Samsung's New Bastard Child - The Galaxy S4 Zoom Smartphone Camera


Imagine, if you will, a Samsung Galaxy S4 Mini smartphone married (we mean, really married, as in joined at the hip, not merely through remote control) to a Samsung Galaxy camera. You remember the Samsung Galaxy camera? It was introduced some time ago as a standalone camera with the kind of specs a semi-pro photographer (or at least a more serious casual smartphone user looking to move beyond Facebook and Instagram snapshots) might desire. And, of course, it is remotely controllable by way of a Samsung Galaxy S III.

We have a Galaxy camera in the house, though trying to pry it out of the hands of our colleague Rachel Ramsey so that we can test with our Galaxy S4 has proven to be a very tough challenge. Rachel loves the camera, which certainly says something about the camera itself.

Well, in any case, a combined smartphone and camera toy now exists. Samsung announced the new Galaxy S4 Zoom yesterday. We're not sure if that was Samsung's intent and original timeline for doing so or if it was caused by the fact that a Russian website provided a full review of the thing prior to any official release and caused Samsung to accelerate its release. In any case, it now officially exists in the pantheon of rapidly growing Samsung Galaxy S4 products (BTW, by pantheon, we mean as in a growing collection, not as in a collection of now dead heroes). The image below shows the S4 Zoom in all its glory.

It truly looks like an S4 Mini glued to a Galaxy camera -- or the other way around. Below is what it looks like with its lens extended and contracted. Purely as a smartphone, it may be a heck of a lot to lug around, but if you happen to be someone who not only likes to grab those images but is also serious about their quality, it may very well strike a perfect balance and make it a perfect choice.

The phone itself is the Galaxy S4 Mini; if you want to know the phone specifications, do check out our earlier coverage noted above. Here we are really after what the camera itself brings to the game, but yes, as the image below shows, clearly there is also an S4 Mini smartphone there as well.

The new camera is equipped with a 16 megapixel sensor (the Galaxy S4 has a 13 megapixel sensor) and is able to deliver 10x optical zoom, which is done by rotating a "Zoom Ring" that runs around the lens. It's an interesting approach, and the ring does even more as it provides access the Galaxy S4 Zoom's key features as well.

Galaxy 4 Zoom Features

If you are familiar with the basic suite of S4 software and photo features, you can expect most of them to be available with the S4 Zoom. The Zoom Ring brings a few other touches into play. For example, should you find yourself in the middle of a phone call while at the same time something catches your eye that you must -- beyond all shadow of a doubt -- need to share, just a simple quick twist of the Zoom Ring will activate the S4 Zoom's In-Call Photo Share feature, letting you capture and send an image directly via MMS to whoever you are talking to. Honestly, doesn't this feature directly address roughly 80 percent of the world's camera photo needs?

The new Zoom Ring can be used as well for easy camera navigation, such as for activating the Quick Launch and Shortcut features, or providing instant access to multiple built-in S4 camera modes -- including Auto, Gallery and Smart Mode -- all with a simple easy twist. It doesn't get much easier than this.

The Zoom Ring also replaces conventional camera phone zoom controls. How so? Well, amazingly enough, by bring back the "old conventional" way camera optical zoom controls used to work -- by manually twisting the Zoom Ring. There is no question that this sort of control provides a more "professional-quality" accuracy and ease of use, whether you are aiming to shoot a wide-angle shot, a portrait or a tight close-up.

Will Samsung sell the S4 Zoom in the United States? We cannot imagine that it won't. Considering that a survey we noted in an earlier article strongly suggests that consumers would be more likely to buy the Samsung Camera than a Galaxy S3, we'd say the odds for a 2013 holiday shopping season arrival are pretty damn good. We have no idea how or which wireless carriers might get involved or how pricing would work.

The Russian review we noted earlier suggested pricing in the unsubsidized $600 range. It would be interesting to us if Samsung were to think about offering a Galaxy S III trade-in program that might bring the price for the Zoom 4 down significantly.

Assuming that Nokia will release its next generation Lumia EOS with full 41 megapixel PureView camera technology in July 2013, the Galaxy 4 Zoom will have its hands full with a monster competitor. We suspect that such a Nokia phone will likely blow away the S4 Zoom camera while also providing a far lighter and far slimmer overall package. We certainly look forward to testing the Nokia device.

As for professional picture quality, we'll sit back and wait until the dedicated photography websites get their hands on these and put them through real pro-level photo wringers. It's the only way to know for sure which camera takes top honors from a photographer's perspective. Our money is on the Nokia simply based on what we already know hands-on of the PureView technology. But the Galaxy S4 Zoom will certainly make things enormously interesting.

Stay tuned.

Edited by Rich Steeves
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TechZone360 Senior Editor

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