Samsung has taken the wraps off its flagship Galaxy S phones for 2019, and along with them, an intriguing triple camera setup. While the long rectangle housing is unusual to look at, the three cameras inside combine to make one of the most versatile camera systems ever seen on a smartphone.
That's not to say it's new in itself. A host of other phone makers have already launched triple, and quadruple camera systems - and Nokia even has a penta system. Not all are the same, but the kind implemented in the S10 and S10+, as well as Huawei's Mate 20 Pro, are arguably the most justified in their existence.
Samsung Galaxy S10 camera specs
- Primary: 12MP regular/wide, dual pixel, f/1.5 + f/2.4 dual aperture, OIS
- Secondary: 16MP ultra-wide, f/2.2, OIS
- Tertiary: 12MP telephoto, f/2.4
Samsung's latest phone has a triple camera set up on the back, each with its own very useful purpose. With the addition of the ultra-wide camera, as well as the telephoto from the previous two generations, Samsung is giving you the ability to take all manner of shots without losing detail.
The ultra-wide means it can take in a larger amount of the scene you're snapping. So, if your regular mode is cutting off parts of the scene that you'd like to see, switch to ultra-wide and it'll expand the scene. It adds some distortion, although that can be used to creative effect - it doesn't look bad unless you're shooting something full of straight lines.
As for the telephoto camera, that does what it has always done: lets you zoom into the scene without losing sharpness, but it does have a narrower aperture, so it's less able to let in light, meaning it's only really good for bright conditions. In dull conditions, the S10 will switch to digital zoom rather than using that lens, but this happens seamlessly and you won't notice.
Samsung Galaxy S10 camera: Switching between zoom, wide and ultra-wide
Switching between the three modes couldn't be simpler. On the screen in the main camera viewfinder, there are little leaf/tree icons on the right which shows three different settings.
Tapping the single leaf at the top zooms in using the telephoto camera. In this mode, you can get closer shots of objects that might be quite far away and difficult to shoot normally. Except, unlike previous digital zoom technologies on phones, you don't lose any detail.
Tap the icon with the two small trees and you're in the default regular view, or "wide" view as Samsung calls it. This is just the normal camera view/shooting mode you're used to. It's versatile and useful in a number of situations, hence why this particular camera of the three is the best quality, with the best aperture range (more on that later). It's also the best quality camera of the lot - so if you want the best photo, it's best to use the "normal" camera.
Lastly, the ultra-wide mode is selected by tapping the icon of the three little trees. Three trees = more in the scene. This mode means being able to capture a wider shot in a tricky situation. You'll often find these taken in areas with either cramped space that make it hard to get everything in the shot, or close up to big buildings.
Samsung Galaxy S10 camera: Best Shot and Scene Optimiser
AI being used in cameras isn't particularly a new thing. We've seen many smartphone makers implement it in recent years. Essentially, the camera can recognise the kind of scene or subject you're pointing it at, and then adjusts settings to make the most of it.
In Samsung's case with the S10 and S10+, the list of automatically recognised scenes has grown to 30, and includes the likes of "dog" and "landscape" among many others. This is called Scene Optimiser and can be toggled on by tapping on the swirly icon in the corner of the viewfinder.
The results aren't as radical as you get from LG, for example and at time it's difficult to see if it's doing a huge amount. However, Scene Optimiser lets you take slightly longer handheld shots in low light. Again, it's not the best at low light, but it's better than not turning it on.
What's new and interesting here, however, is the Best Shot feature. Using its AI power again, it can recognise what's in the scene and then tell you how to frame it better.
A ring appears on the screen, as well as a circle dot on what it thinks is the primary target. Now all you need to do is move the phone until the circle dot is inside the ring.
To determine where the best position is, Samsung's AI uses the basic rule of thirds. So, in many ways, this essentially replaces the need to have the 3x3 grid on your screen.
In addition to the ring/target aiming system, there's a line across the middle of the screen to help make sure you keep things level. It's an absolute must if you want to capture a great landscape, or any scene with any kind of horizon in it.
Samsung Galaxy S10 camera: Dual aperture
Samsung was the first big-name manufacturer to include a mechanical dual aperture system on its smartphone camera last year, and it makes a return for 2019. It allows the camera to switch between f/1.5 and f/2.4 when the conditions require it.
