The Note 8 isn't just about wiping away the memory of the flamin' Note 7, it's also about the debut of a new camera arrangement, a camera that's very likely to find its way into the Galaxy S9 in 2018.
Of all the smartphone companies, Samsung is the biggest player who has stuck to conventional cameras the longest. Samsung also has a fantastic track record with the S7 and S8 especially offering excellent results from single camera setups.
The Note has often been a testbed for future flagship features: just look back to the Note Edge, a device that set tone for Samsung devices to follow, we've also seen numerous software features appear on the Note before arriving on the S at the next launch.
So what will the Note 8 camera do?
Samsung Galaxy Note 8 camera specs
- Telephoto lens: 12-megapixel, f/2.4, OIS
- Wide-angle lens: 12-megapixel Dual Pixel, f/1.7, OIS
Samsung is using a pair of sensors on the rear of the Note 8, setup to give you a telephoto zoom option. This is the same idea as the Apple iPhone 7 Plus, meaning you can have 2x optical zoom from that lens, meaning no loss of quality when you do so.
The wide-angle lens isn't wide-angle like the LG G6, instead, it's a conventional camera, like the camera of the S8.
You'll notice that there's a difference in the maximum aperture of the cameras, with f/2.4 and f/1.7 ratings respectively. Again, the f/1.7 aperture of the wide-angle camera is the same as the S8, suggesting that it's probably the same.
Samsung Galaxy Note 8 camera: Optical image stabilisation
You'll also notice that both rear cameras are equipped with optical image stabilisation, which is where Samsung is claiming it betters existing dual camera systems. The iPhone 7 Plus only has OIS on the wide-angle lens, for example.
In truth, it's the telephoto lens that needs the stabilisation more because (a) it's a slower lens with that f/2.4 aperture and (b) handshake at longer focal lengths has an increased effect on the image. The Note 8's inclusion of OIS on the telephoto lens should mean that those longer zoomed shots are more stable, so remain sharper.
Samsung Galaxy Note 8 camera: Using that zoom
To use that zoom lens is simple, as there's a "2x" button in the viewfinder window. You simply tap this button and you switch to the closer view, it's as simple as that. You can see the difference that this makes in the sample images below, although we didn't have the chance to take away any of the pictures we took.
The benefit that a zoom lens brings is that it avoids losing quality by using digital zoom, so you get better, closer, results. The criticism might be that it's only a minor step, but that can make quite a difference, depending on what you're shooting.
There's also the added benefit in that if you use digital zoom, you're starting from a closer position, so again, the quality shouldn't downgrade as quickly as if you were zooming from a conventional wider-angle lens.
However, we can't help feeling that the LG G6's super-wide lens is a little more fun, leading to results that are a little more artistic, but in the real world, we imagine that more people will get daily use out of zoom.
Samsung Galaxy Note 8 camera: Two lenses, two photos
You'll also be able to take photos with both lenses at the same time. This means that if you have a scene setup you then have the choice of how it looks, with a photo coming from each camera. This is called Dual Capture.
We've not had the chance to use this function, so we can't say exactly how it works in practise when it comes to managing these photos.
Samsung Galaxy Note 8 camera: Bokeh and live focus
You'd think that bokeh was the only thing that mattered on a smartphone camera. The effect comes from narrowing the depth of field, leaving the subject sharply in focus and the background blurred and it's commonly used for portraits.
Wider apertures on smartphones have been used to create this effect, although it depends on a number of factors to manage the depth of field achieved. In many cases, smartphones digitally manage background blurring, applying an algorithm to create the effect.
The Galaxy Note 8 has two cameras and one of the advantages this offers over a single cameras setup is that those cameras can triangulate, with more data available to identify what falls in what position - effectively, it can see in 3D, and use the data to pick out the foreground subject from the background.
This isn't something new: the HTC One M8 had a second sensor that did exactly that, taking depth measurements to distinguish fore and background.
Getting to the point, the Note 8 offers a feature called "live focus" as a shooting mode. For this to work, you need to have distance between the camera, the subject and the background so that the depths can be detected as described above.
What live focus does is let you move a slider to change the level of blurring, a bit like manually changing the aperture on a proper lens. Not only can this be done live, but it can be changed after the fact, so you can edit the photo once you've taken it, adding or removing the blur, as long as you've shot in the "live focus" mode.
There will be a lot more to learn about the Galaxy Note 8 camera and we will update this feature as we discover more.