Compact camera or smartphone? First impressions of Samsung's Galaxy Camera

Compact camera or smartphone? ...
The Galaxy Camera's 21x zoom lens fully extended
The Galaxy Camera's 21x zoom lens fully extended
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Samsung's Galaxy Camera
Samsung's Galaxy Camera
The Galaxy Camera's 21x zoom lens fully extended
The Galaxy Camera's 21x zoom lens fully extended
The Galaxy Camera's 4.77" 308-ppi touch-display
The Galaxy Camera's 4.77" 308-ppi touch-display
An Android device by any other name...
An Android device by any other name...
The Galaxy Camera was made for Instagram users
The Galaxy Camera was made for Instagram users
An Android device by any other name...
An Android device by any other name...
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By any yardstick, Samsung is having a good IFA. With its trio of product announcements, the Galaxy Note II smartphonetabletthingie, the Galaxy Camera, and its range of Ativ Windows 8 devices (not to mention throwing the biggest party in town with its Unpacked event) it's an enormous understatement to say that Samsung made its presence felt in Berlin this year. The Galaxy Note II may be the headline act (more on which very soon), but in our opinion the Galaxy Camera, the EK-GC100, is the most interesting of Samsung's newly-announced gizmos. Having had more than one opportunity to give the thing a try, here are our initial thoughts.

Let's face it. Smartphone cameras don't cut it. They're fine for the purposes of quick snaps, especially for sharing on social networks (where the display medium is often the same as the capture device: the smartphone itself, with its necessarily small screen), but even photographs taken with the much-vaunted camera of the 8-megapixel iPhone 4S look a bit pants when displayed on anything larger. For ultra-portable photography, compact cameras are still best. So for photography enthusiasts hoping to keep their gadget-count to a minimum, Samsung's Galaxy Camera, touted as a proper camera with built in connectivity, is a tempting proposition.

It's worth emphasizing the point of the Galaxy Camera, at least as Samsung would have it. This is a camera with support for social networking. There's no voice support—you can't call someone with it, so smartphone it ain't. But with Jellybean in tow, the Galaxy Camera is otherwise a fully-fledged Android device. The point is to get your photos out of your camera and into your social streams (Instagram, Twitter, Facebook, email etc.) as simply as possible. But having gone to all this effort, one almost wonders why Samsung don't go the whole nine hogs, make the thing a telephone, and be done with it. That said, for the status-update-addicts of Generation Facebook, perhaps lack of voice support is actually a feature. It does come with 4G-connectivity, which is good. Obviously.

So how good a camera is it? On paper, terrific. It has 16.3-megapixel image sensor, ISO up to 3200, 1920x1080 30-fps MPEG 4, AVC/H.264 video capture and, most eye-catchingly, a 23-480-mm 21x optical zoom lens. Photos taken on the device look terrific on its 4.77" 308-ppi touch-display, but until we see full-sized photos blown up on a large screen, it'd be wrong to cast judgement. As far as image quality goes, all the signs are positive, though.

It's on the usability front that things get interesting. The process of actually taking a photograph is much more akin to smartphone than compact camera. Sure, there's a dedicated shutter-release button where you'd hope to find it, with optical zoom rocker close by; but otherwise things are decidedly smartphoney.

There's a noticeable delay between hitting the shutter release and seeing your photo on the screen as the camera finds focus. And though it's a minor point, I was disappointed to find that, when using Android apps, depressing the shutter release half-way did not activate camera mode for emergency from-the-hip snapping. You have to navigate to the camera app using the touchscreen interface. You know—like a smartphone. Still, such a feature is only a software release away, and the Samsung rep we spoke to assured us that the software was still subject to change. But, just as the Galaxy Camera isn't a smartphone, it's not quite a true compact camera either. The photos may prove to be just as good, but initial impressions suggest it's a half-stride off the pace as far as user experience goes.

All of which may be small beer when weighing up the obvious advantage of the Galaxy Camera: provided you don't need to actually speak to anyone, this is one device fewer to carry in your pocket. There's definitely a gargantuan hole in the market for connected devices for photographers, but speaking as an untalented-but-enthusiastic amateur photographer, this is a device I really really like, but am yet to fall in love with. Underneath it all, it's a deliberately-crippled smartphone.