Specifically, in automatic mode using the primary camera, if it detects a low light scene it'll open the aperture wider, kicking into its f/1.5 mode. Letting in more light. Why doesn't it do this all the time? Because that can lead to a narrow depth of field, ie, not much in focus. In f/2.4 you can get a nicer photo, flatter with more in focus across the scene - but it only works in brighter conditions.
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Alternatively, in manual or "pro" mode, you can activate this manually by adjusting the aperture yourself in the onscreen settings. You'll find it makes a significant difference to the amount of light and detail in the scene, particularly if you're shooting in a dark or dingy location.
It's worth noting that since this is a physical mechanism built into the primary 12-megapixel camera, you can't make use of it when you're shooting with the telephoto or ultra-wide lenses.
Samsung Galaxy S10 camera: OIS and super steady video
Two of the Samsung Galaxy S10's cameras have OIS (Optical Image Stabilisation) built in, this means that when you're shooting handheld you're less likely to get motion blur. The cameras physically move, ever so slightly, to counteract any small movements or shaking from your hands.
It's not as much of a problem when you're shooting still photography in good light. In these instances, the shutter is open for such a short amount of time, you'll rarely have an issue with blur.
However, in lower light conditions (especially with the dual aperture camera on board), you'll found that you take much better photos.
As for video, Samsung has introduced super steady video, which smooths out your scenes automatically, in a similar way to the HyperSmooth feature on the latest GoPro Hero6 action camera. Again, that means much smoother video, without having to purchase an expensive or bulky gimbal.
It works really well, meaning you can walk around without any judder appearing in your videos.
Video can be captured at up to 4K 60fps, but once you move beyond the standard 1080/30p, you'll find you start to lose these more advanced features.
Another such advanced features is the ability to capture in HDR10+. This is marked as a beta feature, but what it does is capture metadata to set the balance between highs and lows in your video for better results in tricky conditions. Unfortunately, you can only view that video on an HDR10+ compatible display. The Galaxy S10 will do that, but no other phone will - so use this mode with caution.
Samsung Galaxy S10 and S10+ selfie camera
- Galaxy S10: 10MP, f/1.9
- Galaxy S10+: 10MP, f/1.9 main, 8MP RGB depth, f/2.2
There's a difference in the selfie experience on the two different models of the S10. The regular Galaxy S10 has a single front camera; the Galaxy S10+ gets two, adding a second depth lens to the front to boost the bokeh experience. Otherwise, both have the same main camera.
We've only tested the S10+ camera so far, so there may be some differences between these two models when it comes to performance. On the whole, the Galaxy S10+ offers a great selfie experience. There's the Instagram mode - which we talk about below - but it's the bokeh that most people will be interested in.
There are four different styles of background effect that you can apply, to make your selfies look a little more distinct. That might be a zoom effect or swirls.
The confusing thing about the S10+ is it pretends to offer different angles with the option to switch from wide to narrower views, but it's not wide-angle like the Google Pixel 3. Instead, it's just a minor difference. The image above shows what the four main options for bokeh offer.
Samsung Galaxy S10 Instagram mode
Samsung has teamed up with Instagram to have social network integrated right into the camera experience. It appears as a camera mode, meaning you can swipe across to the Instagram camera and take a shot with a great full screen experience. You can then add that image or video right to your Instagram Story. You also have direct share options from the Gallery.
The big difference is that it lets you use the different camera - wide - regular - zoom - which you can't from within the Instagram app, using the full processing power of the S10.
That said, you're better off using the normal camera app on the phone, capturing and editing your photo and then just sharing to Instagram. Ultimately, that gives you the most amount of control over your image and will give you better results.
Samsung Galaxy S10 camera performance
As we outlined in our full Samsung Galaxy S10+ review, the camera on the Galaxy S10 is great. It offers a lot of options for shooting, even if you have to dig around to find some of them.
The results are great too and on the whole this camera will compete with any other when it comes to normal shooting in good conditions. Where the Galaxy S10 is a little weak is in lower light. It doesn't have the sort of skills that you get on the Pixel 3 when it comes to shooting in low light and that all comes down to processing - applying both to the front and rear cameras.
But, having those three cameras provides plenty of opportunities to take interesting photos, the wide-angle camera is a great addition - once the preserve of LG, it gives you an option you can't recreate through software, so adds real versatility.