Galaxy S4 Zoom

Galaxy S4 Zoom

Steve's Conclusion


Steve's SnapShot
    Galaxy S4 Zoom 275 wide.jpg
  • 16-megapixel BSI CMOS 1/2.3-inch image sensor
  • 10x optical zoom lens
  • 4.3-inch AMOLED touchscreen display
  • Optical image stabilization
  • Combination smartphone and compact camera
  • Secondary camera has 1.9-megapixels of resolution
  • 25 pre-set camera modes
  • Smartphone-like screen design running Android 4.2 operating system, Jelly Bean
  • Full HD (1080p) video recording  
  • Continuous shot mode of 4 frames per second
  • Music player included
  • 4G-LTE high-speed data and voice
  • Wi-Fi and NFC connectivity
  • USB connectivity
  • microSD memory card slot
  • Up to 11GB of internal memory available
  • Rechargeable Li-ion battery 
  • Rarely found combination of mid-range point-n-shoot digital camera and full-feature smartphone
  • Improved photographic performance versus Samsung Galaxy Camera
  • Easily outperforms most smartphone cameras
  • 10x optical zoom lens sets S4 Zoom apart from most smartphone cameras
  • Smartphone-like operation and menu structure makes camera very easy to use
  • Works with both Wi-Fi and 4G cellular networks
  • Large 4.3-inch touchscreen display
  • Plenty of special effect shooting options available, making S4 Zoom fun to use
  • Many in-camera editing options
  • Minimal shutter lag and better than average shot to shot delays
  • Nice mix of automatic and manual control settings options
  • Price is high versus camera-only options with similar photographic capabilities (although price varies with smartphone contract options)
  • Only available through AT&T cell network initially
  • Very slow start-up to first photo performance
  • Quite a bit of noise in low light photographs
  • Small 1/2.3-inch image sensor limits camera's overall image quality
  • Zoom ring is a little awkward to use while shooting movies
  • S4 Zoom is significantly thicker than most smartphones and doesn't fit comfortably in most pockets
  • Fans of Apple iPhone may not adapt quickly to Android operating system
  • Camera will operate more slowly if you're running a lot of apps on the smartphone side
Timing Test Results
  • Power up to first image captured = 35.5 seconds (from full start-up), 4.1 seconds (from sleep mode)
  • Shutter lag when prefocused  = less than 1/10 of a second
  • Shutter lag with autofocus = about 0.2 of a second
  • Shot to shot delay without flash = 3.7 seconds between frames with minimum review time On, 2.2 seconds with review Off
  • Shot to shot delay with flash = 4.1 seconds between frames with minimum review time On, 2.6 seconds with review Off
  • Continuous Mode = 20 frames in 5.9 seconds @ 16M
  • Burst Mode = 3 frames in 0.6 seconds @ 16M
  • All tests were taken using a PNY Class 10, 16 GB microSD memory card, Program Mode, Flash off, Review on, ISO Auto and all other settings at the factory defaults unless noted otherwise.
Bottom Line
Samsung has created an interesting smartphone/digital camera combination with the Galaxy S4 Zoom, which offers full operational capabilities in both areas. This model is quite a bit thicker than what you'd find with your typical smartphone, which makes it a little tough to quickly pull the S4 Zoom out of a pocket to answer a call. And the Galaxy S4 Zoom costs a lot more than mid-level point-n-shoot cameras with similar photographic features. However this combination of a fully functioning smartphone and digital camera is rarely seen, providing a nice hybrid for the person who needs more photographic power and image quality than the typical smartphone provides.
Pick This Up If...
You want to carry only one device, rather than carrying both a smartphone and a digital camera, and you don't mind a large smartphone device.
Samsung's second effort at a smartphone-like camera is the Samsung Galaxy S4 Zoom, except this model is as much smartphone as camera, which is unlike the Samsung Galaxy Camera released in the United States several months earlier.

The Galaxy S4 Zoom offers a few nice photographic features that give it a significant edge over typical smartphone cameras, including a 10x optical zoom lens, a right hand grip, and a built-in flash unit. And while the Samsung Galaxy Camera couldn't be operated as a pure smartphone, the S4 Zoom allows all aspects of a smartphone, including calls and texting. (This review will focus primarily on the digital camera aspects of the S4 Zoom, also called the SM-C105A, rather than the cell phone capabilities.)

