But for everything smartphones are, they are not are amazing cameras. Still, the S4 will give you good quality shots in broad daylight, and there are many options for adjusting the color, adding film-style effects and fun digital stickers, as well as wireless sharing. But, image quality deteriorates quickly once you get into afternoon shade and dimmer light. And - most frustrating of all, perhaps, for serious photographers - the lack of wide angle and any optical zoom is sure to hamstring your creativity.
If you insist on not carrying more than one device in your pockets, this smartphone will serve you well for basic snapshots. The S4 is outfitted with both a 13-megapixel rear camera and a 2-megapixel front camera. This secondary camera is for taking self portraits (or, "selfies" in current lingo). However, you aren't entirely restricted to taking self-portraits at two megapixels. You can set the volume rocker button to trip the camera's shutter or launch video recording. This is a very welcome feature because if you have ever tried to take a self-portrait while reaching around a smart phone to use the touch screen shutter button, you likely vowed never to do it again - it being nearly impossible to tap in the right spot while holding the thin phone body at an accurate angle.
The thin body of a smartphone, while ideal for slipping in and out of pockets, is not ideal for holding still while using as a camera. This is somewhat critical for getting a sharp shot in low light since the S4 is limited to ISO 800 (and its tiny lens). Having to tap the screen to trip the shutter doesn't help, either. Thankfully, as mentioned previously, you can assign the shutter function to the volume rocker.
The best thing about this smartphone's camera features are the creative effects. On the sophisticated side, you can apply one of eight color treatments to your photos, as well as 20 effects. All of the color adjustments (with the exception of Auto) allow you to adjust the severity of the effect. The 20 photo effects mimic film processing techniques and the effects of specialized lenses and filters. These do not have adjustable parameters. In all cases, I found the results of these in-camera processes to be attractive and very convenient to apply, allowing you to get sophisticated-looking results on-the-fly and then share the edited photo with friends.
On the other hand, the results from the portrait editing options were not as impressive. There are seven fixes in total, including red-eye fix and a few other enhancements such as airbrush face, out-of-focus and face reshaping. There is also a beauty face editing feature (in addition to the Beauty Face scene mode), which allows you to adjust the individual features of a face: eyes, nose, mouth and face shape. (Doesn't anyone like how they look anymore?) I chose to "fix" to my wife's nose and made it bigger, which in the process of stretching it made it redder, like a gin blossom. It takes roughly 7 or 8 seconds to apply each adjustment, which can seem particularly time-consuming when the results don't seem to beautify. On the other hand, teens might get a real kick out of distorting themselves beyond recognition, and for that these features are certainly good for a few laughs.
The face reshaping feature has four presets: two for men and four for women, and tend to be thankfully subtle. I found the spot healing brush to be quite difficult to use, and the results to often be inaccurate - cloning a part of the photo onto skin that made the touchup obvious and unnatural-looking. It's difficult to use this feature because you can't zoom the photo before touching up the image. This would be very helpful in deciding how severe you want the effect to be. Despite the generous size of the sharp screen, it's not enough for judging the alteration of someone's face. All in all, these effects look amateurish and are less of a beauty feature than a fun house gimmick.
The camera offers 12 shooting modes, most of which are familiar territory. Beauty face mode appears to improve our looks by blurring skin, but I found this mode frustrating because indoors it simply made the entire picture blurry, lacking sharp details; it was preferable to use auto mode and then add any beauty effects later. The best photo mode allows you to choose the best frames of eight shot in a burst, while the best face mode allows you to choose your favorite expressions on multiple people. My favorite modes were Drama, which superimposes multiple shots of a moving subject over a static background (you have to keep the camera still), and Animated Photo, which creates and animated GIF file from many frames - I captured more than 50 in one instance (the camera then duplicates them so the action runs forward, then backward to the beginning ad infinitum). The S4 captures JPEG files, but adding effects in playback results in a PNG file. Shooting in Animated Photo mode produces an animated GIF.
