Samsung I9100 Galaxy S II review: Brightest star
8MP camera: solid image quality, customizable UI
The Samsung I9100 Galaxy S II comes with an 8MP auto-focus camera for photos of up to 3264 x 2448 pixel resolution. It comes with an LED flash but nothing in the way of lens protection or physical shutter key.
The interface looks pretty familiar with two shortcut bars on each side of the viewfinder. On the right you get the still camera / camcorder switch, virtual shutter key and the gallery shortcut (which is a thumbnail of the last photo taken).
On the left you get several controls by default but the good news is that you can pick four shortcuts to put there – commonly used features need to be one tap away.
In terms of features, the Samsung Galaxy S II offers pretty much everything – touch focus, scene modes, face/blink/smile detection, effects, geotagging, digital image stabilization and manual controls for ISO, metering mode and so on. There are other features too, we’re just listing the most interesting ones.
The images captured with the 8MP camera of the Galaxy S II are very good – there's low noise, plenty of fine detail and the color and contrast are good too. Colors are a smidge oversaturated while the white balance is a bit too cool for our liking.
For comparison photos between the Galaxy S II, Sony Ericsson Arc and LG Optimus 2X you can check out our head to head.
Photo quality comparison
The Samsung I9100 Galaxy S II enters the skirmish over in our Photo Compare Tool. The tool’s page will give you enough info on how to use it and what to look for.
In short, the camera produced a very clean image with very little in terms of processing artifacts (traces of sharpening), no moiré patterns and no pink spot either.
Excellent FullHD video
The video camera interface is identical to the still camera one. You get the same customizable panel on the left for four shortcuts. The video camera can record video using the front facing camera too (resolution is limited to VGA).
The FullHD videos are top-notch, full of detail, low in noise and generally, nice and smooth. There’s plenty of information (bitrate is over 17Mbps) and the only drawback you might consider is the mono audio recording.
One annoying thing we noticed about the video camera is that it starts to focus only after it has started recording – that means the first second of every clip is out of focus. We really hope that would be fixed in a future software update.
A peculiarity is that when shooting FullHD videos you have a narrower field of view than that of the still camera. Perhaps Samsung are using the same trick as Apple in the iPhone 4: the camcorder uses only the center of the 8MP sensor instead of shooting with the whole surface and then scale it down to 1080p. In 720p video capture mode however they use the whole sensor and as a result, the field of view is close to that of the still camera.
For the record, the still camera of the S II has 28mm focal length in 35mm equivalent while the numbers for the 1080p and 720p cameras are 46mm and 32mm respectively. As you see, you get quite a magnification in the 1080p mode. In 720p mode quite strangely, color rendering improves over 1080p.
To match the field of view of the still camera in the 720p mode, Samsung is using the whole surface area of the sensor and combine the information of adjacent pixels into one to get the resulting single megapixel resolution. This technology is called pixel binning and its advantage includes reduction of the digital noise with no loss of resolved detail. So 720p videos on the Galaxy S II might be the better choice for low-light shooting.
Here are two frames taken out of 720p and 1080p videos and put side by side. The two videos were shot from the exact same position.
The longer focal range in 1080p mode also makes for a shakier video so you might want to look for a support for your hand while recording to get the best out of the Samsung Galaxy S FullHD camcorder.
The camcorder features continuous autofocus, which is pretty smooth though a bit slow at times. Here’s a demo of it in action:
Other than those peculiarities, the video quality is very good at 1080p – the .MP4 files come with 17Mbps bitrate and have a lot of detail. The framerate is quite consistent in good light, but in the dark FullHD videos are shot in as low as 25fps. That's not an issue with 720p videos - those turn out nice and smooth even in low ambient light. That's yet another reason to prefer the 720p mode in low light shooting.
Keep in mind that FullHD videos gobble up a lot of storage – a minute of video will easily top 100MB of file size. We only wish part of all that massive bitrate went to stereo sound - the S II videos have mono sound at just under 60Kbps.
What this means for the occasional videographer is 720p videos might turn out the better option in low light as the process of pixel binning used for downsizing the information captured from the 8 megapixel sensor down to 720p actually benefits the suppression of digital noise too.
We prepared a batch of video crops comparing the Galaxy S II to the LG Optimus 2X. The videos (both 1080p and 720p) were shot with the Galaxy S II and the LG Optimus 2X one after the other. Just keep in mind that the JPEG compression has added some extra artifacts but it’s an equal handicap, if at all.
You will notice the undeniable edge of the Galaxy S II in colors in detail even without taking into account the smoother video framerate. At 720p, both camera are just about equal in resolved detail.
Here are a few videos Samsung Galaxy S II for you to enjoy. The last one was shot in 720p resolution, while the other two are in 1080p (don’t forget to select 1080p when playing them and certainly open it fullscreeen).
Video quality comparison
The Samsung I9100 Galaxy S II is the second phone in our Video Compare Tool database that can record 1080p. The Tool’s page includes a quick walkthrough on how to use it and what to look for.
Looking at individual frames reveals that the video compression doesn’t result in many artifacts (compression-related or of any other origin). The actual resolution is notably higher than the only other 1080p-enabled competitor, the LG Optimus 2X.
However in low-light conditions the Galaxy S II resolution advantage quickly diminishes and its resolved detail is about the same as that on the Optimus 2X.