Despite both toting excellent cameras, Samsung’s 2017 flagship family didn’t round out the year at the top of the pile with regards to mobile photography. Instead, fierce competition, primarily from Google’s Pixel 2, left Sammy owners a little envious.
So, does a new dual aperture setup and, in the case of the S9+, a secondary rear sensor, place Samsung back on top or is there still more work to be done to retake the crown?
Samsung Galaxy S9+ camera review: Hardware
Looking at the S9+ as a whole, aside from the new Exynos 9810 (or Snapdragon 845) processor at the heart of the phone, the only other notable new addition over the S8+ is its dual camera module.
Read next: Samsung Galaxy S9 Camera – What’s New?
Save for that, you can expect a similarly-specced 8-megapixel front-facer with a respectably wide f/1.7 aperture and 1.22µm pixels, along with a primary 12-megapixel snapper, again toting dual pixel PDAF (phase-detection autofocus) for super-speedy focussing.
Both S9s share in a new mechanical aperture that can throttle the amount of light hitting the phone’s sensor between f/1.5 and f/2.4, whilst the S9+ also enjoys a secondary 12-megapixel telephoto sensor with an f/2.4 aperture and a 52mm focal length in place of the 26mm offering used on the primary sensor.
Similarly to the solution used by every Sony flagship since the XZ Premium, the new camera module at play also features dedicated memory which can be put to use when employing the phone’s 960fps (frames per second) super slow-motion burst recording ability.
Samsung Galaxy S9+ camera review: Software
In 2017, Samsung put a lot of work into refining its camera interface, best demonstrated by its A-Series phones. The experience on offer from the S9+ includes a few new additions but for the most part doesn’t mess with that formula too much, which is undoubtedly a good thing.
There are multiple ways to quick-launch the camera (such as via the lock screen, with a double-tap of the power button or by asking the Google Assistant or Bixby) and once open, you can access most of the fundamental controls by swiping and tapping with a single hand.
Rather than a separate mode-switching screen, you simply swipe left and right to jump through the S9’s main capture modes which include Live Focus, for adjustable bokeh when shooting portraits, Pro mode for manual control, Food mode and the new AR Emoji feature to name a few.
We’ve already covered how to make and delete AR Emojis in our Galaxy S9+ Tips and Tricks feature but as an actual new addition, it unquestionably feels like a bad stand-in for Animoji, which themselves have already fallen out of vogue in the six months that the iPhone X has been on the scene.
Nonetheless, taking and making AR Emojis is an impressively fast and painless experience and unlike the Apple alternative, they can more readily be shared amongst your various chat apps.
Samsung Galaxy S9+ camera review: Photo quality
As ever with a Samsung camera, you should expect more heavy-handed post-processing compared the likes of the iPhone X or Pixel 2, but that’s not necessarily to the detriment of the shot. In our tests (comparison shots below – click to enlarge) the S9+ yielded the greatest balance of fine detail, contrast and exposure when shooting in brightly lit environments.
Drop the lights and the phone starts to fall behind in some areas. Despite its fancy new aperture mechanism, the real-world benefits can be hard-to-spot and even though it produces brighter low-light images than the likes of the iPhone, its ability to resolve fine detail in such scenarios is a little inconsistent. Switch to long-exposure manual shooting, however, and depending on the shot you’re after, the S9+ makes a good stand-in for a dedicated camera.
The S9+’s camera is an excellent choice for fans of crispy macro photography and the portrait mode trumps Apple’s equivalent tech, thanks to more consistent edge detection, plus the fact that it lets you vary the amount of blur behind your subject without compromising the overall image. Food mode is gimmicky but does deliver on the promise of making your meals look as appetising as possible, probably more consistently than rival examples too.
There’s little in the way of change from the front camera, but we liked the shots it was able to capture, especially in real-world conditions like frenetic nightclub lighting. It’s only real issue is that devices like Huawei’s P20 Pro pack in a ton more pixels to better iron out noise and blur in such scenarios – an issue we’re hoping Samsung will address by the time the Galaxy Note 9 arrives on the scene.
Samsung Galaxy S9+ camera review: Video quality
The new processor enables better 4K video capture at up to 60fps (with clips limited to five minutes each, for file size purposes) and footage looks excellent. Colours and motion both hold up well, even in trickier lighting conditions and what’s more, the phone’s autofocus is incredibly fast.
Stabilisation is also available right up to the top resolution/frame rate combination and whilst it’s slightly less fluid when pushed compared to the phone’s 4K/30fps video (or equivalent iPhone footage), it still proves very capable indeed. Add to that the ability to push into that 2x lossless optical zoom whilst shooting and the S9+ is a formidable video capture device indeed.
The 960fps at 720p resolution super slow-motion video capture is just as enjoyable to watch as when we first saw similar footage produced by Sony’s phones last year. In order to up the ante, Samsung has added an easy-to-use automated shutter system for capturing the perfect super slow-mo moment without needing to tap anything; although this works best when the phone is stationary and the only thing moving in-frame is the subject you want to render at 960fps. The phone also automatically adds music in (which you can easily disable) and makes working with, and editing, this footage on-device incredibly simple.