Review: Samsung Galaxy S4 Zoom

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In the pantheon of image making devices, smartphones usually don’t rank very high when held against actual cameras. The only fair comparison would be within its own class. Smartphones are phones first and cameras second. Or third or fourth, depending on the priorities of the company. Samsung is one of a few companies that has its hands in both the camera and mobile industries. With the Galaxy S4 Zoom, Samsung effectively fused the S4 Mini with its point and shoot line of cameras along with some subtle NX style touches.

Pros and Cons

Pros

-Sleek design makes it a joy to hold

-Camera interface offers a great amount of control

-Great image quality

Cons

-As with all phones, the slightest shake can impact the final image

-Low light can be a bit of a hassle

Gear Used

For this review, I used the Samsung Galaxy S4 Zoom all on it own.

Tech Specs

Courtesy of Samsung’s listing:

Display: 4.3” qHD sAMOLED
Chipset: Pega-Dual +XMM6262
Memory: 1.5GB(RAM)+ 8GB(eMMC), MicroSD up to 64GB
Camera / Flash: 16MP BSI CMOS w/ Flash
Dimensions: 63.3×125.3×15.25mm
Video: MPEG4, H.263, H.264, VP6/8, WMV9
Recording/Playback: 1080@30fps

Ergonomics

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This was touched on briefly in a previous post, but for those of you who didn’t catch it, I’ll rehash it here. When this device was forged, it’s as if the camera department extended one hand and the phone department extended the other. They met in the middle and the Galaxy S4 Zoom was made. Along the front, you’ve got a very smooth touch screen, and along the back, you’ve got a grip and a lens.

On the right side shown here, you’ve got the shutter button at the bottom, the volume rocker farther up, and above that is the power/wake button.

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You’d think this phone is bulky, but you’d be wrong. It’s surprisingly sleek, and it fits easily into a pants or coat pocket. In the hand, it simply feels good. The weight is distributed evenly, and navigating the touchscreen with one thumb is easy for the most part. That top right corner will provide a good stretching exercise. On this side, you’ve only got the home button at the bottom.

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Along the bottom here, you have the tripod thread where that white circle is, and to the right is the microSD slot.

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And here is perhaps the most important side, at least for our purposes. Samsung is emblazoned along the grip, and to the right, there’s the lens and zoom ring. To the lower left of the lens, you’ll notice a bump for what would normally by a lens release. I imagine that’s just for aesthetic purposes.

When you’re using the phone, you can twist the zoom ring at anytime to go to the camera shortcut menu: Auto, Gallery, Beauty Face, Landscape, Macro, Animated photo and Night. Tap your selection, and then tap it again to open the camera and lens. You’re offered a surprising amount of control despite the fact that it’s a phone. This phone has all the trimming in terms of modes from Manual to a massive amount of Presets (Silhouette, Action freeze, Dawn, Snow, Food, etc.). Granted, all of this is done via a touch screen, which is an understandable limitation. The only button you have for camera control is the shutter, but even the screen has its own shutter, which you may end up using more anyway.

Build Quality

The Galaxy S4 Zoom is all plastic with smooth beveled edges creating a comfortable surface for your hand. Neither heavy nor light, the phone occupies a middle space that sits nicely in your hand and your pocket. It feels like most point and shoots do, which isn’t a bad thing, but if you haven’t held one in a while, it may bring you back to the mid-2000s.

Autofocus

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Understandably, the Galaxy S4 Zoom only has autofocus, and it’s spot-on in the best light. In the worst light, it gets a bit tricky.

Ease of Use

In terms of the phone, you’re given Android 4.2 which felt foreign to me seeing as I have an iPhone 5 with iOS 7. My last Android experience was my Droid X which peaked at Froyo, so the S4 Zoom was smooth sailing. As a camera, it is very intuitive. It’s a smartphone, so you’re not getting any buttons, which may seem at odds with its point-and-shoot exterior. That aside, everything was spaced nicely on the screen which made image-making a breeze.

Metering

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In our tests, we found the metering to work flawlessly, so you can trust that this phone will deliver accurate results. Given that this is a phone, it’s a bit harder to conduct our typical Sunny 16 tests.

Image Quality

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For a phone, I was thoroughly impressed with the quality of the images. Colors are accurate, and edges are sharp. It meters perfectly, and you’ve got 16 MP on a 1/2.3-inch sensor. Listen, it’s no Lumia 1020 or higher, but then again, what is? If you’re out and about, you’ll get some snazzy shots with this shooter.

High ISO

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This was taken at ISO 320, which isn’t high at all by conventional standards, but remember, we’re dealing with a phone. This is about where you’ll want to keep things. At ISO 800 is where you’ll start to see the noise creep in. At 1600, you’ll rub your temples, and at 3200, you’ll ask someone to turn the lights on.

Extra Image Samples

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This happened, which can be fantastically interesting if you like this sort of thing.

This happened, which can be fantastically interesting if you like this sort of thing.

Conclusion

The Samsung Galaxy S4 Zoom is a solid option for someone who wants more camera control and who wants to stay Android. The Lumia 1020 means you’ll have to take on Windows Phone, which is a small market as far as apps are concerned. Not only do you get a solid camera, you also get 10x optical zoom, a rarity in the smartphone realm. The latest Android isn’t available straight out of the gate, but I’m not the guy to ask about upgrades. After sending this back, I’m picking up my iPhone.

You can pick the Galaxy S4 Zoom at Amazon.

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