Cameras

Samsung Galaxy Camera (EK-GC100) Review

Samsung's latest experiment is the first camera to support both Android and 4G mobile broadband.

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Introduction

Nearing the end of 2012, we can look back on two major trends of the imaging market this year: big sensors in little cameras, and wireless connectivity. Samsung's new Galaxy Camera—technically dubbed the EK-GC100—certainly represents the latter of these two movements. In fact it's really the pinnacle of this idea, since the Galaxy Camera doesn't just include WiFi, doesn't just include GPS, but also supports full 4G mobile broadband, and runs Android OS 4.1 (a.k.a. "Jelly Bean").

You can't make phone calls with the Galaxy Camera, but for the first time you can take advantage of instant remote photo sharing, in a way that's actually convenient. And when you're done, you can play a little Angry Birds or use any other Android app. All this is attached to a solid travel zoom, which is far superior to your average smartphone camera.

Video Review

Design

Some may call the Galaxy Camera Apple-like in design, but we think the oversized body and sleek rear LCD hold up in their own way. The giant 21x lens elevates this hardware way above any smartphone camera, while other features, like flash and connectivity ports, certainly abide by a “less is more” approach.

Front

Front Tour Image

Back

Back Tour Image

Sides

Sides Tour Image

Top

Top Tour Image

Bottom

Bottom Tour Image

In the Box

Box Photo

• Samsung Galaxy Camera EK-GC100

• Quick Start Guide

• Quick Reference Guide

• wrist strap

• Health & Safety and Warranty Guide

• USB cable

• USB / AC adapter

Lens & Sensor

What distinguishes the Galaxy Camera from your Android smartphone is the big fat lens on the front. It's a 21x optical zoom barrel, and seems to be identical to the one found on Samsung's WB850F, so we'll be interested to see how these two models compare. Zoom is slow to respond, and the action of the motor is slow and imprecise. Minimum focus distance is worse than average, and construction quality seems flimsy.

Lens Photo

The 21x lens is a doppelganger of the WB850F's.

The CMOS sensor is small, only 1/2.3-inches, but it still weighs in at 16.3 megapixels which, again, is still much better than your average smartphone.

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Display(s)

Every manufacturer knows that nothing sells a smartphone more than a sexy screen. Samsung has apparently leveraged this knowledge for use in the Galaxy Camera, because the rear LCD is a thing of beauty. This is a high definition panel, and at almost 5-inches diagonally, it's much larger than any on-camera monitor we can think of. Brightness is fantastic, saturation is vibrant, and color accuracy is lifelike in camera mode.

But...and this is a big "but," since the entire rear panel is dominated by the screen, this can mean only one thing: the dreaded all-touch control interface. Aside from the flash release, the Galaxy Camera has only two physical buttons, leaving all remaining control to touch. This is sure to cause problems later in the review.

LCD Photo

This giant LCD will probably sell some cameras.

Connectivity

There are only two connectivity terminals on the Galaxy Camera, a USB port underneath a rubber stopper on the right side of the body, plus a tiny microHDMI port adjacent to the battery slot. There's even a small HDMI pass-through door in the middle of the battery compartment door.

Ports Photo 1

Look at this tiny USB port. It's hidden under a cover on the right side. A small headphone jack is visible here too.

Ports Photo 2

The HDMI port is tiny as well. Could Samsung be telling us how they feel about wired connectivity?

Battery

Our opinions of camera batteries are usually simple comparisons of their CIPA ratings, but for a model with so many extra features, this is hardly adequate. The same restrictions that apply to smartphones also apply to the Galaxy Camera: processor-intensive apps or heavy network usage will all drain your battery more than usual. In the end, it seems like the Galaxy Camera's battery life will be about one day for varied, general use. More if you only use the camera.

Battery Photo

The battery is wide and flat, lasting for around a day of regular use.

Memory

The camera has both a microSD card slot, as well as a SIM card slot for data plans. Managing memory requires a few extra steps, like choosing where you want files to be stored, or deleting files by hand, and this is a process that would've been much faster and simpler on a traditional camera.

Media Photo

Only microSD cards are supported, unless you want to store data directly on the SIM.