The sacrifice you'll have to make by gaining the additional photographic capabilities in the Galaxy S4 Zoom versus your standard smartphone is the S4 Zoom's much thicker size versus a smartphone. While the Galaxy S4 Zoom will fit in a pocket, you'll need to have a very large pocket. When the lens housing and right-hand grip are included, the S4 Zoom measures about 1 inch in thickness. Not exactly ideal when you're trying to quickly pull the Galaxy S4 Zoom out of your pocket to answer a call.

Still, Samsung has done a pretty good job here with this smartphone/camera combination, especially in making the camera easy to use. 

One thing I appreciated when reviewing the Samsung Galaxy Camera is the natural way in which Samsung merged the easy-to-use menu structure and navigational aspects of a smartphone to operate the digital camera. Samsung has done that again with the Galaxy S4 Zoom, which runs the Android 4.2 operating system (also called Jelly Bean). Anyone who has experience using an Android smartphone will have few problems picking up the Galaxy S4 Zoom and using it successfully immediately.

For full disclosure, I have an Android smartphone and I like its interface and usability. Those to whom I showed the Galaxy S4 Zoom who were used to other smartphone interfaces, such as the Apple iPhone, weren't quite as impressed with the ease-of-use features of the S4 Zoom. 

Compared to most digital cameras, the menu design and usability of the Galaxy S4 Zoom is simply more natural. You can use the touchscreen to shoot a photo or you can press the shutter button. The shutter button works like it would on any digital camera, as you can hold the shutter halfway to pre-focus on a scene, something that's not possible with most smartphone cameras. Samsung also included a zoom ring around the lens housing of the S4 Zoom that you can use to adjust the 10x optical zoom setting, or you can adjust the zoom setting through the on-screen buttons.

The best design feature that enhances the usability of this camera/smartphone device, though, is the right-hand grip. While it's more natural to hold and operate a smartphone vertically to shoot photos and video, you can also easily hold and operate the Galaxy S4 Zoom horizontally because of the right hand grip, which will result in better quality video and still images versus using a smartphone in a vertical alignment. The S4 Zoom certainly feels more like a camera than a smartphone in terms of its design and the usability of its camera.

Samsung included quite a few advanced shooting modes with the Galaxy S4 Zoom, giving you a few more options for controlling the scene manually than you'd receive with a typical point-n-shoot camera. You can shoot in full Auto mode, along with Program Auto and Manual. You can adjust the shutter speed, aperture, white balance, ISO, and other settings. The camera maker also included scene modes and several special effect modes, which are fun to use. All of the advanced features must be selected via on-screen buttons, as Samsung kept the number of physical buttons on the camera body itself to a minimum.

Image quality is about average with the Galaxy S4 Zoom, similar to what you'd expect to find with a beginner- to mid-level point-n-shoot camera. It will produce photos of a quality that is more than adequate for sharing on the Web, which is perfect for a camera/smartphone combination with plenty of options for sending photos wirelessly. Samsung included quite a few in-camera editing options with the Galaxy S4 Zoom, which is nice to see in a device that's designed to have photos shared directly from the camera to social networks over Wi-Fi or 4G. You don't necessarily have to download the photos to a computer to perform quick editing functions before sharing them. Just don't expect to make many large prints with the S4 Zoom's images, which tend to have some noise.

Movie recording is of a good quality with the S4 Zoom, much better than you'd expect to find with a smartphone, although you don't have a lot of options for manually controlling the movie recording. The optical zoom lens is available to be used while shooting videos, although the autofocus tends to work a bit slowly after using the zoom. The zoom ring is a little awkward to use, which may cause the camera to jump around a little bit during video recording. Because the zoom lens makes some noise, by default the Galaxy S4 Zoom mutes the audio recording whenever you activate the optical zoom lens while shooting video. This will leave odd periods of silence in your movies. You can adjust menu settings to change this feature and have audio recorded at all times, but this may catch you off guard the first time you shoot movies and use the zoom lens.

Samsung added a second camera in the Galaxy S4 Zoom, which allows you to easily shoot self-portraits. While the main camera has a 16-megapixel 1/2.3-inch image sensor that's similar to what you'd find in a point-n-shoot digital camera, the secondary camera's image quality will be more similar to what you'd find in a smartphone camera with about 1.9-megapixels of resolution.

