Samsung Galaxy S II Review

 
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Basic Specifications
Full model name: Samsung Galaxy S II
Resolution: 8.00 Megapixels
Sensor size: 1/3.2"
Lens: Non-Zoom
(30mm eq.)
Viewfinder: LCD
ISO: 40-800
Shutter: 1/15-1/16000
Max Aperture: 2.7
Dimensions: 2.8 x 5.1 x 0.4 in.
(70 x 130 x 10 mm)
Weight: 4.7 oz (132 g)
includes batteries
MSRP: $500
Availability: 09/2011
Manufacturer: Samsung
8.00
Megapixels
Non-Zoom
1/3.2"
size sensor
image of Samsung Galaxy S II
Front side of Samsung Galaxy S II digital camera Back side of Samsung Galaxy S II digital camera Top side of Samsung Galaxy S II digital camera Left side of Samsung Galaxy S II digital camera Right side of Samsung Galaxy S II digital camera

Galaxy S II Review Summary: In some ways the camera in the Samsung Galaxy S II surpasses the camera in the competing iPhone 4 that we reviewed last Summer, but print sizes are about the same. There's no question, though, that the Galaxy S II's camera offers considerably more options and serves better as a pocket camera replacement in most cases.

Pros: Amazing screen; Good image quality; Offers more control; Virtual half-press on shutter if desired; easy uploads to social media.

Cons: Occasional signal trouble; Banding in Macro mode; Design is so slim it's sometimes hard to hold; Muted color.

Price and availability: Depending on the network, the Samsung Galaxy S II is available now for prices hovering around US$200. On Sprint, the model reviewed here, the prices is US$199.99 after $300 instant rebate and a 2-year agreement. On T-Mobile, a version is available for US$229 with a new 2-year contract. AT&T's model sells for $549.99 with no contract or US$199.99 with a 2-year contract.

Imaging Resource rating: 4.5 out of 5.0

 

Samsung Galaxy S II Camera User Report

by Shawn Barnett and Stephanie Boozer
Review posted: 10/19/2011

NOTE: This review is for the Sprint version of the Samsung Galaxy S II Epic 4G (16GB) running Android 2.3.4; some specs differ depending on the carrier, including thickness, weight, screen size, and price.

Since we reviewed the camera in the Apple iPhone 4, we thought we should also give the Samsung Galaxy S II's camera a look. It's pretty clear that for many users, the improvements made to smartphone cameras have made them good enough for the occasional spontaneous snapshots, serving as "everywhere" cameras. And having an instant, always-on connection to social media and photo sharing sites like Facebook, Flickr, and Instagram makes getting our photos seen by more people that much easier.

Unlike our review of the iPhone 4, we haven't had as much time with the Samsung Galaxy S II, so we don't know it as well as Dan did his iPhone 4, but we do know it well enough to comment on how well it did as a camera, which is the main point of this report.

The Samsung Galaxy S II is incredibly feature-rich, and its Samsung Exynos dual-core processor makes just about everything fast. The body is tall and wide, noticeably larger than the iPhone 4, but it's impressively slim at 9.59mm (my calipers say its 10mm at its thinnest point). At first, it's so flat and wide that it's difficult to hold, despite the textured back. But you get used to that after awhile and learn to take care with it. That slim shape slips into a pocket nicely to be sure.

When you first fire it up you encounter its most stunning feature: The 4.52-inch Super AMOLED Plus display. Bright, vibrant, and razor sharp, the screen is mesmerizing, and Samsung used excellent fonts and icons to make the Galaxy S II look quite refined. The screen shots here don't do the Galaxy S II's screen justice at all; you need to see it to believe it. Unlike other AMOLED displays I've used, I found it quite good for framing images and judging exposure. I suppose that's the Plus. Even when taking pictures in sunlight, I was always able to see clearly and judge exposure well, which is saying something.

