There was a time when any budding, amateur photographer was required to drag around a copious amount of weighty kit in order to capture that one moment of magic.
But advances in smartphone technology have had a quite dramatic effect on how most of us take photographs. As the old adage goes, the best camera is the one you have with you, and such is the symbiotic relationship we have with our mobile devices that we’re now never more than an arms length away from our phones at any time. Plus the cameras on the higher end models are about as good as most people will ever need, so does this spell the end for compact cameras?
Well, Samsung doesn’t think so.
The Galaxy Camera is a curious beast that they’ve brought to the table, with features that make it more akin to our precious phones than a classic camera. On the front you’ll find a nice big lens that can zoom out to 21x magnification (try that on your iPhone), there are also traditional controls for the zoom, a shutter button, and even a neat pop-up flash for those darker moments. Flipping the unit around shows where the phone influence comes in. A 4.8″ touchscreen covers the entire back, and switching the camera on reveals a fully functional version on Android 4.1 running inside. This means that you can use the camera as you would a smartphone (albeit without making calls). Facebook, Twitter, Gmail, and all the other normal candidates can be installed, all controlled via the large touchscreen which is clear and responsive. So now, in theory, you can take photos with your snazzy big camera and still post them up on Instagram or back them up to Dropbox, without the need for plugging the device into your computer. Truly these are the days of wonder.
Well, they would be if the camera in question was really good. But sadly the Samsung Galaxy camera is only around average in the photo stakes. This is disappointing as I like the idea. Having a bigger lens, wider frame of view, and that all important zoom offers up plenty of opportunities for more impressive compositions than the standard smartphone fare. Indeed, after only a few minutes with the Galaxy Camera you realise how useful a superzoom is for capturing more candid, natural shots of people rather than the posed efforts phones often produce. The connectivity is also a fantastic feature as you can shoot away, upload your images, and then be clear to carry on for more without the hassle of clearing SD cards.
The problem is that there are quite a few compromises to carrying a device like this, and the results need to make them acceptable. First off it’s a bit heavy and certainly won’t be slipping into the pocket of your jeans anytime soon. The unit’s bulky design also makes using the screen for anything other than a quick selection of modes somewhat cumbersome. Moving between the apps themselves can also be frustratingly slow, which is something you never really think of with a camera where you just want to pick up and shoot. No viewfinder is a shame, especially when shooting outside in bright sunlight, although it must be said that the screen is still quite viewable so Samsung have done well there. In the end though the images captured with the Galaxy just didn’t make all the disadvantages worth contending with. Subjects were often soft or noisy, the light balance could be a little off at times, and colours weren’t always accurate. Don’t get me wrong, the camera is decent, and there is a full manual mode with which you could take greater control of these issues, but it doesn’t feel much better than my iPhone 4S, or even my trusty old Sony W5 digital compact.
Here’s a few examples shots from the Galaxy Camera –
As you can see the Galaxy Camera is a good device that can capture some interesting images, but when you factor in the price of around £400 then it becomes hard to recommend. At the moment is feels very much like a first generation device. The concept I’m a big fan of, and given time and some hardware upgrades this type of camera could well become an incredibly attractive proposition. It’s early days though and the folks at Samsung have got a lot of work to do. I hope they’re up for it.