The Samsung Galaxy S4 launch centred on the new handset's features rather than its specifications, with numerous scenarios hammed out on stage to show how these would be used day-to-day. The camera was at the centre of many of these, with a number of innovative new features that should make your mobile photography easier and more fun.
Before we get to those new features, let's just get the numbers out of the way first. The main camera has a 13-megapixel backside-illuminated (BSI) sensor. Most top-end phones uses BSI sensors these days, as they are superior in low light thanks to a greater photosensitive area on the chip. There's been no official mention of sensor size or of the lens aperture to date, though some claim the latter is a now fairly typical F2.2 effort.
We're guessing that Smasung would have made a fuss if the S4 had a bigger than usual sensor, so it looks like all those pixels will be packed into a typical 1/3.2in – the S3 only had 8-megapixels in the same space. Those smaller pixels could have a nasty effect on low-light shots, creating unwanted noise, though we'll need to test the camera to be sure of course. It's one area where the S4 is distinct from its main competitor, the HTC One, which has moved the other way, with just four megapixels used in order to reduce picture noise.
On front of the phone is a 2-megapixel camera, which we'll discuss more below. Both cameras are capable of shooting Full HD video.
The first new trick that Samsung has thought up is simultaneous shooting using both the main and front cameras. Dual Camera means you can put yourself in photos, like a little postage stamp in the corner of the display. It sounds, and looks, a little cheesy to be honest, but we can see people taking to it for posting online, with endless snaps of fantastic landscapes 'enhanced' by a smug mug shot of the photographer in the corner – though we could see far more imaginative applications too.
As well as shooting dual images, you can record dual video, so that you get footage of the shooter as well as the subject. This is quite a nice idea, especially if the shooter is talking to those in the frame, as you can now see them. This dual video shooting also extends to video chat, so those you're chatting with can see the area around you.
Whichever mode you're using you can switch the main image and the thumbnail between the main and front cameras by clicking an icon onscreen at any time.
The Samsung Galaxy S4 automatically collates the images and videos you shoot into folders, with a feature called Story Album. This is done based on time, date and location (presuming you have geo-location activated). But it can also remember social posts, memos and even weather information. The S4 automatically arranges the albums into pages and spreads, which you can view full screen in landscape mode. The albums can then be browsed or shared with others.
If you want a more permanent record of your exploits then you'll be able to print out the albums from your smartphone. Samsung has teamed up with Blurb so you can order books of your pictures on the go directly your smartphone. It's a great idea, as you can show some photos to your family, pick the ones they like, and then order them a book there and then. Prices start at £8.99 for a small, square, 20 page softcover
Of course, you'll need some decent photos first for those albums and the Eraser feature should help. It uses the cameras burst mode to take multiple shots, and then allows you to remove elements that appear in one shot but not another. For example if someone walks behind your subject just as they strike the perfect pose, you can remove the intruder with a simple tap. It's a logical advancement of the S3's best shot feature which allowed you to select faces from different shots in a burst – so you could get a picture where no one in a group was blinking, for example.
Of course it's too early to say how well it works, but it's a potentially useful extra, and smartphones are certainly the place for this kind of 'in-camera' editing, as you want to share pictures straight away, not touch them up later.
The Drama Shot feature also works by using multiple photos in a burst, but this time it's using multiple shots to add more to the final image, not remove it. Essentially you end up with multiple combined exposures for a time-lapse effect. We can see it work well with a single subject moving across a still frame, though busier scenes would likely get too confused to make sense of. A gimmick maybe, but a step above the usual filters you see on smartphones.
SOUND AND SHOT
Last and possibly least admittedly is Sound and Shot. This captures a few seconds of sound with each picture taken, so that you get a bit more atmosphere with your stills. We've seen this before on other devices, but it's another nice extra to have.
Technically, the camera doesn't look like it's going to stand out amongst the crowd. However, with a huge range of new features to play with, owners of the S4 will have plenty to keep themselves amused when the handset arrives in late April.