Samsung Galaxy S4 zoom preview: First look
Still camera software
The Samsung Galaxy S4 zoom features a 1/2.3" 16MP image sensor and an optically stabilized 10x zoom lens. It's more or less what you can expect from a mid-range point-and-shoot, but fairly impressive for a smartphone.
The camera interface is the latest generation of what debuted on the Galaxy Camera and was later adapted by the Galaxy S4. It offers tons of features, for both casual and advanced users, and moves carefully between them so it doesn't confuse newcomers.
The camera starts in automatic mode by default, but you can make it start in the last used mode instead. The right column of the screen displays the battery charge, the virtual still and video camera shutters and the mode selection button.
In the top left is the back/front-facing camera toggle plus some essential indicators like flash mode and the remaining shots counter. The right arrow brings out additional settings, the selection can be customized. At the bottom you get the gallery shortcut with a thumbnail of the last photo taken, plus an up arrow that brings out a selection of color effects.
The mode selection button is the gateway to most of the functionality of the S4 zoom camera - single taps will switch between Auto, Smart, Expert and My mode, while a press and hold brings out the settings for the current mode.
Smart mode is like the one you get on the Galaxy S4, but with twice as many options. There's burst shot, Best face, HDR, Macro, Panorama, Eraser (lets you remove moving objects), Sound & shot (records ambient sound with the photo, but is hard to share), Drama shot (creates a composite of multiple photos), Animated photo (creates an animated GIF) and so on and so forth. There are also specific modes like Baby and Food.
These modes can be selected from a grid or from a carousel. The grid is quicker, but the carousel offers descriptive text, which is a good way to learn what each mode does.
Smart suggest is a new addition to the interface. It automatically picks the three options it thinks are most appropriate for the current scene and leaves the final choice to you. For example, if it's dark it will suggest Night mode or Fireworks, if it sees you're focusing from a close distance it will offer Macro, for landscape shots it will suggest Landscape and Panorama and so on.
Speaking of panoramas, the S4 zoom did a pretty good job of the stitching with only minor artifacts, but we were very disappointed by the resolution, which is under 500px vertically. The Galaxy S4 ,in comparison, can churn out impressive 60MP panoramas.
Expert mode is aimed at more experienced photographers that can set the appropriate aperture, shutter speed and ISO for the shot on their own. The interface presents these options as lens control rings on the display, but you can't use the actual lens ring for any of them.
You can tweak a lot more - sharpness, EV, metering, drive (for automatic exposure bracketing) and so on. You can choose between Manual, Program and Custom modes on Expert depending on how much control you want over the settings. And don't get intimidated by all this camera lingo, the Info button is always available to give you a brief description of what each feature does.
Finally, there's My Mode, which lets you star up to five options from both Smart and Expert modes, so you don't have to dig through the long menus, and save time for frequently used modes.
The Settings menu of the camera reveals yet more functionality. One particularly interesting option is Remote Viewfinder - you install the app on a smartphone and the Galaxy S4 zoom will beam the viewfinder image and camera controls over Wi-Fi (the S4 zoom turns into a Wi-Fi hotspot for the pairing).
Other sharing options include Samsung's proprietary Share shot, Buddy photo share and ChatON photo share.
Finally, there are options for the AF/shutter sound volume, rule-of-thirds gridlines, viewfinder brightness (independent from the global screen setting), AF light (turns on the LED light to focus in the dark) and GPS tag and Contextual file name (it uses the GPS to detect where you are, the file name will include the name of the city and the street you are on).
The Optical Image Stabilization (OIS) is turned on in Auto mode, in fact there's no option to disable it. If you go to one of the more advanced modes an option will appear in the settings menu, but we recommend keeping it on as it removes hand shake. OIS works for both the still and video camera.
The lens ring is useful even outside the camera - if you rotate it, the S4 zoom displays a quick launcher that gets you directly into one of several pre-selected modes - Auto, Beauty face, Landscape, Macro, Animated photo and Night, or you can launch the gallery. You just rotate the lens ring to the desired mode and wait a second. If you take several seconds to pick the camera won't launch automatically, you have to tap the shutter key once you finally make a decision.