As for its camera, the subject of this review, the Samsung Galaxy S II has an 8-megapixel backside illuminated sensor with an autofocus lens and an LED to serve as a low-power flash. Because the lens is located in the top center of the phone's back panel, we got no images with a finger in the shot, which is more likely with the iPhone, whose camera is located in a corner.

Its lens has a maximum aperture of f/2.7 and a focal length of about 30mm equivalent. Actually, f/2.7 is the only aperture available, and as far as we can determine, shutter speeds range from 1/15 to 1/16,000 second. Documentation doesn't tell us much, but we've looked at the EXIF data and these are the slowest and fastest shutter speeds we can make the Galaxy S II report.

Fall Colour. The Galaxy S II does render colors a bit muted, so having the Fall Colour option is helpful.

Half-press. For me the most interesting innovation in the Galaxy S II is the virtual half-press to its shutter button. Though it's the same onscreen button as most smartphones, this one focuses on initial press, then shoots the image when you release your finger from the screen. It's great for focusing then re-framing your image. Pressing on a touchscreen is unintuitive to me, and I'm not crazy about touchscreen shutters on most digital cameras, let alone cellphones, but once I got used to carefully releasing my finger from the screen to fire, I got so I didn't blur as many shots from moving during exposure.

Touching anywhere on the focus screen also focuses at that point, but does not fire the shutter. A quick touch and release fires the shutter, or you can press and hold as described above. The AF point re-centers after each exposure.

More options. When compared to the iPhone 4, the Samsung Galaxy S II has quite a few more exposure options. Though you still can't control aperture or shutter speed, you can adjust white balance, ISO, metering type, exposure value, focus mode, and there are even 13 Scene modes. Multiple resolutions can also be set, with six options ranging from 3,264 x 2,448 down to 640x480. Several unique shooting modes include Smile Shot, Beauty, Panorama, Action shot, and Cartoon.

Adjustments. I had +1EV accidentally set for this shot, but it was fortuitous, bringing out the ghost of the old man in the screen door.

Pressing the menu buttons brings down beautiful, sliding menus with a semi-transparent background. It's an elegant user interface, one I wouldn't mind seeing on a digital camera sometime soon.

Shooting. Taking the Galaxy S II out to shoot galleries seemed strange at first, but it wasn't long before it felt as natural as anything. I've shot some pretty unusual cameras recently, from the Pentax Q to the Pentax 645D, so a flat smartphone wasn't that unusual. Indeed, it seems I looked quite a bit more common out with a phone than I do with a large SLR. I certainly didn't attract any attention, not even as much as I would with a so-called "street camera," designed for stealth.

Capture screen. All icons neatly rotate in place as you rotate the Galaxy S II.

I didn't mess with many settings as I shot, which is my usual mode. I just want shots of reality, so special effects don't usually interest me much. I did notice a slight fading of colors, especially Autumn leaves, but I didn't notice the Fall Colour Scene mode until I shot a few, but above right are before and after samples.

I did find occasion to adjust EV, however, both up and down by 1 full stop. I found the first time I needed a minus one setting to keep from blowing out a robe that appeared in the shot, but the second time I didn't need the plus one setting at all, as the scene looked more natural without it. Of course, then I forgot to turn it back off, damaging several shots afterward. Which brings me back to why I seldom like to mess with special settings.

A famous photography friend reminded me on Facebook to mention that the lens can get a bit greasy from fingerprints, so wiping it off isn't a bad idea now and again. I was already in that habit with my non-smartphone, as well as my iPod touch, but he's right it's important to mention. If you images start to seem foggy, especially with light hitting the lens, consider cleaning the lens's cover glass with a soft cloth.

