the most high profile one. With its large 5-inch 1080p Full-HD Super-AMOLED screen with a pixel-density of 441ppi, Android 4.1, a new 1.6 GHz Exynos 5 Octa processor (quad-core in some regions, including the U.S.) and 2GB RAM, the new Samsung flagship boasts an impressive spec sheet. The camera module is no slouch either and comes with a 13MP backside-illuminated CMOS sensor and a fast F2.0 lens. 

However, not only the new phone's hardware specs are impressive; Samsung's software engineers have worked some extra hours and implemented a few cool looking new camera features and modes in the S4. Since we pitted the Samsung Galaxy S4 against some of its top smartphone competitors in our Smartphone Super Shootout, we've been experimenting with the device's camera as we complete our full review of Samsung's newest flagship phone. We're still analyzing and assessing the device in detail as only Dpreview Connect can, but until then we offer a look at some of the more innovative camera features of the S4.

 Most of the camera modes described below can be accessed via a click on the Mode button on the camera's main screen. You can then pick from a comprehensive selection of shooting modes.

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 4 and 30MB which makes them a little large for sharing from your phone.

We still 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 though we've seen the best animated gif results from the Cinemagraph app that is currently only available for Nokia Lumia Windows Phones.

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 sec clip has been captured you can mark areas to be animated or frozen on the screen.
 Here we only wanted the two pedestrians next to the building on the left moving, therefore marked most of the screen as 'freeze area'.

The results are not very impressive. As you can see below the function simply animates the marked areas, including camera shake. Other third-party apps are more sophisticated and actually attempt to isolate moving subjects from the background.

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.

On the S4 a picture-in-picture mode is also available for Skype calls, so the person on the other end of the line can see your face but also the scenery behind the phone's rear lens.

 

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, all these apps don't take pictures simultaneously (simply because that's impossible on any other phone) but capture them 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 they could potentially be printed in very large formats.

 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

Sound & Shot

We're really struggling to find a practical use for this feature that will first capture your image, then continue recording for up to nine seconds of sound afterward. Problem is, the Sound & Shot files can only be played back on the S4. A JPEG file is saved for the still image but it appears the audio portion is stored in a proprietary file type which means it's not widely shareable. We'll have a closer look at this for our full review.

There's potential for a reminder function here: perhaps you can think of a situation in which you would want to take a photo and then verbally make a note to yourself about it. Without a way to share these audible images widely, we can't see this one catching on though - we'd rather just shoot video.

Video and Image Samples

Below you'll find a selection of video samples and a preview samples gallery containing 35 images for you to browse and make your own judgement about the Galaxy S4's image quality. Make sure you also check our Smartphone Super Shootout for a variety of samples and image quality assessments in different light and shooting situations. 

Standard video mode sample in bright light

This video was shot in good light using the Samsung Galaxy S4's standard 1080p 30 fps video mode.

Standard video mode sample in low light

This 1080p video was shot indoors in low light.

Slow motion video mode sample

The Samsung Galaxy S4 also offers slow motion video at three different speeds - 1/2, 1/4 and 1/8. Frame size is 800 x 450 pixels for all speeds. Below you can see a sample for the 1/8 setting.

Fast motion video mode sample

For those who prefer things faster rather than slower a fast-video mode is available at full 1080p frame size. You can choose from 2x, 4x and 8x speeds. Below is a sample of the 2x variant.

Sample Gallery

There are 35 images in our Samsung Galaxy S4 samples gallery. Please do not reproduce any of these images on a website or any newsletter/magazine without prior permission (see our copyright page). We make the originals available for private users to download to their own machines for personal examination or printing (in conjunction with this review), we do so in good faith, please don't abuse it.

Unless otherwise noted images taken with no particular settings at full resolution.

Samsung Galaxy S4 Sample Gallery
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Comments

Total comments: 35
jannyT
By jannyT (1 month ago)

Please, please, please tell me where the button for superfine images is hiding? I can't find anything anywhere on my S4 that allows me to change image resolution. Does HDR mean superfine? Thank you!

0 upvotes
Fredy Ross
By Fredy Ross (Jun 21, 2013)

What about a comment about how comfortable it is to hold as a phone not just a camera.

0 upvotes
Olivia94
By Olivia94 (Jul 6, 2013)

... This review is about THE CAMERA. If you want something talking about the comfort of the phone, go find another review.

