Samsung Galaxy S10 Lite Camera Review

I managed to get my hands on a loaner Samsung S10 Lite, and was curious about the camera performance. Smartphone photography is surely the future and is gaining popularity, and I acknowledge the rise of modern smartphone cameras breaking a lot of imaging boundaries. The S10 Lite can shoot 48MP stills, had dedicated ultra wide angle and macro lenses, and can do video up to 4K 60p recording. The specifications alone have surpassed many advanced and even PRO level dedicated cameras, so I thought why not bring the Samsung S10 Lite out for some shutter therapy and see if the camera lives up to expectations. 


Before we dive in, here are some important disclaimers. The Samsung S10 Lite smartphone was a loaner from Samsung Malaysia and will be returned after this review. I have no affiliation with Samsung Malaysia or any retailers selling the smartphone. Samsung Malaysia did not commission me to do this review and I chose to do this entirely out of my own curiosity and willingness. I am not getting any compensation out of this, and my review is done entirely based on my personal experience using the smartphone camera over the past two weeks. This is not a tech/gadget oriented review, I will only be reviewing specifically the camera performance of the S10 Lite. I am a photographer and I do have a few things to say about smartphone cameras. 

Looking at the camera specifications at a glance, the Samsung S10 Lite has 3 separate camera modules at the back of the phone:
1) Main Camera 
48MP, 26mm equivalent focal length, F2.0 and has image stabilization
2) Ultra Wide Angle Camera
12MP, 12mm equivalent focal length, F2.2 
3) Macro camera
5MP, 25mm equivalent focal length, F2.4

In terms of video capabilities, the Samsung S10 Lite can shoot up to 4K60p.

That gorgeous 6.7 inch Super Amoled Plus display!

 The Samsung S10 Lite has 3 camera modules:
Top - Macro camera
Middle - Main camera
Bottom - Ultra Wide Angle camera

Close up on the cameras on S10 Lite, I am fully aware of the dusts, but heck I ain't not spending time to clean up this photo!

MAIN CAMERA IS BRILLIANT

The one camera that you should be using 99% of the time on the Samsung S10 Lite, if you own one, is the main camera. The camera is capable of shooting 48MP, but the default camera setting is 12MP, downsampling the whooping 48MP to a 12MP optimized image file. To me, even as a professional photographer, 12MP is more than sufficient for any photography needs today, and I don't see how 12MP cannot deliver sufficient details. 

The main camera was tested mostly at 12MP and it produces very good results in good lighting condition. Images come out sharp and detailed with rich colors. The camera does analyse the individual shooting scenes and apply some processing to optimise the image output. The images do tend to look a bit over-saturated and the highlight and shadow regions are heavily balanced to induce the HDR-like look. I have shot images from near and far testing the main camera, mostly on the cityscape of Kuala Lumpur as viewed from the newly opened Saloma Link, overlooking the KLCC under harsh afternoon sun and also some hispter food shots in a downtown cafe. The main camera does a superb job in rendering beautiful results.

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.

Main Camera

Main Camera with Live Focus (fake bokeh effect)

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Main Camera close up shooting

Main Camera

Main Camera

Main Camera

Main Camera

Crop from previous image showing heavy JPEG processing, smudging fine details. Not an issue if you do not pixel-peep your images. 

Main camera

48MP ADVANTAGE

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. 

Main camera - 48MP mode

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Left - 12MP, Right - 48MP

Main camera 48MP mode

ZCrop from previous image 
Left - 12MP, Right - 48MP

ULTRA WIDE ANGLE CAMERA

I think it is very useful to have an ultra wide angle camera in a lot of modern smartphones today. I would not recommend using wide angle for the sake of having the wide angle effect in your photographs. An ultra wide angle can come in very handy in situations when you need to fit in a bit more into your frame, such as a large group shot in a tight space, or a sweeping landscape shot that you want to cramp in a few more buildings at the sides. Used correctly an ultra wide angle lens can create beautiful and impactful results. 

There is no autofocus when using ultra wide angle, and the camera module relies on fixed focus. This is not a surprise, considering the ultra wide angle used on a camera with smaller image sensor can yield almost infinite depth of field, having everything sharp in focus from near to far. This also simplifies the shooting workflow, minimising errors on photographer's part, having less to worry while shooting images. The ultra wide angle camera produces consistently sharp, details and beautiful colors as seen from the main camera. However, since the camera module is different overall the image quality is not as good as the main camera. This can evidently be seen at higher ISO settings, the ultra wide angle camera falls apart much sooner than the main camera. Use the ultra wide angle only when absolutely necessary. 

The ultra wide angle lens is sharp at the center of the frame, and exhibits obvious corner softness, a typical characteristics of a wide angle lens. There are also noticeable purple fringing and vignetting, but these are not dealbreakers and should not be any concern for consumer level photography. A good news here is that Samsung S10 Lite has built in distortion correction to get rid of any visible barrel distortion, leaving straight lines almost perfectly straight. Having said that, I did have a tremendous amount of fun playing with the wide angle lens, capturing city landscapes. 

Ultra Wide Angle Camera

Ultra Wide Angle Camera

Ultra Wide Angle Camera

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Ultra Wide Angle lens exhibiting severe corner softness and purple fringing issues. 

Ultra Wide Angle Camera

Ultra Wide Angle Camera

Ultra Wide Angle Camera

Ultra Wide Angle Camera

MACRO CAMERA

The macro camera module only has 5MP, and for many people this may seem lackluster. To me, I think this is better than not having a macro lens at all, and macro lens can come in very useful when you need to go close to your subjects and reveal minute details. Example of uses - shooting jewellery, small product photography (lego, miniatures), food details and even flowers and bugs. 5MP is still a lot to go around, as long as you don't carelessly crop your images. 

Perhaps a more useful lens to be included in the S10 Lite would be a tele lens, something close to 50mm to create a more proportionate and normal looking image with minimal perspective distortion. However, I feel that the tele-lens is also not fully utilised by consumer level photography who still prefer to shoot everything in wide angle mode. I can understand Samsung's decision not to include the tele-lens, and the macro lens would have been far more useful in this scenario. 

Much like the ultra wide angle camera, the macro lens does not have autofocus and anything that falls within close shooting range (between 3cm to 5cm from the lens) will be in perfect focus. Use the macro mode only to shoot very close up subjects. 

Macro camera

Macro camera

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.

Main Camera ISO800

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I'd stay at ISO400 or below for better results

Main Camera ISO640
Without pixel peeping, the image actually looks quite good

Main camera ISO1000

Ultra Wide Angle Camera ISO800

Ultra Wide Angle camera performs worse than the main camera for low light shooting
I recommend staying with Main Camera for low light if possible. 

 Night Mode on Main Camera - this artificially brightens the image too much

Might Mode - I really don't like how the camera over-processes the image. 

Main Camera ISO640

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.

An example of a missed shot due to slight delay of live view. 

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.

VIDEO SHOOTING

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.

CONCLUSION

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!


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1 comment:

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