We review the Galaxy S9’s upgraded camera tech and compare with last year’s Galaxy S8, to see if the new dual aperture hardware really makes much difference in low light. Here’s our full test results, including a look at Samsung’s latest camera features.
At a surface level, very little seems to have changed with Samsung’s camera tech compared with last year’s Galaxy S8. The new S9 once again sports a 12-megapixel rear snapper, complete with ‘Dual Pixel’ Phase Detection Autofocus and Optical Image Stabilisation. In other words, it’s once again pretty speedy when it comes to taking shots, while also countering any hand shakes for crisp, blur-free results.
However, Samsung has granted the Galaxy S9 an innovative new feature: the ability to swap between two lens apertures. In other words, the S9’s camera can alter how much light is sucked in for each photo, depending on the environmental conditions.
All very impressive, sure, but the burning question is: does it actually bloody work?
Check out our full Galaxy S9 review
Samsung Galaxy S9 photo quality
We tested the S9’s rear snapper in all kinds of conditions, and we were satisfied with the results at least 90 percent of the time.
With respectable lighting, Samsung’s snapper can do no wrong. Colours are reproduced in a punchy fashion, without appearing artificial, while detail levels are also strong. Get in close to your subject and you can see every last hair and blemish, perfectly captured.
Strong contrast is ably handled also. When trying to capture a scene with tricky dynamic range, it’s rare for light areas to appear oversaturated. Darker areas also pack plenty of detail, rather than appearing murky or grainy.
In comparison to the S8, everyday photos look basically identical. Of course, it’s in low light scenarios where you’d expect that new f/1.5 aperture ability to really shine. However, when we tested the Galaxy S9 alongside its year-old sibling, we struggled to see much of a difference.
Dimly lit scenes are once again well captured, even without using the flash. The amount of grain in these photos compared with rival phones is certainly impressive, while colour detail isn’t too faded. But side-by-side, it’s difficult to tell the Galaxy S8 and S9 shots apart. And as always, you shouldn’t expect miracles. Snaps taken in darkened bars and nightclubs will still appear quite murky.
Check out some of our test shots below.
Samsung Galaxy S9 video quality
The Galaxy S9 is one of few smartphones that can shoot Ultra HD 4K resolution video at up to 60 frames-per-second. The results are certainly stunning, with very lifelike visuals even when viewed back on a big screen.
Although image stabilisation isn’t available at that maximum setting, we found the footage was still surprisingly smooth even when moving around. In fact, it’s possibly even an improvement over the stabilised footage shot at lesser settings. When walking and shooting with Samsung’s stabilisation feature active, there’s a brief but jarring vibration with every step. That’s not present at 4K 60FPS.
You have a five-minute cut-off with that top-end setting however, so don’t get any ideas about filming your kid’s school play like that. Not unless you want to break it down into several smaller clips, and possibly fill your phone’s storage.
You can see a few of our Galaxy S9 sample videos below.
Samsung Galaxy S9 camera features
As usual for a Galaxy phone, the S9 packs in loads of bonus camera modes.
Swap out of auto mode and you can take funky Selective Focus photos, which help to highlight your subject by blurring the world around them. There’s also a panorama mode for capturing gorgeous vistas, and even a dedicated Food mode if you really can’t just eat your tuna roll without first documenting the bloody thing.
Of course, it’s the new camera modes which we’re most intrigued by – and Samsung has added three of note to the S9. Namely, the Super Slow Motion mode, AR Emojis and the ability to translate foreign text with Bixby Vision.
The AR Emoji mode is certainly entertaining, although we’re not convinced by the accuracy of the results. We made several emojis of friends and family members, and few of them actually resembled the people in question. What you get is pretty close to a Nintendo Mii version of yourself, with similar levels of personalisation.
It may not quite be perfect, but we’re bigger fans of Samsung’s Super Slow Motion mode. While you can’t capture Full HD results like Sony’s Xperia XZ2, the auto feature really helps with capturing those tiny snippets at 960 frames-per-second. You’ll need to make sure that there’s plenty of natural lighting, however. In dimmer conditions our test videos were too murky, while artificial lighting often resulted in flicker-tastic footage.
Check out some of our sample videos in the compilation below.
For more on these bonus camera modes, go check out our Galaxy S9 camera tips and tricks guide. This covers all of these new features and shows them in action.