Samsung Galaxy S4 Gordon Laing, May 2013

Samsung Galaxy S4 vs Galaxy S3 Quality

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To compare real-life performance I shot this scene with the Samsung Galaxy S4 and Galaxy S3, within a few moments of each other using their best quality JPEG settings.

The photos were taken from the same location using a tripod. Note the Galaxy S3 captures a slightly wider field of view compared to the newer Galaxy S4, so the crops below for the S4 show the joint benefit of a longer effective focal length in addition to a higher resolution. You can see the coverage of each handset below, before the crops, which as always are taken from the areas marked by the red squares and presented at 100%.

In my GS4 noise results I shot a composition from closer range, allowing me to adjust positions and match the field of view, thereby allowing a direct comparison of resolution.

  Samsung Galaxy S4 results
1 Samsung Galaxy S4 Quality
2 Samsung Galaxy S4 Noise
3 Samsung Galaxy S4 Sample images

First things first: as noted above, the Galaxy S4 captures a slightly narrower field of view than its predecessor, which in turn means we're effectively comparing two cameras with slightly different effective focal lengths below. The slightly tighter field of view from the S4 means that even if the resolution were the same, the details would appear a little larger and clearer in the crops below. Since the S4's resolution is also higher, 13 Megapixels versus 8 Megapixels, then the crops below show a noticeably tighter area for the new model.

In terms of comparing pure resolution this test is unfair, as the S4 has a longer effective focal length than the S3, so when both are shooting the same scene at infinity from the same location, the newer model will deliver a slightly more magnified view. So on the next page when comparing noise levels, I chose a closer composition which allowed me to match the field of view by simply moving the S3 a little closer to the subject. But what this page does show us is how the two handsets compare when shooting the same subject from the same distance, in addition to revealing their respective processing styles.

But before discussing the actual crops themselves, what is the difference in coverage between the handsets? You can see the full uncropped view from each model below, taken from the same position. Samsung is coy about releasing equivalent focal lengths, so I'll try and match the views at a later date with a DSLR zoom to really see what's being delivered here.

Samsung Galaxy S4 coverage
Samsung Galaxy S3 coverage (from same position)
4.2mm   3.7mm

Moving onto the crops, the Galaxy S4 shows considerably more detail when taken from the same location thanks to its higher resolution and slightly longer equivalent focal length. There's definitely more detail here from the S4 as you'd expect, but like its predecessor, the S4 is very noise-averse, instead preferring to apply heavy noise reduction and processing even at the base sensitivity. This is particularly apparent in the foliage detail, or lack of - many of the more distant trees are little more than green blobs, although to be fair this kind of effect can also be seen on many point-and-shoot cameras when faced with a similar scene.

The only other things to note here are the slightly brighter aperture reported by the EXIF data of f2.2 versus f2.6, and the slightly lower base sensitivity of 50 ISO versus 80 ISO. Note both handsets only 'unlock' these lowest sensitivities when used in Auto ISO and only allow manual selection from 100 ISO. When shooting with either handset, you'll also find them furiously trying to select the lowest possible ISO often at the cost of a slow shutter speed and potential camera shake. As you can see in my Samsung Galaxy S4 sample images, almost every single image was captured at the lowest 50 ISO sensitivity.

Now let's check out my Samsung Galaxy S4 noise results where I matched the field of view for a direct comparison of resolution.


Samsung Galaxy S4
Samsung Galaxy S3 (from same position)
f2.2, 50 ISO
f2.6, 80 ISO
f2.2, 50 ISO
f2.6, 80 ISO
f2.2, 50 ISO
f2.6, 80 ISO
f2.2, 50 ISO
f2.6, 80 ISO

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