Image Quality

Image quality is not consistent with other $500 cameras, but that's okay, since much of the MSRP is dedicated to all this camera's extra features. Samsung continues to struggle with noise reduction, resulting in low-ISO shots that should've been better. Sharpness during video is very impressive though, and represents one of the Galaxy Camera's best features.

Sharpness

The 21x lens is good but not great. Our tests recorded up to 2400 MTF50s of detail, but only in very rare cases. Most of the time, sharpness hovered around 1500 MTF50s. As is often the case, detail was worst near the edges and corners of the frame, and increasing focal length to maximum also negatively impacted sharpness, knocking our figures down to 1000 MTF50s and below.

Results like this are slightly underwhelming by themselves, at least for a $500 camera, but they're compounded by severe use of software oversharpening. This is an artificial technique that makes photos look sharper, but also less natural, and our tests picked up as much as 41% oversharpening in some zones. What this means is the Galaxy Camera's best-performing zones are actually faked by editing, and shouldn't be regarded as an advantage of the lens. More on how we test sharpness.

Color

Color accuracy is a bit worse than the average camera. Our tests detected an uncorrected error value of 3.24, and looking over the gamut we can see that most of that is due to the red shades, which render as a bit too orange or magenta. All other shades share color inaccuracies equally. Saturation is over by around 10%, which isn't too bad. More on how we test color.

Against similar or similarly-priced cameras, what we notice first are the similarities between this model and Samsung's own WB850F. The scores are almost a perfect match, suggesting the two cameras may be using related or identical hardware. Scores from the iPhone 4S and the Nikon P7700 are also very telling. The iPhone's built-in cameras lags way behind here, while the P7700—which costs the same as the Galaxy Camera—is far ahead.

White Balance

White balance can be a little weird. For whatever reason, the camera's automatic white balance algorithm does a better job than the custom function under both daylight and fluorescent light. If you're shooting under incandescents, then it's better to take a custom white balance. Otherwise, don't bother.

Noise Reduction

The Galaxy Camera's noise reduction capabilities do not stand out. Smoothing software is already aggressive at minimum ISO, so although noise rates are only 0.80% at this point, details are still pixelated and undefined. At ISO 200, noise rates creep close to 1.00%, so the software kicks into an even higher gear, actually removing noise more drastically at ISOs 400 and 800, but at the cost of extreme image degradation. At ISO 1600 and 3200, noise spikes up to nearly 1.50%, and shots are unprintable.

Most of the noise that cannot be smoothed away is luminance noise, however color splotching is still very noticeable in moderate and high sensitivity shots. More on how we test noise.

ISO Options

The sensitivity range extends from ISO 100 - 3200 with no reduced resolution extended options available. Unlike some smartphone cameras, ISO may be set manually in the menus.

Chromatic Aberration

While this is only true of the sides and corners of the frame, chromatic aberration produced by the Galaxy Camera's lens can be very severe. In some zones, almost three pixels of a high contrast edge may be occupied by orange or blue fringing, and this is after any software correction performed before the final JPEG is output to memory.

To avoid chromatic aberration with the Galaxy Camera, keep your most important subjects centered, and avoid shooting at medium focal lengths.

Distortion

Radial distortion is somewhat pronounced at all focal lengths. 0.88% barrel distortion is observable at the wide angle, and this swaps over to 1.15% and 0.93% pincushion distortion at medium and telephoto focal lengths respectively. The results are pretty consistent with the performance of the Samsung WB850F, strengthening our theory of borrowed hardware.

Motion

We noticed a hint of trailing in full quality videos captured with the Galaxy Camera, but compression artifacting is the real problem here, and general smoothness isn't great either. More on how CamcorderInfo tests motion.


Video Sharpness

Videos are very sharp under both full studio illumination as well as low light situations. Under the bright lights, the sensor was able to resolve 600 lw/ph horizontally and an impressive 700 vertically. More on how CamcorderInfo tests video sharpness.

In our 60 lux test, the results barely changed. This time the sensor again managed 600 lw/ph horizontally, but dropped slightly to 650 vertically. We have a feeling the low light results could've been better were it not for such severe compression artifacting.

