Samsung has done what most other flagship phone manufacturers wouldn’t dare to do: they used the same camera hardware for two high-end phones in a row. That’s right, the Galaxy S8+ uses the same 12-megapixel Samsung S5K2L1 (or Sony IMX260) 1/2.5” CMOS sensor as the Galaxy S7 Edge, with 1.4µm pixels and dual pixel PDAF technology. It’s paired with an f/1.7 lens 26mm lens and optical image stabilization.
The rear camera supports 4K capture at 30 frames per second (and 1080p at 60 FPS), while the front camera is limited to 1440p capture. The front camera hardware has been upgraded, though, to an 8-megapixel sensor with an f/1.7 lens and autofocus.
One of the best aspects to the Galaxy S7 Edge camera remains in the S8+: it’s phenomenal focus speed thanks to dual pixel technology. What dual pixel does is turn every pixel in the sensor into both a light capture source and a phase detection autofocus element, so no matter where an object is in the frame, the sensor can focus accurately and very quickly. The S8+ is just as fast as the S7 Edge to focus, making it one of the fastest cameras on the market.
Several aspects of the S7 Edge camera’s image quality also remain in the S8+. Despite the fact it produces 12-megapixel images, detail is pretty mediocre due to aggressive post processing, particularly noise reduction. The ‘oil painting effect’ is well and truly here on S8+ photos, which will disappoint those that want to zoom and crop their smartphone images. Zoom out, though, and images look fine.
Samsung’s image processing is still excellent, however, which leads to images that look great in nearly all conditions. When outdoors, the S8+ performs very similarly to the S7 Edge, and that’s exactly what you want to see considering how well the S7 Edge performed in these conditions. Images are vibrant, exhibit fantastic dynamic range, and just look damn good without needing to edit them after the fact.
Samsung has made some noticeable improvements to their image processing in the S8+, which allows them to reuse the hardware from the S7 Edge for better results. Dynamic range and the auto-HDR mode are superior to last year’s model, likely due to multi-frame image processing. Images taken in high-contrast environments look even more awesome than ever on the S8+.
Improvements have also been made to the way the S8+ handles indoor photos. The phone appears to deliver brighter, better metered photos under artificial lighting, often with improved colors as well. The S7 Edge performed well indoors, but the S8+ takes things to the next level. You also get the added benefit of the aforementioned dynamic range improvements, which help to create indoor images with more depth than before.
There are times when the S8+ still struggles to meter correctly, leading to indoor shots with a noticeable yellow or red tone on occasion. On cloudy days, the S8+ also has a habit of taking shots that are too ‘cold’ or blue for the conditions, leading to unnaturally desaturated photos. Luckily, you can change the white balance to whatever you like in the camera’s fully-featured manual mode.
Low light performance is still largely the same as last generation, though sharpness has been improved for fast-moving objects in poor lighting conditions. Photos can be a bit grainy when it gets really dark, however the S8+ is still a competent camera here.
I was impressed with the improvements to the front facing camera, particularly the inclusion of autofocus. When you pair the selfie camera with a wide f/1.7 lens, you can achieve some nice background blur to your selfies. The improved light gathering ability also assists with low light capture, which is an area a lot of selfie cameras struggle with.
My only real complaint with the Galaxy S8+ camera is that it isn’t as good as the Pixel XL. There’s just something about the Pixel’s always-on HDR mode that produces stunning results in all conditions. The Galaxy S8+ comes close, but it just can’t match that level of quality.
As for the camera application, the S8+ uses a simple layout that’s easy to use and control. You can capture videos and stills from the same screen, while quick access to some settings like HDR and the flash are on the left. It’s not immediately intuitive that you need to swipe from the left to access additional camera modes, though you do get a range of cool features there, such as selective focus, slow motion video capture, and a hyperlapse mode.
The manual mode is fantastic, and gives you access to pretty much everything you’d want. Some phones only provide ISO, shutter speed and white balance controls, but with the S8+ you also get access to focus modes (multi and center) along with a range of metering modes. In terms of features here, the S8+ is starting to approach what we see on professional DLSRs.