0 upvotes
Andy Pee
By Andy Pee (May 29, 2013)

I can't wait to see the review for the GS4 Zoom!!

0 upvotes
Uzinuzin
By Uzinuzin (May 24, 2013)

The picture above where you see many girls running in a garden is actually the frame by frame picture of a single girl captured through the Galaxy S4's Drama shot. Yes that's just one of the many features which make Galaxy S4 a hit. Find out some of the other exciting features nicely shared at this place I came across at http://www.brandcollage.com/faceoff/apple-iphone5-vs-samsung-galaxy-s4/

0 upvotes
Marcin 3M
By Marcin 3M (May 15, 2013)

Dont one have to buy cc subscription to use the content-aware fill?

0 upvotes
Bill
By Bill (May 14, 2013)

In the photo where they remove the car I don't think the shots are the same. The guy behind the woman is looking down in the left photo and he is looking up in the right photo.

I think they are multiple images in a video or continuous shooting sequence where the car has moved to the right. I suspect the author posted the wrong photo on the right...

Comment edited 3 minutes after posting
0 upvotes
Son of Man
By Son of Man (May 14, 2013)

The car is not seamlessly removed from the image, it has only "seamlessly" moved behind the girl. Not sure if it's the IQ of the picture or if it's the IQ of the tester...

Really admiring the girl for being able to stand still for so long...

0 upvotes
Rage Joe
By Rage Joe (May 13, 2013)

So this is what a new Large Format camera looks like.

1 upvote
wansai
By wansai (May 13, 2013)

the eraser mode pictures look terrible. Huge blocky aliasing & just generally poor IQ. I suspect this is to hide the imperfections with the object removals.

0 upvotes
Lars Rehm
By Lars Rehm (May 13, 2013)

The images in the eraser section are screenshots apart from the last one which is now the original output image. It's pretty much the same quality as a standard shot.

1 upvote
Lng0004
By Lng0004 (May 13, 2013)

Ok, so the S4 camera app seems to kick my One's app's butt, easily. At least I can revel in the fact that my One takes great shots in low light! That is all.

HTC's Panorama mode kinda sucks.

Comment edited 24 seconds after posting
1 upvote
Anepo
By Anepo (May 12, 2013)

I don't like android nor ios, both have they're issues to be honest & I am not even going to touch the other OS's.
The reasons why I do NOT like ios? To restrictive, Android? it's like a pc, visit the wrong website and your cellphone has got a virus or that android game you downloaded? yea it is stealing your information right now.

1 upvote
Lars Rehm
By Lars Rehm (May 12, 2013)

So in other words you are not using a smartphone?

9 upvotes
vetsmelter
By vetsmelter (May 13, 2013)

I think one should install LBE Security Master Equivalent program before installing anything else or even importing contacts on Android.
LBE looks good on paper as a solution to call free and fun Android / Google services and "apps" to order and make them only access data that is relevant to the software's operation.
Is LBE a virus? It is Chinese software ironically. So far I don't have a clue what it is sending or if it is calling home.

Comment edited 28 seconds after posting
0 upvotes
xMichaelx
By xMichaelx (May 13, 2013)

"visit the wrong website and your cellphone has got a virus"
False. There has never been an example of this happening.

"that android game you downloaded? yea it is stealing your information right now."

Only if you download random apps like an idiot.

There are reasons not to like Android or iOS. You haven't presented any.

2 upvotes
Zebooka
By Zebooka (May 12, 2013)

Nice features! But I do not believe in Android anymore. Only when OS will be updated by Google, not my lazy manufacturers (like HTC). Only when phones will be supported for 3-4 years (3GS iphone only now ends its iOS 6 support). And only when normal backups/restore from the box will exist (without that hacky-DIY things like flashing/fastboot/Titanium)

5 upvotes
neo_nights
By neo_nights (May 12, 2013)

I have an Android phone and am really happy with it. I don't see myself going Apple way. But I have to agree with you that having to rely on the manufacturers to update de OS is a pain....

That I envy the iPhone users.

1 upvote
HowaboutRAW
By HowaboutRAW (May 12, 2013)

neo_nights:

That since the carriers don't really supply Android updates, this failure, makes for a less secure phone, iPhones and Blackberries, and I imagine Windows phones, don't have this problem.

