The S4 Zoom’s 16-megapixel CMOS sensor isn’t anything to shout about when the Nokia PureView 1020 sports a 41-megapixel shooter. Even then, it’s clear that the S4 Zoom isn’t looking to compete on megapixels alone. A user-friendly interface coupled with its extending lens barrel (which allows Samsung to cram a 10x optical zoom) means that Samsung is aiming at the casual smartphone shooter who wants a bit more reach and slightly better image quality.
Noise is well-controlled all the way until ISO400, and even then you can continue to shoot up to ISO800 without introducing too much noise or losing a significant amount of detail, which is pretty impressive for a smartphone. Image quality is likewise, pretty good for a smartphone, except the fact that the S4 Zoom is also prone to oversaturation when it comes to colors, making certain scenes appear surreal.
The S4 Zoom definitely can't compare to a mid-level digital compact, but it's definitely a step up from most of the smartphone cameras around. And it's 10x optical zoom (with optical image stabilization) is really handy when you need to get in close to your subject without any loss in detail, unlike the digital zoom employed by the rest of its smartphone peers.
With smartphone photography being all the rage right now, it’s no surprise many compact cameras now come with Wi-Fi and smartphones touting better-performing cameras. The problem is that many cameras have clunky Wi-Fi user interfaces, while the cameras on smartphones are still held back by the size of their sensors and the quality of their glass.
The S4 Zoom represents a comfortable compromise between the two concepts, but being a jack-of-all-trades makes it a master of none. It’s definitely a step up from most smartphone cameras, especially with its 10x optical zoom. But when compared to dedicated compact cameras, the S4 Zoom still pales in terms of handling, usability and image performance.
While we have not tested the S4 Zoom as a proper smartphone, just basic usage of the S4 Zoom as well as going in and out of the camera app revealed slight sluggishness. Perhaps that's because the S4 Zoom is rocking a dual-core processor (and a slower one compared to the S4 Mini that it's modeled after), while most top-end models now have quad-core processors. This means that if you have a top-end smartphone, getting the S4 Zoom would feel like a step down. Of course being a smartphone first and a camera second makes uploading and sharing pictures a very convenient process. But if performance and usability matters the most, then a compact camera is a more suitable choice.
The Samsung Galaxy S4 Zoom seems to be made as a travel compact companion that doubles up duty as a smartphone and compact camera, but it doesn't seem to be a master of either product groups. More so with its steep suggested retail price of S$798, it's hard to recommend this to any particular user group. Perhaps if top tier camera phones like the Apple iPhone 5S, Sony Xperia Z1 and Nokia Lumia 1020 didn't exist, the Samsung Galaxy S4 Zoom might have had a chance to shine, thus showcasing the concept of a product that tried to merge the best of a camera and smartphone into one body. All in all, a good attempt, but its timing of availability could have been better.