Panorama. Capturing a panoramic image is pretty easy with the Galaxy S II: Just press and release the onscreen shutter button and start panning in any direction. The camera clicks, then a green bracket appears near the center of the screen as you continue to pan. As the green bracket moves near the edge of the screen, it clicks again and a new image is captured. The camera captured eight frames for the image above, counting up as it grabbed each image. Then the screen switched to an animated wheel that appears when the processor is working, and in only a few seconds the panorama displayed. Tilting the Galaxy S II sideways gives a bigger onscreen view. While it's pretty cool that the Galaxy S II has a Panorama mode at all, it's mostly only good for screen display, as the quality of the merge is not high enough for printing out and putting on your wall.

Video. With a host of resolutions and options, video looks pretty good. (Click to download 23.8MB 1080p30 MP4 file.)

Video. Capturing a video with the Galaxy S II is quite easy. Just flip the switch left of the shutter button and you're in video mode. You can select among several capture modes, including Normal, Limit for MMS (a shorter video), and Self Recording, which records with the second, video conferencing camera. You can apply effects, like Negative Grayscale, and Sepia. And there are six resolutions to choose from, including 1,920 x 1,080, 1,280 x 720, 720 x 480, 640 x 480, 320 x 240, and 176 x 144. White balance options are also available, and you can even choose from three different compression levels, Superfine, Fine, and Normal. Digital zoom is available while recording, but it's jerky.

Geolocation. Mapping where you took a picture is easy, as the Galaxy S II can save the data into the EXIF file (shown here in iPhoto).

Sharing. One of the main benefits of having a camera in a smartphone is the ability to quickly share your images on a social network. I downloaded the Flickr app with ease, and set it up with a new account, as well as linking it to my Facebook account. I went through more than a little trouble while trying to set up the necessary Yahoo account and link it to Flickr, mostly due to weak coverage in my area. After a friend advised me to try Wi-Fi, I slapped my forehead and connected the Galaxy S II to our local access port, and everything went swimmingly. Trying to upload photos while connected via the 4G or 3G network has proved more difficult while indoors around where I live, so switching to Wi-Fi has been necessary more than once. Uploads are naturally quite fast, taking only seconds on a Wi-Fi connection, but noticeably slower on the cellphone network; slow is fine, it's the dropped connections that aggravate. Also note that you can't have a Wi-Fi connection and a 4G connection at the same time.

While photos are uploading, Flickr's blue and pink dots rotate around one-another in the top status display. Swiping downward on the display brings down the status pane, and you can watch the progress of the uploads.

Flickr's new Android application attempts to duplicate some of the special color modes and effects seen in Instagram. It's not quite the same, as the images remain in their original size, rather than getting cropped to square as Instagram does; and the images are not downsampled from the full size, but they are at least downsampled when viewed through the Flickr interface.

Inconspicuous. Shooting with a quality cameraphone is the ultimate in stealth.

The Flickr app will also link your photos into Facebook, Twitter, Tumblr, and email. It works pretty well once it's all set up, and will get you clicking and sharing quickly. You can also share via the Facebook app, and probably many other applications. As we didn't have the Galaxy S II for very long, we didn't try more than these two. Facebook's app offers a pretty straightforward capture and upload system, or else just an upload from your gallery of images. It's fast and easy to name and comment on your shots, and they go straight into Facebook.

Overall, I was very pleased with the Samsung Galaxy S II. It's a great phone with a big and beautiful screen, one that's even better for books and social media than an iPhone or smaller Android device, and it has all that Android offers with some very sweet tweaks on Samsung's part. If we were reviewing the phone and computing aspects of the Samsung Galaxy S II, we'd have to give it highest marks for its impressive capabilities. As a camera, though, it's noticeably better than the iPhone 4 we reviewed, and not just because of its higher resolution sensor. Most aspects of its image quality are also better, and those with a little more photographic knowledge can even tweak settings on the Galaxy S II for greater control of that output. See our analysis and crops below for more.

 

Samsung Galaxy S II Camera Lens Quality


Moderate blurring,
upper left
Sharp at center
Also moderate blurring, lower right

Sharpness: The Samsung Galaxy S II's fixed lens shows mild to moderate blurring in the extreme corners of the frame compared to what we see at center, and blurring only extends a very small distance into the frame. The center is sharp, however. Pretty good performance here.


