Galaxy S9 early camera test: Let's scrutinize Samsung's Dual Aperture photos

Surprise, surprise. Both f/1.5 and f/2.4 images look good in low-light conditions.

Credit: Adam Patrick Murray/IDG

Samsung just announced its first dual-aperture smartphone camera—and our very early testing shows that the Galaxy S9’s wider f/1.5 aperture does help in low-light conditions, but the f/2.4 setting is no slouch either in capturing detail in the very same lighting.

Head on over to your high-resolution desktop display, and click (and expand!) the video above for the full story. The Histogram at the top right of the screen clearly indicates the aperture mode of each photo we review.

Below we share our testing approach, as well as some top-line first impressions.

How we tested

All of the photos in the video were taken during a 90-minute Galaxy S9/S9+ demo last week. For our Last Cam Standing series, we always compare the latest smartphone cameras to our current camera winner (in this case, the Huaweii Mate 10 Pro), but Samsung didn’t allow us to take comparison shots with other phones. We even had to put stickers over the cameras of our personal smartphones (to prevent press leaks, and not necessarily to deny comparative testing).

Nonetheless, we were allowed free reign of the demo space to take photos with a Galaxy S9+, and Samsung mailed our images to us after the event.

The phone’s 12-megapixel Dual Aperture rear camera will automatically shift from its f/2.4 aperture to the wider f/1.5 aperture as soon as environmental lighting falls below 100 lux. But you can also manually set the camera to shoot in either f/2.4 or f/1.5, and this is how we got comparison shots to judge the two separate modes.

Galaxy S9 Dual Aperture first impressions

  • No surprise here: The f/1.5 aperture setting delivers a brighter image in challenging low light conditions. But we found that the f/2.4 aperture does a solid job too, at least when the phone is stable, with all hand shake removed. This is best illustrated in the video at the 11:41 mark. Peering into what was essentially a black void, both aperture settings delivered vivid photos.

  • The smaller Galaxy S9 doesn’t have dual rear cameras, and that means it can’t take advantage of the Live Focus mode introduced in the Galaxy Note 8, which creates depth-of-field bokeh effects. But both the S9 and S9+ do have the f/1.5 aperture mode, and this setting delivers some nice bokeh with just a single camera.

    Check out the 3:15 mark in the video to see the natural bokeh effect produced by the f/1.5 aperture, and then compare that effect to how Live Focus on the S9+ performs at the 11:06 mark. We prefer the image shot with the single lens, as Live Focus (and competing technologies from other companies) still can’t match real-world bokeh in terms of distinguishing what should and shouldn’t be blurred.

    That said, Live Focus will be your go-to for many focal length scenarios

  • Shifting between the f/2.4 and f/1.5 apertures, we found some interesting differences. Note the extra clarity we see from the faster shutter speed of the f/1.5 setting at the 1:28 mark in the video. But we also found the f/1.5 setting introduced chromatic aberration (unnatural colors). This is revealed in the video at the 14:41 mark.

Obviously, we still have a lot of testing ahead. The S9’s shots we took last week look great, but we really need to do comparative testing with competing smartphone cameras to determine the Samsung’s low-light abilities. Stay tuned, because the Galaxy S9 will compete in Last Cam Standing as soon as we get our hands on the phone.

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Adam Patrick Murray, Jon Phillips

PC World (US online)
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