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Samsung's Galaxy Camera EK-GC100: First of a new breed? (Review)

by Adel Gabot
31 Jul 2017 | 2:10 PM

We've had smartphones come out with incredible camera functionality-big megapixel resolutions, LED flashes, built-in photo manipulation software-but in the end, they're still just phones with camera functions. Sure, they're great and all, and you could, in most situations, make do with them in place of a DSLR, but it's just not the same. Face it, with a lens the size of  a fish-scale and a tiny flash, you don't get to work with much.

But what if there was a full-fledged camera to come out, this time with some smartphone features tacked on? That'd be something, wouldn't it?

Samsung must've been listening to the zeitgeist (or not; the jury's still out on this one) because they recently released the Galaxy Camera EK-GC100, which is precisely that: a full digital camera with some smartphone features playing second fiddle. It finally came out here earlier this year, and Samsung has effectively flipped the traditional roles of smartphone and camera in coming out with the latest "new thing."

It certainly looks like a camera, with a very clean look. It's big and white and there is a large lens out front that projects and retracts just like on a regular point-and-shoot (with 21x optical zoom), and there is a large flash that pops out from the top right edge. The camera shoots at 16 megapixels using a 1/2.3 CMOS sensor that's typical on a good digital camera. It also records Full HD video (1920 x 1080) at 30 frames per second.

It stores up to 10GB of internal flash storage and you can bump that up with an external microSD card. There is a reasonably big, good grip on the left side, and there is an integrated physical shutter release button and zoom control and a power button on the top. A smaller button on the side releases the pop-up flash. And that takes care of the physical controls-the rest relies on the touchscreen on the back.

The 4.8-inch touchscreen, in operation, looks like a typical Android smartphone screen, complete with the Google Now search bar on top and the various application icons on the bottom, especially if you look at it in portrait mode. In fact, you can't really distinguish it from a smartphone screen at first glance, and you'd think you were just using a phone. On closer inspection, though, you'd see that the first few icons are photography-based apps.

It uses Jelly Bean 4.1, which is a respectable new release for the OS, and runs like a regular phone, swiping and scrolling with typical aplomb. There is the Google Play Store which you can use to get apps like you're used to, and generally everything else is there. The camera comes into its own, though, when you tap the Camera icon.

Triggering it brings you to the mode selection screen, which allows access to exposure modes, and selects between camera or video functions. Tapping on the mode button brings you three options: Auto, Smart and Expert. Auto speaks for itself, Smart allows you access to 15 preset scene modes and Expert gets you exposure priority, aperture priority and manual controls as well as an additional video mode which allows for exposure compensation.

Using the Expert mode allows you to have a graphic of a lens where you can control ISO, exposure compensation, shutter speed and aperture by using your finger to flick the controls around. It also allows you to apply 14 preset effects including B&W, sepia and retro modes. There is also a settings menu where you can adjust drive and focus modes, white balance and flash. It's getting a bit complicated here (wait until you really get your hands on one), but you did buy a camera after all.

You can even control your picture taking with voice commands if you prefer. This feature is getting traction in smartphones and tablets with Siri and Google Voice Commands, but this is a first for photography buffs. You can take shots, focus and generally do everything by voice. In practice, though, the voice commands still need a lot of work, being a hit-or-miss proposition, particularly in noisy situations.

You can instantaneously synchronize your photos or video on the web, as the camera has Bluetooth, WiFi and 3G connectivity (just like a tablet or phone). Aside from the built-in applications, you can manipulate your photos and video with any number of apps that exist on the net right on the camera itself. With the smartphone functions, I can locate myself using GPS, snap real photos, then share them instantly, all with one device.

It's a great camera-smartphone, but the problem with it is the battery life: with all the settings on, I probably got just four or five hours of use with it before I needed to charge it again. The included 1650 MAh Lithium-ion battery isn't quite up to snuff powering the camera and the smartphone functions. Thank God it uses the same battery as its cousin the Samsung Galaxy S3 smartphone, so replacement batteries are readily available.

Samsung has successfully merged the tablet/smartphone and the camera worlds in the Galaxy Camera EK-GC100 without compromising any of the functions of either. I wish it worked as a phone too (you can use Skype with it, though, with the built-in microphone), but what's life without something to look forward to?

Prices start at P21,500.