Our review takes a deep dive into the software and hardware powering the impressive new camera arrangement that Samsung has debuted on the Galaxy Note 8.
Arguably one of the fastest growing smartphone trends over the last twelve months has been the adoption of a dual camera. The concept isn’t all that new but only now are we seeing handsets from the likes of Apple, Huawei and LG that really put those dual sensors to good use. Samsung, for all its market-leading innovation, has been strangely absent from this race, until, that is, the new Galaxy Note 8 was unveiled.
Not only is the Note 8 a true flagship smartphone powerhouse, complete with an edge-to-edge display, water resistance and that all-important S Pen stylus, it’s also the company’s first phone with a dual-lens rear snapper, and a powerful one it is at that.
Part of the appeal with the Note’s main camera is that both the wide-angle and telephoto sensors that sit side by side and rock not only the same 12-megapixel resolution but also boast independent optical image stabilisation. The main wide-angle snapper and the front-facing 8-megapixel camera pack impressively wide f/1.7 apertures, for superior low light performance, whilst the telephoto shoots with a narrower f/2.4 aperture.
Samsung Galaxy Note 8 Camera Review: UI
Samsung put a lot of effort into reworking its camera interface when it launched the 2017 revision of the A-Series mid-rangers and that template has been transposed onto the Note’s high-end hardware.
There are a myriad of ways to quickly open the camera, including the phone’s new integrated assistant, Bixby, and most of the fundamental controls can be managed with just one-hand, despite the phone’s significant size.
The left screen features the same set of modes you’d find on the S8 and S8 Plus, whilst to the right of the viewfinder you’ll find real-time filters, split into those better for scenes and vistas alongside those better for subjects like people and pets.
The viewfinder itself is surprisingly clean. You can quickly get at the gallery or jump to video mode, drag the shutter button to zoom and toggle the flash, dive deeper into the camera’s settings or switch to the front-facer with either a tap or a swipe.
There are a few totally new elements, however. The Full View button changes the capture aspect ratio to match the Note 8’s expansive 18.5:9 display, dropping the resolution in the process (to 7.9-megapixel stills), whilst the 2x button gives you twice the magnification without any loss in quality thanks to that second rear sensor.
There are also three shooting modes tied directly to the viewfinder. Bixby Vision, as on the Galaxy S8, gives the Note 8 a machine vision component that can recognise objects letting you find out more about or even buy them online. Stickers includes a host of both graphics that you can slap on top of your snaps and Snapchat-style filter to turn yourself into the likes of a gun-toting cowboy or a cartoon astronaut and Live Focus is a new addition that lets you leverage both rear sensors simultaneously to add synthetic bokeh around a subject to emulate the effect of shooting on a high-end DSLR camera at maximum aperture.
Samsung Galaxy Note 8 Camera Review: Picture Quality
More often than not, phones that shoot with HDR-enabled by default yield more consistently appealing results and the Note 8 is no exception. Even without Live Focus mode you get great bokeh on macro images, the phone handles light extremely well and colours pack a nice punch without being too overbearing, whether shooting in naturally or artificially lit environments.
Thanks to that super-wide aperture and OIS, low light shots appear almost noise-free and only when things get really dark do you start to lose detail, however, even that can be recovered by switching from Auto to Pro mode and using manual controls to capture long-exposure images from a fixed position.
The single LED flash does a nicer job than some dual or quad-LED flash arrangements in restoring balanced colour and contrast to subjects whilst the dedicated Food Mode is arguably the least useful aspect of the Note 8’s camera experience, over-saturating colours and actually making food appear less appetising as a result.
Lossless 2x optical zoom is a great new addition, especially for subjects like kids or animals where your presence might upset their behaviour should you get too close, and Live Focus is a powerful tool in that you can adjust the bokeh effect it creates using a slider both before and after capture.
Live Focus shots also benefit from something called Dual Capture so you can push out to the wider image if action accidentally gets cut off at the edge of the original shot’s frame.
As for selfies, the Note 8 looks as though it uses the same 8-megapixel snapper as the Galaxy S8. That means great low light performance, making it an ideal club companion and the screen-based flash and beauty mode both offer up balanced results without completely destroying your visage.
Samsung Galaxy Note 8 Camera Review: Video Quality
The Note 8’s flagship-class internals also ensure superb video quality, letting you shoot up to 4K video at 30fps, with more creative options like slow-motion shooting thrown in for good measure too.
As with photos, footage appears well-rendered with decent directional audio recording on top, however, whilst the OIS system unquestionably does its job, it’s very obvious that it’s working, with the occasional shift or wobble in-frame, especially when walking or moving with the Note 8.
Samsung Galaxy Note 8 Camera Review: Verdict
Once again Samsung has laden one of its most powerful smartphones with one of the best overall camera experiences available. Raw picture and video quality is excellent across the board and that sheer number of features and functions gives you room to get creative and edit all on one device.
There are some small rough edges, like the phone’s overbearing OIS system and the usefulness of some of the more outlandish features but the dual-camera setup isn’t part of the problem, it only adds yet more versatility to Samsung’s already excellent imaging experience.
As with the Note 8 as a whole, the only real question is whether the phone’s £869 price tag and the dual-camera’s involvement in that steep asking price are warranted, and that’s a conversation for you and your bank account.
You can pre-order the Galaxy Note 8 from O2 right now, from £63 per month on contract. Samsung’s mighty mobile can be picked up in Midnight Black or Maple Gold, with a selection of tariffs rising to 50GB of monthly data. You’ll enjoy free O2 WiFi and daily offers with the O2 Priority scheme.