Samsung has a new point-and-shoot/smartphone hybrid called the Galaxy S4 Zoom. It's a small device—smaller than I expected (it's still thick)—that's equipped with a fully functional 16-megapixel camera. Out of the four Galaxy S4 devices currently announced, this is easily the most fascinating. By no means is it the best, though it does have a few key strengths that the other S4 handsets don't have. It was designed to be different.
The S4 Zoom immediately offers some advantages over something like the S4. In addition to its 10x optical zoom, the device lets users control exposure brightness, shutter speed, AWB and even aperture. The S4 affords a few manual controls, like the ability to adjust ISO, but you only get limited flexibility compared to the Zoom. Each has an array of fancy Smart shooting modes, which are typical to the Samsung brand but for our purposes we kept everything on Auto to keep the playing field level.
Using the Zoom as a straight up camera is actually quite nice; it performs like a mini Galaxy Camera, a device that was one of Samsung's more successful experiments. Despite its mid-range specs, I never noticed any lag or stutter—important stuff when quickly snapping little moments. When held like a typical point-and-shoot, the weight feels a little funny, though it doesn't degrade the experience.
On the top (when held in landscape), there's a convenient shutter button, which you can half press to focus. By default the camera focuses on what's directly in the middle, though you can tap to focus anywhere on the touchscreen, locking in that area until you take a picture. It acts as it would on a smartphone (on the Galaxy S4 in this case), but it underlines how easy and intuitive it is to use.
Aside from the benefit of the Zoom's 16-megapixel camera, it also has a 10x optical zoom feature—this we found was hit and miss. Actually zooming in is awkward; you either do so onscreen, or you turn a ring on the lens. On a device of this size, grasping the lens ring is difficult, and using the touchscreen to zoom in takes ages—though the speed at which it goes is likely designed for better accuracy. It would be nice for Samsung to include a little zoom knob right on the shutter button, but the company likely omitted it due to design constraints.
The Zoom is a curious little device. On the one hand there are some neat little advantages in the camera department—they'll be the reason someone would even purchase this device. But does its camera make up for its mid-range specs and awkward smartphone body? Hopefully the results will help you make that decision.
Just like our other comparisons, we kept settings on Auto, and did our best to take the exact same picture at nearly the same time. Most of the pictures are taken late evening/early morning, while others are inside under normal office conditions. We're not making any judgements on either device; we'll let you deliberate on which produced the better shots.
Taken at dusk, with no direct sunlight on our tree in the backyard; the remaining light is coming from the right side of the picture.
Taken at dusk with no direct sunlight.
Taken in the early morning, with the sun streaming onto our frontyard. Because of the white surfboard (and the orange sunlight), both obviously handled lighting much differently.
Taken in the early morning, around 7:30, with the sun peaking through some clouds.
Taken in the early morning with the sun behind me.
Taken at dusk, with the sun almost fully below the horizon. Our dog Maverick obviously enjoys that chair.
Taken at dusk with no direct sunlight (the sun would be coming in from the left).
Taken at dusk with no direct sunlight. Although the chair is very dirty, it's still a vibrant yellow.
Taken in our conference room with flash on. There were also lights on directly above.
Taken under normal office conditions with flash. There were also light on overhead.
Taken in our conference room with typical office lights as the only light source.
Taken in a completely dark room with only the candle as the single light source.
Taken in a completely dark room with flash as the only available light source.
Both zoomed in 4x on a cloudy day.