DJI just announced an upgraded version of its lovely Osmo camera. Called the Osmo Plus, this model offers key features not found on the original Osmo such as zoom, motion timelapse and an improved stabilization system. Like the original, which is still available, the Osmo Plus gives shooters a stabilized camera system thanks to the 3-axle gimbal system. It’s similar to the gimbals used… Read More
Sigma has a new zoom lens that could be the perfect walk around lens for street photographer: A 24-35mm zoom lens designed for full-frame cameras, with a unique feature that’s sure to add to its versatility – a constant, wide open f2 aperture.
It’s a lens that could replace three standard kit primes for a lot of DSLR photographers, including 24, 28 and 35mm focal lengths. Read More
Researchers at the University of California, Los Angeles have created a smartphone ultra zoom solution that allows scientists in the field to image and size DNA. The tool, which uses a little 3D-printed box that acts as a high-resolution microscope, can be used to see objects as small as two nanometers in width. Read More
Samsung’s Galaxy S4 Zoom steers its Galaxy brand into slightly new territory, by creating a hybrid smartphone-cum-pocket-camera. Unlike pretty much every other cameraphone around, the Zoom has a 10x optical zoom lens protruding from its rear.
In short, it’s a phone with two faces: one pure Galaxy smartphone, the second resembling a classic point-and-shoot camera. It’s a curious move that’s likely to grab consumers’ attention, but there’s a bigger question here — what’s it like using it?
If you only look at the Zoom’s phone half, you’d quickly discover it’s largely standard mid-range Galaxy fare — the usual TouchWiz interface runs atop Android 4.2.2 Jelly Bean, and there’s a dual-core 1.5GHz chipset powering the show. It felt fast and responsive during my brief hands on, and the 4.3-inch qHD AMOLED screen was bright and plenty big enough for all the typical smartphone uses, without being as huge a pane as Samsung’s flagship high-end smartphones.
The Zoom has a removable battery, accessible via a side door near the camera grip that also covers the SIM slot. Your usual selection of ports is accounted for too, though the microSD card slot, headphone jack, and micro-USB charger port are joined by a tripod mount on the base.
Samsung’s camera-centric chimera has a surprisingly pleasing feel, considering it’s considerably heavier than the company’s usual, plasticy smartphones. Despite the extra heft the overall feel is balanced. You won’t be putting it into the pocket of your skinny jeans as it would certainly drag you down, but the extra weight doesn’t feel too unwieldy. Perhaps because it looks so camera-like that the expectation is of more weight from the get-go.
The look of the device is exactly that of a hybrid. Holding it from the phone side it looks exactly like the Galaxy S4 Mini. Indeed, ignore the camera half and it is basically that phone, says Samsung. Turn it around and it’s a point and shoot digital camera. The only odd moments come when you’re holding it like a camera, so it’s in landscape orientation, but using the phone’s Android homescreen or menus. These stay in portrait orientation. Of course the camera app interface supports both landscape and portrait orientations, as do other apps – such as the web browser – but homescreens remain portrait-only.
Construction feels solid. There’s plenty of plastic on the device but the lens enclosure is metal. The edges of the phone also have the same brushed silver bands as the rest of the S4 range – albeit that appears to be plastic, rather than metal. The camera ergonomics work reasonably well, with a nicely shaped front ridge for gripping with your right hand. This is the same shiny plastic as the rest of the casing, so there’s no rubberised covering to aid grip.
The positioning of the phone power key (on the left of the top edge, when holding the phone in the camera stance) is potentially slightly awkward as it is close to where your left hand rests when you’re using the camera in landscape mode. There’s just about enough room to avoid it but a few accidental strikes are probably inevitable.
Now we’re getting to the fun part. The Galaxy Zoom has a 16MP sensor with optical image stabilisation, 10x optical zoom and a 24mm lens. Photo quality was difficult to assess in the relatively dingy conditions of the press room where the device was being demoed, and with limited hands-on time, but test shots did display a fair amount of noise. Exposure could also be uneven, and lower light shots came off with some noticeable blur, despite the image stabilisation tech inside the device.
Overall photo quality looked fair, but left plenty to be desired. Shooting in brighter outdoor conditions would undoubtedly result in crisper detail but as with many cameraphones the Galaxy Zoom appears to be a middling performer in less ideal lighting conditions (not that the average consumer will immediately realise that). The Zoom’s tactile optical zoom lens and physical camera looks are likely to win over a portion of Samsung’s target user based on their familiarity with the traditional camera form factor. Samsung cited “busy mums” as one target – i.e. people who take a lot of shots, and care about the results, but aren’t as discerning about image quality as camera pros.