Mild barrel distortion; not very noticeable

Geometric Distortion: There is a small amount (~0.2%) of barrel distortion from the Galaxy S II's lens, which isn't very noticeable. Keep in mind this is a 30mm-equivalent lens, so perspective distortion can be an issue with closer subjects, as can be seen by the elongated mannequin head in our portrait shots below.


Very Low

Chromatic Aberration: Chromatic aberration is so low, it's really not very noticeable. The image processor may be removing most of it, but the Samsung Galaxy S II shows only a suggestion of reddish pixels around the target lines.


Macro
Macro with Flash

Macro: The Samsung Galaxy S II's Macro mode produces images that contain pretty good detail across the frame, with only a tiny amount of softening in the extreme corners. (Most lenses produce some corner softening at macro distances, so the Galaxy S II's lens performs better than most here.) Exposure is a little uneven, with dimmer results at the center of the frame, and there's some noticeable horizontal banding. The minimum coverage area is 3.30 x 2.48 inches (84 x 63mm), a bit larger than most cameras. The Galaxy S II's LED "flash" provides fairly good coverage, though with noticeable falloff in the corners. It's best to use external lighting, especially at these distances.


 

Samsung Galaxy S II Camera Image Quality


Color: Color saturation looks pretty good (only about 9% oversaturated in our test), most notably reds, blue, and some greens, but performance is actually quite good here. Overall hue accuracy is excellent as indicated by a mean "delta-C" color error after correction for saturation of only 3.58, which is much better than most dedicated digicams. There are only minor shifts in most colors, though there are stronger shifts in orange toward yellow, and yellow toward green. Lighter skin tones are pretty much right-on, while darker skin tones show a shift toward red-orange. Overall though, color performance is quite accurate in good light, though some may feel colors are slightly muted compared to most cameras.


Auto WB:
Quite red
Incandescent WB:
Fair, though a bit yellow

Incandescent: Auto white balance is likely too red for most consumer tastes, but Incandescent is closer to the mark, if a bit yellow. Unlike the iPhone 4 which only offers Auto, the Galaxy S II has selectable white balance (Auto, Daylight, Cloudy, Incandescent or Fluorescent), but unfortunately no custom setting.


Horizontal: 1,500 lines
Vertical: 1,400 lines

Resolution: Our laboratory resolution chart revealed sharp, distinct line patterns down to about 1,500 lines per picture height horizontally, and to about 1,400 lines vertically. Extinction of the pattern occurred at around 1,850 lines per picture height.


2 ft: Bright, uneven
4 ft: Very dim, uneven
Indoor Portrait

Flash: We're not sure if Samsung has rated the range of the Galaxy S II's LED "flash," so we took a series of shots from 2 feet to 4 feet in 1-foot increments, all at ISO 100. At right, you can see the extremes of that test range. At 2 feet, the flash target was bright, though corners are dark. At 4 feet, the exposure was much dimmer with stronger vignetting. The darker corners had a green cast, while the center was magenta.

Our Indoor Portrait scene was fairly bright with the flash enabled, as the exposure retained some ambient light by using a relatively slow shutter speed of 1/28 second, ISO 100. However the very center of the image has a cool tint from the flash, compared to the stronger pink cast surrounding it. At this slow shutter speed, blur due to subject or camera phone motion will likely be a problem.


100
200
400
800
ISO: Noise and Detail: Detail is pretty good at ISO 100 for the size of sensor, however some fine detail is already lost to noise reduction. Chrominance noise is well controlled, though some luminance noise is visible. ISO 200 is a bit softer with more visible noise, but not too bad. Detail at ISO 400 takes a bigger hit with much stronger blurring and blotchy luminance noise. Noise is quite high and detail very smudged at ISO 800, with noticeable chroma noise in some midtones and shadows as well. For more on how this affects printed images, see the Printed section below.



