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The Samsung S7’s camera now rivals the iPhone

By Agencies - Mar 13,2016 - Last updated at Mar 13,2016

Samsung Galaxy S7 (right) and Galaxy S7 edge (Reuters photo)

NEW YORK — It’s difficult to justify paying for a high-priced, top-end smartphone these days — unless, that is, you want to take good pictures.

In this Age of Instagram, a great camera is one of the few reasons to pay $650 or more for the latest smartphone, instead of $200 or $300 for a budget phone that does texting, Facebook and Web surfing just as well.

Samsung’s phone cameras have shown tremendous improvement in just a few years. The new Galaxy S7 and S7 Edge phones take much better pictures than last year’s S6 models. In fact, they’re now basically neck and neck with Apple’s iPhones, meaning that you no longer have to compromise on picture quality if you prefer Android.

I took more than 2,000 still shots and a few videos using 10 smartphones from Samsung, Apple, LG, Huawei and Motorola. To make the comparison clearer, I focused on indoor and night settings, such as museums, bars and New York’s Central Park at night. Even budget phones can take great shots in good light, but only great phones take good shots in poor light.

Better lighting, better focus

I was impressed with the S7’s ability to capture Central Park’s unlighted Bethesda Fountain at night. Shots from most other phones appear pitch black, save for a faint outline of the fountain’s statue and some distant light from building windows.

The S7 was also more likely to get the focus right on its own, without having to choose a focus area first by touching the phone screen. Even with touching, focusing sometimes takes a second or two on other cameras. I don’t get that lag with the S7, meaning fewer missed action shots.

The lens and image sensors on the S7 aren’t large enough to match the capabilities of full-bodied SLR cameras, but the phones borrow some of the focus and light-capturing technologies found on more sophisticated shooters. These technologies combined result in brighter, sharper images in low light.

Upgrading the S6

The S7 also has a wider-angle lens than last year’s S6 models, one that now matches iPhone hardware. It captures more of what’s in front of you. Among other things, people don’t have to squeeze together as tightly for group shots.

Samsung also corrected some design deficiencies in earlier models. The S7’s camera lens no longer protrudes awkwardly, as it did on the S6. Its screen turns into a flash for low-light selfies, just like the latest iPhones. (That means my selfies now look awful because of their subject and not the low light.)

The S7 also takes photos in a standard 4-by-3 rectangle, not the wider 16-by-9 frame of the S6. While overall mega-pixel count is lower on the S7, that’s entirely a consequence of the narrower width, which yields a photo like an S6 shot with its far edges chopped off.

A few quibbles

Many indoor shots come out yellowish, possibly reflecting the yellowish nature of indoor lighting. On the S7, books look as though they’ve yellowed from being out in the sun too long. Egg whites on a burger don’t look so white (though bacon comes out brighter, with more detail). Faces are more orange than usual.

Odd colours can make pictures look better, but they often don’t seem natural.

Comparisons

Of all of the phones I tested, the S7 and iPhone 6S produced the most consistent low-light photos. The S7 shots typically had better focus, while the iPhone pictures looked more natural, with colours typically mirroring how you see things.

The S7 has also cloned Apple’s Live Photos feature, in which the camera captures short video clips as it’s taking still photos. The feature is on by default on the iPhone, but you need to turn it on with the S7. Unlike the iPhone version, Samsung’s Motion Photo has no sound.

The latest Apple and Samsung phones are comparable in many other ways. (I took a first look at the S7 a few weeks ago: http://apne.ws/21hAP8X.) One impressive non-camera feature is the S7’s fast-charging capability. With the included charger, I get a full charge in just 80 minutes, and that’s enough for nine hours of Hulu video streaming on the S7, 10 hours on the S7 Edge.

The camera, though, is where these phones really stand out from the pack.

Meanwhile, Apple on Thursday sent out invitations to a press event at which it is expected to unveil new iPhone and iPad models.

In keeping with its practice, Apple revealed little about the event other than it will take place on March 21 at the company’s campus in the Silicon Valley city of Cupertino in California.

A message on copies of the invitations posted online simply states “Let us loop you in”.

Rumours have been circulating for weeks that Apple is poised to introduce upgraded versions of its small-screen iPhone and of the iPad, with the new tablet perhaps tailored for use by businesses.

A four-inch screen iPhone that looks similar to the iPhone 5S on the outside by boasts improvements under the hood is expected to get the spotlight at the event, along with an iPad with a screen slightly less than 10 inches diagonally.

The iPad may have keyboard and stylus features aimed at making it more attractive for getting work done. Apple has been trying to ignite sales of its tablets, which declined in the final quarter or last year.

Apple has partnered with IBM on iPad applications for use on the job, and Microsoft has tailored versions of its productivity software for the tablet.

The press event later this month is also expected to feature fashionable new bands for Apple Watch.

Apple has not publicly released sales figures for its Apple Watch, but IDC estimated the company sold 11.6 million of the wearable computing devices last year.

That gave the California giant a market share of around 15 per cent, even though its smartwatch sales began in June of last year.

 

The media event will come a day before Apple faces off with the FBI in federal court in Southern California over whether the company can be compelled to help break into a locked iPhone used by one of the San Bernardino attackers.

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