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No Samsung, We Don't Need the Galaxy S4 Zoom

Samsung has a weird, and to me slightly irritating, inclination that is bordering on habit: pushing products into hybrid scenarios that are doing just fine where they are. As someone who likes to have a camera, a tablet and a phone as separate devices (because, well I use them at different times for different things), I am continually baffled by the choice to shoehorn them into each other. I’m also disappointed that consumers are rewarding this, and Samsung is at it again with the Galaxy S4 Zoom.

The first time I saw Samsung blur the lines of tech products was in October of 2011, when they introduced their “phablet” the Note. They appealed to those of us who missed our Palm Pilots by bringing back the stylus and wowed consumers with a huge 5.3-inch screen. This movement to a bigger phone is a complete 180 from their path back in 2007, when they released the preposterously small Samsung Juke. Around that time most of us were laughing at the “future” that Zoolander presented to us, with a phone so small it could be held with two fingers. After the success of the iPhone, mobile phone developers about-faced and moved back to bigger screens that were better able to show the breadth of media options that were coming to us through faster wireless networks. But just like the Juke was downright silly because it was too small, the Note is preposterous because it is too big. It’s like Samsung, through consumer purchasing patterns, doesn’t know when to hit the brakes on a concept.

Though the sizes of the phones are now starkly different, the idea behind the cascading direction of their development is identical: they’re just taking fads and trends and rolling with them, like that guy you know who takes a really funny joke and kills it by taking it just one step too far.

Samsung is a publicly traded company, and as a company they really focus mainly on the bottom line to appease shareholders and increase company value. The only real reason for big companies to offer consumer cool features or shiny toys is because they intend for those products to increase profits. It is from this system where we get weird concepts that may or may not impress us. On the bright side, it helps innovation and pushes us along. It makes everyone and everything around it better in an attempt to keep up. On the down side, we often get products that just innovate for the sake of innovation, like the absolutely stupid idea of the Sony Tablet P, a folding tablet that just makes no sense at all. It’s a two sided coin, but in theory consumers should only be rewarding the good ideas. That doesn’t happen in practice, however because let’s be honest, many consumers have no idea what they want. They have to be told what they want through commercials and misinformation.

sony p tablet bad idea
This was never a good idea.

When Samsung first announced the Note, it was harangued by tech bloggers and snarked at by many as a dumb, almost-a-tablet-not-quite-a-phone Frankenstein, sentiments I actually agreed with. However, lured by a big pretty screen that reminded them of their home televisions, consumers shocked those bloggers (and myself) when Samsung sold over 10 million of them worldwide. The sales of the Note II have been rather impressive as well, and recently it looks like they were good enough to bring on a third iteration of the phablet, as Note 3 images are surfacing.
I wouldn’t be bothered by this turn of events if the Note actually solved a problem or made things better. In their advertising, Samsung latches on to specific experiences where what the Note does will make life better for people. But the truth of the matter is that life isn’t better because of the Note. Are you drawing plans, making charts or sketching drawings on your Note? No, you’re browsing blogs, shopping for clothes and watching YouTube videos, the same things you do on any other phone. Sure, you can do those things that Samsung advertises, but very few actually do. It’s solving a problem that doesn’t exist, and that’s my issue. None of us needs a 5-inch screen to watch YouTube videos while walking to work. But Samsung has convinced us we do, and as consumers we, apparently, fell for it.
The Samsung Galaxy S4 Zoom announced recently follows the same strategy of the Note and plays to uneducated consumers who are under the false impression that megapixels and expensive cameras make for great photos just like the Note convinced them that a bigger screen and a stylus would make them better employees or would make sharing photos with friends more fun. How many times do we have to disprove this before it sticks? When normal people on the street can’t tell the difference between a photo taken on a Hasselblad H4D and an iPhone 5, it means that there isn’t really a problem with a cell phone camera. When beautiful photos can be captured across the nation from a wildlife photographer shooting only with a mobile phone or when an iPhone 3GS can start a viral video that proves expensive cameras don’t define fashion photography, it means that it’s not about the tech but about the person holding the camera. We don't need a camera shoved together with a phone.

galaxy s4 zoom back

galaxy s4 zoom

Selling talent or knowledge is not as profitable as metal, glass and plastic (and it certainly requires more effort on the part of the consumer), so what we get are commercials that lie to us about a camera’s capabilities and bizarre combinations of a phone and a camera that boast impressive specs to uninformed masses who are just going to take selfies and photos at the bar on a Friday night anyway. Lots of numbers, fancy words and shiny metal parts... They're selling gilded turds to magpies with ADD. We don’t need these products, but we have been convinced otherwise. It doesn't help that consumers don't want to work for anything, including knowledge. We want to just be handed everything, and that mindset is ripe for exploitation.
There isn’t a problem, but consumers have been deceived into believing one exists. This isn’t the case for all their products but when it comes to their mobile division, Samsung exploits consumer insecurity, ignorance and laziness. We aren’t going to advance if this keeps happening. In my opinion, we will only regress until we are inundated with meaningless tech (or at least until a new fad sends us spiraling in a totally different direction).
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BLFarnsworth's picture

And "people" are hailing Samsung as the new "King of Innovation"? I need this product about as much as I need an always-on, hybrid webcam + toilet paper dispenser.

Zach Sutton's picture

Every company has created a bad product, thats how innovation works.

Mark Myerson's picture

Jaron – a few points.

Firstly, you're right on one thing; we don't need the large screen of the Samsung Note. But, perhaps, you should concede that at least some consumers haven't been brainwashed, prefer a larger view, and actually don't mind the bulkier size that comes with it.

It would probably be fair to say that Samsung haven't got the balance between camera and phone quite right with the S4 Zoom; but I feel that they should be encouraged. The iPhone 5 – clearly the best camera-phone on the market – produces images that are barely any better (and 4MP smaller) than my old Nokia N8, which was released nearly 3 years ago. Considering that Apple constantly pushes the iPhone as the world's favourite camera, why on earth, for example, doesn't it have a proper shutter button? The N8 did, by the way.

Equally, the minute size of the iPhone lens and sensor means that the likes of Kevin Russ have to be careful with the light in which they shoot in order to manage contrast.

Surely, some of those who like phoneography may be will to accept a bulkier phone if that comes with a better quality lens, and/or a bigger sensor.

CurrentCo's picture

It just seems a bit too late for a device thats half point-and-shoot half phone. Maybe if this had hit the market 8 years ago when people (in america) thought the razor was hot stuff, it might have been a huge hit, but now it just seems like old news. I feel like no one wants a point and shoot anymore with small dslr's so available.

BLFarnsworth's picture

Agree 100%. Most of those who were happy with consumer-grade point & shoot cameras seem to be just as happy with their recent-generation smartphones. Those who want higher quality than point & shoots are finding not only small (& reasonably-priced) DSLRs, but also excellent mirrorless ILCs or fixed prime lens cameras like the Fuji X100s -- which I'll be trying out soon! :-)

CurrentCo's picture

very well said! iphone and good androids have really replaced the need for a pocket sized point & shoot.
but that I'm jealous! haha

Abraham Pak's picture

If you look at technology progression, you would know that it wasn't feasible 8 years ago. Miniaturization and sensor tech has come a long way in the past 8 years to the point where it's incomparable.

Now's the perfect time for it. You have large companies like Olympus withdrawing from p&s because of smartphone dominance. They aren't losing sales to high end p&s or mirrorless. There's an opening for people that wants flexibility of p&s without requirement of carrying around another device.

CurrentCo's picture

I suppose that may be true, however it seems like it might still be a niche market. I could be wrong though.

Abraham Pak's picture

lol. Oh, no doubt that it's going to be a niche market. It's probably going to be like the Note II. Some are not going to care for it, some are going to love it.

CurrentCo's picture

Fuji x100s + iphone. I would spend all my money on that.

Mark Myerson's picture

Remind me how much that would cost vs. Galaxy 4S Zoom? ;)
(p.s. would love a X100s too...)

CurrentCo's picture

haha waaaayy too much. but the phrase "shut up and take my money!" comes to mind.

Jay Scott's picture

Well, the Note 2 is the answer to all of my mobile needs and a decent carry-along camera such as the Galaxy S4 zoom, or similar addition to a Note 3, is exactly what I want. People are buying it, loving it and they wouldn't continue making such "innovations" if the demand wasn't there. It is. Just not on the scale you think it should be.

If this was an Apple innovation fanboys would be struggling to contain themselves.

Please don't tell me what everyone needs or doesn't need.

Leif Sikorski's picture

You project your own personal opinion onto other consumers which is a bad idea. Just because you don't like it, it doesn't mean that other people don't want it. The Note for example is a huge success, especially in Asia and I also now many people who really love and enjoy it. For some it is too big, for others small phones are toyish. Some don't care about a good stylus , others don't. What do you think why the stylus market is so huge? There are tons of companies doing bad stylus and also tons of articles comparing them. The result? None of the capacitive stylus is really good. Samsung filled this spot. There is no one device fits all, this doesn't exist and is impossible. It's great when companies try to do new things - some are a success some not.

Dave Nunez's picture

I'm surprised you still feel that way about the Note, especially after Apple conceded that smaller tablets weren't useless after all and released the iPad mini. I guess we'll have to wait for Apple to release something the exact same size as a Galaxy Note before Samsung will gain acceptance with many Apple-centric photography blogs.

There are many use-case scenarios for the Note; the included stylus is responsible for a lot of them. I don't own a Note, but see using the stylus in Photoshop touch and the upcoming Lightroom-for-tablets port as something that might be interesting.

As for the S4 Zoom, I also wouldn't mind a slightly better integrated cellphone camera in a package about the same size as my current S3 with an Otterbox case. It won't replace my DSLR setup, obviously, but the tech geek in me wouldn't mind something pocketable that can also run some great Android apps.

I'm not sure why you're getting all butthurt over a product announcement that you're not interested in. It doesn't herald the end of professional photography, it's niche product for Instagrammers and restaurant food photographers. Sure your iPhone is good enough for everything you need a pocket camera for, but a lot of people don't want to buy Apple products, and wouldn't mind something with a longer optical zoom.

Zachary Winnie's picture

I completely disagree. Some people DO get tired of carrying around all of these devices. A couple of years ago I carried in my pocket a flip phone and an iPod wherever I went—now it's just an iPhone. My current travel camera is a Nikon V1, and although I don't think this will replace it, I bet that this hybrid camera/phone will suffice for a lot of magpies...I mean people. I would have my girlfriend get one, and recommend it to my friends and family, if the image quality is decent enough. It won't replace a DSLR, but it will replace a compact camera for a lot of people. Just because you're not one of them doesn't make you right.

Jayson Carey's picture

as intriguing as this is to me, it almost looks like an april 1st photoshop prank.

Michael Kormos's picture

Anyone else's comments not showing up?

Morgan Glassco's picture

I definitely disagree here. Do I think this was the a home run in the first attempt? No. But tell me that you wouldn't be interested in a Sony RX100 that could take calls and and had Android. I know I would. The Note is now a huge success and they went all in on the Bigger is Better concept, and it paid off. I hope they get a LOT of refinements and release a thinner S5 Zoom in the future.

Jerry's picture

This site seems to hate everything that isn't iAnything.

Alex None's picture

Your entire 'article' (and I'm being kind) contains just one paragraph about the S4, and the argument you are basing this -5m of my life is 'cameras are totally good enough already guyz'.

I look forward to your next spray, '640k ought to be enough for anybody'.

And to top it all off, you subject us to it on a photography website, where people *do* recognise the low light benefits of bigger glass and a bigger sensor or the quality difference between optical and digital zoom. ESPECIALLY in the situations where camera phones get a huge proportion of their use, handheld lowlight night shots. FFS.

And that by giving consumers the ability to combine a pocketable phone with a pocketable digicam - or, at its most basic, the OPTION to have a better camera in their phone - they are somehow 'exploiting ignorance'.


Louis van Zyl's picture

I love companies that innovate. Apple has been that in the past, but these days they take the safe mass-market route. Samsung is trailblazing and trying new things. Respect!
Apple will follow: The next iphone will be bigger, trying to imitate Samsung and Sony.

The Samsung S4 currently has the best image quality.
It's screen has the widest gamut. 97% Adobe RGB
This is the beginning of something good. If you want to make use of a camera phone this will kick any other camera phones butt. If you are a true geek Artist and you look at specs and benchmarks they never lie. People ridiculed the Note. Let them ridicule this as well. The iphone will have to do something if they want to compete.

The only difference is that more creatives use the iphone at this stage. ( Although it is not a bad tool.) As soon as everybody realize there are better tools out there I want to see the possibilities.

Bart van Overbeeke's picture

Quite surprised on the tone here. Fstoppers turned into a bit of a get-your-whining-on forum here. Why don't you tell us more on the awesome products out there instead of being so negative?
(Oh and give us more foodphotography posts, we got still so much to learn!)

Lars Magnus's picture

Thank you for essentially calling me a moron because you don't like the products I like. I love the Note (II) and would love to have a (next generation) galaxy camera. The instant sharing through common channels is super sweet, the camera is a ton of fun (Imagine!!) and I really like the current itteration. Just because you don't fancy it doesn't mean people who do are "decieved" and the "need" not more constructed than the need for smartphones.

Eric Duminil's picture

Well. The definition of "need" is very flawed nowadays.
Nobody needs an Iphone and nobody needs a Galaxy S4 either.
What everybody needs is a shelter, food and clean water.

The fact that we forgot the difference between "I'd like to have this" and "I need this" led our society to massive overconsumption.

Ryan Cooper's picture

To a degree but society has evolved to create "needs" that didn't exist prior. In order to meet my basic human needs I need other things. I can't just build a shelter, collect water, and hunt animals. I have to buy property, pay for a house to be built, buy food, and pay for water. Tools like the iphone are critical aspects of the business model for our industry as they enable us to manage our businesses which in turn is how we meet our basic human needs.

The iphone didn't rise in business world because it was "cool", neither did the blackberry during it's tenure as king. These devices gave their users a significant advantage over those who didn't have them and thus in order to maintain successful smartphones became necessary for many businesses.

Rob LaRosa's picture

Many camera manufacturers are reducing their production of compact cameras because there is no more demand for them. People are simply using their phones to take snapshots. However, most people are also aware that that limits their photo taking ability (low quality, no zoom, weak or no flash). I think the Galaxy S4 Zoom is an obvious evolution to the smart-phone. The quality still may not be great, but it's better than what phones can offer right now. My question is, why did this happen two years ago?

Diego Reynoso's picture

By "we don´t need this" I suggest you refer to the photographers and the photographic world in general, the case of the Chicago tribune switching to iphone for journalism is an example.

Pete Davies's picture

Digital zoom is just cropping as far as I know, I don't know much by the way but that's true isn't it? Optical zoom on your phone sounds fantastic. I don't bother about cameras much but when I want one optical zoom would be near essential.

chris embardino's picture

I think this is a great idea. A little more finess and it'll be the next big thing in phones. It's about time phones got a real zoom. It's nice that they have the quality of a regular camera but the creative latitude is lacking. I don't want to crop the image to get my photo, i want to zoom and pan wide to have my composition right so i can use the whole chip in my phone.

Abraham Pak's picture

So... basically, what this article boils down to is:
1) Samsung is dumb because it's trying out new things like the "phablet" and p&s/phone hybrid.
2) If it ain't broke, don't fix it.
3) Don't let the ads tell you what to believe. Let us tell you what you should believe.

I suppose Samsung should be more like Apple. You know... concentrate on the important stuff like making it look pretty (sometimes even at the expense of consumers). or make the screen larger where it counts (like for an extra row of app icons). Yes siree. That's innovation right there... oh, wait. What is this I hear about an Apple phablet?

Dave4321's picture

The author is right. Consumers just don't care about zooms which is why almost all point and shoot cameras use prime lenses.

Miguel Arango's picture

exactly! they also prefer manual focus and off camera metering.

Mark Alameel's picture

I don't like how you boast loudly what I do not need, just because you do not need it. Everybody has different needs and desires.

Patrick Parnin's picture

I agree.. but, I admit I am a bit guilty of using my phone for pictures at times. not so much to capture an image, but I find it really useful for saving GPS info so I can come back later if I don't have my DSLR. I just save the location data along with the the pictures.. that's really about the only use that I have for the camera on my phone.