Features of the Galaxy S5 ISOCELL camera unit:
15.87 MP (5312x2988) 16:9 aspect ratio Samsung BSI ISOCELL sensor
PDAF (phase detection auto focus) for fast auto focus
4k video recording, 1080p@60FPS
Live HDR phoro and video preview (Rich Tone available for video)
Software image stabilization
I got my hands on the S5 thx to the guys at XXL GSM, so here's my review:
Since smartphones took over compact cameras as the most popular tool for daily photography, each manufacturer is trying to create it's own camera tech. Sony put the metal wiring behind photo diodes to capture more photons (BSI), HTC introduced the large UltraPixels, and Nokia came up with the large sensor 41MP PureView tech with OIS. Samsung only slightly adjusted it's sensor size (1/2.6") and pixel count (16MP with 1.12um sensor pixels) for it's 5th Galaxy S phone, but with a new sensor manufacturing method, they are introducing higher dynamic range and better color reproduction, in what they call "3D-Backside Illuminated Pixel with Front-Side Deep-Trench Isolation (F-DTI) and Vertical Transfer Gate", or because they're physically isolating pixels to decrease light crosstalk, "ISOCELL". For faster focus they also added a phase detection auto-focus layer (PDAF) delivering ~0.3s focal speed, plus image processing capable of live HDR and HDR video recording. Add sensor-level digital zoom in video, meaning you don't zoom into the 1080p picture anymore but use all the 16MPs, and the S5s new 16:9 sensor delivers a much needed step-up in camera technology.
In good light conditions the S5 rivals any rival phone in snappiness, white balance, color gamut and focal accuracy, also offering healthy amounts of details for print quality images. HDR works seamlessly and sometimes you can't tell it was on, only you realize little to no detail is lost to clipping, it works darn fast too, albeit with some loss of details. Facing directly into sunlight, and dynamic range stays solid without lens issues, color errors or aberrations, and noise levels are kept at a minimal. Jpg compression is slightly above ideal as seen in the smallest details, on the other hand, speeds are excellent, tap-to-focus and tap-to-shot is almost instantaneous, and the app opens and finishes the first shot from cache in about 1.5s, 2,5s from a locked screen. The S5 can take about 7 shots per second in a photo burst (long tap on the photo icon).
Check my full size daylight album with EXIF info here:
In lower light conditions, as most small sensor smartphones, the S5 is a mixed bag, but an improvement in color reproduction, focal accuracy and snappiness over the S4. Missing are the optical image stabilization (OIS) and longer than 1/17s exposure times (Camera Zoom FX can do 1/10). The Photography app ranges from ISO40 to the very soft ISO2000 shots with manual setup available between ISO100 and ISO800 (Zoom FX does ISO1600 too). In dark conditions, if LED flash not used, you can turn on image stabilization (former night mode) to battle noise, and a multi-exposure of about 3-4 seconds (hold the phone steady) compiles an improved low-light image. HDR works too (with more noise on the sides), and while movement requires stability turned off with higher ISO or flash, optionally Sport Mode, overall I like the accurate color reproduction, which is a problem for many rivals. My biggest criticism besides OIS is the lack of 1/5 1/2 1s and other longer exposure times and manual control for it, at ISO100 with a 1 second exposure the ISOCELL sensor could capture much more details, and since the Lumias have OIS, they are better than the S5 in this category.
Full-size low-light album here:
The S5 works well in macro mode too with tight DOF, full-size shots with EXIF here:
Besides setting up ISO, exposure, white balance, resolutions, timer, voice control etc. from the menu, there are Samsung's various camera MODEs. Selective Focus shoots multiple focal shots of the same subject, and you can later select the preferred focal point - foreground, background or both - algorithm is not perfect. In Shot and more the camera takes a series of images before a fixed background, and allows you to choose Best photo, Best face, Drama mode to record multiple phases of a movement on one image, delete unwanted stuff with Eraser and add motion blur via Panning shot. The Shot and more editing menu comes up after taking the shot, later you can access it from the Studio.
Beauty face lets you play around with skin tones and stuff, Virtual tour is like moving around in Street View: you turn and walk around taking several shots in a house for example, and later revisit it virtually moving around with arrows. Dual shot places both camera images on a single shot, Animated photo creates a gif, Sound and shoot allows you to add a voice comment to your shot and Sport mode uses high ISO and wide focus not to miss any fast movement, have this one on with kids around. There are two Panorama modes, regular 2D one with horizontal movement, and the Nexus-like Surround shot that does 3D photosphere, with some inconsistency. Trick for a good sphere is to hold the camera lens at the same spot and move the phone/yourself around it.
