The Galaxy A series has traditionally been focused on bringing features found in Samsung’s top smartphones, like the Note series and the S-series, to a more affordable price bracket. While the A-series phones have been different from the rest of Samsung’s non-premium offerings, the launch of the Galaxy A7 is probably the first time an A-series smartphone has received a new feature like that in no other phone in the Korean manufacturer’s line-up.
Yes, we are talking about the triple-camera setup at the back of the Samsung Galaxy A7.
The setup is absolutely brand new for a Samsung smartphone. It is essentially a dual-camera setup stacked on top of an ultra-wide angle lens. The dual-camera setup consists of a 24MP primary sensor and a 5MP depth sensor, with apertures of f/1.7 and f/2.2, respectively. The ultra-wide lens has a field of view of 120 degrees and an aperture of f/2.4.
If you are keen on comparing it with a similar looking phone, the Huawei P20 Pro, you’d like to know that the latter has a telephoto lens instead of the ultra-wide and comes with a much higher spec primary sensor, so there can’t really be an apples to apples comparison between the two.
I had a chance to test out the capabilities of the Samsung Galaxy A7’s camera in Goa. I put to test several things that include daytime and low-light photography, field-of-view and the geometric distortion of the ultra-wide lens, portrait mode, the new scene detection mode, colour reproduction and accuracy and, finally, how all of these offerings work in symphony in the camera app.
Before I reveal my findings, let me walk you through the main reason of putting a wide-angle lens in the Galaxy A7. Humans have binocular vision with a field-of-view of 120 degrees, thanks to our nature of constantly moving our eyes around. Most phones have lenses with a focal length equivalent to 35mm. This crops out a sizeable chunk from the sides of an image, as they have a lower field-of-view.
While fitting in more stuff in your images might sound cool, wide-angle lenses also pose a few challenges. For instance, the depth-of-field of such lenses is not very shallow, so it is not possible to get a bokeh like you would on a regular lens. Further, the sides of the image appear to be curved thanks to geometric distortion.
Therefore, having both kinds of lenses in the same setup is a near perfect solution, as it provides seamless transition from one shooting mode to the other at just the touch of a button.
So when I first got my hands on the phone, I instantly tried out this feature—and I was pleasantly surprised. It is very convenient and opens up an entirely different dimension of smartphone photography. After spending a little time with the phone, I started to understand how geometric distortion could be used in framing my pictures and ultimately using them to my advantage.
To get a better hold of things with the ultra-wide lens, I took the matter to Atul Kasbekar, a fashion photographer recognised mainly for his Kingfisher Calendar shoots. He suggests keeping vertical lines at the edges of the frame when using the wide-angle mode. He also mentioned that it is not a good idea to keep any faces at the edges as they might appear distorted.
The trick worked and I ended up with some decent camera samples.
But here’s the thing, you can tap on the screen and select the exposure and area of focus when using the wide-angle mode, which can bit of a pain.
When I started to get tired of wide-angle shots, I tried out some with the regular camera. Starting off with the auto mode, I observed that the auto scene detection worked as desired seven times out of ten in varying conditions. The auto mode calibrates the white balance, ISO and exposure pretty well, even in low lighting.
The colours were consistently oversaturated though, in an attempt to make them stand out more, which can get a bit annoying after a while. Another interesting quirk of the phone is that it struggles to capture shades of pink. It often reproduces the colour inaccurately either by making them appear reddish or hot pink. But when it comes to landscapes, oversaturated colours make you image stand out, so you can always use it to your advantage.
More quirks kept popping up after digging a bit deeper.
The “Pro" mode, which allows manual adjustment of camera settings, is, in essence, semi-pro. You have only three tweakable settings—white balance, ISO and exposure. There’s no way to set shutter speed and the white balance further has only four presets, so you can’t select the right white balance by going up and down the Kelvins. As a result, you end up with images that are either too yellow or too blue when using one of the presets. I would suggest using the Pro mode only if you aren’t able to set your exposure right in the auto mode.
The wide-angle lens is only available in auto mode and not other modes, not even Pro, which is a bummer.
Other features in the camera app are the regular ones in other Samsung phones, namely Panorama, Beauty, Live Focus, Slow Motion, AR Emoji and Hyperlapse—all of which work identical to other Samsung flagship phones.
The selfie camera tends to smoothen your face out. As a result, it appeared as if my skin had little contour, even when beauty mode is turned off. It does a good job of clicking crisp photos in dark surroundings though, even though the app turns really slow while doing so.
The Galaxy A7 can shoot FHD videos at 29fps at best, which is a bit disappointing, considering the fact 4K video recording is becoming more of a given at this price point. The camera has electronic image stabilisation only in the FHD format. This means videos shot with the wide-angle lens are out of luck. Video quality was good, but nothing mind blowing without a stabiliser. They weren’t as good as the images though.
Now let’s come to what happens after clicking images—checking them out in the gallery. While the images look good at the first go, they lose their charm after zooming in, especially the ones shot in the wide-angle mode. Since I wasn’t convinced, I copied them to my computer and compared the images with the ones I had clicked at the same time with the OnePlus 6. The OnePlus 6 had images with more detail than the ones clicked on the A7. This is mainly because the wide-angle shots are clicked at a resolution of 8MP (3264x2448), while the ones clicked with the regular lens have a resolution of 24MP (5664x4248). While I’m not a proponent of more megapixels equals more muscle power, it is fairly evident here.
Overall, the camera is definitely one of the strong points of the Samsung Galaxy A7. A wider frame will definitely help you pack more in your photos. You won’t face a lot of problems with the camera if you’re a person who’s not planning to do professional photography or mobile journalism with it.