A starter guide to taking the best photos with the Galaxy S8


The Samsung Galaxy S8 hits store shelves today, and in our short time with the new smartphone it’s become clear that the it’s one of the best for mobile photographers. It combines really fast autofocus, great low light performance, and improved image processing for an on-the-go shooting experience that would have been hard to believe a few years ago.

The good news is, if you’ve used a recent Android phone (and especially a recent Samsung phone), there are no major differences in how the camera app works. But there are lots of little things that you should know if you’re planning to pick up and start shooting with an S8 today or anytime soon.

There are three basic ways to launch the camera:

  • Swipe up on the camera icon from the lock screen.
  • Tap the camera app icon on your home screen or app tray.
  • Double tap the power button on the side of the phone.

I find double tapping the power button to be the most reliable way of quickly launching the camera, because you can blindly feel for it as you raise the phone up to eye level. I really miss using the home button for this shortcut, though.

You have the app open. Great! That big white circle is the shutter button. You can choose to:

  • Tap it to take a photo.
  • Tap and hold to shoot a burst of photos.
  • Tap and drag the shutter button to the right to zoom, which is a useful alternative to pinching-and-zooming. Sure, the S8 doesn’t have optical zoom like you find on the iPhone 7 Plus. But there’s good reason not to be afraid of Samsung’s digital zoom here, because it appears to be using some of what the company is calling “multi frame image processing” to make zoomed photos look halfway decent.

This is the good, nerdy stuff. Here you can change the video resolution, or the size of the photos, and more. Just tap the gear wheel in the corner of the app and you’ll find other things like:

  • Tap the screen to take a selfie: tap “Shooting Methods” in the menu, and from there you can toggle this option on for easier access to snapping selfies.
  • Tracking autofocus: toggle “Tracking AF” on and the app will lock on to and track (AKA keep in focus) any object that you tap in the viewfinder. It’s especially helpful for shooting video of moving subjects.
  • Shape correction: both the front and rear camera on the S8 are fairly wide angle, which means they are prone to some distortion in the corners. (You’ll especially notice this with subjects like buildings or closeups of faces.) Toggle this option on to reduce that distortion at a slight cost in resolution.
  • Save pictures as previewed: the selfie camera might act like a mirror, but it defaults to flipping the saved images to show how you really look. Flip this toggle to change that.
  • RAW photos: Tap “picture size” in Settings, and at the bottom is a toggle for “Save RAW and JPEG files.” RAW files give you the the most accurate readout from the image sensor, whereas JPEGs are always processed and compressed to look a bit better. The benefit of RAW files is that if you want to edit your photos, you’re starting with a less altered version photo, meaning you can do more to the picture before the quality drops off. A number of apps (like Adobe’s Lightroom mobile or Snapseed) can edit RAW photos.
  • Swipe up or down in the viewfinder area to quickly switch between the front and back camera.
  • In Selfie mode, tap the little icon next to the bear for a small suite of face altering options. There are sliders for adjusting skin tone, the size of your eyes, and even a tool that adds a fake spotlight to your face.
  • Swipe from left to right to access different shooting modes, like Pro (AKA full manual mode), Panorama, Slow Motion for video, or Selective Focus.
  • Samsung has a bunch of interactive Snapchat-style face-tracking lenses and stickers built right into the stock camera app. Tap the little bear icon to access those. You can also access filters (a la Instagram) here, and there’s an iMessage-style store where you can download more kinds of image modifications.
  • Take selfie by placing your finger over the heart rate sensor on the back of the phone (which is on the opposite side of the camera module from the fingerprint sensor). It’s super hit or miss, but it could be useful in a pinch, especially at arm’s length.
  • Alternately, hold your palm out when lining up your selfie and the app will set a short timer to take a photo — similar to what LG did a few years ago on its phones.
  • You can turn on voice control in the settings menu, which will let you say words like “smile” or “cheese” or “record video.” Samsung really wasn’t kidding when it said it wants you to control the S8 with your voice.
  • Samsung appears eager to bring augmented reality to the mobile photography experience, because on top of the Snapchat style lenses, there’s also a small button on the bottom left of the viewfinder area (above and to the left of the video button) triggers Bixby — Samsung’s digital assistant — in the camera app. Bixby can only basically do one thing right now, though: identify objects. Bixby will link you to more images of an object (or things like it), or link you up with an online store where you can buy whatever you’re looking at, so it’s not enormously useful. But the idea of a truly intelligent camera app is a powerful — perhaps someday soon, Bixby could do things like recommend better composition for a particular photo.

You can always download third party image editing apps for more robust control over the look of your photos, but Samsung has a decent image editor built right into the gallery tool. When you’re reviewing your photos, just tap the “Edit” button and you’ll see options like:

  • Effects, which is a bunch of Instagram-style filters
  • Advanced, which lets you edit the tone curve or color tinting of the image
  • Decoration, where you can add stickers or type and draw on an image. There’s also a “covers” option here that lets you blur or pixelate certain parts of the photo.

That should be plenty to get you started with the camera on the new S8. If we missed anything, let us know in the comments. Otherwise, happy shooting!

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