The tiny LED flash is helpful in a pinch, but its range is unsurprisingly weak. When taking portraits at night, I found the flash too weak to attractively illuminate both my subject and a nearby background roughly 8 feet away. And even within the 4- to 5-foot workable range for the flash, I found my portraits often suffered from a greenish hue in the skin tone. And when you're shooting in low light, you will likely want to use the flash. In dimly lit locations, it is difficult to get a sharp shot without using flash. ISO 800 is the maximum light sensitivity the S4 is capable of, which is limited. But, in theory it should still be adequate for capturing sharp shots in a fair number of situations. We typically recommend you don't use higher than ISO 800 with most compact digital cameras, so the limited ISO on the S4 may not be all that bad.
The lackluster performance in shady situations with the S4 did not necessarily hinge on the ISO limitation. On the Samples Page there is a photo of a small garden in late afternoon shade: even though the camera used an exposure time of 1/33 second, which should have been enough to counteract any camera shake, there is a lack of sharp detail, and there is distortion and digital noise at the edges of the frame. Unfortunately, using auto exposure, the camera chose to only boost the ISO to 160; a higher ISO could have enabled a faster shutter speed, but may have introduced more unattractive digital noise artifacts.
The quality of the AMOLED touchscreen is superb. Photos and videos look very sharp, and colors are attractively saturated. If you only look at your photographs on your smartphone screen, the imperfections I've mentioned will rarely be noticed unless you magnify the image. The touchscreen performs well for navigating the menus and operating the camera. One particularly handy feature is the ability to customize three icon positions in shooting mode. You swap out the available settings using the smartphone's main menu button and going to quick settings. This pulls up a grid of settings icons that you drag to the top of the screen so they are always available while you are in shooting mode.
The S4's auto focus is impressively fast, for a smartphone. In my testing, the camera could lock onto a subject in about 0.4 second, on average. Of course, that's not blisteringly fast like the almost-instantaneous auto focus of more sophisticated cameras, but it is quick for a smartphone. Better yet, if you feel you are likely to miss an ideal shot due to the shutter lag, you can use the brisk burst mode. The S4 can shoot at 8 frames per second at full resolution. Impressively, you do not lose the on-screen image while shooting in burst mode, which allows you to continuously re-frame your shot as you go. Oddly, like some other cameras, the S4 does not use continuous shooting in its Sports mode, so you'll need to turn on burst manually in the settings and use it in Auto mode.
The S4 records full HD 1080p video, and the quality is quite good in daylight. The footage looks quite sharp and movement is fluid, though there are some dancing digital artifacts to be found in some background areas. Similar to its challenges with shooting still images in low light, the S4 produces videos in low light that suffer from digital noise and that can get distracting. The autofocus works fairly well in bright light, though it is not superb at tracking quick action. In dim light, poorly lit subjects can prove too difficult for the autofocus to lock onto. There's a handy Limit for MMS setting that records smaller resolution video for easier online sharing. The smartphone also has slow-motion and fast motion modes you can get a little creative with your videos.
The S4 is outfitted with WiFi, GPS, Bluetooth and NFS capabilities, which should cover all of your wireless and sharing needs. The battery is rated to last for up to eight hours of Internet usage on 3G, and up to 10 hours of Internet usage using WiFi, which should get you through a day without having to recharge. Using USB 2.0 the S4 can charge while connected to a computer, or using the included charger.
Bottom line - The S4 accomplishes a lot as a smartphone camera, offering lots of effects, easy touch screen operability, and very good image quality in daylight settings. Fun shooting modes and good video quality sweeten the deal, not to mention an 8fps burst mode. If your shooting needs don't include low light photography or the need for a zoom lens, the convenience of the S4 Smartphone camera will likely please you with its basic snapshots that are attractive and look crisp and vivid on the big, sharp AMOLED screen.
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