Samsung pairs a high-end point-and-shoot camera with a powerful smartphone to spectacular results.
When you first glance at the Galaxy S4 Zoom from a distance, the first thought that might pop into your mind is that you’ve found an artifact from 2008. That, of course, is if the phone is powered off and seen from a distance.
But upon closer examination you’ll realize that the phone’s smaller than average and slightly different form factor is because it’s not quite a smartphone.
It’s not quite a phone and it’s not quite a point-and-shoot camera. It’s both. With the Samsung Galaxy S4 Zoom, Samsung has successfully melded smartphone and mid-range camera into a intuitive, if somewhat oddly shaped device. It’s a doppelganger of the Galaxy S4 Mini — as it shares the same hardware — with the exception of the lens which bulges from the back.
The camera has a 16-megapixel CMOS sensor, 10x optical zoom, an optical image stabilizer and a flash. As we’ll discuss later in the review, the image quality was excellent — far better than most high-end point-and-shoot cameras.
Though the bulge of the lens makes for a less than petite side figure, the Galaxy S4 Zoom is easy on the hands and fits nicely in one’s pant pocket. It comes in at 125.5 x 63.5 x 15.4 mm, with a (relatively) light weight 208 grams. Samsung has included a tripod hole, microSD card slot and strap hole, meaning the device is ready for anything you can throw at it.
As far as the phone’s specs go, it’s decidedly mid-range: a 960 x 540-pixel 4.3 inch Super AMOLED screen screen with a 256 ppi, a 1.5 GHz dual-core Samsung Exynos 4212 processor, a 2,330 mAh battery, 1.5 GB of RAM and 8 GB of storage, expandable up to 64 GB with a micro-SD card. The camera shoots at 16 megapixels and the lens has an aperture range of F 3.1 to F 6.3. It’s able to shoot 1080p video at 30fps. It runs Android 4.2.2 Jelly Bean, the same as what you’d find in the regular Samsung Galaxy S4 Mini.
A day with the Galaxy S4 Zoom
Samsung gave VR-Zone a Galaxy S4 Zoom to use for a day, so sharing the phone-camera with our sister site VR-Zone Chinese we took it out for a day of shooting.
While the Galaxy S4 Zoom is relatively light and easy on the hands, using it as a phone can be a slightly awkward experience. Of course it isn’t close to N-Gage taco bad, but the addition of the camera lens and added weight can make for a slightly awkward phone experience.
But why talk to someone when passive aggressive emails or texts will do? People use smartphones less and less for talking, and while the bulgy form factor of might make it an awkward thing to hold for a phone conversation nobody is buying the device strictly to call people with.
Shooting with the Galaxy S4 Zoom was a breeze. The phone’s touch screen is responsive, and Samsung’s included camera app intuitive.
As you can see below, the camera on the Galaxy S4 Zoom produces an impressive image quality. The camera app has a number of smart settings for easy shooting in a variety of different environments — from indoors washed out by awful fluorescent lights to landscapes. It also has a mode that will recommend a smart setting for the user according to environmental factors like ambient light, focus and the presence of faces in the frame. For pros, you can tweak and adjust almost all of the camera’s settings like you could on a DSLR.
Using the S4 Zoom’s optical lens to zoom is a real blessing for image quality, compared to the average smartphone’s digital zoom. While things can get a bit shaky when the zoom is extended, the optical shake filter in the camera app can make things a little more stable.
Overall the quality of video recording on the phone is excellent. Considering the device’s hardware, and the fact that it can record in 1080p it would be hard to imagine anything other than excellent quality. Below are some examples:
One of the more ambitious features on the S4 Zoom’s camera app is one called “animated photo” that takes a series of pictures and lets the user pick a certain part of the picture to animate. This is an interesting concept, but in execution it falls flat. What the app spits out is grainy, a sharp contrast from the high-quality images the camera produces otherwise.
Conclusion: Reaching for greatness
The Samsung Galaxy S4 Zoom is a good device by any regards, but it isn’t a great device. Small things keep it from reaching greatness, like shipping with limited memory and a small battery. The device’s touch screen is responsive, but fiddling with different settings when the camera is on pro mode via the touch screen can be an awkward experience.
Overall, shooting with the Galaxy S4 Zoom is a pleasant experience. But add in a larger battery and more storage from the factory and it becomes a great experience.