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The best way to describe the Galaxy Camera is to imagine a 21x optical zoom lens strapped onto the back of your large-screen Android smartphone. In essence, that's exactly what this camera has done. Unlike the Nikon Coolpix S800c, which we saw a few months ago, the Galaxy Camera has a lot more going for it on paper.
It runs Android 4.1 Jelly Bean, and comes with a quad-core processor that ensures nifty response times. The camera also comes with 3G capabilities, which means that by inserting a micro SIM, you can surf the web, tweet, share photos to Facebook and more from anywhere, as long as you have data coverage.
The lens itself has some reasonable-looking specs: as mentioned, 21x optical zoom with 23mm wide angle, and a maximum aperture range of f/2.8-5.9, which is impressive and on par with other superzoom cameras. Behind the lens is a 16-megapixel, 1/2.3-inch backside-illuminated CMOS sensor.
The Galaxy Camera. Not as big as a pool table. Click through for sample photos.
While the Galaxy Camera has a substantial front grip, because the entire back panel is covered with the touchscreen, there's nowhere to rest thumbs or fingers. This means that it feels very much like you are shooting using a mobile phone in landscape orientation.
A flash unit can pop up from the side of the camera with a dedicated button. Unlike the flash LED units found on some mobile phones, this is an actual flash like you would find on any compact camera. Elsewhere, the camera comes with 8GB of internal storage, but extra can be added by putting in a microSD card.
The 4.8-inch touchscreen is smooth and responsive, though perhaps a little too sensitive when in shooting mode, as a casual swipe or brush against the screen causes the shutter to fire.
Because the Galaxy Camera is running Android, there's no real need to connect the camera to a computer to download images (though, of course if you need to, the micro-USB port is there). The HDMI port at the base of the camera requires a proprietary cable, therefore limiting connectivity if you don't have the required cable and want to view images on a TV.
By default, the camera ships with Instagram, Dropbox, photo- and video-editing apps and all the other Google apps that you would expect on any Android device. Plenty of other editing apps can be downloaded from the Play Store, though if you are looking forward to using the optical zoom when in any other app apart from the default camera interface, you'll be disappointed. Most third-party apps are not designed to take advantage of Android devices with zoom, so you are limited to the digital zoom.
There are plenty of shooting modes to keep most photographers occupied. On top of the regular automatic mode, users can choose from full PASM control, with individual exposure controls tweaked from a visual series of rotating dials on the touchscreen. It's a nice touch, though not particularly quick to change settings, like it would be with physical buttons.
Changing manual exposure is as easy as a few swipes across the rotating on-screen dials. Click through for more hands-on photos with the Galaxy Camera.
The Smart auto mode has a range of scenarios to choose from, which adjusts the camera settings for the best photo possible. These include silhouette, waterfall, panorama, sunset, night, light trace, beauty and continuous shooting.
(Shorter bars indicate better performance)
(Longer bars indicate better performance)
What you will notice about the Galaxy Camera is how long it takes to start up from power down. If the camera has been inactive for a reasonable period of time, it takes just as long to boot up from cold as any regular Android device does; around 20 seconds of waiting time. Fortunately, once the camera has booted up, it's ready to go and instantly loads into the camera app so that shooting can commence.
However, if the camera is just sleeping, it is much quicker to enter back into shooting mode, which is the time measured above.
Like other devices that are constantly connected to mobile data or Wi-Fi, the Galaxy Camera sucks down on battery life. It is rated for 280 shots; however, you may struggle to reach this target if you are constantly reviewing, uploading and taking images. We found that on average, we could get half to three quarters of a day out of a single charge. It does use the same battery as the Galaxy S2 smartphone, if you want to buy spare batteries.
The Galaxy Camera acts like many other compacts, in that it delivers its best results in bright, daytime situations. With enough light entering the lens, it can produce some good-looking snapshots across the focal length. Colours are punchy and nice to look at on default settings, though the red channel is quite over-saturated.
Like many other small-sensor cameras, the Galaxy does blow out highlights in areas of high contrast, though it does meter relatively well to gauge a good exposure for the scene.
Shooting in low-light situations is when the Galaxy Camera struggles. At high-ISO levels, the camera produces images with lots of noise, though you can compensate for this to some extent by shooting at the widest end of the zoom lens, so the camera uses f/2.8 as its maximum aperture. The image stabilisation also falters slightly when shooting at the full extent of the zoom, unless you are very still or there's ample light.
Images taken at full magnification lack some sharpness, and it becomes most soft toward the edges of the frame, which is typical of many compact cameras.
Video quality is generally very good, with the added benefit of image stabilisation (something that doesn't feature on most mobile phones). The camera can also record in 120fps for slow-motion clips, at a reduced resolution of 768x512. Otherwise, you can shoot in 1080p, 720p or 240p at 30fps. You can use the full extent of the optical zoom while filming.
Exposure: 1/80, f/4, ISO 100
Exposure: 1/500, f/3.8, ISO 100
Exposure: 1/500, f/4.2, ISO 100
Exposure: 1/60, f/4, ISO 100
How much is connectivity worth to you? The Samsung Galaxy Camera is a great point-and-shoot for the everyday photographer who wants to instantly share to social media — provided that they are willing to pay. Discerning photographers will find issues with its image quality, though arguably they're the wrong target audience for this camera.
The Galaxy Camera shows that Android can be done right on a camera, though it could do with a few tweaks to battery life and lens quality to improve the overall package.
If you're wondering whether you can use the Galaxy Camera as a phone, you're not alone. Like its other Android devices, Samsung has released the kernel files for the Galaxy Camera, meaning that modders may be able to unlock phone capabilities from within the operating system. After all, the camera ships with the SMS messaging app installed, and there is also a 3.5mm headphone jack on the camera body, so it's logical that the phone dialler is hidden away somewhere inside.