Street Photography with the Samsung Galaxy S7
The Samsung Galaxy S7 and S7 Edge have a 12MP camera, which is fairly mediocre as far as megapixel counting goes these days. The Galaxy S5 produced 16MP photos, and that device is two years old now! It’s not the megapixel count that matters of course but what kind of pixels they are and what software processes the data they create.
Apparently because the camera has fewer pixels, those pixels can be larger, and therefore collect more light, like buckets collecting water. The camera has image stabilisation built in too which helps keep photos sharp when your hand isn’t quite steady enough.
I shoot with the camera held at chest height in both hands and I used the volume buttons to take the photo without looking at the screen to compose. This worked fairly well, except when I accidentally obscured part of the lens with a finger. I need more practise.
I found I sometimes activated image review, probably by brushing against the screen with a finger. That was really annoying, especially when I thought I had captured the moment.
It also allows you to shoot RAW photos, capturing in DNG files that Lightroom or other RAW processor can read. You’ll have to enable PRO mode which disables other features like panorama, but it’s worth it. The advantage over Jpeg is that you get more leeway when conditions aren’t perfect for a photo. Say, you’re shooting a photo of someone against a bright sky. You’ll have a decent chance of recovering detail in the shadows.
I tried manually setting the exposure time, hoping the auto ISO would kick in when needed, but when exposure is set, auto ISO is disabled so I went back to auto-everything which worked very well anyway.
The Jpeg files the camera creates are very sharpened. You probably won’t need to apply much sharpening at all to them in development. This is something to keep in mind when switching between Jpeg and RAW.
The DNG files the S7 creates aren’t quite up to the standard you’ll get from a DSLR camera however. Jpeg files record 8 bits of data, a DSLR will commonly create RAW files containing 14 or 16 bit data. The Galaxy S7 outputs 10 bit data according to Lightroom. While that isn’t much different to Jpeg, it’s still enough to make a difference when working in taxing conditions. Laura Shoe has a good article explaining the differences between the different bit depths.
There’s something odd about those DNG files too. The files are generally 24-25MB in size, which is similar to the RAW files created by my 20MP DSLR. I thought that was strange enough that I decided to run Lightroom’s “Convert to DNG” on them. Without using lossy compression it converted those large files into much smaller 7-8MB files! Using a new DNG file I tested to see how well it would compress. A 24MB file was zipped down to 12MB. That means most of the file is empty space, not even random data which wouldn’t compress well. For comparison, a RAW file from my DSLR will compress from 20MB to just over 19MB.
It’s worth saving the space by converting the Samsung DNG files to Adobe DNG files.
There’s something odd about the metadata in the Samsung DNG files too. Mac OS X Finder won’t show previews of these files. When I looked at the metadata I saw the preview dimensions were set to 0x0. The converted DNG files were fine however.
The metadata problem extends to panoramic photos shot with the camera too. Here’s a lengthy thread on the matter. I fixed the problem by importing the photos into Apple Photos and then exporting the panoramic images. As a side bonus, the size of the file went from 44MB to around 17MB without discernible loss of quality.
The camera will record Jpeg and RAW images when in RAW mode, and it saves them to the internal memory, probably for performance reasons. I use the following chunk of code to delete those Jpeg files:
for i in *dng; do rm `basename $i .dng`.jpg; done
Snapseed and Lightroom mobile both allow you to edit DNG files. Snapseed will display a Develop interface where you can “develop” the raw file by adjusting much the same controls as “Tune image” has, but you can stretch them a little more. Here’s a Jpeg I edited in Snapseed.
I hate using a smart phone without a case. The S7/Edge is so slippery I’d be afraid to carry it outside without one. I opted for the Galaxy S7 Edge Case – Exact [TANK Series] case. I already have the S5 version and the S7 one is just as good.
I really liked shooting with the Galaxy S7, and I’ll use it again. It’s certainly a pleasure to use, even if there are some problems with the files it makes. A minor problem, given that it’s easy to fix them.
Edit: The S7 is fairly waterproof, able to operate while submerged. I’m not going to test that capability but a little rain doesn’t bother it at all!