Sean McCormick Photography

Saving the beauty in this moment for the ones that follow.

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Samsung Galaxy S10+ First Impressions

Certified pre-owned 2019 Samsung Galaxy S10 Plus from Telus, approximately $500.

I finally pulled the trigger this past week and upgraded my 2016 Samsung Galaxy S7 Edge to the 2019 Samsung Galaxy S10 Plus. The S7 had been getting older and slower, which was an irritant when trying to use it. More to the point, the camera in it, while good four years ago, just isn’t up to what current cell phone camera tech can do. The top end of the Samsung line is currently the 2020 Samsung Galaxy S20 Ultra with a 108 MP sensor!

I nearly ordered the S20, but… $2,200. Holy shiz nizzle! A king’s ransom, that’s what I would have had to pay for it every month on the standard two-year contract. Yeah, the camera is better than the S10’s, but not that much better. You also have to fight with it to get it to take a 108 MP image, it actually down rezzes to 12 MP. The deal breaker is that the S20’s camera bump is known for spontaneously self-destructing. No support from Samsung on this issue. There was no way I was dropping over two grand on a camera as iffy as this.

The Samsung Galaxy S10 Plus has stellar reviews despite lagging behind this year’s models with night photography, and still holds its own against current models in all of the other areas that matter to me. It seemed like a solid Plan B. I poked around the Telus site and found a certified, pre-owned S10 Plus for about half the price of new. It came with full warranty and Telus promised it would be physically pristine. Other than arriving without the original packaging — it comes in a Telus pre-owned labeled box — the unit was absolutely mint. No complaints there. Final price tag for last year’s model with very light use was five hundred dollars and change.

My reasons for upgrading

  • Pro mode, ability to go full manual
  • RAW images (available in Pro mode)
  • On the fly HDR capability (camera toggles it on and off as needed)
  • Separate wide-angle, regular, and telephoto (2x optical) lenses.
  • Live view, fake bokeh effect that blurs backgrounds
  • Battery in old S7 was end-of-life

Also? I really wanted it. Yeah.

Go wide!

Not only does this camera have a good wide-angle lens, but the wide format of the image sensor turns nearly every landscape oriented image into a panorama. It’s … wonderful. This was the very first thing I noticed when I looked at my landscapes:

Main street, Barrhead. Auto HDR. Samsung Galaxy S10 Plus, ƒ/2.4, 1/1508, 4.3mm, ISO 50.

That 19:9 aspect ratio in the images just kicks all kinds of arse. I can see myself using this camera a lot, with some qualifications. Click to embiggien and then look closely at the above image… The buildings like slightly cartoonish because of the software high dynamic range (HDR) processing. Need to figure out how to dial that back if possible, and I can disable the auto HDR if not. It’s no big, this is an easily fixable issue as the non HDR images look fantastic.

The Auto HDR is pretty good

This feature can be set to turn off and on as needed, and the results seem to be okay for the most part other than primary colours sometimes looking cartoonish. I have two other cameras with this capability, an eight year old Canon G1X and a four year old Canon 5Ds. The S10 produces a better looking HDR in software than either of my real cameras, but none of them measure up to an HDR photo merge in Adobe Lightroom CC. If I’m going to do “serious” landsape work the S10’s camera, it will be in the Pro mode using RAW files and I’ll combine my shots manually in post-processing.

Storage containers, Samsung Galaxy S10 Plus, ƒ/2.2, 1/1508, 1.8mm, ISO 50.

The ‘Live View’ isn’t that lively

Live View is Samsung’s name for the fake bokeh, narrow depth-of-field, background blurring effect that has become de rigeur in modern mobile phone cameras. I wanted to be able to play with it because it looks fun. I haven’t used this a lot yet and I know it’s intended to be used with people and pets, but… I never wind up using cameras quite like I’m supposed to. It’s supposed to work best within three to five feet of the subject. I made it work on these pansies from about two feet away:

Pansies in Westlock, Samsung Galaxy S10 Plus, ƒ/2.4, 1/2746mm, ISO 50.

The background in the preview of the pansies was barely out of focus. I turned on Live View and it blurred in a realistic fashion. I had tried shooting a tree from about six feet back the day before and the phone struggled with it. The background flickered in and out of focus as the phone’s CPU fought to recognize and separate the background from the foreground. It eventually lost and I wound up with this image:

Treebeard’s Nephew, Samsung Galaxy S10 Plus, ƒ/1.5, 1/291, 4.3mm, ISO 50.

It doesn’t exactly scream bokeh, as you can see. I still like it, but some bokeh here would have been lovely. I suppose I’ll eventually get desperate enough to use it that I’ll try to photograph people (just ick) or my stupid cat that can’t sit still for a portrait.

Magic macro lens

The macro symbol was on the screen of the S10 while I was shooting a few days ago and I thought, “fantastic, I’m going to use that.” Well, I did go to use it and there is no macro choice in any menu in the S10’s stock camera software. I figured maybe I had mistaken something else for the macro symbol. Today I decided to see if the camera could take macros and, lo and behold, a macro symbol appeared as I got close in to some lilacs. Like the HDR, the macro feature turns on and off as needed.

First macro attempt, Samsung Galaxy S10 Plus, ƒ/2.41, /1204, .3mm, ISO 64

I’ll definitely play with this more if the bloody wind ever lets up. Today was a frustrating day to try and do macro photography — I was half expecting Dorothy and Toto to tumble past me down the sidewalk.

It’s fun to use

I haven’t really had a chance to play with all of the S10’s features yet. I wanted to see how far I could get without having to read the manual, which isn’t very far at all. This is a complicated unit. That being said, it’s just a lot of fun to use and seems to returns excellent results with minimal effort. I’m looking forward to going deep into the camera features over the next few weeks and will report back on what I discover. The first order of business is to figure out what this white dot is that keeps floating around my camera interface…

The bult-in shooting interface of the Samsung Galaxy S10 Camera.

I’m also hoping to get the hang of the 2x telephoto lens. I was originally disappointed that it wasn’t more powerful until I discovered just how hard it is to hold a mobile phone still for a telephoto shot even at this limited magnifcation, I’m going to need a tripod and a cell phone clamp to go with the Samsung if I’m to really explore this feature.

There’s nothing like having a new camera to get you pumped up over going out and making some images.

Update: The second part of this review is available here.

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