Low Light Sensitivity

The Galaxy Camera has a decent maximum aperture of F2.8, so light can be fairly abundant if you're zoomed out. As such, the sensor is capable of gathering 50 IRE of video image data using only 18 lux of ambient illumination. That's not the best we've seen, but it's still respectable.

Usability

The oversized LCD screen may be pretty, but it necessitates an all-touch menu interface that leads to many headaches. Menu design is all over the place, with important settings spread out across multiple menus, and frustrating design mistakes that cause accidents all the time. Handling is also less than perfect in this camera that will take some time to get used to.

Automatic Features

The Galaxy Camera is beginner-friendly. The interface defaults to auto mode, which frees the user from decisions like shutter, aperture, and ISO. Touch-to-focus is unlocked for this mode though.

Buttons & Dials

Other than the mechanical flash release on the left side of the body, the only buttons you'll find on the Galaxy Camera are the shutter release and power button. These buttons feel fine, though the zoom lever surrounding the shutter release is a bit flimsy, but our main complaint here is the lack of buttons. The camera's all-touch interface slows down the shooting process considerably.

Buttons Photo 1

The only two buttons on the camera.

Effects, Filters, and Scene Modes

What we would normally call Scene modes are contained within the "Smart" mode menu, which seems inaccurately named. Here you'll find a pretty average selection of scene mode settings like Landscape, Macro, and Sunset, plus a few more compelling choices like Beauty face and Best photo. There's also a Continuous shot mode here, but it's rather redundant and doesn't seem to offer any advantages over the drive mode setting of the same name, which can be used outside of "Smart" mode.

Editing Photo 1

Instagram is built right in, along with some other editing options, plus any app you might purchase later on.

Thanks to a stylish but inappropriate all-touch interface, the Galaxy Camera's menu system is one of this device's key drawbacks. We typically abhor touchscreen interfaces, and the Galaxy Camera showcases all the reasons why, in fact it's one of the worst offenders in recent memory.

Since the rear panel is dominated entirely by the touchscreen, each setting adjustment requires retracing your steps through the poorly-arranged menu. Changing values like shutter, or even something simpler like shooting mode, is a slow, imprecise experience prone to errors. Classic design mistakes are everywhere, such as the close proximity of the settings icon to the home icon, one of which opens up an important menu, while the other cancels camera mode entirely and takes you back out to the Android home screen. The Galaxy Camera's excuse for a "quick" menu, which is underpopulated by useful options, also resides dangerously close to these icons.

Menu Photo 1

Here's where you changed shutter, aperture, etc. It's a pain.


Then there's the fact that this touch sensitive panel offers no safe place on which to rest your thumb or fingers. This leads to near-constant accidental triggering of the touch-to-focus feature, mistakenly accessing playback mode, or—worst of all—hitting that home button which leaves the camera mode entirely. It also seems impossible to prevent the camera from shutting itself off after only 60 seconds of inactivity. Very annoying.

A few programming glitches exist too. The camera will sometimes forget its custom white balance setting, for example, and revert back to a previous reading. Other times the focus zone indicator won't display at all, and you'll need to exit the camera interface to reset it.

Were this only a smartphone, the menu might be considered at least average. But for a device that's "camera first, Android platform second," it's a disaster.

Menu Photo 2

One of the sub-menus housing important shooting options.

Instruction Manual

The camera ships with both a Quick Reference Guide and a Quick Start Guide, both of which are useless. An electronic copy of the full manual is nowhere to be found, except for a short document of limited detail on the mobile phone section of Samsung's web site. In fairness, this camera isn't on the market yet, so this oversight is subject to change, and we'll try to update the review if it does.

Handling

The Galaxy Camera is bigger than you may be imagining from pictures, and the clean, Apple-ish design leaves little room for ergonomic features. On the front panel, at least we get a hand grip, but it doesn't have enough stick and doesn't protrude far each to latch onto properly. Otherwise, the body's hard corners are uncomfortable, and either your knuckles or your left hand are necessary for holding up the hefty device.

Handling Photo 1

No that's not a tiny hand, the Galaxy Camera is just large.