Samsung has added an ‘expert’ mode to the Zoom’s camera interface for users who want to play around with a few more controls. This mode allows manual tweaking of setting like EV brightness, colour tone, saturation, sharpness, contrast, shutter speed, aperture, ISO, white balance and metering. However the typical Galaxy Zoom user is likely going to be sticking with its auto mode or consumer friendly ‘smart mode’ which offers a carousel of pre-sets to pick from, such as landscape, dawn, best face (which takes a series of shots and lets you pick the best one) and kids shot. The latter plays a baby-friendly noise to attract the subject’s attention so they’re looking at the camera before it snaps the shot. File that under ‘parent friendly’.
Likewise, the mechanical operation of the zoom lens is likely to take a little getting used to as it’s sited close to the edge of the device which means the lens can push against your fingers if you’re wrapping your hand around the back of the device, causing your grip to slip. It won’t take a user long to get accustomed to the moving protrusion, however. When you’re using the device as a phone, so when the lens is at its most retracted, it does stick out into your palm, feeling a bit lumpy. It’s not actually too bad though — and gives something grippy to tighten your palm around.
On the top right of the device, when holding the phone in the classic camera stance, is its round physical shutter key. This looks like a traditional camera shutter button. It requires a very light touch for the initial focus depression, and more of a squeeze to take the photo as you’d expect. The button felt nice and responsive during my hands on. It can also be used to jump right into camera mode from elsewhere in the OS by holding the button down.
When not in the camera application, turning the lens ring activates a camera shortcut menu where you can choose from a range of camera mode options – either by tapping the touchscreen or turning the dial to move the selection then hitting the shutter to select the mode you want. Modes are also accessible from within the camera app via a touch key at the right hand side of the interface.
When using the lens ring shortcut, modes on offer are night, animated photo, macro, landscape, beauty face (a mode that automatically ‘airbrushes’ portraits), the gallery and an auto mode that pre-selects the mode to take the shot in, based on what the camera calculates is the most appropriate mode for the conditions you’re shooting in.
The zoom ring can also be used to navigate inside the gallery, including to zoom into shots to look at details. The navigation doesn’t seem especially well thought through, however, as you can’t apparently move through photos in sequence. To browse shots you have to resort to using your finger on the screen. The fly-by-wire feel of the lens ring is also slightly too loose to be entirely pleasing. Plus there’s a slight lag between you turning and the camera interface responding by zooming in/out. It’s not a huge lag, but does make it feel slightly unresponsive.
Overall, the Galaxy S4 Zoom feels like a well thought through concept — the combining of the traditional camera form with a smartphone works surprisingly well and doesn’t feel unbalanced. But the let down is not that it looks too ugly or feels too heavy or is just weird to operate. Rather what’s a bit disappointing is that the picture quality isn’t better. For a mid range cameraphone the Galaxy S4 Zoom’s photos are probably about as good as you’d expect. But with such a whopping zoom lens on the back it’s hard not to hope for a little more photographic oomph. Still, this device’s mainstream consumer target may well be perfectly happy with what its lens can turn out — and zoom in on.
Samsung is in a unique position among Android smartphone manufacturers, which allows it to create devices like the Galaxy S4 Zoom, a rumored S4 variant that showed up for certification at the Bluetooth SIG this week (via UnwiredView) as the “SM-C101.” The S4 Zoom is reportedly going to resemble the unreleased S4 Mini, but boast a 16 megapixel rear camera with optical zoom.
Optical zoom is really the one remaining advantage that point and shoot cameras have over smartphone shooters, at least from a hardware perspective. Other companies, including LG and Huawei have been working on building smartphone optical zoom tech, too, but if Samsung brings this one to market with its rumored 10x zoom, it’ll be the strongest one currently available, beating the Nokia 808 PureView’s measly 3X power.
Samsung has the luxury of experimenting with different form factors, and using its flagship branding to offer a range of devices that potentially cut off competitors by giving users a complete device to match ever competitive advantage. Like the S4 but want a more manageably sized screen like on the iPhone 5? Get the S4 mini. Like the S4 but want something a little better able to withstand the environment and harsh conditions like the Xperia Z? Get the rumored rugged S4 variant. Want an S4 but with the best smartphone camera in the business, which exceeds even Nokia’s most ambitious efforts? Get the S4 Zoom.
Samsung’s lineup variety strategy may be more about blocking the competition and casting a wide net than anything else, but a big zoom on a mobile camera will have a lasting effect on the industry if it goes over well and produces impressive results. More importantly, it could bring about even bigger changes for the dwindling standalone point-and-shoot camera market, which means other smartphone OEMs won’t be the only ones watching to see if and when the Galaxy S4 Zoom makes a splash, which could happen as early as June according to release date rumors.