Roadtesting the Samsung S8 & S8+ / by Richard Storrow

I was commissioned by Carphone Warehouse to teach a photography workshop in Leeds on Monday 24th April; specifically catering to the new Samsung S8 and S8+Handsets. I was given the new handsets over the prior weekend to test out, and I went out to York Open Studios on the Sunday, where a community of artists open their studio doors directly to the public to view or buy work. In particular I was interested in visiting Mark Hearld and Emily Sutton’s studio. The art duo combine their beautiful living space among printing presses, painting studios and an art store. It’s a fabulous example of living with your practice. All of the photographs from my day out in York were taken on the S8+ or the S8.  None of these photographs have been photoshopped or any on camera processing (unless otherwise stated) – I wanted to see how the camera reacted naturally in “auto” to the different lighting and how well it picked up colour, light and tone.  There some very good advanced options on the S8 cameras and some powerful on-camera processing options, but I will talk about these later in the post. Here are some photographs from Mark Hearld and Emily Sutton's studio in York.

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I feel the S8/S8+ camera responds well to colour and light, there is a wide range of tone with a sharpness which is to the credit of the lens which boasts a massive 1.7 Aperture. More importantly, the camera sensor has very large pixels - 1.4 umpixels - which allows more light to be collected by the camera and therefore means you can shoot in very lowlight conditions and still get a decent exposure. This also extends the range of tone that the camera's sensor can capture. What was once a block of black in your photograph, now becomes 10 shades of darkening grey. Ranges of tone across the spectrum are added and the result shows itself in the photographs. 

This also means that if you need to use the exposure adjust feature (to lighten or darken the image in on-camera preview) you will not lose too much tone to absolute black or absolute white. Below is a couple of examples from York.

Absolutely blazing sunshine at the war memorial in York. This was taken on auto. I then took another and boosted the exposure slightly

Absolutely blazing sunshine at the war memorial in York. This was taken on auto. I then took another and boosted the exposure slightly

The camera lightens softly and although the area of over exposure has grown (around the cloud on the top left) This was less than I expected and not much tone is lost. The monument is lightened significantly. The edges are all still crisp.

The camera lightens softly and although the area of over exposure has grown (around the cloud on the top left) This was less than I expected and not much tone is lost. The monument is lightened significantly. The edges are all still crisp.

The camera is undoubtedly impressive. In York on the phone screen the photos look great. Huge tone range, beautiful colour. crisp and sharp. The screen with the extended, bevelled glass is big on the S8, on the S8+; it's gargantuan. Samsung have, focused and invested greatly on the camera and screen, and the results of the camera are confirmed when viewed back home on a big screen. 

Handling the phones, they are slim and well finished, there is the fingerprint sign-in (you can also setup face and iris recognition. However I have seen Brambilla's '93 classic Demolition Man and stuck to the fingerprint). This is read on the back of the camera where your index finger rests. It all seems quite natural and feels easy. All of the buttons that you need are all distributed around your natural phone grip. You can tell that a lot of time and money has gone into making this phone feel right, and to naturally streamline the control placement. When Samsung's main competitors seem to be reproducing the same smartphone with slight refinement and small improvements generation by generation; Samsung are succeeding in pursuing reinvention and innovation. 

So; is the S8+ too big? I guess it all depends on your point of view. The S8+ screen measures diagonally at 6.2" with the smaller S8 clocking in with 5.8". The S8+'s monstrously big screen, glamorously termed The Infinity Display, is absolutely superb. The phone still fitted in my jeans pocket quite nicely, it's pretty light and is the same thickness of its smaller counterpart; the standard S8. Admittedly it's not as discreet as the much smaller S8. As with the "plus choices" on smartphones, it depends on what you want from a phone, are you prepared to carry around a bigger phone? Do you want a sleek, discreet and powerful smartphone or do you want something where you'll use media a lot and see the benefit of the screen?

Looking at the camera further; There are some interesting modes and features off auto. There is Samsung's Pro Mode, which allows you to manually set the shutter speed, ISO, white balance; and combined with the selective focus option gives you the main controls of a DSLR. The resulting depth of field, on the huge 1.7 aperture lens, is impressive and dramatic

The on-camera image editing and processing features are extensive. There is the standard brightness, contrast, tone curve, sharpening etc; all present but you also have some advanced features that you would find in Photoshop and Lightroom. The perspective shift allows you to straighten, pull and stretch your image to attain perfect perspective. Fantastic for photos of architecture. There is also a range of filters that contain warm/cold light temperatures, black and whites and a range of different tones. You can also blend the amount of filter you want on your image so you can be delicate and tasteful with your tweaks. 

I threw the extremes of all of the settings in post processing at the above image and converted it to black and white; I wanted to see how the image held up after such extreme over processing.

I threw the extremes of all of the settings in post processing at the above image and converted it to black and white; I wanted to see how the image held up after such extreme over processing.

And quite impressively, the tone has held up quite nicely.

And quite impressively, the tone has held up quite nicely.

There's also some a neat feature called Bixby Vision. For example; if you see something that you would like to buy, you can photograph it and Bixby Vision will analyse the image, work out exactly which product is in the photograph; and then search and find that item online for sale for you. Great for bloggers and online journalism. There is also Food Mode which will blur out non-food items on your photograph. Again, great for reviewers and bloggers. 

Different camera modes include Panorama, HyperLapse, Virtual shot mode (360 image capture), Slo-mo and HDR. The HDR is surprisingly well tuned, extending the photograph to Hyper Dynamic Range without overcooking it. See below:

The video camera can capture video at 4K Ultra HD resolution, which again is very impressive.

In conclusion, the S8 and S8+ are impressive, well designed phones, but it's the camera and screen where they really shine. The camera and screen are very powerful and well tuned. The camera produces a huge range of tone, a powerful depth of field, beautiful colour response and sharpness. It is fast to focus and the substantial, yet easy to use, post processing features allow you to photograph, edit and post all on your phone. In contrast to some of the other competitors in the mobile market, Samsung seem to be striving to reinvent the smartphone, and their investment in the design of the camera and screen has created a very powerful and slick device.