Feature Articles

Hands-on: All the new Samsung Galaxy S9 / S9+ camera features

By Zachary Chan - 28 Feb 2018

Low Light Camera

Low Light Camera

Every new phone generation has seen some improvements in low light photography, arguably the bane of smartphone camera design. In the past, we've generally seen larger aperture lenses and pixel sizes, both designed to help capture more light.

  • The S6 had a 16MP camera with 1.2-micron pixels and an F1.9 lens.
     
  • The S7 dropped down to a 12MP sensor, but increased its pixel size to 1.4-micons and an F1.7 lens.
     
  • The S8 had similar specifications, but Samsung implemented a new software processing feature called multi-frame to help reduce noise, especially in low light.

The Galaxy S9 will take things further with an F1.5 lens, the brightest on any device yet.

The problem however, is that while large aperture lenses work great to compensate for low light, we're getting to a point where it becomes detrimental during the day. Then there's also the issue of depth of field. Images shot with very wide apertures tend to be soft and have less focused surroundings. This is great for close up or portrait photography, but not ideal when you're trying to capture scenery or panoramas.

To get the best of both worlds, the S9 and S9+ will be the first smartphones to feature a dual aperture lens, which will automatically switch to F1.5 in low light situations, and F2.4 when it is bright enough. We're trying to confirm with Samsung, but from the presentations shown, it seems that the switching point is an ambient lighting of about 100 lux.

Remember how the S8 introduced multi-frame processing to help low light photography by reducing image noise? Because of the stacked sensor design, the S9 can improve on this feature as well, processing and combining up to 12 pictures per shot, supposedly improving noise reduction by another 30% compared to the S8.

We couldn't really make any assessment of the low light capabilities during the NDA media preview session as we all had our phone cameras taped over, but the demo Samsung prepared pitted a Galaxy S9+ against a Pixel 2 XL in a <1 lux environment. Expectedly, the S9+ performed superbly.

Low light shot of a dark box under 1 Lux with a Samsung Galaxy S9+.

The same shot using a Google Pixel 2 XL.