Things are much worse on the rear panel, since the LCD monitor is the rear panel. The oversized touch-sensitive panel leaves nowhere to safely plant your thumb, further encouraging a two-handed grip. Accidentally touching the screen with either hand is routine, and constantly leads to triggering touch-to-focus, or a menu, or even backing out into Android mode by accident. Much of the shooting experience's frustrations can be traced back to this poor design choice.

Handling Photo 2

No ergonomic features exist back here, leaving the thumb stranded and out of place.

Buttons & Dials

Other than the mechanical flash release on the left side of the body, the only buttons you'll find on the Galaxy Camera are the shutter release and power button. These buttons feel fine, though the zoom lever surrounding the shutter release is a bit flimsy, but our main complaint here is the lack of buttons. The camera's all-touch interface slows down the shooting process considerably.

Buttons Photo 1

The only two buttons on the camera.

Display(s)

Every manufacturer knows that nothing sells a smartphone more than a sexy screen. Samsung has apparently leveraged this knowledge for use in the Galaxy Camera, because the rear LCD is a thing of beauty. This is a high definition panel, and at almost 5-inches diagonally, it's much larger than any on-camera monitor we can think of. Brightness is fantastic, saturation is vibrant, and color accuracy is lifelike in camera mode.

But...and this is a big "but," since the entire rear panel is dominated by the screen, this can mean only one thing: the dreaded all-touch control interface. Aside from the flash release, the Galaxy Camera has only two physical buttons, leaving all remaining control to touch. This is sure to cause problems later in the review.

LCD Photo

This giant LCD will probably sell some cameras.

Shooting Modes

All of the "PASM" shooting modes are available from a touch menu on the right side of the screen. From there, a sub-menu allows configuration of associated shooting variables like shutter and aperture, but you must navigate through both menus each time a modification is necessary.

Recording Options

8 total shooting resolutions are available, in various sizes and aspect ratios. Most choices are 4:3, but there are also a few 16:9's and one 3:2.

Speed and Timing

Drive mode options aren't very deep, limited to only Single shot, Continuous shot, and AE Bracket; but shooting speed is at least decent. We clocked the Galaxy Camera at a hair over 4 frames per seconds, and maximum burst capacity is 20 shots.

Self-timer options come in three varieties, 2 seconds, 5 seconds, and 10 seconds, with no further customization available.

Features

Here's the good stuff. The Galaxy Camera features 4G, Android "Jelly Bean," WiFi, and GPS all rolled into one device. It's an amalgamation unlike anything else on the market and, for the right user, could make this an ideal camera.

Effects, Filters, and Scene Modes

What we would normally call Scene modes are contained within the "Smart" mode menu, which seems inaccurately named. Here you'll find a pretty average selection of scene mode settings like Landscape, Macro, and Sunset, plus a few more compelling choices like Beauty face and Best photo. There's also a Continuous shot mode here, but it's rather redundant and doesn't seem to offer any advantages over the drive mode setting of the same name, which can be used outside of "Smart" mode.

Other Features

GPS

The camera features a built-in GPS transceiver which works exceptionally well (even indoors, to our surprise), but is underused. From what we can tell, in camera mode GPS functionality is limited to simple tagging of EXIF data with latitude and longitude data. This is combined with some of the camera's Android mapping features, so basic street address information is included in EXIF data as well. Otherwise, the best use of built-in GPS will probably come in the form of an app that can take advantage of this hardware.

WiFi

Every other manufacturer should be ashamed, because the Galaxy Camera features easily the best in-camera WiFi adapter we've ever used. We had zero issues authenticating and connecting to nearby hotspots, even those with less than a perfect signal. It takes the Galaxy Camera roughly one second to connect to a new network, making this device considerably faster than the wireless adapters in our office MacBooks. Amazing.

4G

If you're not within WiFi range, all of the Galaxy Camera's best features will still be fully functional thanks to 4G mobile broadband support. If your wallet can weather a new data plan, then simply insert a SIM card and you'll be ready to go. The camera is intelligent enough to swap back and forth from 4G in the absence of a WiFi signal, and all of Android's tools for managing data limits are handy for those looking to keep their bills in check.

Just remember, the Galaxy Camera can't make phone calls. This is data only.

