What would a full HD display on a smartphone look like? When will the wait for affordable 1TB solid state drives come to an end? How about a super zoom camera in a smartphone, or the other way around? Such are the topics that we often discuss while we are sipping on steaming hot chai at the stall right outside our office, so it wasn’t all that surprising to see Samsung come out with the Galaxy Camera. On the day it arrived in our test lab, I couldn’t wait to unpack it and try all the features.
Simply put, it's the Samsung Galaxy S III with a huge lens popped in, minus support for making calls
I clearly remember Shayne’s expression when I asked him how he found the Galaxy Camera after he had come back from the launch event. “It’s oversized,” he insisted. At that time, I thought he was exaggerating, but on unpacking it, I felt even that was an understatement. At 129 x 71 cm, it’s a lot broader and taller than most travel zoom digital cameras or even compact mirrorless cameras. And on top of that, the massive 21x zoom lens that sticks out about half an inch from the body reduces portability even further. In no way is it designed to be carried in the pocket! Samsung should have provided eyelets on the sides to attach a neck strap, but that too is missing. A 4-inch display (Super AMOLED would have been nice to have) and a completely retracting lens would have gone a long way in shrinking the design and making it pocketable. But then, it would be challenging to offer a quad-core processor, 1GB of RAM, graphics processor, 8GB of on-board storage, Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, GPS and 3G capabilities along with the guts of a super-zoom camera in a compact package.
Still, I imagined that there would be limitless possibilities with such a lavish feature set. It’s clear that Samsung wants to offer a camera that goes beyond just allowing you to share your photos wirelessly and upload them on social networks—something that doesn't require the specifications of such a high-end smartphone. To me, the Galaxy Camera comes across as a super-zoom camera jammed into the body of the Galaxy S III. The functionalities of the camera are delivered by the camera app, which when run is supposed to give users the feel of a high-end camera. Instead, it actually feels like a high-end smartphone running a camera app, even if the user interface of the camera is top notch.
Virtual dials in the manual and semi-manual modes
Now, at Rs 29,900, for which you could buy a DSLR or an enthusiast-class super-zoom (such as the Canon PowerShot SX50 HS), it’s fair to expect stellar photo quality. But sadly, the Galaxy Camera doesn’t deliver on its core functionality—the quality of photos it takes isn’t impressive at all. It's incredible as a mobile Internet device and portable media player—I feel the latter should have been the secondary aspect and not the other way around. If you ask me which device comes closest to or is better than the Galaxy Camera, I’d say it’s the Nokia PureView 808. It takes much better photos, and more importantly, it fits in the pocket!
From a technological standpoint, the Galaxy Camera is by far the smartest camera available. It was only possible for Samsung to conjure it up because it knows how to build high-end smartphones and digital cameras—it's just a matter of converging technologies. It’s an over-enthusiastic concept, and the need to go in for it isn’t justified unless you’re a social networking or a photo sharing buff—it’s certainly not for enthusiasts, or for that matter, even amateurs. Things would have been different had the price been under Rs 20,000 or if the quality of photos was DSLR-like. For me, a better balance would have been a compact mirrorless interchangeable lens camera with some of the features of Galaxy Camera (Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, 3G support, GPS, social networking and at least 8GB of built-in storage), all built around a regular camera interface. Rather than the awkward Galaxy Camera, this fantasy device could make waves in the market.