Linux, politics, and other interesting things
I recently had a chance to briefly play with the new Samsung Galaxy Camera . The Galaxy Camera is an Android device with a 4.8″ display (the same size as the Samsung Galaxy S3) that has a fairly capable camera (IE nothing like a typical phone camera). It runs Android 4.1 (Jelly Bean) and the camera has 21* zoom with a 16 megapixel sensor.
It seems that professional photographers are often annoyed when they see someone with a DSLR set in auto mode. It’s widely regarded that auto mode is a waste of a good camera, although the better lenses used with DSLRs will usually give a better result than any compact camera even when it’s in auto mode. The problem is that photography is quite complex, in an earlier post about digital cameras I summarised some of the technical issues related to cameras and even without any great detail it became a complex issue . The Galaxy Camera has a reasonably friendly GUI for changing camera settings which even includes help on some of the terms, I expect that most people who use it will end up using most of the features which could make it a good training camera for someone who is going to move to a DSLR. A DSLR version of the Galaxy Camera could also be an interesting product. The camera also has modes such as “Waterfall” and “Panorama”, hopefully the settings for those would be exposed to the user so they could devise their own similar groups of settings.
I’ve seen the phone criticised for the lack of physical controls as the expert mode in software is inherently slower than manually turning dials on a DSLR. But it seems obvious to me that anyone who knows how to use the controls manually should be using a DSLR or bridge camera and anyone who doesn’t already know how to do such things will be better suited by the software controls.
It supports 120fps video at 720*480 resolution (with a file format stating that it’s 30fps to give 1/4 speed) which could be useful. I used to have a LG Viewty smart-phone that did 120fps video but the resolution was too low to be useful. 720*480 is enough resolution to see some detail and has the potential for some interesting video, one use that I’ve heard of is filming athletes to allow them to analyse their performance in slow motion. It also does 60fps video at 720p (1280*720) resolution.
One down-side to the device is that the lens cover doesn’t seem particularly sturdy. It’s quite OK for a device that will be stored in a camera case but not so good for a device that will be used as a tablet. I didn’t get to poke at the lens cover (people don’t like it if you mess with their Christmas presents) but it’s design is a couple of thin flaps that automatically retract when the camera is enabled which looks quite weak. I’d like to see something solid which doesn’t look like it will slide back if the device is treated as roughly as a phone.
I think that the lack of a solid lens cover could be the one factor that prevents it from being used as a replacement for a smart phone. Apart from that a Galaxy Camera and a cheap GSM phone could perform all the functions of a high end phone such as the Galaxy S3 while also producing great pictures. It would probably make sense for retailers to bundle a cheap phone with a Galaxy Camera for this purpose.
The device boasts WiFi Direct to allow multiple cameras and phones to talk to each other without a regular WiFi access point . I didn’t test this and I don’t think it would be particularly useful to me, but it seems like a handy feature for less technical users.
It can connect to the Internet via Wifi or 3G, supports automatic upload of pictures (it comes with Dropbox support by default like the Galaxy S3), and has a suite of photo and video editing software. I don’t expect that any photo editing software that runs on an Android device would be much good (I think that you really need fine cursor control with a mouse and a high resolution screen), but it would probably be handy for sending out a first draft of photos.
Most Android apps should just work, the exceptions being apps that rely on a camera that faces the user or full phone functionality. So the Galaxy Camera can do almost anything that an Android phone or tablet can do.
The RRP for the Galaxy Camera is $599, that puts it in the same price range as a DSLR with a single lens. While that’s not a bad price when compared to smart-phones (it’s cheaper than the LTE version of the Galaxy S3 phone) it’s still quite expensive for a camera that’s not a DSLR.
Fortunately Kogan is selling it for $469 and has free shipping at the moment . This still makes it more expensive than some of Bridge Cameras which probably have significantly better optical features, but in terms of what the typical user can do with a camera the Galaxy Camera will probably give a much better result.
The sensor in the Galaxy Camera is smaller than that in the Nokia 808 PureView  (1/2.3″ vs 1/1.2″) so the Nokia PureView should be able to take better pictures in some situations. Unfortunately the Nokia 808 doesn’t run Android, I’d probably own one if it did.
Some of the reviews are rather harsh, the Verge has a harsh but fair review by Aaron Souppouris which makes a number of negative comparisons to cheaper cameras . I really recommend reading Aaron’s review as there’s a lot of good information there. But I think that Aaron is missing some things, for example he criticises the inclusion of ebook software by saying that he wouldn’t read a book on a camera. But the device is a small tablet computer which also has a compact camera included. I can easily imagine someone reading a book or playing Angry Birds on their camera/tablet while in transit to where they are will photograph something. I can also imagine a Galaxy Camera being a valuable tool for a journalist who wants to be able to write short articles and upload pictures and video when out of the office.
Aaron concludes by suggesting that the Galaxy Camera is a $200 camera with $300 of editing features. I think of it as $200 in camera hardware with software that allows less skilled users to take full advantage of the hardware and the ability to do all the software/Internet things that you would do on a $450+ smart-phone.
The Galaxy Camera is among other things a great toy, I’d love to have one to play with but I can’t spare $469 on one. Part of the reason for this is that my wife just bought a DSLR and is getting lessons from a professional photographer, so I really won’t get better pictures from a Galaxy Camera. The DSLR on auto mode will allow me to take pictures that will usually be better than a Galaxy Camera can achieve (sometimes you just can’t beat a good lens). For more demanding pictures my wife can tweak the DSLR. The 120fps video is a really nice feature, I don’t know if my wife’s DSLR can do that, but it’s a toy feature not something I really need.
I’ve just bought a Galaxy S3 which is a great little tablet computer (most of the time it won’t be used for phone calls). I don’t need another 4.8″ tablet so a significant part of the use of the Galaxy Camera doesn’t apply to me.
I recommend the Galaxy Camera to anyone who wants to take good photos but can’t get a DSLR and lessons on how to use it properly. But if you would rather get a 35mm camera with interchangeable lenses that runs Android then it might be worth waiting. I expect that the Galaxy Camera will be a great success in the market (it’s something you will love when you see it). That will drive the development of similar products, if Samsung doesn’t release a 35mm Android camera soon then someone else will (for example Sony develops both high end cameras and Android phones).
If my wife didn’t have a DSLR then I’d probably have bought a Galaxy Camera already. I will recommend it to my parents and many other people I know who want an OK camera and can benefit from a tablet, but don’t know how to use a DSLR properly (or don’t want to carry a bulky camera).