0 upvotes
Lng0004
By Lng0004 (May 13, 2013)

1. You are given choices. You can stick with Google Nexus devices (which are usually great, and the Nexus 4 raised the bar) and get updates as soon as they are available. How many smartphone choices do Apple give you every year? That's right. Just one. (Nobody's forcing you to buy locked down Android phone from 3rd-party manufacturers.)

2. iTunes backups/restore function isn't that good. Usually has problems with major firmware updates (going from 4.0 to 5.0 etc). Clunky when saving saved games. Aaaand, it's pretty slow.

3. One of the best things I love about Android? Wiping /system doesn't wipe your data on the internal SD card. I can get a fresh restore without losing any downloaded documents, pics etc.

1 upvote
Matt Glastonbury
By Matt Glastonbury (May 11, 2013)

Does anyone know if it's possible to lock the focus, on this phone, then adjust the exposure? E.g. I want to lock the focus on an object close to the lens, and then move the phone around to point at something else while I lock the exposure separately on different areas of the scene. Does anyone know if this is possible?

0 upvotes
HowaboutRAW
By HowaboutRAW (May 10, 2013)

"quality" is not an adjective. There is no such thing as a "quality job", there is such a thing as a poor quality job.

1 upvote
Revenant
By Revenant (May 11, 2013)

From Merriam-Webster:

quality (adjective): of the very best kind
<an antiques dealer who handles nothing but quality pieces>

6 upvotes
HowaboutRAW
By HowaboutRAW (May 11, 2013)

That's a modern illiterate usage, and in fact the cited dealer could well be selling low quality pieces.

Quality is a noun.

1 upvote
Revenant
By Revenant (May 11, 2013)

In English, nouns can act as adjectives. Examples:
security measure, biology teacher, race horse, love story, news reporter, customs office, production costs, class act.
And just as you say "class act" and not "high class act", you can also say "quality job" instead of "high quality job". That's because words like "class" and "quality" have a positive (not value-neutral) connotation in everyday language. "He's got class". "This material just oozes quality."

Besides, there are many examples of "incorrect" usage of language, that over time have come to be regarded as correct through frequent usage. That's one of the ways in which languages evolve.

0 upvotes
HowaboutRAW
By HowaboutRAW (May 11, 2013)

While I agree that languages change/evolve, the problem with "quality" is that the implication that it means good is recent, and makes the term poor quality meaningless, and that term isn't at all meaningless.

It's much much better to avoid using "quality" as a adjective meaning "good", or "well made".

2 upvotes
martinlmh
By martinlmh (May 11, 2013)

http://dictionary.cambridge.org/dictionary/british/quality_3

so is this wrong?

0 upvotes
Revenant
By Revenant (May 11, 2013)

Strictly speaking, you're absolutely right. Unfortunately, that usage is so common nowadays, that it seems pointless to point out to people that it's incorrect.

By the way, isn't it wonderful when a comments thread goes off on a tangent like this? :-)

Comment edited 1 minute after posting
1 upvote
HowaboutRAW
By HowaboutRAW (May 11, 2013)

Thank you, yes it's a different subject than the post, but "quality" was used that way in the blog--first look.

And I still think the noun shouldn't be used that way if one can avoid it, because, repeating myself, then the statement, "my flip cellphone's camera shoots really poor quality jpegs" is meaningless.

Comment edited 20 seconds after posting
0 upvotes
KodaChrome25
By KodaChrome25 (May 11, 2013)

@Revenant - missing the 'd'

That's one of the ways in which languages devolve.

0 upvotes
Lars Rehm
By Lars Rehm (May 11, 2013)

Can we just agree it's so commonly used that most people would accept it. HowabobutRAW, you obviously don't and have made your point very clear. So, I'd say let's all move on from here and have a quality weekend :-)

0 upvotes
SergioMO
By SergioMO (May 10, 2013)

Nice job, thanks dpreview ! We are waiting for the review of Samsung Galaxy 4 Camera Zoom !

1 upvote
Lars Rehm
By Lars Rehm (May 10, 2013)

That's not even out yet...so you might have to wait a little while :-)

0 upvotes
Erin Lodi
By Erin Lodi (May 10, 2013)

We hope so too! :)

1 upvote
Gonard
By Gonard (May 11, 2013)

Amen.

0 upvotes
Total comments: 35
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