The Samsung Galaxy Nexus’s camera specs are not class-leading. It has a 5-megapixel main sensor, where many top-tier phones have eight, and the single-LED flash isn’t as powerful as dual-LED and Xenon types.
However, the Android camera experience is much improved thanks to the new Ice Cream Sandwich photography app. The way it approaches taking photos has changed, supplying some of the immediacy of Windows Phone 7 handsets and the iPhone 4S.
Focusing is entirely touch-controlled. You can tap anywhere on the preview window and the Galaxy Nexus will attempt to hone-in on whatever object is there. There’s no physical shutter button, but as soon as you hit the virtual shutter button, a photo is taken – whether the scene is as blurry as a drunkard at 2am or fully in-focus. It’s a recipe for plenty of out-of-focus images, but is more in-keeping with the way many mobile snappers take photos than Android 2.x’s camera app – fast is the way.
The basic photo mechanic aside, the new camera interface also adds a fab panorama mode. You simply slowly pan the phone from left to right and the phone does the rest, prompting you to slow down if you move too quickly. The results depend on how steadily you move, and at best are too low-res to print out, but it’s a fun addition nevertheless.
Panorama – the full-size version is captured at 3,450 x 674 pixels
Standard photos produce sharp images given the power of the 5-megapixel sensor, but can’t compete with the best phones out there – such as the iPhone 4S. Zoomed-in to pixel level, you can see there’s some fairly heavy processing going on to smooth images out, but in good light you can reap shots worth printing out. Most importantly, there’s no distracting colour cast to photos, just a little extra warmth. The fairly natural look continues in low-light too, although predictably most detail is lost.
Image customisation is otherwise unremarkable. There are scene modes, white balance settings, exposure compensation options and a digital zoom, but nothing else – omitting a burst mode, manual ISO, face detection and effects. After Honeycomb’s threadbare camera app, this is an improvement, but there’s still work to be done here.
It’s also not a macro photography star. It’ll focus in on subjects around 10cm away in good lighting conditions, but the level of detail captured is not hugely impressive, with clear signs of heavy processing visible when zoomed-in to pixel level.
The Galaxy Nexus had no trouble focusing-in on this tinsel, close-up
The video side is a different story – it’s great. You can record video in 480p, 720p 1080p and there’s a whole raft of impressive active effects to play with. These are surprisingly ambitious for a smartphone, distorting people’s faces and facial features on-the-fly using face detection tech.
If the active video effects had a like button, we’d press it
There are also green screen-style modes, which paste people onto pre-determined backgrounds. Continuous autofocus is enabled too, although at present its performance is very unpredictable. It’s occasionally extremely slow to focus on new subjects, although this feels like a software bug rather than a deficiency in the camera’s hardware so will hopefully be fixed soon.
The Galaxy Nexus camera copes fairly well with tricky light sources
The single-LED flash is nothing special, with the uneven throw and unnatural look that are things you have to accept when using a fairly low-powered LED solution. But it’s much better than nowt’, making those low-light party photos possible (and any outside photos after about 3:30pm at this time of year.) There’s also a 1.3-megapixel user-facing camera for video calling and checking yourself out when no mirror is handy.