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Samsung Galaxy S5: Camera Hardware Explained

Andrew Williams

By Andrew Williams

Updated:

Summary

Our Score:

9

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Samsung Galaxy S5: Camera Hardware

The Samsung Galaxy S5 has a 16-megapixel sensor and f/2.2 lens with a equivalent focal length of 31mm. The Galaxy S4 has a 13-megapixel sensor with an f/2.2 lens, and initially the new model seems like a pretty uninspired upgrade. This continues when we look at the size of the camera sensors.

The Galaxy S5 sensor is bigger than the S4's – ½.6 inches to the S4's 1/3.06 inches. However, all this means is the new phone can get to a higher resolution without reducing the size of the sensor pixels. Both the S4 and S5 have 1.12 micron sensor pixels. That's pretty small, and the size of these pixels has a big hand in low-light performance.

Don't care about the Galaxy S5's camera hardware? Skip straight to S5 camera image quality.

ISOCELL sensor

This sensor is much more of a step forward than you might initially assume, though – both technically and politically. The Galaxy S3 and Galaxy S4 both used Sony camera sensors, but the Galaxy S5 uses a new Samsung-made sensor featuring ISOCELL tech.

ISOCELLSamsung offers loads of highly technical information about ISOCELL on its website, but it revolves around a new sensor architecture that creates a physical barrier between sensor pixels to lower crosstalk. This will let the Galaxy S5 use higher ISO sensitivity settings without introducing too much image noise. Samsung's claim is that crosstalk is down by 30 per cent. We are not CCD engineers at TrustedReviews, but it appears to make good tech sense.

There's another innovation in the Galaxy S5, too. It is the first phone to use phase detection focusing as well as contrast detection.

Hybrid Auto Focus

Contrast detection is used by all other mobile phone camera AF systems, and it analyses the contrast in areas of an image to attain a solid focus. In-focus objects will always offer higher contrast than the smushy out-of-focus ones. It's a system that's blissfully easy to explain in a basic manner, and most high-end phones now offer excellent contrast detection systems – the iPhone 5S's is a particularly notable star.

S5 cameraPhase detection is a good deal more complicated, mostly because it requires separate hardware and is implemented in various ways in different kinds of cameras. Traditionally in DSLRs a slightly translucent mirror is used to divert some of the light away from the image sensor to a separate PDAF (phase detection autofocus) module.

However, with the Galaxy S5 we get a mirror-free on-sensor phase detection autofocus system. As a concept this is nothing brand new, having been used in a smattering of compact, bridge and compact system cameras since 2010. The first camera to use this technology was the FujiFilm FinePix F300EXR.

What is Phase Detect autofocus?

To understand phase detection you have to look into the basics physics of the camera system a bit. The light that reaches the Galaxy S5's image sensor is passed through a series of six plastic lens elements, and they are curved. When the focusing element isn't in the right place, the light from the extreme left and right (or top/bottom) ends of the front lens element will not reach a point of convergence on the sensor.

What phase detection does is to separate out the light received from these extreme ends of the lens and compares them to see how out of whack – or out of phase – they are. Although Samsung hasn't explained this in official documentation yet, the PDAF layer that sits in front of the image sensor will feature a series of microlenses that separate out this specific 'left' and 'right' information for comparison.

The focusing element is then simply moved until the information from the two ends of the lens is correct, signalling the image is in focus.

Galaxy S5 photo 27

The most obvious question – why is phase detection better than contrast detection? If you've looked into the Galaxy S5's autofocus yourself, you'll probably have heard the frustrating generic 'it's faster and more accurate'. However, the systems both have their limitations.

The issue with contrast detection is that the system has to go slightly beyond the point of focus and then 'track back' in order to know that it was indeed the point of highest contrast. If you have a good phone, you may not even have noticed this 'back and forth' focusing. But it does happen, and it is what slows contrast detection down a little bit.

Contrast detection also has trouble in finding focus on objects – you guessed it – that don't have much contrast to speak of. However, in our experience dedicated camera contrast detect systems have much more notable issues with this than top phones. It maybe down to phones having to make up for their tiny lenses and tiny sensors with clever software.

An issue with on-sensor phase detection is that it relies on specific microlenses that sit above the sensor. So the points of focus available to the system are limited.

Handily (sarcasm), Samsung has not confirmed how many phase detection focus points there are, or any specific details of how the PDAF system works. But hopefully we've given you an overview of the matter.

On the next page we'll see how it works in action.

Galaxy S5 photo 9

For all the phone's camera innovation, there's one serious omission from the Galaxy S5's camera hardware. It does not have optical image stabilisation, instead relying on a software-based alternative Samsung calls Picture Stabilisation. We'll look at how this works on the next page.

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barondebxl

April 8, 2014, 7:36 am

Its a keeper.

Guest

April 8, 2014, 8:50 am

According to PA, loudspeaker of S5 is louder than HTC One(M8) hmm...

andyvan

April 8, 2014, 8:56 am

Louder doesn't necessarily mean better. You've also got to consider location and actual quality. S5 loses on both points.

Guest

April 8, 2014, 10:04 am

Location of speakers, your review of One(M8) stated that "As your thumbs move directly over the drivers, your digits' movements do (slightly) alter the tonality of the sound" Indeed I found this noticeably annoying whilst playing a game and etc.

It seems like the location has cons and pros, don't you think? Of course you are entitled your opinion, but I'm just saying people don't think the location of speaker as an outright winning factor.

andyvan

April 8, 2014, 10:27 am

I'm a different Andy (Yes, I appreciate the confusion), and yes you have a point. We still think the HTC's are better overall, though.

mus1c

April 8, 2014, 2:20 pm

Im a big fan of Samsung products but why oh why would they have a protruding camera lens which detracts from the look/ feel.

