The Samsung Galaxy Camera has a 16-Megapixel backlit CMOS sensor, a 21x optical zoom lens, an optical image stabilisation system, an 8 GB internal memory and a microSD memory card slot. There's a smartphone-style 1.4 GHz quad-core Exynos 4412 processor onboard and a 4.8" touchscreen with 1280 x 720 pixels (or 1,843,200 dots, as the screen uses a PenTile matrix).
The Galaxy Camera is certainly an attractive concept. Sticking a Galaxy S3 smartphone onto a WB850F camera effectively means you can transfer, share and upload photos directly from the camera, with no need to use a computer or a smartphone. Obviously, combining two devices in this way doesn't make for the most compact product on the market. So while the Galaxy Camera remains relatively slim, it's still a pretty imposing compact—but that's only logical when you need to make room for a 4.8" display.
Build quality is good. Even though the camera is mostly made from plastic, the product well assembled. That said, the Galaxy Camera got some very mixed opinions when we showed it around our office. Some people found it too thin and some thought that the grip handle wasn't deep enough, while others found it comfortable to hold, even if a thumb-rest could have made it more practical (the screen takes up the camera's whole rear face).
The Galaxy Camera handles like any other touchscreen compact and sports four physical buttons: on/off, shutter-release, zoom and playback. Everything else is controlled via the touchscreen. Here, though, the touchscreen is essentially the same as in Samsung's Galaxy S3 smartphone, bringing a level of user-friendliness as yet unrivalled in the world of touchscreen digital cameras.
The screen is an LCD with 1280 x 720 pixels (that's standard 720 HD), and it isn't particularly bright. With a maximum brightness of 157 cd/m² it isn't always easy to see what's going on onscreen when facing the sun or a strong light source. The greyscale is relatively even, although mid-greys are a little on the light side. Colour fidelity isn't up to much and the onscreen image is generally quite cool.
Seeing as this camera handles like no other model on the market right now, we thought the easiest way to show you how it works would be with a quick video.
When you switch on the Galaxy Camera, it feels more like a touchscreen tablet than a regular digital camera. It starts up onto a standard Android homescreen rather than a camera menu or a shooting mode. It actually behaves a lot like a Samsung smartphone (take a look at our review of the Galaxy S3, for example), and the camera part of this device is essentially just one application among many. However, it's still more advanced than the kind of camera apps you get in smartphones. Note that you can load the Galaxy Camera with all kinds of other apps from the Google Play store, such as Instagram, Facebook, Google +, Vignette, FxCamera, and more.
In theory, the start-up time here should be measured as the full start-up time for Android. In reality, though, you actually tend to leave the Galaxy Camera on sleep mode rather than switching it off fully, waking it up when you want to take a photo as you would with a smartphone. And that's a good job too! We measured the "OFF > ON" time from standby mode at 2.8 seconds, which is OK, although it's not particularly fast. With the camera switched off fully, you'll have to wait 8 seconds before shooting your first photo!
Once the Galaxy Camera is up and running, the autofocus works very quickly in all kinds of conditions. The burst mode is within average too, shooting 3.5 frames per second. Photo-to-photo turnaround is a little on the low side, taking almost 2 seconds.
We weren't expecting our ISO test results from the Galaxy Camera to hold too many surprises, as it uses the same BSI CMOS sensor and lens as the Samsung WB850F. In reality, though, the results proved considerably more different than we had anticipated.
First let's look at the electronics. We know that noise management can vary greatly in Samsung cameras, ranging from excellent to really quite poor. If we compare the ISO test results from the Galaxy Camera with those of the WB850F, a clear difference in performance can be seen. From 100 ISO, detail already looks less precise. Upwards of 400 ISO, smoothing gets quite aggressive and wipes out pretty much any level of detail. Even a 4" x 6" (10 x 15 cm) print will look blurred. And this is all the more visible since the Galaxy Camera sometimes has the annoying tendency of overexposing certain scenes, particularly in our test lab, it seems.
Compared with other compact cameras, these results are therefore a bit disappointing. Then again, there aren't many smartphones out there that could match the Galaxy Camera. The specialist chips used to process images in stand-alone cameras no doubt ensure better levels of performance than with phone cameras.
The lens is a little more respectable, offering performances on par with the WB850F. At wide-angle, the corners of the frame are obviously less sharp than the middle, but this won't be a problem if you stick to standard sized prints (e.g. 8" x 10" / 20 x 27 cm). At 200 mm, the image is generally less sharp, but quality remains consistent up to the corners of the frame. It's only at the maximum zoom setting that consistency really falls apart, with the middle of the frame staying sharp and the edges soon becoming blurred.
Seeing as this product is something of a hybrid, we thought it was only fair to compare photos taken with the Galaxy Camera with a selection of smartphone cameras too. This straight away makes the Galaxy Camera look a whole lot better, as cameraphones are generally still a fair way behind the kind of quality you can get with genuine compact cameras. In fact, we don't even use the same scoring criteria to assess cameraphones as we do compact cameras.
On sensitivity, the Galaxy Camera is comparable in quality to smartphones that use BSI CMOS sensors. However, from wide-angle upwards, the Galaxy Camera lens is clearly better than even top-end smartphones. For example, finer details on the logo on the bottle label in our test shot above are reproduced more effectively (comparing 8" x 10" sized shots with the Galaxy S3 and the iPhone 5).
And the Galaxy Camera clearly has one major advantage over smartphone cameras—it has an optical zoom, whereas smartphones can only use cropping and interpolation to make an image look bigger, which has a huge impact on quality.
Picture quality with the Galaxy Camera therefore doesn't look too great when compared with top-quality superzoom compacts like the Sony HX20V and the Canon SX260, but it does a much better job than the average smartphone as soon as you need to zoom. In fact, it generally outperforms cameraphones, even at wide-angle (with no zoom).
The Galaxy Camera is perhaps more impressive in video mode. It films Full HD video at 30 fps with an image that's pleasant and rich with a high level of detail. The only downside is a speckling of noise in low-light conditions. Sound is good too, with a nice stereo effect, even if some noises could sound more distinct.
You can change the exposure while you film and use the touchscreen to tell the camera what you want to focus on. You can therefore smoothly move your video around by running a finger over the screen.
Another interesting feature of the Galaxy Camera is the built-in video editing app, from which you can share videos (and choose various quality levels) via e-mail or social networks, and send them directly to online storage accounts, etc. However, it can still take a while to upload a video to a social network directly from the camera.