Full gallery here:
The Samsung Gallery is quite advanced app, you get several views of you single images, folders and multi-folders with previews, and Air View helps checking content without tapping on it, hovering over with your fingers. Studio gives you a whole lot of options for editing, besides Photoshop-like functions and manipulations, you can make photo montages, trim videos, render slideshows and edit Shot and more mode photos.
Video recording is a great joy on the S5. Sound is clear (though I made the mistake of covering one of the stereo mics due to hand stabilization), software stabilization is quite usable and HDR is good, as well as recording in 60fps for smooth motion, though these are limited to 1080p resolution maximum. There's fast motion up to 8x and slow motion recording down to 1/8 speed without sound, but the real gem is recording the the marvelous 3840x2160 or 4k resolution, which is 4 times the pixel count of 1080p. Eventually we'll get 4k TVs and monitors, heck, tablets and phones come out with 2k/4MP displays nowadays which is almost there, so why not record in 4k right now? Just check the frame captures I posted below to see the details and low level of mp4 compression, you could print some of these frames. The trade-off is the lack of HDR, stabilization and 60FPS at this resolution, and a 5 minute clip limit since each 60 seconds recorded at 47MBit/s takes up around 350MBs. Yeah... In lower light you obviously lose some of the gorgeous details and noise comes up, but it's still quite nice.
60FPS sample 1: https://app.box.com/s/l5fwiyo0rfsm1wj2q328
60FPS sample 2: https://app.box.com/s/o1vlbzgjcel1pslw9nkv
Single frames: (click)
http://abload.de/img/vlcsnap-2014-04-17-142fjwg.jpg <--- 4x zoom!
More frame captures here:
Overall the S5 camera is highly satisfying in this reviewer's option. I did not find a single case when white balance, saturation or exposure was off, operation is fast unless you have stability mode on in low-light, focus and dynamic range definitely improved, and you can choose among many video and photo options. Where's the biggest step forward? In consistency. Out of 10 shots you'll get good ones at a far better rate than before.
Obviously low light is the S5's weaker point, with less light you get softer images and need flash or high ISO to capture movement, but where you lose details to some rivals, you gain color accuracy, so Samsung's ISOCELL is getting there. Next stop should be OIS, but one thing they could do right now: allowing longer than 1/17s exposure times so we can set low ISO value and capture more dark details. Maybe the future Google camera API will open this option. Overall however, I think the shots speak for themselves: the S5 is a very capable shooter with some room for improvement, and you'll be able to pull many print-ready shots over your long usage. Just be aware: as good as the S5 battery is, things like 100% screen brightness and 4k recording kills the 2800mAh quite quickly, bring a spare battery or power bank.
Check the full gallery with EXIF info here:
Tips and tricks
- Do multiple shots of the same subject, a good momentum or less handshake can later be selected out of the many
- HDR is one tap away, so do one with and without it, some shots look better with high contrast, others benefit from HDR
- In low light with movement, you have to use LED flash without stability, cause high ISO and longer shutter will not capture these moments with good detail
- In low light with stationary subject however, use stability, optionally LED, no HDR cause of noise. With enough lights you may try using ISO800 with darker results but more details. Much will depend on the amount of available light
- use voice commands to avoid tap-shake, hold the phone steady with two hands, optionally use a monopod
- try and use the photo Modes, some will do fancy images, others come handy like Sport mode to capture fast movement
- between Panorama and Surround Shot, I prefer the latter, cause it captures surroundings vertically too, so result won't be an overly wide image. The trick with photospheres is to not be close to the surrounding objects and have the camera lens in the absolute middle in space, and move the phone and yourself around that spot as the take the sphere images
- try alternative apps if they are better for you: CameraZoom FX, Focal, Google Camera etc. Camera Zoom FX allows 1/10 exposure and ISO1600 manually
- be aware not to cover the top and bottom microphones during video shoot. Best image quality comes from 4k, but image stabilization, 60FPS or HDR only works with 1080p, again best to test all these and later use the one best suited for you or the scene
- use AirView in Gallery, and try out Studio options for your recordings
- bring a power bank with longer photography tours cause a lot of camera usage and 100% brightness eats the battery quickly