The S4 Zoom's photographic response times are quite a bit faster than the Samsung Galaxy Camera. The S4 Zoom has minimal shutter lag, and its shot to shot delays are better than average. This camera/smartphone has some fast-performing burst modes too. 

Where the Galaxy S4 Zoom struggles is in its start-up time, as it requires 35-plus seconds before it's ready to shoot a photo with the main camera after being completely powered down. And if the S4 Zoom is in sleep mode, you'll still have to wait 4 or more seconds before you can shoot a photo with the main camera. Additionally the more apps you may have running the background with on the smartphone side, the slower the camera will perform. 

You are allowed to jump from cell phone mode to camera mode by pressing the shutter button. By default the Galaxy S4 Zoom jumps directly into Auto mode, even if you were shooting in Program mode during your previous camera mode session. You can work through the camera's menus to turn on a feature that allows you to jump back to the most recently used shooting mode, but some photographers won't realize this option exists.

You also can twist the zoom ring to jump from cell phone mode to camera mode, which will cause a popup menu to appear from which you can select the shooting mode you want to use. Again this process is quite a bit slower than I'd like it to be. Don't expect to shoot quick photos when jumping from cell phone mode to camera mode, unless you just choose to shoot a quick photo with the reduced resolution cell phone camera.

For those who simply want to use the S4 Zoom as a cell phone the majority of the time, the right-hand grip and lens housing may end up causing more frustration than you're willing to tolerate to receive the improved photographic features. Unless you have a large pocket or purse in which to store the S4 Zoom, you'll have a difficult time pulling this device out of a regular-sized pocket in a hurry to answer a phone call or quickly check a text.

When using the Galaxy S4 Zoom's large 4.3-inch display to navigate through either the smartphone or the camera features, you'll receive a bright screen with nice quality. This AMOLED display is larger than most display screens you'll find on either cameras or smartphones. At just over 500,000 pixels, the sharpness of the S4 Zoom's display screen is only about what you'd expect to receive with an inexpensive point-n-shoot digital camera, which is a little disappointing. You may notice a few problems with glare when trying to shoot photos in direct sunlight.

Battery life is very good with the S4 Zoom, similar to what you'd receive with a smartphone. You can operate this device for several hours under normal cell phone and camera usage loads, although using the Wi-Fi extensively will drain the battery more quickly.

The Galaxy S4 Zoom was sold initially outside the United States before it was made available on U.S. cellular networks. At the time of this writing AT&T is the only cellular carrier who is offering the S4 Zoom to U.S. customers. The starting price for the S4 Zoom is a hefty $500-plus, although the actual price you'll pay will depend on the type of cellular service contract you select. Quite a few discounts are available, and you may even find this model at less than $100 with the right contract length and options.

Bottom Line - If you're familiar with the Samsung Galaxy Camera, you're going to be looking at a similar device with the Samsung Galaxy S4 Zoom, which offers full smartphone and full digital camera capabilities. You couldn't make calls with the Samsung Galaxy Camera, which has a larger zoom lens than the Galaxy S4 Zoom. The two devices are similar operationally, although the S4 Zoom is a faster performer and has better image quality. The Galaxy S4 Zoom certainly isn't going to replace a high-end camera in your arsenal, because it just won't offer the type of image quality required to shoot photos that can be made into large prints. This camera/smartphone combination does compare favorably to other beginner- to mid-level point-n-shoot cameras in terms of image quality and performance speeds. Additionally the user interface and menu structure of the Galaxy S4 Zoom is outstanding and makes this hybrid device much easier to use than your typical point-n-shoot digital camera. Ultimately Samsung is aiming the Galaxy S4 Zoom at the smartphone user who wants to shoot some higher quality photos than he or she can shoot with a smartphone alone, and for that segment of the market Samsung clearly has succeeded. There are similarly sized point-n-shoot cameras on the market that can match the Galaxy S4 Zoom's photographic qualities for a lower price. And most smartphones are quite a bit thinner and lighter than the S4 Zoom. But if you don't mind sacrificing a bit on both ends of the spectrum, the Galaxy S4 Zoom is a decent compromise for the person who wants to carry only one device.

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