RonRoyce

April 8, 2014, 6:35 pm

I won't be buying it for one reason. It's a Samsung.

Senad

April 8, 2014, 7:52 pm

Water resistant :)

looks really Nice :)

iFrank

April 8, 2014, 10:26 pm

I was able to hold one in a Voda shop today.
So like the Note 3 I recently did a deal on but more pocketable.
I wish I'd waited. Sighs.

PS, some sites claim it uses a nano sim?

godafoss

April 9, 2014, 6:29 am

And the reason I won't buy it: Knox!

Tim Sutton

April 11, 2014, 10:53 am

I held one of these yesterday.

It actually looks worse than the S4.Those bezels are HUGE.

It feels nasty and cheap.

The interface design is awful. You've got Touchwiz, Tizen and Android all looking and handling differently and all fighting for space on one handset. There are FOUR texting apps and THREE music players. The settings page is SIX SCREENS long. It's insanely cluttered and impossible to enjoy.

I can't see how anyone would look at this handset and choose it over even an S4. Physically the S4 is the better looking of the two (they're both ugly) and the S4s software isn't quite so schizophrenic.

I'm.. how is this a 9/10 handset guys? How? It's actually less good than the phone it's replacing.

Everlast

April 11, 2014, 3:58 pm

Totally agree, This is a piece of overpriced plastic!

And how did they decide the price is £499, I can only see offers for £569?

Andrew_TR

April 11, 2014, 4:28 pm

I have some of the same criticisms. I think the HTC One M8 is a much 'nicer' phone, and I rate the Sense software more highly than TouchWiz.

However, the excellent screen quality and very good camera quality won us round.

The display in particular is a lot better this time around. It surprised me quite how good it is in various conditions - I've always been an LCD rather than OLED fan in phones (plasma in TVs, natch). But the S5 has won be around.

The camera too is a big improvement in certain conditions. I've heard some criticisms of the new 'faux stabilisation' feature. However, the way it is effectively built into the Auto mode means it'll result in better pictures for a whole load of people.

For me, though, the screen is the biggest winner here. And SOME of the S5's bad bits can be patched away with customisations either supplied directly by Samsung or Android.

AEdouard

April 11, 2014, 5:29 pm

The comment about the display being so much better than the one in the M8 is a bit strange, as Samsung's displays still have obvious issues : lower brightness than LCD and fuzziness due to the pentile arrangement. It really is a matter of preference. I sense a bit of ''fanboyism'' here. Shouldn't happen in a professional review.

Everlast

April 11, 2014, 6:09 pm

I can smell a flop from Samsung's top model this time. Why Samsung decided they can have the highest priced flagship phone while they are making it out of plastic? In the UK it is £569 SIM free, which is more than the Sony Z2 £549, the HTC One M8 £529 and the iPhone 5S £549!
It's not surprising they announced a drop in profits.

toboev

April 11, 2014, 10:57 pm

What is wrong with 'plastic'? What better material is there? Robust. Light weight. Impact absorbing. RF-transparent. Engineers to fine tolerances. I can't readily think of another material which fits the purpose so well. Quality is fitness for purpose, not bling.

toboev

April 11, 2014, 11:00 pm

Sheesh - they missed that in the review, it's a Samsung?

toboev

April 11, 2014, 11:07 pm

"Samsung's displays still have obvious issues.."
So why even bother reading a review - you already know that all Samsung displays are the same hence this one is necessarily the same as its predecessors.

Everlast

April 11, 2014, 11:55 pm

Plastic is unpleasant to the touch, gets static charge, lacks reasuring weight, flexes, creaks, poor aesthetics.
I agree it has many great uses, but not in a TOP OF THE LINE product. Don't forget you are buying the most expensive smart phone out there and what you get a rubish bin plastic shell.

An Droid

April 12, 2014, 2:19 am

I actually have a S5, so my comments are based on interaction with the phone and not hearsay.
The good:
- a really amazing screen, and rated the best by everyone who has tested it. It really IS that good
- a huge improvement in the camera
- scaled down TW (works and looks better)
- dimpled soft touch back cover is a pleasure to hold
- ultra power saving mode (I travel a lot, and often used to run out of juice after a long day of normal use)
- heart rate monitor and S-Health (I had a 3rd party HR monitor on my S3 as I do exercise regularly)
- it's water resistant
- lightning fast download (10% faster than S3 over same wi-fi

The bad:
- the square shape (I preferred the more curvy shape of my S3
- the chrome look plastic surround ( satin fining on S3 was classier)

toboev

April 12, 2014, 8:16 am

Why do you feel the need to up-vote all your own comments?

Tim Sutton

April 12, 2014, 1:16 pm

I really like the M8 (except for the name) too.

I went in to have a look at the S5 because my work will have a look at it for employees and had my Lumia 1520 with me, and the difference between the two in terms of quality is, to my eyes, enormous.

The Lumia feels and looks like £500 worth of electronics, the S5 doesn't. And then you try and actually use the S5 and its WEIRD mish mash of three OS's and the gap just gets wider.

It really seems odd to me to give such high marks to a handset that is, as delivered by Samsung, mediocre both to look at and to use.

Everlast

April 12, 2014, 6:18 pm

Because the designers at Disqus decided posters should have this option and I am using it - as designed.

ttitr

April 13, 2014, 7:09 pm

i have a galaxy phone and i'm telling you apple is way better than his piece of crap i have right now

Chris

April 13, 2014, 7:49 pm

For the life of me, I just cannot understand why people hate on the samsung products because they are not some aluminum unibody design. Polycarbonate is rather durable, resistant to scratches and reduces the overall weight of the phone. The texturing of the polycarbonate is the only thing I have issue with (See S4).... smooth PC is a fingerprint magnet.

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