Samsung Galaxy Camera review: An OK camera, but a very good gadget

The camera looks a bit odd, though. Even touch-screen cameras usually have some place to rest your thumb, but the Galaxy is all glass on back, which makes it look like someone sliced the back of the camera off. And although it has a sizable grip on front, the body is still pretty slippery. Add to that the slightly off-balanced weight from the lens and the giant 4.8-inch display, and it's not exactly a camera you want to shoot with one-handed.

Another thing: Part of the reason people leave their cameras at home and shoot with their smartphone is because of the camera's size and weight; the Galaxy doesn't really solve that problem. It's not huge, but it's not particularly pocketable, either, and at 11 ounces, you won't forget you've got it on you. By comparison, the Samsung WB850F weighs just 6.8 ounces.

Key specs Samsung Galaxy Camera (EK-GC100)
Price (MSRP) $499.99
Dimensions (WHD) 5.1x2.8x0.8 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, N/A
Battery charged in camera Yes; Micro-USB cable, wall adapter supplied
Storage media microSDHC card; 8GB internal
Software Android 4.1 Jelly Bean OS, Google mobile services

At least part of that weight is from the 1,280x720-pixel-resolution 4.8-inch display. I never felt cramped by the 3-inch LCDs on other point-and-shoots until I used the Galaxy. It's a pleasure to shoot with as well as to play and edit pictures and movies on.

That said, it probably doesn't do the battery life any favors. The WB850F was only CIPA rated for 200 shots, and in my tests the Galaxy is well under this. You're going to want to buy some extra batteries, especially if you plan to do more than just take snapshots in auto. On the upside, Samsung used a battery than can easily be picked up online for about $10. The battery is charged in camera, though, and it takes roughly 4 hours for a full charge, so you'll want to hunt down an external charger, too.

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The battery compartment is at the bottom of the camera under a locking door, just like a regular compact camera. That's also where you find the SIM card and microSDHC card slots and a Micro-HDMI port. The camera's Micro-USB port is on the right side as is the headphone/mic jack and a spot to attach a wrist strap.

General shooting options Samsung Galaxy Camera (EK-GC100)
ISO sensitivity (full resolution) Auto, 100, 200, 400, 800, 1600, 3200
Photo Filter) Auto, Daylight, Cloudy, Fluorescent H, Fluorescent L, Tungsten, Custom
Recording modes Smart Auto, Program, Aperture Priority, Shutter Priority, Manual, Casual (Beauty face, Best face, Best photo, Continuous shot, Fireworks, Landscape, Night, Panorama, Sunset, Macro), Smart pro (Action freeze, Light trace, Rich tone, Silhouette, Waterfall), Movie
Focus modes Multi AF, Center AF, Touch AF
Macro 1.9 inches (Wide)
Metering modes Multi, Spot, Center-weighted
Color effects Multiple photo and movie filters
Burst mode shot limit (full resolution) 20
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For automatic shooters, Samsung's Smart Auto is good for most situations where you just want to take a quick snapshot to post. However, there are also two sets of specialty modes. One set, named Casual, has a few common scene modes for portraits and landscapes, but also has a couple innovative extras. For example, Best Face mode lets you take a group shot -- firing off five frames -- and then you can pick the best faces for everyone in the shot.

The other set is called Smart Pro, which basically translates shooting concepts into a point-and-shoot mode. Light Trace, for example, slows down the shutter speed, and Action Freeze speeds it up.

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If you like more control, the Galaxy camera 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 semimanual shooting modes there is a row of 13 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.

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Of course, part of the reason to have Android is for the large number of photo and sharing apps. Something to be aware of, though, is that when you're using Android apps, you're limited to the capabilities of those apps. For example, not all of the camera apps would allow me to control the zoom lens. Only one app, Paper Camera, allowed me to use the zoom lever, though the controls are reversed. Camera Zoom FX, Pro HDR Camera, Fast Burst Camera, and Camera360 require you to either pinch to zoom or use the app's onscreen slider, but they didn't always work correctly. Instagram, Cymera, Little Photo, HDR Camera, Retro Camera, and Vignette don't work at all with the zoom and keep it locked at its widest position. It is possible that this can be fixed with updates to these apps, so it's more something to be aware of than a strike against the camera or hardware.

The best way for me to sum up the Samsung Galaxy Camera is that it's an OK camera, but a very good gadget. The lens and image sensor are nothing special and if you just want a compact megazoom with some wireless features, I recommend the Sony Cyber-shot DSC-HX30V or the Samsung WB850F, or just buy another camera and use an Eye-Fi SD card. With those, you can shoot whatever you want, and then wirelessly send the images to a mobile device and use that to upload. The Galaxy's advantage is that it's all in one; you shoot and you share, just like you would with a smartphone or tablet with a mobile data plan. The price for the privilege of doing that, though, is too much.

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