Android

If you were expecting some modified version of Android to coexist politely with camera hardware, you'll be pleased to know the Galaxy Cam includes full fledged Android 4.1 "Jelly Bean" software on top of the camera interface. This is a robust operating system known for superior customization and "nuts and bolts" configuration over Apple's iOS. Thanks to an internal 1.4GHz processor, all the same apps are available for download and use, and the interface is just as smooth and buttery as what you'd find on a brand new Galaxy S III. This is really the first device to earn the title of "Smart Camera."

Recording Options

Videos are recorded in h.264 in up to Full HD 1080p at 30 frames per second. Reducing resolution down to 720p or 480p unlocks 60 frames per second recording. Find out how the performed in our video image quality test./r:link_to_content

Video Controls

Very few manual controls are available, and even fewer while a recording is in progress. Before starting a clip, exposure compensation may be tweaked +/- 2 stops, but that's about it.

Zoom

Optical zoom is unlocked while a recording is in progress, however mechanical speed is slowed to reduce noise from the motor. Strangely, this feature is governed by the "Quiet Zoom" setting, but only for modes other than video.

Conclusion

Samsung’s Galaxy Camera is really the ultimate expression of a trend that’s been growing all year long: wireless connectivity. Many manufacturers brought WiFi to their entry-level and even intermediate cameras in 2012, presumably to entice social media fans / addicts who want to share their content immediately, a segment of the consumer base that’s probably larger than we’d like to admit. We’ve been pretty critical of this effort for two reasons: WiFi isn’t any faster than simply popping in your memory card, and the feature is still restricted to hotspots.

The Galaxy Camera blows both of these criticisms out of the water. The camera’s WiFi adapter is the fastest in-camera solution we’ve ever used, and is capable of delivering your photos to Facebook or wherever their final destination happens to be in a matter of seconds. Of course that’s not all: built-in 4G mobile broadband finally unlocks photo sharing from the field, and it’s just as quick as WiFi. Let’s say you’re on vacation in Disney World, taking the requisite shots in front of Cinderella’s Castle. Your family and friends at home could be viewing those photos less than a minute after you took them. In fact, we’re surprised professional cameras are still using external adapters, think of the convenience for photojournalists on location.

As if that weren’t enough, the camera’s other marquee feature is Android OS 4.1 or “Jelly Bean.” This is a full-featured, smartphone-grade operating system, fully compatible with the entire library of Android apps. Yes, you can play Angry Birds on your camera. But you can also check your e-mail, browse the Internet, use a photo editing app (Instagram is pre-installed), or do anything else you would on a smartphone except make calls. Even then, there’s always Skype.

All that being said, the Galaxy Camera’s greatest innovations become its greatest weaknesses if you’re not into the whole photo-sharing-always-connected-Instagram-Facebook thing. In that case, the Galaxy Camera would be a pretty bad deal. Based on our image quality test results, the Galaxy Camera’s performance seems roughly equivalent to Samsung’s own WB850F. It’s a respectable travel zoom camera, but one that carries an MSRP of only $329.99. So a little simple math reveals you’re paying about $170 for all those awesome connectivity features, and that’s before a 4G data plan.

There are other problems too. While the huge rear LCD is gorgeous, it begets an all-touch user interface that’s slower and less precise than good ol’ buttons. Most of our frustrations surrounding this camera aren’t due to image quality, but from a desire to get the camera to do what we want, when we want, before the decisive moment is over. You should also be aware this camera is much larger than it looks in pictures, and doesn’t quite qualify as “pocket-friendly.”

Still, the Galaxy Camera is the best and only choice for those with a serious interest in photo sharing from anywhere. We want to emphasize that the success of this camera is due to the combination of Android and 4G. If this device supported 4G but not Android, we’d probably be forced to use some clunky proprietary software to connect, then more clunky proprietary software for uploads, etc. If the opposite were true, and the camera only included the Android OS, it would be severely limited by a reliance on WiFi hotspots. But for the right user, someone obsessed with social sharing, yet still committed to image quality beyond a phone camera, the Galaxy Camera could be just right.

Now…let’s see someone bring this technology to prosumer models.

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