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Putting the Galaxy S5 Camera to the Test

The section in which smartphone manufacturers are mostly focusing efforts is to improve their cameras. Especially in the high end models, because that is the feature that marks the difference between high end and low end phones.

Galaxy S5

It is perhaps because of this, Samsung faced with the S5, the challenge to overcome the quality and performance of the camera from its previous version, the Galaxy S4, one of the most balanced we’ve seen on a mobile device. We must also overcome, or at least match, the photographic abilities of the top rivals: iPhone 5s, HTC One (M8), the high end Nokia Lumias, the Sony Xperia Z2 and some Chinese devices.

The problem for the South Korean and other manufacturers is that with current imaging technologies, mobile cameras are hitting the roof. Therefore, increasing innovation cause higher costs when it comes to upgrading that component if the traditional design of the device is not altered, which only Nokia and Samsung have dared to achieve. The first was Nokia, giving their Lumia 1020 an astounding sensor protruding from the back body of the phone, and the second was Samsung, when they equipped the Galaxy S4 Zoom with a 10x lens. Although it is no secret that these two excellent devices have not exactly been bestsellers.

A Self-made Sensor

The main innovation on the Galaxy S5 camera, is the self-made sensor. It uses an exclusive technology called Isocell, which consists in placing a kind of barrier between the photodiodes that capture the light to turn it into pixels. This way avoiding the light rays that impacting each photodiode from contaminating the surrounding.

With this method Samsung says it is possible to achieve more accurate and detail-rich images.

On paper it sounds good, but in reality we don’t find that there has been a qualitative leap. The fault is most likely to be sought in the high resolution sensor: 16 megapixels, something that many potential buyers will see as an evolution from the 13 megapixel Galaxy S4, when in fact it is rather a drag.

It is true that several direct competitors, exceed the resolution of the Galaxy S5: the Sony Xperia Z1 and Z2 and Lumia 1020, 930 and 1520. But what all those devices have in common, is that their megapixels are motivated by pixel oversampling technology used, which gives the main advantage of using digital zoom, without a great loss in image quality. This requires reducing the resolution to 8 megapixels on Sony devices, and 5 on Nokia devices.

The high resolution on the Galaxy S5 seems to be more to marketing fact than anything else. So we are left with the desire to see what could have been achieved by the Isocell technology if Samsung had opted to give it a lower megapixel sensor.

In any case, it is true that the sensor is larger than other phones, including the Galaxy S4 with dimensions of 1/2.6", very similar to most mobile cameras. Due to this fact, despite 16 megapixels, the pixel size is 1.12 microns, the same value as the 13 megapixel camera on the Galaxy S4.

Lens, Lacking of the S5

Another fault on the Galaxy S5 can be seen in the 31mm. lens, since the maximum aperture is limited to f/2.4. Not too bad, but there are now many mobile phones that offer greater apertures, which is very useful when you are shooting in low light situations and want to preserve image quality.

It also lacks the addition of a stabilized lens like the one included in many Nokias, which would avoid having to raise the ISO when ambient light is not at its best. In fact, on tests made with the Galaxy S5, we have noticed that working with high ISO levels of 400 in interiors, causes images to blur.

It was also convincing that Samsung limited the ISO to 800, and, although other manufacturers offer higher values, the results result extremely low. The best example is an image posted on Flickr a few months back to appreciate the real size detail of a photo shot with the Sony Xperia Z1 at 3200 ISO. Speechless.

The only mobile device that we have tested that has beat any other shooting photos at ISO levels higher than 800, is the Nokia Lumia 1020. In any case, if we were to use the Galaxy S5 to shoot at low light levels, recurring to ISO levels of 800 should be our last option, seeing that the results are not too convincing.

Smartphone with the fastest Focus

Where we do see an excellent behavior is on the Galaxy S5 focus, being that the focus speed is fast enough to be considered the fastest he have ever tested on a mobile phone. To manage this, it depends on a hybrid technology that combines focus and contrast, typical of all mobile phone cameras, with phase detection, which is the system used by reflex cameras and some cameras without interchangeable lens mirrors.

But its rapid shooting is not only seen on the focus. The Galaxy S5 has a Snapdragon 801 2.5GHz Quad Core that allows it to shoot many frames simultaneously to obtain High Dynamic Range photos (HDR). It is so fast at this feature, that during our tests with it, despite the fact that there were many moving objects in the scene, including moving vehicles, we did not see ghost blur in any of the images that we shot while testing this feature. Results can be seen in the video with image tests.

We also have the ability to initially view on the screen what our HDR will look like after shot. The best thing that we noticed about this feature, in our opinion, is the outstanding color treatment on the HDR images. These do not suffer from the over-saturated colors that are the result on many other phones.

The Galaxy S5 doesn’t quit in providing various functions to the camera application, as we have seen in previous Samsung phones. To be exact, these functions were already abundant, Samsung now offers the possibility of downloading features into the camera application directly from their app store. This is why the default functions do not include creating animated images, which is one of the preferred functions of GIF animators.

4K Resolution Video Recording

Last, but not least, another great feature of the Galaxy S5 camera, is the ability to record in 4k resolution, a feature that is already included in other devices such as the Note 3.This resolution results to be the less used, due to the fact that there are not many screens that can play this High Resolution, but it is still possible to practice curious experiments with these clips, as we did in a self-recorded video we made, and printing a single 4K frame recorded with a Note 3.

What Samsung has achieved by adding this function is the fact that you can record using the HDR, something that no other device can do.

It is definite, that in Image Processing, this Samsung will not fail you and is very much ahead of the Galaxy S4, but it will also have us in the worry that this manufacturer still has some bugs and details that it must fix, like being a bit more detailed with the resolution that the device reaches to give us better resulting images, adding a lens with higher aperture and stability and maybe even add a camera shutter release.

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