For consumer photography, this works wonderfully as the images are ready to use straight out of the camera without any need for further editing. On the other hand, the heavier processing does produce smudges to fine details and I wish there was an option for less aggressive JPEG processing, but this is just me nitpicking and for general day to day use, the main camera is performing better than I have expected in the first place. After all, we don’t usually pixel-peep and see images in 100% magnified view. Unless you are a photographer who knows what he wants, doing the photo editing yourself does not guarantee better results than what the phone is capable of doing immediately to your photographs after taking them.
The main camera can shoot up to 48MP which sounds insane on paper, but less impressive in real life applications. I am not saying that the 48MP is not useful, it is in fact a great move to capture a lot more details and then downsample (via pixel binning 4 to 1) to 12MP images, which are more optimized. By doing so, the 12MP images have better clarity, color information as well as overall better dynamic range and high ISO performance. How much better can this pixel binning/downsampling method do in contrast to the native 12MP image sensor is up to debate, but even if we can gain 20-30% improvement in overall quality, the difference is significant and can be immediately noticeable in the final image output. I always mention in this blog that I’d take a lower resolution camera but each pixel is fully optimized over a super high resolution camera that has sub-par pixel information.
Personally I would not suggest the use of 48MP for the main camera – the 12MP is more than adequate for most photography use. 48MP may sound superior but it does cost you more storage and data, if you intend to upload in full size. If you plan to resize the 48MP images for use on social media or web display, why even shoot at full 48MP in the first place? That workflow is counter-productive, and I strongly suggest staying at 12MP setting for best optimized image output as well as storage management.
LOW LIGHT SHOOTING AND NIGHT MODE
If you are dealing with very low light situation with the Samsung S10 Lite, I highly recommend you use only the main camera. Having 48MP being pixel binned to 12MP gives you an advantage of cleaner image output than the ultra wide angle camera. Furthermore then main camera is optically image stabilized, giving you steadier hand-holding results, especially shooting in darker environment. Use the ultra wide angle only when absolutely necessary.
The main camera’s low light shooting performance is quite good. It produces images that look quite clean (without pixel peeping of course), and this is achieveable even without using the camera’s dedicated “night mode”. The camera will not hesitate to choose higher ISO numbers, there were a few cases I saw the numbers jumped as high as 2500. Typically the camera will try to capture the images within ISO800. In the camera’s PRO mode, the selectable ISO can be adjusted from ISO100 to 800 only, the cap being at maximum 800, which I is not adequate for very low light shooting. I’d expect Samsung to include at least ISO3200, no matter how bad the results may be, but higher ISO is necessary in those extreme conditions. The ISO maximum limit at 800 in PRO mode is also true for most Samsung smartphones, as I have also reviewed the Note 10+ a few months ago.
I would suggest not to turn on the “night mode”. From my testing the night mode tried too hard to brighten the darker parts of the images, resulting in very artificial looking bright images. To me, the darker parts of the images can stay dark, I don’t need everything to be bright and sunny when I am shooting a night scene. The night mode also applies a more aggressive noise reduction/HDR/sharpening algorithm – the final result does not look good. I much prefer the main camera’s default mode for shooting night photographs, the images look more natural and pleasing to my eyes.
For the high ISO shooting, I would not go higher than ISO400 if I have a choice. Even at ISO400 the images show high amount of noise, and at ISO800 it was almost unbearable. The noise reduction kicks in quite aggressively, smearing off all fine details, and the artificial sharpening takes place resulting in garrish looking edges. Of course, all this is only true if you zoom into specific parts of the images for scrutiny, and without pixel peeping the low light shooting results from S10 Lite is perfectly serviceable. It is not fair to expect a smartphone to accomplish a high level camera quality, again, for what the S10 Lite can do, I was decently satisfied with the low light performance. If I truly wanted cleaner results, I would not hesitate to turn to my own arsenal of Micro Four Thirds cameras.
CAMERA LIVE VIEW AND AUTOFOCUS PERFORMANCE
My biggest complain for Samsung S10 Lite is the low refresh rate on the live view screen as well as minor lag.
The 6.7 inch Super AMOLED Plus screen was quite a joy to use, large and bright, easy to see even in bright sun and helps composition and framing for my shots. The screen is reported to have 60Hz refresh rate. However, when the camera is turned on, the live view display exhibited two issues – lower refresh rate and slight delay between real life and actual displayed view.
