Samsung Galaxy S4 Zoom Australian Review: Mind-Boggling Photos

Can anything out-Lumia the outstanding, 41-megapixel Nokia Lumia 1020? We think we might have found a contender that can give it a go. Meet the Samsung Galaxy S4 Zoom.

What Is It?

A Galaxy S4 with a whacking-great camera on the back.

Inside is a dual-core 1.5GHz Cortex A9 processor, 1.5GB of RAM, a 4.3-inch screen with 540x960 resolution and 256 pixels per inch, and 8GB of internal memory, expandable up to 64GB with a microSD card.

The real party-piece is the camera. Flip the S4 Zoom over and you’ll find a 16-megapixel shooter with a 10x optical zoom (24-240mm) lens, complete with Optical Image Stabilisation and Samsung’s frankly excellent camera app baked in.

It will run you $699 outright from Samsung Experience Stores and retail partners.

From the images we’ve seen coming out of the S4 Zoom, this thing might just be able to take down the Lumia 1020.

What’s Good?

That 16-megapixel, rear-facing camera is freakishly good. Superficially speaking, it’s gigantic but the images it produces are brilliant.

Just check out these photos.

Macro


Zoom



Low Light Test

S4 Zoom


Lumia 1020


One thing the S4 Zoom definitely has over the Lumia 1020 is natural colour reproduction and greater macro abilities.

With the Lumia 1020, we’ve had trouble getting within 10cm of a subject and maintaing anything like a decent focus. Colour reproduction on the Lumia 1020 has also been a tad difficult at times, especially in low-light where the camera decides to dump a bunch of yellow hues into an image. We didn’t have either of these problems with the Galaxy S4 Zoom.

The addition of a full-sized tripod mount at the base of the S4 Zoom is also welcome for mobile photogs looking to steady their images in low-light.

The zoom is also excellent, believe it or not. As you can see from the tests, we stood in the same place and took a photo of the Sydney Harbour Bridge, before zooming right into the flags to take a look up-close. The results are awesome. Also good for balcony snooping, we found out. Sure, it’s not going to hold its own against a traditional super-zoom camera, but it’s better than we’ve seen from any other mobile phone camera.

That spectacular zoom is triggered by a manual focus ring that sits on the enormous lens poking out the back of the camera. It’s so weird having this functionality on a mobile phone, but you get used to it for framing your photos after a few shots.

It’s also incredible to have a camera phone that packs in both a removable battery (this camera chews a lot of power when you use it a bunch), and

The screen is incredibly bright and crisp so your photo reviews look great, too.

What’s Bad?

It feels harsh, but I wish this fantastic camera phone wasn’t running Samsung’s obnoxious TouchWiz software.

Sure, it’s configured for photographers, but you can tell that this software wasn’t built to handle a camera of this magnitude. There are a few too many moving parts, and the UI feels incredibly cluttered and slow.


Time to first shot from standby is 7.8 seconds. That’s pretty average compared to the Lumia 1020 which handles it in just under 5.5 seconds, and the iPhone 5s which takes care of the first photo within roughly 3 seconds.

The main problem there is a lack of dedicated shortcut to the camera app from the lockscreen. There’s certainly a way to put one there, but if a fast shutter and dedicated camera is one of your selling points, you should have camera shortcuts just about everywhere.

Samsung has also made Touchwiz on the S4 Zoom respond to the manual zoom wheel, so that everytime you give it the slightest twist, it dumps you into the camera app to take a photo. That can get super annoying if you don’t watch your fingers.

Speaking of the placement of the camera, you can see that Samsung has done its best to make sure that the giant lens sticking out the back of your camera doesn’t adversely impact your ordinary smartphone experience but doesn’t go far enough.

The grip at the bottom of the phone is too small for the phone to sit flush on the lens, which means the phone just rests awkwardly on its giant accents. That lens sticks out of the phone by a whole centimetre, by the way. Compared to the lens on the Lumia 1020 which juts out by a paltry 4mm.

The specs on the S4 Zoom also leave a bit to be desired, to the point that it’s weird this thing is being called an S4.

When you think about it, the original S4 is a a 5-inch, quad-core 1.9GHz-packing monster with 2GB of RAM, expandable storage and a 2600mAh battery. The S4 Zoom can barely hold a candle to that, with a dual-core processor, less RAM and a smaller battery. We just wish it had more grunt to try and pull itself around with. For some perspective, it scores an embarrassing 752 on Geekbench 3.

This Is Weird

The range on the 10x optical zoom lens is fantastic, but refocusing becomes a bit of an issue, particularly at the long end of the lens.

We tried to photograph a wine bottle from a distance of about 30cm, and found that it focussed perfectly first time with an excellent depth-of-field. When we tried to zoom in from the same position and refocus, however, the image wouldn’t frame up properly and we were left with a blurry mess.

Moral of the story? Use the zoom if you want to get in close on stuff that’s actually happening at a distance. If you want to get a close-up on something that’s happening near you, either switch to the Macro mode and move in closer, or just crop the full-sized image down.

Should You Buy It?

I know it sends Windows Phone users into a tailspin whenever anyone says it, but the lack of apps for its ecosystem really put some people off. The camera on the Lumia 1020 is so compelling that mobile photogs are drawn to it despite the app wilderness they find themselves in. The Samsung Galaxy S4 Zoom really is the best of both worlds.

It gives you access brilliant compact shooter that dominates the competition, while sitting on the Android ecosystem from one of the most prominent manufacturers in the world. You’ll never be short of apps as you marvel at just how good your hardware really is. This is the camera for mobile photography pros.

It’s not without fault, however. We definitely recommend going hands-on with it yourself before purchasing.

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