I’m often asked by new parents; “what’s the best camera I can buy for taking pictures of the baby?” Chip Chick is full of advice and reviews of the latest cameras on the market, but my advice always is “the camera that’s with you all the time – the one on your phone.”
That’s why I was so excited to test the Samsung Galaxy S4 Zoom which is a scaled down Galaxy S4 smartphone with a kick-ass camera. It’s an ideal device for people who like to take and share lots of pictures of their kids, or their surroundings, without sacrificing picture quality.
The good news is the camera delivers on the sharp, clear images and multiple options for taking even better pictures. The not so good news is it’s somewhat sluggish, the interface is a little clunky and the phone itself is not top notch. The overall design is based on the S4 mini which has a lower resolution 4.3-inch display and running a 1.5GHz dual-core processor.
From the front, the Zoom looks just like an S4 mini, but from the side, it’s definitely a camera. You can’t miss the big lens on the back and the weight feels like it’s not evenly distributed, so it’s not entirely comfy to hold. If you’re wearing skinny jeans, you might not be able to slide this device into your back pocket.
Holding it horizontally actually makes it feel like you’re holding a compact point and shoot. The right side extends out in the front to become your grip, with the shutter placed at the top. It’s very easy to hit, however, and when I held it in vertical mode, I wound up taking a lot of accidental pictures. This is also heavier than a regular smartphone.
Is the Zoom worth the extra heft in order to get a better picture? I really enjoyed having it on me for certain situations. Most smartphones take ok picture outdoors but fail miserably at night or on low-lit rooms. That’s where the Zoom shines. It’s got a 16-megapixel camera with a 10x optical zoom, easy-to-scroll menus and lots of setting options.
There are a few different modes to choose from to help you take better pictures. I’m the kind of person who usually puts the camera in auto and lets the computer decide. But using smart mode, I felt like I was making better choices and better use of the lens.
Once you focus your shot, the camera analyzes the light, how close you are to the object, the background, etc. and makes a recommendation. When I was taking a close-up shot of a product, it recommended macro mode. I probably never would have used that on my own.
Expert mode increases the exposure, adjusts the ISO and lets you change the number of picture shot per second. My mode gives you options such as landscape and night shot. It was easy to focus once I got used to tapping on the + and – inside the little magnifying glass on the screen. As an iPhone owner, I’m used to pinching and zooming the screen in order to zoom in so this took some doing. There is a rotating ring on the outside of the lens that also works as a zoom, and I recommend using it to change focus quickly.
You can apply a filter to your shot even before you take it by tapping the arrow on the bottom of the screen. You’ll see a preview of what the shot will look like and decide which to use, much like Instagram does after you take the picture.
One of the main reasons I like the Zoom, is that the lens lets you take a picture from much farther away than you would normally. This is great for taking candid shots of kids who don’t necessarily know you’re taking their picture. Today, kids are so excited about seeing that instant gratification on the screen that sometimes they mug for the camera and then run up right away to see what the picture looks like. It’s nice to be a little stealthy and still get clear, vibrant shots – and that is not something you can do well with most smartphone cameras. The Zoom also shoots video and I like that it lets you zoom in while you’re recording. The drawback of this is the lens has to refocus itself to the new target, and it may get fuzzy for a second while it adjusts.
Is the camera becoming more important than the actual phone it resides on? It certainly seems like it. From the Nokia Lumia 1020, to the iPhone 5s, and now the Samsung Galaxy S4 Zoom – the camera is just as important as the software on your Smartphone, and in some case even more so. The Zoom as a camera is aces, but as a Smartphone, it could be better. But honestly are you getting this phone for its actual ‘Smartphone’ capabilities? Probably not.
The Good: This is a great camera for parents, journalists, bloggers or professionals who want to quickly and easily take and share pictures. The fact the camera is connected via LTE, not just Wi-Fi, means you can share your images right away as you do with a regular smartphone. It’s a solid camera that takes sharp, clear, brilliant close-up shots. The price is far more palatable than Samsung’s previous Galaxy camera.
The Bad: Heavier than a regular smartphone, somewhat clunky, no solid side to set it down. User interface is a little clunky and there is some sluggishness. This is not a full-featured Galaxy S4 smartphone.