At this point I'll leave you with the lazy predictable caveat: until this thing comes out and we get to spend serious time with the product (this coming October, all going to plan), this could all change.

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MockingBird TheWizard
how is the lag between button push and actual photo? not when it appears onscreen, but when it's taken. I've been impressed by the speed on the samsung S-III in regards to zippy response from the shutter button. I (think) I can deal with a slight delay in seeing the photo as long as the photo was taken exactly when I pushed the button. other than that, I've been enjoying the image stabilization on the panasonic I carry.
something I miss on phone camera apps is stabilization, speed (except with S-III), scene modes (not whacky, but good picture), macro lens and zoom. the panasonic has 16x optical zoom and a very nice macro mode. I understand why phones can't have all this lens tech in there, but I'm hoping that without the phone bits, samsung has put in excellent camera and lens bits, much better than what is in the phone. that's the hope, of course.. ahh.. hope. you've let me down so many times.
People, consumers and reporters, need to get off the megapixel kick. We are too far into the digital age for reports and/or judgements to be based on such an arbitrary number.
Yes, 16.3 megapixels is a tremendous number of sensor elements to have crammed onto a sensor chip. But put it into perspective. A full frame 35 MM digital sensor is 36mm X 24mm. The sensor for this particular camera is listed as 1/2.3", the closest I could find to this (for reference) is 1/2.5" which is 5.76mm X 4.29mm. Now to have the same number of megapixels on each sensor, the pixels on the smaller sensor have to be smaller and closer together, so even though they both have the same number of megapixels, they won't have the same image quality.
Not saying they need to reduce the number of megapixels on smaller frame cameras, just that they need to drop the megapixel banner as the or even one of the most important benchmarks.
Airsoft-World Scotland
I'm an Apple geek, I love everything Apple. However, I hope Samsung kicks Apples greedy corporate backside into touch with their latest releases, including this new camera. Yes, Samsung has copied elements of the iPhone, so has everyone but Blackberry (who are on the verge of collapse). What choice do they have? Apple has turned the design of mobile phones on it's head much the same as when steam powered transport was 'upgraded' to the internal combustion engine as we know it today. It's progress and Apple needs to take that on the chin and allow others to help develop it without screwing them to the wall with royalties and patents on what is really natural progression from the iPhone. This camera is a great idea but it's still an iPhone on the back of a camera, right? No. Good on Samsung and I'm off to buy a Galaxy Note II and hopefully dump my iPhone, it's tied 'facilities', lack of external connection to anything that's not Apple and the corporate greed behind it.
Can I put a SIM in it and make calls? Smartphone battery life problem over!
Dawar Saify
Man, if they just made it a full phone, something they could very well manage, it's their business. But this is another concept to test consumer reaction.
Y'know.. they probably designed this before the horrible judgement against them in the Apple wars.. they may need to take your suggestions very seriously, now that they are completely on their own.. This may be the thing that pulls them out of the doldrums, if they do..
Barry Dennis
Maybe you could prognosticate a little further forward into what you think a REAL Mobile device might look like. Convergence AAA (AnyThing, AnyTime, AnyWhere) IS coming, and opinion-makers like you could help in determining what such devices need to feature and what benefits they may offer. The current manufacturer and designer "stutter-step" approach of wall-flinging is a little frustrating. Reviewing and commenting on new releases may be a job, but thought-leaders should weign in on what's needed.
Yariv Talmor
I've been waiting for a phone powered camera for a long time, and now that it's finaly here it's not a phone! who cares about posting stats to FB ?! Why would I care about immediate posting of a high quality image to the net?! I'd want to check the images out on the big screen before posting any. However, basic connectivity to other computers and devices, SMS, basic internet access, and above all, not having to carry a phone (blue tooth enabled camera) would make life neat. Especialy if it would be water resistant!
William H Lanteigne
A little bit of tweaking and this could be the future of both cameras and phones. It doesn't need a microphone and speakers, but it does need Bluetooth, Wifi, and 4G LTE. It should be aimed directly at the pro photographer, who, on assignment anywhere in the world, could snap a picture, call his editor (that's why it needs Bluetooth), and send the image (or short video) via web (via 4G) to be published instantly.