Samsung Galaxy S8 camera review: Samsung’s top phones have long been considered some of the best in the business when it comes to mobile photography. Naturally, we had to find out if the snapper setup in the company’s new flagships; the Galaxy S8 and S8+, stand up on their own merits and when compared to the biggest rivals currently around: the iPhone 7 and 7 Plus, Google Pixel and Pixel XL, and the Galaxy S7 and S7 Edge.
The Galaxy S8 and S8+ share camera hardware, so whether you’re more tempted by the 5.8-inch S8 or its 6.2-inch screen-laden bigger brother you can expect the same 12-megapixel primary (Sony IMX 333 or ISOCELL S5K2L2) sensor with an f/1.7 aperture, dual focus pixel technology, EIS, OIS and an 8-megapixel front-facer with a matching f/1.7 aperture and a wide-angle lens.
Samsung Galaxy S8 Camera Review: UI
The S8’s interface is a notable departure from the one that launched alongside its predecessor, with a focus on one-handed operation for greater convenience, following in the footsteps of the 2017 Galaxy A series.
You can swipe right to get at the camera’s various modes, including Pro mode for manual control over the likes of ISO and shutter speed, Panorama, Slow Motion video capture and even a dedicated Food mode. Swiping left meanwhile lets you access a plethora of both first and third-party filters, as well as stickers which range from the expected to the straight up weird. You even have the ability to map effects onto faces in real-time Snapchat-style; something kiddies will no doubt love.
The shutter, which sits between the record and gallery buttons, can be dragged either way to serve as zoom slider, leaving the viewfinder unobstructed, whilst swiping up lets you quickly and conveniently flip to the front-facing camera. The collective effect is a faster and easier to navigate interface that improves, rather than sacrifices functionality.
Samsung Galaxy S8 Camera Review: Picture quality
Like Google’s Pixel phones, the S8 and S8+ both capture in HDR by default, producing the most balanced and well-exposed imagery across the board, particularly in natural lighting. If it weren’t for the Pixel’s overtly cool colour distortion, the way the phone renders fine detail not only looks more natural than that of the S8s when cropping in, but it also looks clearer and crisper.
In low light the S8’s camera really shines, no doubt thanks to the hybrid image stabilisation system and the fact that it sports the widest aperture of the bunch, meaning it can take in more light, better colour imagery and preserve the most detail in a single image. The gap is small when compared to the images produced by the S7/S7 Edge, but there is still an improvement, either as a result of the updated sensor or the phone’s new multi-frame image processing, which collates image data from three photos taken each time you press the shutter in an attempt to reduce noise, shake and other photographic faux pas.
Add in a flash and dark environments appear best lit by the dual-tone LED flash of the Pixel/Pixel XL, followed by the iPhone 7 Plus, whilst both the S7 and S8 still retain most of the detail nearer the lens. Drop these phones into extreme low light and the long-exposure functionality on offer from native manual control only found on Samsung’s handsets in this lineup, proves the ace in the hole.
If you’re more of a selfie purist and the fun overlays don’t immediately grab you, the 8-megapixel front-facing camera on the S8 is still a great snapper in its own right. In our tests the Pixel and iPhone 7 Plus actually take the nicest untouched photos, but the wide aperture and subtle default beauty settings actually produce consistently respectable selfies in the widest range of environments.
Add to that the option of a screen-based flash, smart face tracking autofocus and lens correction to counter the effects of the wide-reaching glass and Samsung’s newest phone also takes the smartest selfies.
Samsung Galaxy S8 Camera Review: Video quality
All the phones in our lineup shoot up to 4K video at 30fps and offer some form of image stabilisation to smooth out footage. The Pixel and Pixel XL rely solely on an electronic system but it’s easily one of the best on the market, whilst the OIS at play in both iPhones is very good, but can fall apart from time to time.
The S8’s strength lies in its lightning fast autofocus and exposure adjustment, meaning the phone pips its rivals to the post in that regard. The jerkiness seen in the Pixel’s image stabilisation is still present on both the S7 and S8 footage when twisting or turning, whilst the iPhone 7 and 7 Plus both offer some of the slickest looking video of the bunch, even if some of exposure adjustment is a little slower than on their rivals.
As ever, Samsung’s phones offer more control over the shooting experience, with more frame rates and tweakable features available to the user, not to mention better directional audio recording from the S8, made all the more impressive by the fact that it’s also IP68-certified.
Samsung Galaxy S8 Camera Review: Verdict
If you’re after a good stills snapper, the Samsung Galaxy S8’s improved sensor and auto-HDR capture mean it can deliver the most consistently impressive image quality across the board, with the Pixel and Pixel XL hot on its heels, losing out as a result of their off-kilter colour temperature and lacklustre feature set.
The S8 gets more right than its rivals on the video front too, even if Apple’s stabilisation tech gives footage a more appealing fluidity.
It’s also hard to argue with Samsung’s new camera skill set, which like the rest of the phone it's attached to, is brimming with features and functionality without feeling bloated.
Apple's iPhone 7, like the one featured in this article is available from Three here.