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Samsung Galaxy S9: New camera features

The Samsung Galaxy S9 Plus' secondary camera isn't the most exciting thing about the new S9 range. The most exciting Galaxy S9 camera features are common to both models.

Published onFebruary 25, 2018

The Samsung Galaxy S9 improves upon a few standard aspects of the already established Samsung experience, but the camera is clearly a primary focus. None of what follows is truly a first, but it’s great to see Samsung keeping up with the Joneses as it were. We wanted to quickly highlight the features of the Galaxy S9 camera the more camera-centric users.

From AR Emoji and super slow motion, to one of the biggest smartphone photography changes since the first mainstream dual camera was introduced on the HTC One M8, the S9 camera is a big deal.

Super slo-mo

Slow motion is not a new feature. It already appears in a number of recent Samsung releases mainly as 120 fps video. Though in the past this was relegated to just 720p resolution, we have since seen it reach 1080p.

With the updated camera of the S9, 4K footage can now be recorded at 60 fps, making it a beast for videographers, especially those who want to have some control over their content via manual controls (which are also available now). But Samsung didn’t stop at 60 fps 4K video. The Galaxy S9 also shoots 240 fps at Full HD/1080p and 960 fps at 720p.

The S9 camera supports 60 fps at 4K, 240 fps slo-mo at 1080p and 960 fps slo-mo at 720p resolution.

This isn’t the first time we’ve seen this in  a phone. Super slow motion was at one point a feature in the Sony Xperia line, and it worked quite well when you could correctly predict the moment of action you wanted slowed down. It was pretty hit or miss unless you could pre-empt those moments. It was easy to miss the critical moment and get a slo-mo aftermath instead.

Samsung kept this in mind with their Super Slo-Mo, adding in an auto mode which identifies the motion ramping up and starts the 960 fps capture automatically. This aims to take the guesswork out of it, so you only have to try once. Of course, this mode might sometimes pick the incorrect moment, but we’ll see how accurate it is during our full review.

AR Emoji

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This one’s for all those people with Animoji envy — Samsung is bringing its own brand of special emoji to the Galaxy S9, and they are nicely customizable. Using either camera, faces can be captured and transformed into avatars that resemble Bitmoji (for you Snapchat users). The face capture results in a bit more of a caricature than an accurate depiction of you, but you can further customize your AR Emoji to be as close or far from recognizable as you like.

Using either camera, faces can be captured and transformed into an avatar that resembles a Bitmoji.

Hairstyles can be changed, as well as a number of different options. This was exploited by just about everyone — Josh got his long hair back, even if digitally. Lanh wanted bright white hair. There is a variety of eyewear and all colors can be changed to whatever you want.

Don’t miss: AR Emoji vs Animoji: the differences explained

Clothing options were a bit sparse, but we’re sure this is going to change as updates continue. We wouldn’t be surprised if there were themed or even sponsored elements for AR Emoji in future, as we’ve seen in other avatar creation systems. Clearly the possibilities are endless when you can just forego your face capture altogether and be a bunny rabbit or a weird blue being we saw later in the options.

Once you are happy with your AR Emoji, you can save it and use it every time you launch the front-facing camera. When you do so, the AR Emoji acts in augmented reality fashion — your face and head are tracked so you can move around and even make faces. You can raise your eyebrows, open your mouth, even scrunch up your face and your digital self will do the same. It would have been nice if the emoji could move its arms and other parts of the body, but for now this is still pretty fun.

AR Emoji act in augmented reality fashion – your face is tracked so that you can move you head around and even make faces.

The mode will also save over a dozen different GIFs locally for easy sharing. Send an emoji of you saying “OK!” to your friend on Facebook Messenger when they ask if you want to get dinner, or a sad emoji to your Twitter feed to tell everyone you just watched Armageddon. This is yet another aspect of the mode we’re sure will grow over time. Perhaps one day you’ll have an entire catalog of your digital self, expressing endless emotions.

Mechanical iris

The Galaxy S9’s addition of a mechanical iris can switch between two apertures is not a first. It’s not even a first for Samsung, which released a clamshell phone in China last year with the same dual aperture options. But by putting a dual aperture lens on the most popular Android phone series in the world it sets an example. It’s an interesting blast from the past, putting moving bits in the tiny camera lens so it better mimics a proper DSLR experience.

The opening of lens is either wide open or closed depending on the setting. In aperture terms, the closed setting is f/2.4 and the open setting is f/1.5. Let that sink in for a second — even without this feature, the aperture of the main camera is still wider than before, including the f/1.7 of the Galaxy Note 8 or the f/1.6 of the LG V30.

The real showstopper is the mechanical iris on the Galaxy S9: offering f/1.5 and f/2.4 aperture from a single lens.

The mechanical iris provides a hardware solution to exposure when taking pictures. The super wide f/1.5 will allow light to flood into the sensor, and potentially make low light photos far easier for this tiny module to capture. It also allows for great bokeh or depth-of-field effects where the background is creamy behind the sharp foreground subject. On the flip side, the f/2.4 aperture is better suited for wider scenes, like staggered group shots or landscapes. The Auto mode will pick between the two for you, but you can take control at any time in the Pro Mode.

Photographers will get a kick out of having a selectable aperture, even it is just two different settings. Purists will probably be happy not everything is relying on software for once, even though the Soft Focus mode is still there.

Multi-frame processing

Multi-Frame Processing is Samsung’s answer to the Pixels' outstanding HDR+ processing.

Multi-Frame Processing is Samsung’s answer to the outstanding HDR+ processing the Pixel phones have championed. While Google still has the power of its vast machine learning database for reference, Samsung is focusing on the moment.

Hit the shutter and the camera will capture 12 photos, essentially in three groups of four. All of the frames are processed with detail, contrast, and noise in mind, to render out its best final photo. Apparently this is done three different times all in a split second, made possible by the memory (DRAM) built into the actual camera module itself. That’s right, the S9 camera even has RAM.

The results are hopefully going to be exceptional, though that was already expected given Samsung’s track record. If the camera can marry Samsung’s high saturation with the sharpness and detail of the Pixel, this will be a hard camera not to like. If the results are a little too far in any one aspect, you can also always dial it back in the Pro mode or in post processing.

The S9 Plus camera also has the telephoto lens, bringing some Note 8 flavor to the Galaxy S line. The rest of what we’ve covered above is available in either phone, which is great for users who want the smaller phone and don’t want to miss out on more than just zoom capability.

Check out even more Galaxy S9 coverage below: