Positives: amazing zoom range paired with the ultimate in flexibility.
Negatives: image quality is inferior to similarly priced conventional cameras.
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Sales of compact digital cameras have been battered by the rise in popularity of camera phones and smartphones. Though mobiles lack the ergonomics and image quality of standalone cameras, they more than make up for it in portability and the ability to instantly upload pictures to sites like Twitter over 3G wireless connections.
The immense popularity of Instagram, an app that converts high-quality photos into "lo-fi" shots that could have come straight from a 1960s toy camera, suggests most consumers are more interested in creativity and sharing photos than in outright image quality. All of this leaves compact camera manufacturers with a tough question: how do you compete with a device that can do much more than a conventional camera ever will?
Samsung's answer is the Galaxy Camera, a device that looks and feels like a regular digital camera yet sports the Wi-Fi and 3G connectivity normally reserved for mobile phones. Not only does the Galaxy have a live wireless connection, but it also runs Android Jelly Bean, the latest version of Google's mobile phone operating system, making it not only a camera but also a handy gadget for web browsing and texting.
Buttons are limited to shutter release, flash and power. A rocker around the shutter controls the optical zoom, while all other functions are accessed via the touch screen on the rear of the device.
The zoom is a particular strong point. While most mobile phones have no optical zoom and limited digital zoom range, the Galaxy has a 21x optical zoom with optical stabilisation that lets you get sharp images, even handheld in low light.
Automatic settings on the Galaxy are pretty effective in most situations, but enthusiasts will be pleased to know full manual control of shutter speed, aperture and ISO sensitivity is possible. The long zoom range combined with a wide maximum aperture allows a range of creative effects, including the kinds of portraits with blurred backgrounds favoured by professionals.
Once a shot is snapped on the Galaxy you can edit the image, share it via email or upload it to a cloud service like Dropbox or Instagram. Third-party apps extend this feature to allow upload to Facebook, Twitter or just about any other service.
All things considered, the Galaxy isn't the best camera in this price range – similar money buys the Sony RX100, which runs rings around the Galaxy in terms of image quality and ergonomics. The Galaxy, though, is a game changer, a compact camera that lets you share high-quality photos with friends as quickly and easily as with a mobile phone. If it could make phone calls I'd have one tomorrow.