Samsung’s Galaxy S4 Zoom: killing off compact digital cameras


Now that Samsung has finally announced the Galaxy S4 Zoom smartphone, everyone will be trying to figure out just where it fits in the tech landscape. Is it a digital compact camera that makes phone calls? Is it a smartphone that takes exceptionally decent photos? Is a product that doesn’t know what it wants to do?

While it’s not the first Android-powered device from the Korean giant designed to take more than basic photos (that honour belongs to the Galaxy Camera), it’s the first smartphone that should make the likes of Canon and other compact camera makers consider making other plans.

The reason they’ve survived as long as they have is that compact cameras have offered the extra quality smartphones have lacked, namely through vastly better optics, physically larger image sensors and optical zoom lenses. The Galaxy S4 Zoom cuts across the divide and shows that phone cameras don’t have to be bad. And you can bet it won’t be the last.

The image sensor on this one is a 16MP unit and although it pales against the 41MP giant sensor from Nokia’s 2012-era 808 PureView, the 10X-optical zoom lens not only gets it past the basic compact zoom cameras, but into the maxi-zoom territory. Nokia may be able to match the S4 Zoom for pixel size, but whether it can match on the optics is something else again. (You would expect Nokia could, whether it wants to is another matter).

The interesting player in all of this is Sony. Now that it’s brought its smartphone business in-house, it’s the only other major phone maker that also has a dedicated digital camera business – you’d think it wouldn’t take much for Sony to jump on-board and deliver something to rival – or even surpass – this Galaxy S4 variant.

No doubt, the S4 Zoom won’t be cheap – at this stage Samsung hasn’t mentioned availability or pricing. But even so, like all new tech, it’ll become more affordable over the next three years, by which time, we’ll be wondering what the fuss was all about.

But there’s something equally important about this announcement – its timing. It comes within a month of camera makers Olympus and FujiFilm ditching the entry-level/budget compact point-and-shoot digital camera market. Olympus has said it will be killing off its V-series; FujiFilm will be scrapping its budget line-up completely to concentrate on higher-end (more profitable) models.

However, if Samsung and other phone makers begin incorporate high-zoom digital cameras into their smartphones, the likes of FujiFilm and Olympus might be scrapping more than just their budget cameras.

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