Samsung Galaxy Camera 2 review: Android 4.3 goodness married to a nice 21x zoom point-and-shoot
Who doesn't like a good sequel?
Of course, what makes a good sequel is open for argument. For the Galaxy Camera 2, Samsung went with basically the same main characters -- a 21x-zoom wide-angle lens, 16-megapixel backside-illuminated sensor, and a giant 4.8-inch HD touch screen -- put in a new wireless sidekick (NFC) to add some interest, and updated the storyline to almost modern day (Android 4.3 Jelly Bean).
If you thought the original formula was cool, but lacked substance (e.g., a faster lens or larger image sensor), the Galaxy Camera 2 (GC2) is probably something you'll want to skip or maybe catch when the price comes down.
After all, $450 isn't exactly inexpensive for what's essentially a point-and-shoot camera, and there are a lot of cameras available between $400 and $500 including bridge cameras with much more zoom range, high-end bright-lens compacts, and even entry-level dSLRs and mirrorless compact system cameras.
Not everyone needs the absolute best image quality, though, and while the camera specs are easy to come by at lower prices, this is basically a really good media player or gaming device as well as a camera. Well, it's a little awkward for the latter, but you get my point: it's more than just a camera you're buying.
Back to the camera bit for a moment, though. Photo quality is very good for what you're getting, as it was with the original. Outside in daylight, it'll turn out some very nice photos that you probably won't hesitate to share with friends and family on the Web or for viewing on mobile devices.
While the image processing might be a little better than its predecessor, you probably still won't want to enlarge pictures and heavily crop them. Viewed at full size, you'll see noise and artifacts even at lower ISO settings, and subjects look soft and and are lacking in clean fine details. This really isn't a camera for pixel peepers.
Low-light photos are better than what you'd get from a smartphone, but it's best to stay away from the high ISO settings regardless. Instead, take advantage of the camera's Night mode, which reduces noise and improves detail and color by combining several shots into one photo.
Video quality is good and the optical image stabilization is certainly nice to have if you're tired of the shaky clips from your smartphone. However, like its photos, video does get softer and noisier the less light you have. The zoom does work while recording movies, but it was a bit jerky when moving in and out.
Also, the mic is right next to the shutter release, so it picks up any finger movement or snapping of the zoom lever. The lens motor makes a faint noise when moving, too; there's a Quiet Zoom setting that dampens audio when zooming to help. One thing that's cool, though, is that there's a headphone jack on the right side that can also be used with a microphone.
|Key specs||Samsung Galaxy Camera 2 (EK-GC200)|
|Dimensions (WHD)||5.2 x 2.8 x 0.8 inches|
|Weight (with battery and media)||11 ounces|
|Megapixels, image sensor size, type||16 megapixels, 1/2.3-inch backside-illuminated CMOS|
|Display size, resolution/viewfinder||4.8-inch HD touch screen, 921K dots/none|
|Lens (zoom, aperture, focal length)||21x, f2.8-5.9, 23-483mm (35mm equivalent)|
|File format (still/video)||JPEG/H.264 AAC (.MP4)|
|Highest resolution size (still/video)||4,608x3,456 pixels/1,920x1,080 at 30fps|
|Image stabilization type||Optical and digital|
|Battery type, CIPA rated life||Lithium-ion rechargeable, 400 shots|
|Battery charged in camera||Yes; Micro-USB cable, wall adapter supplied|
|Storage media||microSDHC card; 8GB internal|
|Software||Android 4.3 Jelly Bean OS, Google mobile services|
The GC2 looks slightly different than the original, but the overall design remains pretty much the same. It has a new pop-up flash that can be angled back slightly to bounce its light. There are now silver accents along the top and bottom and a leather-grain look to the front making it look more like a camera and less like a smartphone. At least from the front.
The back, on the other hand, is very much that of a smartphone. There's nothing but the 1,280x720-pixel-resolution 4.8-inch display. As was the case with the first version, it's a pleasure to shoot with as well as to view and edit pictures and movies on. As long as you're not in full sun anyway, which is a problem for most screens really.
Much like the photo quality, for $450 you might expect shooting performance to be faster than an average point-and-shoot with a CMOS sensor. It is not. Assuming you did an initial startup of the camera, it sits in standby until you're ready to use it. From standby to first capture takes about 2.7 seconds, mostly because of the lens unfolding and the touch screen kicking in.
From shot to shot it takes on average 1.1 seconds, but that time jumps to 2.5 seconds when using the flash (a definite improvement over the first-gen model). Shutter lag -- the time it takes from pressing the shutter release to capture without prefocusing -- is 0.4 second in bright lighting and 0.5 second in dim.