The refresh rate was nowhere close to 60Hz, it was closer to something like 20-30Hz, and this was happening in abundant light (outdoor during day). In darker environment, the refresh rate drops further to less than 20Hz, looking choppy and very jerky, being more obvious if you have a moving subject, or if you pan the screen around. I’d expect a higher refresh rate on the live view for more comfortable framing and shooting experience, certainly from a smartphone with a built in powerful Snapdragon 855 processor!
The second issue is also problematic – there is a noticeable delay of on the live view. This can affect real life shooting as we try to nail critical moments – the slight delay as seen on screen can cause important moments to be missed when clicking the shutter button.
To understand how bad the refresh rate and slight delay on the camera’s live view can be, do check out the video I have made.
This issue was also noticed in the Note 10+ that I have reviewed before, and is not exclusive to Samsung phones. A lot of flagship smartphones and certainly these phones are not cheap also have poor refresh rate. I am more surprised that NONE of the popular tech and review sites mentioned this. This proves how little a lot of the large reviewers know about photography or care about the camera review of a smartphone.
In terms of autofocus, the camera takes about half a second or less to fully acquire focus, which is normal and nothing to write home about. It is not amazingly fast, surely the AF did not work instantaneously, but it is also perfectly useable as the performance is quite consistent. I am fine with slightly slower AF, as long as what I see on screen when I am trying to shoot is as close to real time as possible.
OTHER SMALLER ISSUES
There are a few smaller issues that I do have to report, but I must emphasize that none of these little problems are dealbreakers. I am reporting them because I genuinely do want Samsung smartphone cameras to get better, at least for photographers who are serious about getting Samsung phones as their daily drivers.
When shooting directly against a strong source of light, flare and ghosting can be a big problem. This does not help as the aperture is stuck at wide open. The flare can be quite destructive to the image. The solution to this – avoid shooting directly against the sun or any other strong source of light, and if you have to, try to angle the camera around a little to avoid the worst possible flare captured within the framing.
There is no manual shutter speed control in the PRO mode, which to be was quite a big miss for otherwise a highly capable smartphone camera. Having the ability to control shutter speed can open up a whole lot of possibilities – shooting trail of light, adding creative motion blur to the image, etc. I am sure this is purely a software intended limitation placed on a lower level Samsung smartphone, and is fully unlocked in their flagships like S20 series or the Note 10 series.
I did test the video shooting feature of the Samsung S10 Lite. Do find out more in depth of the video performance in the YouTube video I have made.
The SuperSteady On (stabilization for video) worked very well in producing smooth and steady video footage, it was almost gimbal-like. Smartphone cameras have come a long way when it comes to built in stabilization for video shooting. Unfortunately this feature is not applicable for 4K recording and is only available for FullHD. The 4K video came out crisp and sharp, and the audio recording by default on the smartphone is quite impressive. Though I did not test, the Samsung S10 Lite is capable of recording up to 4K 60p, a feat that not many cameras can even do today.
For an everyday use, all round performer, do it all, carry with you everywhere smartphone camera, the Samsung S10 Lite is an excellent camera and will deliver beautiful images. The main camera is the star here, capable of shooting highly detailed images. The ultra wide angle and macro camera modules are useful when you need them to perform specific tasks. The image processing may be on the heavier side, but I admit this works for most people who want optimized and usable images straight out of the camera without the need to do further editing work. I did enjoy myself tremendously using the S10 Lite for my shutter therapy sessions, for average consumer doing smartphone photography this is a high value for money smartphone camera.
As a photographer, I do have a few complains, but this is just me nitpicking. I would appreciate less aggressive image processing and more PRO manual controls (shutter speed, higher ISO over 800). I am not happy with the live view lag and low refresh rate on the screen during camera operations. The ultra wide angle lens does have a few flaws and the cameras in general are susceptible to flare. These are not dealbreakers and of no concern for non-photographers, for most people these issues won’t even come up in day to day shooting scenarios.
Are you using a Samsung Galaxy S10 Lite, do share with me your experience and thoughts using the camera on that smartphone.
If you have any other smartphone cameras you would like me to review, please let me know, I will see what I can do asking from the manufacturer’s for a loaner unit. No guarantee though!