Samsung Galaxy S4 camera features hands-on with test shots

We take some of the Samsung Galaxy S4's camera features for a quick test run ahead of its launch later this month.

Andrew Lanxon Editor At Large, Lead Photographer, Europe
Andrew is CNET's go-to guy for product coverage and lead photographer for Europe. When not testing the latest phones, he can normally be found with his camera in hand, behind his drums or eating his stash of home-cooked food. Sometimes all at once.
Expertise Smartphones, Photography, iOS, Android, gaming, outdoor pursuits Credentials
  • Shortlisted for British Photography Awards 2022, Commended in Landscape Photographer of the Year 2022
Andrew Lanxon
4 min read
Watch this: Samsung Galaxy S4 Camera Features hands-on

Samsung showed off its swanky new super phone, the Galaxy S4, at a London event yesterday, so I took the opportunity to take a deeper look at some of the new camera features you'll find on board. I was only able to get a brief hands-on and wasn't able to perform the usual tests I'd do for a camera, so I'll have to wait for the full review to come to a proper conclusion.

In terms of hardware, the camera's sensor has been given a boost, jumping from the 8 megapixels you'll get on the old Galaxy S3, up to 13 megapixels. That's the same as you'll find in the Sony Xperia Z's camera, but whether the image quality is comparable remains to be seen.

It's the camera's software that's seen the most updates though. Samsung has whacked in a host of extra features to help you get creative with your snaps. The most unusual -- and, in my opinion, ridiculous -- is called Dual Shot.

Galaxy S4 Dual Shot test

Dual Shot test (click image to enlarge).

Dual Shot allows you to take a photo with the main rear camera, but superimpose your own face over the top using the front-facing camera. Samsung reckons it helps "put you in the context of the photo" and perhaps it will, but it's certainly no substitute for you actually getting in the photo. If you can think of a genuinely good use for this feature, please do let us know.

Moving to the slightly less ludicrous, Samsung's Best Face feature lets you take multiple shots of a group of friends. You'll then choose the best face (oh, I see what they did there) of each of them to combine into one shot where everyone looks good. I gave this a test, with a little help from two enthusiastic Samsung representatives.

Galaxy S4 Best Face test

Best Face test (click image to enlarge).

They both pulled various faces during the shooting process, and I picked my two favourites from different images to create the above photo, which I'm sure they'll be happy with. Even at full screen, the effect is seamless -- I really can't tell the two faces chosen were from different photos. Best Photo does much the same. It takes a series of photos of a scene, letting you pick out and save the best ones.

If you're shooting action, fire up Drama mode. It takes multiple photos of a scene, then combines the action into one frame. Fans of snowboarding will likely be familiar with photos that seem to show multiple instances of the same snowboarder going through different stages of a trick, all contained within one frame. It typically requires a lot of computer-based editing, but it's now making its way to smart phones.

HTC's new flagship, the One, was the first to give us a real taste of the effect, which I found to work well in my test shot of my excellently athletic colleague, Luke Westaway. I sadly wasn't able to do the same sort of demo with the S4 so we'll have to wait and see if it can do a better job than the One.

The camera can also capture animated photos. When you take a photo of a moving scene, you can selectively animate a portion of the image into a continuously moving gif. Animate the flame on a match, for example, and you'll be left with a picture that looks like an endlessly burning flame. It's fun, but nothing new -- Nokia has already bundled this into its Lumia phones and the Cinemagram app on the iPhone had a brief moment of popularity before falling back into obscurity.

A feature Samsung seems particularly proud of for some reason is Sound & Shot. It takes a photo, pairing it with 9 seconds of audio. Samsung reckons it's great for adding extra detail to a memory -- the sound of your child practising the violin, for example. I see the theory, but don't really see why you wouldn't just record video -- sound and moving images seems like an even better aid to memory.

You'll also find the usual various scene modes on board, as well as a panorama function and high dynamic range (HDR) shooting. The camera will also shoot Full HD video.

Samsung's taken the 'everything but the kitchen sink' approach to getting the best out of its camera. How useful it all is will really come down to how good the images themselves are. The camera is paired with a 5-inch 1080p screen and a quad-core processor with 2GB of RAM, so expect some blistering performance alongside the camera features.

At the hands-on event, Samsung also discussed its partnership with games publisher EA. The first 100,000 S4 customers will get a free download of Need For Speed: Most Wanted, which is apparently "Samsung optimised" and will feature an exclusive blue Porsche (in the game, not a real one). If that's not a reason to hyperventilate with excitement, I don't know what is.

The phone goes on sale at the end of this month, so make sure to keep your eyes peeled over the next couple of weeks for the full review, in which I'll look more closely at the camera's quality. In the meantime, watch the video at the top, check out our hands-on preview, and let me know your thoughts on the S4 in the comments below or over on our Facebook page.