Throwback: Samsung Galaxy S4 zoom, the phone that was mostly a camera

Back with in the days before multiple cameras, before periscope lenses and NPUs, the sole way smart phones knew the way to zoom was digitally and typically with poor results since that they had small Lowe resolution sensors (well, there was that one Nokia, but we’re not going there now).

The Samsung Galaxy S4 zoom opted for the classic approach to zooming – having a lens which will change its focal distance .

From the rear , this device was nigh impossible to inform aside from your typical point and shoot camera.

Samsung Galaxy S4 zoom

From the front, however, it had been clearly a Galaxy S4 mini.
The S4 zoom isn’t the primary phone-camera hybrid, it’s not even Samsung’s first.

The W880 AMOLED 12M (just take a second to admire that name) was released in 2009 – a 3G phone with a 12MP camera on the rear , complete with 3x zoom optics and xenon flash (and yes, an AMOLED screen).

Then in 2012 Samsung revealed the Galaxy Camera, which ran Android, though it missed the “phone” part.

The S4 zoom from mid-2013 is one among the earliest Android-powered phone-camera hybrids.

Modern social networks were still in their infancy (especially on mobile), but the advantage of coupling the superior image quality (and zoom capabilities) of some extent and shoot camera with the app selection of a smartphone showed great promise.

Let’s see what we have to work with. The lens could sweep from 24mm to 240mm, 10x optical zoom.

And it had been a smooth transition too, unlike modern tele cameras with fixed focal lengths that jump between zoom levels and use digital zoom for the intermediate steps.

This is the feature that gave the phone its name and there are still no phones which will match its 240mm focal distance .

The Huawei P40 Pro+ is meant to urge there later this year, but it’ll have a way smaller sensor sitting behind that periscope lens.

The Galaxy S4 zoom packed a 16MP sensor that was fairly large for the time, 1/2.33”. For comparison, the Galaxy S4 had a 1/3.1” sensor, the iPhone 5s a 1/3.0” sensor.

The camera also benefited from Optical Image Stabilization, which was almost non-existent some time past – the Nokia Lumia 920 released a couple of months before was the primary phone to have it.

The Samsung also had xenon flash, a feature that phones evolved out of as they strove to be thinner and thinner. But that wasn’t a priority for this phone, the mechanized retractable lens put a lower limit on how thin the device are often .

It ended up 15.4mm thick (though, impressively, it had been an equivalent height and width because the S4 mini).

The camera interface was borrowed from the Galaxy Camera. It imitated the rings on a DSLR lens and it managed to be both intuitive and quick.

Actually, the phone had a lens ring of its own. It might be wont to concentrate and out (strangely, it couldn’t be configured to vary the manual settings). It also served as a fast launch shortcut, letting you dial during a specific mode rather than digging for it within the settings menu.

You could change the lens aperture . It only had two steps, but that was still twice as many as most phones offered. At 24mm, you’ll set it at either f/3.1 or f/8.8, at the longest focal distance of 240mm your choices were a dim f/6.3 and properly slow f/17.8.

Still, you had control over that, the shutter speed and ISO then on. Samsung included detailed explanations within the menus to assist newcomers. This was never getting to replace a DSLR, but it made for an excellent practice camera.

The Remote Viewfinder feature allowed you to attach to the Galaxy S4 zoom over Wi-Fi and control the camera with another phone (complete with a video stream of the viewfinder).

In the end, the image quality benefited from the massive sensor and good quality optics, but it had been not spectacular.

The zooming capabilities were unrivaled, however. The camera even offered the Quiet zoom feature, which allowed you to concentrate and out freely during video capture, without fear that the sound of the lens motor will be recorded as well.

Phew, it took a short time , but the camera part is roofed . What about the phone? The external similarities to the S4 mini are obvious and therefore the screen was an equivalent too – a 4.3” Super AMOLED with 540 x 960px resolution. The excellent sunlight legibility really helped with outdoor photography (there was no viewfinder, the screen was all you had to border your shot).

The phone was powered by a special chipset, however, with a dual-core Cortex-A9 CPU, which was tangibly slower than the twin Krait 300 processor of the mini’s Snapdragon chipset. The Mali-400 GPU actually held its own against the Adreno.

Battery was another difference, this point the advantage goes to the S4 zoom – 2,330mAh vs. 1,900mAh. The extra capacity was needed since there was a lens zoom motor and a xenon flash to feed.

The lens protruding of the rear made this beautiful clunky to carry sort of a phone, but the grip made it perfectly pleasant to work as a camera. There was even a tripod mount on rock bottom , making it clear that the hardware design is more camera than phone.

There were follow-ups to the zoom, just like the Galaxy K Zoom (based on the S5) and therefore the Galaxy NX, an Android-powered mirrorless camera with an APS-C sensor and interchangeable lenses using the NX mount. That one was more of a Galaxy Camera sequel, though, because it lacked telephony.

After that things faded , even Sony dropped its “lens-style cameras”, which debuted within the same year because the S4 zoom.

Those also used traditional camera hardware, though packaged as an external accessory rather than building them into a phone. That offered more flexibility, but the demand just wasn’t there.


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