The camera does have a continuous shooting option that can shoot at up to 4.3 frames per second. That's pretty good, and you can start shooting another burst almost as soon as you release the shutter button. Focus and exposure are set with the first shot, though, so if you're shooting a fast-moving subject, chances are good that not all of your shots will be in focus.
General shooting options
|Samsung Galaxy Camera 2 (EK-GC200)|
|ISO sensitivity (full resolution)||Auto, 100, 200, 400, 800, 1600, 3200|
|Photo Filter)||Auto, Daylight, Cloudy, Fluorescent H, Fluorescent L, Tungsten, Custom|
|Recording modes||Auto, Program, Aperture Priority, Shutter Priority, Manual, Smart Modes (Smart mode suggest, Beauty face, Best photo, Selfie alarm, Continuous shot, Best face, Color bracket, Kids shot, Landscape, Dawn, Snow, Macro, Food, Party/indoor, Action freeze, Rich tone (HDR), Panorama, Waterfall, Animated photo, Drama, Eraser, Sound & shot, Interval, Silhouette, Sunset, Night, Fireworks, Light trace), Movie (Normal and Multimotion)|
|Focus modes||Multi AF, Center AF, Touch AF, Face Detection AF|
|Macro||1.9 inches (Wide)|
|Metering modes||Multi, Spot, Center-weighted, Face Detection AE|
Vignette, Grey-scale, Sepia, Vintage, Faded colours, Turquoise, Tint, Cartoon, Moody, Rugged, Oil pastel, Fisheye
|Burst mode shot limit (full resolution)||Unlimited continuous|
As for the device's overall performance, it's nice and fast. The 1.6GHz quad-core processor and 2GB of RAM kept everything relatively zippy. Apps run smoothly, and again with the large touch screen editing photos and video right on the camera is really nice.
Of course, since it's running on Android 4.3 Jellybean you can load up more than just photo- and video-related apps. With the headphone jack on the right side, you can plug in and stream music and movies, play games, read and answer e-mail, or whatever else you'd be able to do on a modern Android device. (And thanks to a larger removable battery you can do more without worrying as much about killing your battery life.)
Unlike the Galaxy Camera, the GC2 currently comes in just a Wi-Fi-only version. This means you'll have to connect to a wireless network for Web access, whether that's at home or work, a mobile hotspot, or turning your smartphone or tablet into a mobile hotspot.
You can also create a Wi-Fi connection directly between the camera and your smartphone or tablet. The GC2 has NFC built in, so if you've got an Android device with that feature, you can simply tap the two together to start the connection between them. You can also use the NFC to quickly send photos taken with the camera straight to your phone.
With the Wi-Fi connection established, Samsung's MobileLink feature lets you transfer files from a smartphone or send files from the camera to one or more smartphones and its AutoShare feature gives you the option to automatically send photos to a smartphone as you shoot them with the camera.
You can also use your smartphone or tablet as a remote viewfinder and control the camera's zoom; set a self-timer; turn on the flash (if it's popped up); change picture resolution, and release the shutter. Unfortunately, you can't use it for recording movies or shooting in any mode other than Auto.
That's a shame considering how many shooting options are available. Its Smart Modes -- a mix of standard scene modes such as Macro, Landscape, and Sunset, and some automatic ways to do things like freeze action or create light trails without messing with shutter speeds on your own -- have grown to 28 options. This includes the new Selfie Alarm that lets you position a box on screen for where your face will be so that when you turn the camera around, it can lock on and give you an audible warning before it fires.
If you like more control, the GC2 does have manual and semimanual modes with an interesting interface for changing shutter speed, aperture, exposure compensation, and ISO. Tap the mode you want and a lens barrel pops out; you just slide the rings till you get what you want. Unfortunately, it's not exactly fast if your initial settings weren't quite right and you need to adjust again.
At the wide end, there are 10 available apertures from f2.8 to f8.0; at the telephoto end there are four from f5.9 to f8.5. Shutter speeds go from 1/2,000 second to 16 seconds.
For movies, you can shoot at 1,920x1,080 pixels at 30 frames per second; 1,280x720 pixels at 30 or 60fps; 768x512 pixels at 120fps (slow motion); 640x480 pixels at 30 or 60fps; and 320x240 pixels at 30fps. You can also pause movies in the middle of shooting, so you don't end up with a bunch of small clips.
In the auto, program, manual, and semi-manual shooting modes there is a row of 12 filter effects you can call up from the bottom of the screen. These can be used when shooting movies and applied to photos after you shoot as well. If you want to read about all that this camera can do, I recommended downloading the product manual from Samsung.
Despite its core components remaining the same as its predecessor, the power and flexibility of Android keeps the Samsung Galaxy Camera 2 from being an ordinary above average point-and-shoot.