Samsung S10 hit the market earlier this month and everybody now is expecting to see how these impressive specs translate in real life. No doubt, Samsung’s flagship is a great phone but how does it perform as a camera? Can you solely rely on it for capturing your travels and photographic adventures? The company claims that this phone is “the next generation camera that lets you shoot like a pro without being a pro”. Now that’s a bold statement, so we’re going to put it to the test.
Samsung S10, S10+ and the soon to arrive S10 5G have the same rear cameras, which are what we are mostly interested here.
Lots of lenses to start with. Three plus the front one, which can now shoot 4K video. On the rear you will find side by side: a 12MP Telephoto (6mm, FOV 45°), a wide 12MP (4.32mm, FOV 77°) with mechanical shutter (f1.5 & f2.4) and an ultra-wide 16MP (1.8mm, FOV 123°).
In 35mm equivalent they are 13, 26 and 52mm respectively. How do these three focal lengths work in the real world? The answer is pretty well.
The main lens here is the 26mm which is the only one that has a two position mechanical shutter and also the only that can shoot RAW files (why?).
Next is the 52mm. It will shine in portraits and landscapes when the extra reach is needed. The optical stabilization keeps hand shaking under control and the quality is very good for a tiny telephoto. My only complaint here is the lack of RAW files.
Last but not least the 13mm. I can say that it is very useful for landscapes and tight spaces where the 26mm just wouldn’t be wide enough. Quality wise, it’s almost on par with the other two. Not bad considering the extreme focal length’s needs in glass quantity and quality. The lack of optical stabilization here is not that important, again because of the extreme field of view.
Naturally there is distortion, which is nothing unusual considering the focal length and a correction can be applied automatically with a small crop penalty. When shooting contra (against the sun)—a weak point for many extra wide lenses—it performs very well by keeping lens flare to minimum.
Camera Performance of The Samsung S10
Three small icons over the S10s shutter button make the switch between the three cameras a breeze. The transition is instant. The star of the show here is the wide double aperture lens which will be used most of the time. I’m glad that Samsung hasn’t bitten on the megapixel race and kept this little gem to 12 megapixel.
You may scratch your head but more megapixels mean smaller megapixels. And smaller megapixels mean less light absorption and more noise, especially for a sensor the size of a lentil. Besides, 12 megapixels are more than enough for most computer screens and definitely an overkill for phone and tablet screens.
The dynamic range of Samsung S10 is absolutely stunning and the ability of the sensor to retrieve detail from overexposed scenes (like a sunny sky) is remarkable for a phone. Not that it does a bad with the details in the shadows. Of course to take advantage of the camera’s full capabilities you have to shoot RAWs (see the difference).
The sharpness is also very good. Exceptional in the center and pretty good on the edges. Lens flare and chromatic aberration are virtually non-existent.
When it comes to depth of field (the distance between the points where focus starts and ends), the small aperture change won’t make any significant difference for subjects located beyond half a meter away. But it will give you a stop and a third of extra light when you switch it to f1.5 albeit with a small decline in quality, which is much less than the one a higher ISO would induce anyway.
Talking about ISO, I wouldn’t mind to crank it up to 640 for most occasions and even up to 1000 for certain applications. This means that combined with the f1.5 aperture Samsung S10 is rather serious about low light photography. The RAW here will need extra work for de-noising the image but the JPEG will be much more clear with the help of some digital magic by Samsung’s algorithms.
Note that the ultra-wide will suffer from heavier noise after ISO 400 though.
Samsung S10 Video
Traditionally, I have been using my phone more for video and less for photography and I can say that the S10 excels in the video department too. The 4K 60fps video is crisp and though data rate is kept to 43mbps, image quality is very good and the size of the files—thanks to Samsung’s compression—pleasantly low.
S10 also shoots in 1080P 240fps and 720P 960fps for use in slow motion. Naturally the both lack the crispness of 4K/60—especially the 960fps but they are more than good, considering that this is phone and not a full size video camera.
As a bonus, there is a 1080p/30fps super steady mode which gives amazing results by stabilizing the footage (almost as good as a gimbal) optically and digitally at the same time. Definitely useful when you want to keep things steady while you move and you don’t have the luxury of a gimbal.
So, does Samsung S10 let you shoot like a pro without being a pro? Not, exactly. No phone or application will ever do that, but asking something more realistic like “is the Samsung S10 able to capture pro grade photos when you actually know what you are doing?” And the answer is maybe, depending on the application and your expectations (do you need a smartphone or a camera?).
It can surely provide most travelers/bloggers/enthusiasts with all the quality images that they need. I was even thinking that this is the first phone that I would attempt to print an image from. Will I take my Ricoh GR out of my bag? Not yet (I still need a small grip and a couple of dials), but Samsung S10 is the first phone that has put me into thoughts and that’s remarkable for something you can grab out of your pocket at any time.
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