Tuesday, 9 June 2015

Samsung Galaxy S3 Camera (at U21 FIFA WC)

There is a definite soccer theme emerging from my recent posts (largely unintended). So this time I thought I would write about the camera on my Samsung Galaxy S3 smart phone in relation to a recent trip to Christchurch to attend the U21 FIFA Soccer World Cup.

It is my son Joshua's 14th birthday soon, so as part of his birthday celebration, I decided to take him to watch a couple of Under 21 FIFA World Cup soccer matches. Germany was playing Honduras and Brazil vs Korea. It was amazing to be able to watch both Germany and Brazil play on the same day, and of course, I wanted to take some photos to document the event for Josh.

Josh at U21 FIFA World Cup. Samsung Galaxy S3 phone.
I got the Samsung S3 for Christmas (2014) and although I know that it is relatively 'old' technology (Samsung are up to the S6 now), I am very happy and impressed with it as a smartphone, and it is a HUGE step up from the Apple iPhone 3G that I replaced it with.

I also want to make it clear that I don't think 'camera' when I think of a smartphone. I use a phone mainly for texting, the occasional call, and then largely to run some apps - so I'm a relatively light user. The 2MP camera on my previous iPhone G3 was such rubbish that I NEVER bothered to use it, so again, the 8MP camera on the Samsung S3 is miles better in that respect. But I still don't think to take it out and use it as a camera very often, so the World Cup trip was something of an experiment for me, to force myself to actually use the camera and see what it was like.

Our seats - Stand 24, Row S, seats 198 and 199. Samsung Galaxy S3 phone
I haven't bothered to look up the specs, but I do know that it is an 8MP sensor, and it looks to be about a 35mm angle of view fixed focus lens. It does have a digital zoom (more about that later), and under good light is reasonably quick to lock on focus and has minimal lag when actually taking the photo. Of course you have to use the hold-it-out-at-arms-length style of shooting to compose the shot on the lcd screen (which I absolutely loathe) because there is no viewfinder as such.

A 5x7" print should be relatively crisp and 'clean' in terms of noise, although it's a tiny sensor housing those 8 million pixels. In nice light an 8x10" print should be 'ok'. Then good luck with anything after that. Even at those sizes, the images have a definite 'digital' look to them. But as you can see above, for the web they are perfectly acceptable.

Germany v Honduras. Samsung Galaxy S3 with digital zoom.
I mentioned earlier that the S3 has a digital zoom function. Although we weren't too far away from the field of play, I used the zoom function to get in a bit closer to the players on a few of the shots - just to see what the quality would be like. It's crap. Just terrible. Avoid at all costs. As can be seen above, it just enlarges the pixels (as all digital zoom functions do) until they are just digital mush. My sister-in-law took her Canon Powershot digital camera (itself an older 8mp model) to the game as well and got some very clean and impressive close ups thanks to her cameras 10x 'Optical' zoom. In fact, her images were better all round and really showed to me the importance of using an actual digital camera over the one that comes with your cellphone - even with the latest technology. And let's face it, todays digital cameras aren't that much bigger so that you can't carry both with you to an event and take photos with an actual camera.

Getting warm for the Brazil v Korea game. Samsung Galaxy S3 phone
Close focusing distance on the S3 is fairly impressive - presumably for all those 'selfies' we are supposed to take now? And flare is also reasonably well handled, probably because the lens on the camera is so small.

In the area that we were sitting every second person had their cellphone out, snapping away, taking 'photos' during the whole event. I only saw one person who actually had a DSLR, so he was definitely outnumbered. But I know who got the better photos :-)

Brazil v Korea under lights. Samsung Galaxy S3 phone
I do, however, realise that the tide has turned and cellphone photography is where it is at now for a major percentage of the population. Which is why I wanted to try this experiment and be like everyone else for a day. To find out exactly what kind of images are being taken on these devices, and if they actually are good enough to replace your DLSR (or micro four thirds) camera.

And I suppose the answer is - it depends. It depends on what you want to do with the final captured image? Is it just going up on Facebook (which I imagine is probably 90% of the usage)? Is it just to show your friends from the device itself? Is it to illustrate your latest blog post? Or is it to email to friends and family overseas so they can see them on their computer? If the answer is 'yes' to all of the above, then even my 'old' Samsung Galaxy S3 8MP camera phone does the job.

But does photography, and the capturing of certain events, mean a little more to you? Do you plan on actually printing any of the images you take? Do you need some flexibility in the framing, zooming or creativity with which you take pictures? If your answer is 'yes' to any of the above, then I think it still calls for a more capable image capturing device, even if that simply happens to be a digital point and shoot with a good 10x optical zoom.

So will I bring my cellphone out more often now to take photos? Probably. Especially if it's the only picture-taking device I have on me at the time. Would I use it again if I'm going to another World Cup match and want to document it for posterity? No. Next time I'll bring a point-and-shoot with a decent optical zoom on it with me.

Trouble is, I don't really own one :-)