How to take great still photos with the Samsung Galaxy Nexus Part I

The still camera on the Samsung Galaxy Nexus paired with Android 4.x (Ice Cream Sandwich) is a blend of trying to keep a camera idiot-proof while still giving it some creative function.

Photo: Macro bubbles in a glass of apple juice

Add some powerful baked in editing tools, that I will talk about in the next post, and you have plenty to work with.

After reading several negative reviews of the still camera on this phone, and continuously using it for two weeks, I have come the the conclusion that many reviewers just haven’t taken the time to master it.

On the whole, the still camera in the Galaxy Nexus is a very fast (about 6 fps), consistent shooter that works well in low light. If you just point and shoot without thinking about what you are doing, your results will be mixed.

Mastering focus and and exposure

The worst thing you can do with this camera is to point and hit the shutter. The results will often be hot in the highlights and not dead on focus.

Instead, pick a focus point on the screen to lock in the focus point, preferably something that isn’t a solid color so it has something to focus on.

With the example at right, I tried dragging the square to several spots to obtain the exposure I was looking for. The screen adjusts to tell you what is going on.

When using the flash, the Nexus sends out a pre-light so the auto focus has something to lock on. Tap and drag the focus square to what you want in focus and the LED flash will remain on until focus is locked. Then hit shutter for the flash.

Once the focus is locked, the camera will hold the focus for a few seconds until you have a chance to hit the shutter. After that few second window, the focus might wander as it goes back into continuous focusing (point and shoot) mode.

The blinking focus point goes from red to green when it locks on focus.

The focus point is also your exposure point, like a spot meter in a professional camera.

If you pick a bright spot in the photo, the camera will expose darker to compensate. If you pick a darker area, the picture will lighten up.

In this example I set the focus/exposure point on the cat, which has dark fur.  The rest of the photo overexposed. When I set the exposure point on something that is brighter in the background, the entire picture gets darker.

By dragging the focusing square around the screen, you are combining the focus and exposure point for your photo.

You can go into the menu and change exposure +3/-3 if you want to override your exposure on a focus point. The manual option will adjust exposure based on the exposure point you pick.

With some trial and error, you can generally pick a spot on the photo that gives you a good focus and exposure point.

I really don’t have a problem with the smaller 5 MP sensor everyone is complaining about. It’s just a number people and size isn’t everything. For the past 18 months I have been mostly downsizing photos from my 8MP Droid X for posting on web. An image 2592 x 1944 is fine for print in a newspaper. A larger sensor would be nice for pixel zooming, right? Well, maybe not.

The Samsung Galaxy will focus down to about 4 inches without zooming. Zooming and pulling back will let you fill the frame with about 1/4 of a penny.

Pixel zooming in and pulling back is a normal practice for getting a macro with a smartphone.

What isn’t normal is that the zoomed image here is still 2592 x 1944 and 14 MB when pulled into Photoshop after I zoomed in about half way. Something else is going on here. It’s sharp and it’s a big file.

I would rather see the envelope pushed for low light than running the megapixel number race. Less storage, less downsizing, more shutter speed. My Nikon D2HS has less megapixels than the Galaxy Nexus.

About Paul Kuehnel


Paul Kuehnel
has worked for the York Daily Record/Sunday News since 1984.

Follow him on Twitter @paulkuehnel.

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