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Samsung Galaxy S6 Camera Review

So a few months back, I upgraded my Samsung Galaxy S III to a shiny new Samsung Galaxy S6. I ended up liking it so much that the S6 was the only camera that came along with me on a recent trip to the UK. Here’s why I’m really enjoying shooting with this camera.

Ease of Use

Since this is a smartphone, it goes without saying that it’s easy to take along with you. This became even more apparent when going on long hikes where the added weight of a (D)SLR and lens starts to wear thin after a few miles.

It’s also surprisingly inconspicuous – if I’m shooting my Nikon FE2 with my Carl Zeiss 85mm f/1.4 some will look and a select few will comment. No one cares if you pull out a smartphone and snap a picture. While street photography isn’t really my thing, it’s great to be seen as just another person fiddling around with a phone.

The stock S6 camera app can be reached by double-tapping the home button, even when the phone is locked. This means that you can pull the phone out and quickly start snapping shots. Shutter lag is very minimal and the controls are easy to use – tap the screen to focus and hit the camera icon or press one of the volume up/down buttons with your thumb and you’re all set.

Of course the downside to this has been that I’ve occasionally pulled out my phone only to find that the camera app has been running in my pocket. Still, it’s a good idea and generally works well in practise.

There’s a pro mode that adds more controls, such as ISO, focusing, white balance and metering, but I found that I only really used it to dial in exposure compensation. The most recent android update (5.1.1) adds an exposure compensation slider after you tap to focus. Unless it’s a tricky shot, I generally stick to the default “Auto” mode.

Working in 16:9

Coming from 35mm 3:2 and 4:3 compact camera aspect ratios, getting used to using 16:9 by default was a bit difficult at first. Unless you’re really careful, the wide aspect ratio compounds the problems inherent with wide-angle lenses – you put so much in the frame that you lose a clear sense of subject.

While I generally enjoy shooting wide angle (the S6 features a 28mm equivalent focal length), I still find myself cropping down to the more familiar 3:2 in post, especially if I’m center-framing shots of friends or family. There’s just too much dead space on either side to really be effective.

“That’s not a real camera”

While visiting the very scenic Yorkshire Dales I had a conversation with a photographer, which inevitably turned to the gear we use for our hobby. He proudly showed me his Canon 6D and a couple of “L” lenses he had on hand. I talked of my Nikon FE2 and FM2 and Carl Zeiss glass, but mentioned that I left them at home in favor of the S6.

I pulled the phone out of my pocket and was greeted with a “…really??” expression. I showed him some shots, but ultimately brought the conversation back to Carl Zeiss to regain credibility and make him feel a bit better about his gear.

That brief interaction made me realize how for many, smartphone cameras still aren’t viewed as a valid category within the photographic community, despite a few years of great shots coming from the likes of the Apple iPhone and the Samsung Galaxy line of phones.

In regards to Apple, they have an entire “shot on an iPhone” billboard advertising campaign that plays up just how far image quality has come on the smartphone platform.

Final Thoughts

The Samsung Galaxy S6 has hammered yet another coffin nail into the compact camera category, and probably puts my Canon S95 out to pasture. I’m really impressed with the image quality from the S6, especially given the small sensor and overall size. It’s really easy to take good (but not DSLR-quality) shots.

They say the best camera is the one they have on you. When using the S6, there’s not been many situations where I feel upset that I left my (D)SLR at home.

That said, I just put a roll of Kodak Portra 160 into my Nikon FM2. There’s plenty of space for multiple cameras in this hobby. While I take my (D)SLRs out specifically to enjoy shooting photos, there’s something really great about how the S6 is almost always there in your pocket itching to take the next shot.

Adam Simmons

August 2, 2015

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