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Gadgets & Home Improvement

Four fancy camera tricks

Like to erase a passer-by from your holiday shot? With the Samsung S4's bag of tricks, you can - but do manage your expectations, says SHERWIN LOH
The Straits Times - April 24, 2013
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Four fancy camera tricks

The more I play with cameras on smartphones, the more I am convinced that unless basic compact cameras get a significant hardware and software upgrade, their days are numbered.

Some loyalists may claim that smartphone cameras lack the larger sensors of compacts, but I suspect this same group of folks probably own DSLR cameras rather than compacts.

It is not just about the lack of connectivity that makes compacts nothing more than self-contained daguerreotypes, but phone makers are coming up with new and nifty camera features that help users make the most of their multi-megapixel device.

Hardware-wise, the Samsung Galaxy S4 packs a 13-megapixel rear camera but there is a catch.

This 4,128 x 3,096 resolution is available only in the 4:3 full screen aspect ratio. For 16:9 widescreen images, the camera produces photos in 9.6 megapixels, with a 4,128x2,322 resolution.

There is the usual laundry list of camera features, such as burst shot (up to 20), face detection, spot or grid metering, anti-shake and video stabilisation, and ISO selection, but the four fancy enhancements below are probably the ones that will excite most users.

1. Animated Photo

I have a low tolerance for GIF files, where a series of images are looped to form a short sequence to make it look like a video clip.

But the Animated Photo option is more than just a GIF maker. We have all come across videos where someone does something silly and we end up replaying a video just to watch it. Now imagine having the ability to film a short clip that loops whenever you play it.

Also, imagine having the ability to select which moving items in the picture to animate or freeze.

I was at home playing with my 17-month-old daughter and started recording her actions using this feature. In essence, it was a photo of her smiling at me and walking towards me before moving off camera.

Instead of having a short clip of that, Animated Photo allowed me to reverse her actions, so the loop was of her smiling, walking towards me, walking backwards away from me and smiling.

After you film the clip, the software highlights objects that are moving within the frame. I decided to free the background of people walking by, and have only my daughter move within the frame.

I have another shot of a friend waving her hand frantically at the camera, but I chose to freeze her face. The final photo is of her smiling sweetly, even as her arm was swinging like a wild pendulum.

The software highlights movements with a purple hue. To freeze a moving object, users simply rub the hue away on screen.

2. Sound & Shot

Catching a smile or an action is one thing, but what happens when you want some audio to go along with it?

Sound & Shot snaps the picture and records a nine-second audio file to go along with it.

Once more, I took a photo of my smiling daughter and now have that shot with a sound clip of her laughter while the photo was taken.

I can picture users taking group shots when everyone shouts and cheers for the camera, but this time, the spirit of the moment is recorded as well.

This takes some getting used to as the audio recording continues after the photo is taken, so subjects who assume that the shutter has been released might end up saying something else instead.

3. Drama Shot

This feature of snapping a series of actions and having them appear in one photo was the one I was most looking forward to - but it turned out to be the most disappointing.

The idea is that users can snap a series of pictures of a continuous action and see it as a string of action on a single photo.

Imagine seeing someone perform a stunt on a skateboard as he jumps from left to right, or watching someone dance from one side of a stage to another.

However, the software can track only one person in front of the camera. This means that you cannot take a Drama Shot of your child dancing on stage if there are other dancers up there as well.

The moment the camera detects several movements, the software stops recording.

This can be frustrating if you think that a shot has been lined up, but due to unexpected circumstances, the software picks up something else and stops, resulting in nothing being saved.

I tried taking photos of a friend cycling but whenever a pedestrian appeared, the feature would disable itself, leaving me without any pictures.

The subject must also be a distance away from the camera for the full effect to work. Otherwise, the sequence of actions would be too close to one another, resulting in a photo where the subject is superimposed on a subsequent image.

Worse, if the camera tracks that the subject is too near, the feature is disabled.

4. Eraser

Like Drama Shot, this feature can work only within a few established parameters. The idea is that the software can track a movement within the shot and users can opt to have that object removed.

Imagine taking a photo only to see someone walk behind the subject or have a moving car block the background.

With Eraser, the software snaps five photos and picks out the item that differs from each photo. It then highlights the item with a purple hue.

My experience is that the feature tracks only one big movement, such as a person walking by, or several small movements, such as a moving hand.

So if you are in a popular tourist spot and there are too many people mingling, chances are the feature cannot track much, leaving you with a normal shot.

If there is a pesky kid running around who refuses to step aside, this feature works like a charm as it can track the child easily.

But if there are two of them, you may be better off moving aside or waiting for them to leave.

The thing is, users need to trigger this feature, which makes it slightly counter-intuitive, as no one expects anything to mar the shot in the first place.

Since five shots are taken over the course of a few seconds, the subjects must continue to hold their pose for all five shots.

Also, this feature tracks movements and removes moving objects. Someone who simply steps into the shot and photobombs your picture might be too subtle for the sensor to catch.

One thing to note when using these features is that they require some processing by the phone, which can take about five seconds.

Aside from Sound & Shot, the other camera features listed here also produce files that need to be tweaked there and then. You can choose which object to animate or subject to erase, but once you save the file, the deed is done.

There is no option to go back to the original file and tweak the results at a later time, for a different set of results.

So unless you have time to spare, my recommendation is that if it is an important and rare moment, stick with the Auto feature.

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