Print Quality:

Though the resolution is higher than the iPhone 4, the printed image quality is about the same. We can make a 13x19-inch print from ISO 100 shots that we'd call usable, but it looks quite a bit better printed at 11x14 inches.

ISO 200 shots are also good at 11x14 inches.

ISO 400 images are good at 8x10, but look better as 5x7-inch prints.

ISO 800 shots are usable but soft on close inspection at 5x7 inches. We prefer the 4x6-inch prints.

Overall, printed performance is not bad for a cell phone camera. Packing more pixels onto a tiny sensor often doesn't result in quality sufficient for larger print sizes, which proves true here as well, with the print quality closely matching the 5-megapixel iPhone 4.


 

Samsung Galaxy S II Camera Performance


Sorry, no performance results, as we are not setup to test camera phones without a physical shutter button.


 

Samsung Galaxy S II Camera Conclusion

Pro: Con:
  • Very refined smartphone
  • Quite customizable design
  • Ability to share images online quickly
  • Stunning screen is excellent for composing and reviewing images
  • Excellent color accuracy outdoors (though some may think a bit muted)
  • Decent lens with low distortion
  • Good image quality at low ISOs in good light
  • User adjustable settings such as exposure compensation, ISO, white balance, metering modes, AF modes, scene modes, effects, quality, etc.
  • ISOs as low as 40 in Auto mode
  • Full HD 1080p movies
  • Electronic image stabilization
  • Face and blink detection
  • Self-timer
  • In-camera panoramas (but not great quality)
  • GPS tagging
  • Expandable storage (microSD slot)
  • Some trouble with 4G and 3G reception inside buildings (rectified by switching to Wi-Fi)
  • Weak flash with narrow coverage (no surprise for a single LED)
  • Flash produced cool cast in images when shooting in tungsten light
  • Only capable of digital zooming (up to 4x)
  • Reddish Auto WB indoors, yellowish with Incandescent setting
  • No custom white balance
  • Print quality not much better than 5-megapixel iPhone 4
  • Image banding in Macro mode

 

Faced with the challenge of the popular and capable iPhone, Samsung pulled out all the stops with the Galaxy S II, summoning its vast technological prowess in so many areas to produce a phone that really shines. From the "insanely great" monitor with its vibrant color and deep blacks, to its powerful processor that allows smooth animations and impressive capabilities, the Galaxy S II presents a winning alternative.

Its 8-megapixel camera is what we were interested in, though, and that did fairly well too, especially as a simple everywhere camera. It has a lot more options than the iPhone 4, more than we mention in the review, in fact, allowing the savvy user to take more control if they want, or else stick with full auto modes. The latest iPhone 4S adds a few options of its own, which we'll have to look at soon, but there's no question the Galaxy S II offers more control than the iPhone 4. Color was a bit muted with the Galaxy S II, but that actually means it was accurate, which is remarkable given the incredibly vibrant screen on the camera. Vibrant screens often deceive you about the color, but not the Galaxy S II. Instead, its screen gives you a pretty true rendition, even when you're in direct sunlight. It's surprising.

The Galaxy S II's matrix metering needed a little help now and then, often blowing out white objects in a scene, but that help was readily available in the form of exposure compensation, so we were pleased with that. Digital zoom is pretty bad, so we stuck to full-frame shooting. We also liked that the camera was able to add a GPS tag to images, which is great in social media for telling your friends about a restaurant you really liked, offering them not just a picture, but a map so they can find and try it themselves. Its a new digital world if you choose to take part, and the Samsung Galaxy S II is well-suited to the task for the right type of person.

While we don't recommend the Samsung Galaxy S II as a camera to rely upon in important photographic situations, like taking the money shots at a wedding, we do think it's a pretty good camera for sharing photos on the Web and even for making reasonably sized prints, making it a Dave's Pick.

 

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