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Samsung Galaxy S9 and S9 Plus camera review

Pros

  • Forgiving camera that delivers sharp images in almost all conditions
  • Probably the Highest Dynamic range of any other phone out there
  • High resolution video looks great

Cons

  • S9 may stutter when taking multiple pictures in adaptive focus mode
  • Slow motion video needs a bit of practice and requires plenty of light
  • S9 Plus is quite a big phone. Maybe too big for small hands

Screen size aside, the Galaxy S9 and its bigger sibling, the S9 Plus, are very similar in many of their internal components and key features.

Their cameras aren't too different either. Both are home to a 12-megapixel main camera, while the S9 Plus has an additional 12-megapixel zoom lens.

The main cameras on both phones have an aperture that automatically adjusts between f2.4, for sharper focus in bright conditions, and an extra wide f1.5 when light is low.

The auto aperture works really well and low light performance is excellent with only little noise around the edges when the wide aperture kicks in low light.

The selfie camera is also identical in both phones. This is a perfectly capable eight-megapixel front camera that enables you to turn yourself into a cartoony, animated emoji. And as with previous Galaxy phones, comes with face-smoothing features that I wish Samsung would make opt-in.

In the market for the standard S9? Take a look at our pick of the best deals.

Prefer the S9 Plus? We've picked out our best deals for that too. Find them at our comparison page.

Using the camera

Samsung Galaxy S9 camera sample lucky sign hero size

As with all other Samsung phones, the camera app can be started up by double-clicking the power button, something that works best with the more compact S9 than the oversized S9 Plus.

The volume rocker on the left functions as shutter button. This can be useful, but to take pictures I’d rather stick with the on-screen button to avoid motion blur.

There's a manual “Pro” mode that allows more granular exposure control. But unless you know exactly what you’re doing, it's best avoided.

Not least because the auto mode is fast and offers consistently good results in almost all conditions.

The interface is clean, fast and easy to use with shutter, video and gallery within easy reach.

Holding and sliding the shutter button functions as a zoom. I'm not a fan of zooming with phones, as it is the best way to get grainy pictures. But it's still a nifty feature that may be useful at times.

What else has the S9 got to offer besides its camera? We ran the rule over it for our review.

Soft background mode

The blurred-background effect, also known as 'bokeh', that makes for great portraits is the one of key things that differentiates the S9 from the S9 Plus.

In the S9, it's called Selective Focus and is pretty straightforward to use. Just tap an object less than 50cm away, then tap the shutter to take a picture.

Results are pretty impressive I must say, with a fairly natural soft focus and the option to adjust it later by switching the focus between the object and the background. Or you can remove it altogether.

There's a slight delay when taking pictures in this mode, so I'd advise keeping a steady hand and observing the on-screen guide to ensure you capture the subject at the right moment. This goes double when you're taking a sucession of pictures.

The S9 Plus takes this to another level with a feature called “Live Focus”. This requires the subject to be between 1 and 1.5 meters away and allows you to adjust the level of background focus with a slider.

Live Focus manages to add a bit of charm to the most everyday subjects.

This works best for portraits, where the level of background blur can be adjusted with an on-screen slider. I found that the highest blur level can result in a rather artificial feel for the background. So it’s best to keep the blur level about midway.

There’s none of the lag seen on the S9 when using the Live Focus mode on the S9 Plus. Just make sure you’re at the right distance from the subject.

Selfies

There's only one question that matters when judging the front camera on a phone: does it make you look good?

Both the S9 and S9 Plus mount the same eight-megapixel front camera. Its performance in low light could be improved but when the light is good it delivers excellent shots with plenty of detail.

The selfie camera also comes with a soft background mode called “Selfie Focus”.

Samsung Galaxy S9 selfie good light

Standard selfie in good light.

Selfies in low light are best when using the standard mode as “Selfie Focus” may give somewhat muddied results.

Bright light and landscape shots

If you're looking for consistently good photos in bright conditions without oversaturation and a unrivalled dynamic range, you can't go wrong with the S9 or S9 Plus.

Dynamic range really is incredible and the only two other phones that come anywhere near the S9 are the iPhone X and the Pixel 2 XL.

Samsung Galaxy S9 flowers

You'll notice there's none of over-saturation seen on mid-range phones here.

Samsung Galaxy S9 building

Preserving cloud details without compromising shaded areas is something many cameras can't do. Not so the S9.*

Auto enhance may improve the contrast. But be sure not to overuse it, as it may result in artificial-looking images.

Low light

Auto-enhance is a life saver in low light. Some fuzziness in the background is inevitable in these conditions, but there's very little to fault in the colour reproduction.

Samsung Galaxy S9 alley

Colours

Colours may be rather muted at times, but this can be easily fixed by selecting auto-enhance.

This may put off some people but what matters is that details are preserved and colours are amazingly true-to-life.

Video

Both the S9 and S9 Plus are capable of shooting video at a resolution of 2160p at 60fps (frames per second), which matches the iPhone X and will result in consistently sharp and stable videos also thanks to Optical Image Stabilisation.

Samsung's handsets can shoot slow-motion video at 960fps, too. It's a great little feature that returns decent results after a bit practice, but it does require a lot of light.

Verdict

If a great camera is an important factor for you when choosing a new phone, rest assured you cannot possibly go wrong with either a Galaxy S9 or S9 Plus.

Purely from a camera standpoint, there is no difference between the two iterations in image quality with standard images. The only area I have found the smaller S9 lacking is in the lag when shooting in soft background, “Adaptive Focus” mode.

I don’t consider this a deal-breaker, though. And, in fact, my pick to take on a trip away would be the standard S9, as its compact size makes it ideal for casual, one-handed shooting.

In the market for the standard S9? Take a look at our pick of the best deals.

Prefer the S9 Plus? We've picked out our best deals for that too. Find them at our comparison page.

Category: Reviews
Tagged: samsung
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