Samsung caused some concern after the announcement of their new flagship, given that the camera got almost no mention. Initially, we thought that Samsung didn’t bother working on the one feature of the predecessor that worked so well, but that is not the case. The Samsung Galaxy S8+ uses a new Sony IMX333 sensor, which retains the 12 megapixel resolution and the Dual Pixel AF capabilities. The sensor design has of course changed, but so has the default camera app and together, the overall, there is a lot of difference.
As we found out in our quick comparison of the Galaxy S8+ and the Galaxy S7 edge cameras, the images coming out of the two smartphones are rather different. However, the sensor isn’t a stark improvement over its predecessor. What has received a big upgrade is the software that Samsung leverages for making images coming out of the Galaxy S8+ great. After Google implemented its crazy HDR algorithms in the Google Pixel, every OEM has been trying to do something similar, with Samsung being no exception.
In our studio test, the Samsung Galaxy S8+ fares well when shooting in good light, but leaves us disappointed in low light. In good light, we see a sharp image across the board, with plenty of detail in fibers and the feathers. The colour chart shows slight oversaturation for reds, blues, oranges and green while the lighter shades like yellow and light brown and even teal register just a hair under-saturated. Unfortunately, with HDR algorithms in place, this is an unavoidable circumstance. By nature, the algorithm is designed to deepen the reds and oranges in a sunset, make the skies bluer when shooting landscape and the minute people are involved, it needs to lighten the skin tone. In that sense, the colour chart shows that the Samsung Galaxy S8+ HDR algorithms are running well. The problem comes when the phone is in low light. Shooting our test target in low light, we found that the photo was sharp only in the center, losing sharpness towards the edges. The test pushed the Sony IMX333 sensor in the Galaxy S8+ to its maximum threshold which is where we noticed something interesting. When shooting in Pro mode, the camera allows you to take the ISO up to ISO 800, however, our studio shot (taken in Auto mode) showed an ISO of 1250. We feel that the smartphone is applying digital expansion of the ISO, as the image you see is devoid of detail and sharpness towards the corners.
What the studio test shows is reflected uniformly even in real world samples. The autofocus is extremely quick and reliable in locking focus on subjects (and even tracking them if you have that enabled). The auto mode does a fairly good job of shooting well balanced images, but when in low light, detail in skin is lost very quickly due to aggressive noise reduction. When comparing what the Google Pixel XL can do, we have some serious concern over the fact that the ISO on the Samsung Galaxy S8+ maxes out at 1250, while the Google Pixel XL, the current reigning champion of smartphone photography, can easily be pushed to ISO 12800. When in a pinch, the Pixel XL is more likely to get the shot you need, with decent exposure in comparison to the Samsung Galaxy S8+. The ISO limit really puts a severe cap on low light performance of the Galaxy S8+, given that it isn’t taking very good quality images at its highest ISO.
Moving past the ISO limits, one feature that was of particular interest was the “food mode.” This mode has apparently been designed specially for people who love to photograph what they’re eating and share it on social media. Shooting in this mode does two things, one, introduces a blur filter (just like the one on Instagram) and adds warmth to the scene. This is okay if you’re shooting bread-based foods, but when you want to capture foods that are yellow, red, orange or any of their corresponding shades, you end up with a photo where these shades are over-saturated and the photo looks warmer than it should. This would work if you’re shooting in cloudy weather, but in general, the photos in our test have been consistently warmer than they should. There are a number of other modes like the Panorama (which is GREAT) and virtual shot mode (which is more headache than its worth). The pro mode will give you fill control over every aspect of your image. Incidentally, the Pro mode is the only mode which will allow you to shoot photos in RAW format, which is kind of a bummer.
Overall, the Samsung Galaxy S8+ feels like a smartphone with a good camera by itself, but not when put in content with what’s already available in the market right now. The limitations in low light make us believe that that was one area where Samsung could really have invested in this one aspect. A sensor with a top ISO limit of 1250 feels like something from 2 years ago, not fitting for a flagship of today.