Why the Samsung Galaxy S7 camera is better than Galaxy S6

BY Rajesh Pandey

Published 25 Feb 2016

Galaxy S7 edge

Ever since Samsung launched the Galaxy S7 and Galaxy S7 edge earlier this week, many people have been scratching their head on how the 12MP camera on the handsets is actually better than the 16MP shooter on the S6 and S6 edge. After all, how can a 16MP camera not be better than a 12MP shooter?

The thing is, megapixels are not everything. A camera with a higher megapixel sensor does not automatically translate into it being better than a camera with a lower megapixel count. Most of the high-end DLSRs from Sony, Nikon and Canon have a resolution of anywhere between 12-18MP, but that does not mean your smartphone with a 21MP camera is better than them.

Galaxy S7 camera

Ok, I get it. A higher resolution camera is not necessarily better than a lower MP one, but how exactly does it make the Galaxy S7 camera better than the Galaxy S6?

Every image is made of thousands of pixels. The ‘p’ in MP stands for mega’pixel’. By stuffing in a high resolution sensor, OEMs end up reducing the individual pixel size, which affects the image quality in low-light and introduces noise. In layman terms, a larger pixel is able to absorb more light compared to a smaller pixel, which automatically leads to less noise in photos shot by the former sensor.

Most smartphones nowadays come with a pixel size of 1.12μ. For comparison, DSLRs feature pixels from anywhere between 4-8μ. There are exceptions though; the iPhone 6s comes with sensor with an individual pixel size of 1.22u pixel, while the Nexus 5X and 6P feature a 12MP sensor with a 1.5μ pixel size. This is why the cameras on these smartphones are so much better in low-light than any other smartphone camera. Remember the HTC One M7 and One M8 and their outstanding low-light camera performance? Well, the 4MP ‘UltraPixel’ camera sensor on the handsets had a 2.0μ pixel size.

Samsung has also used a similar technique here. The 12MP camera on the Galaxy S7 and Galaxy S7 edge features large 1.4μ pixels — 56 percent bigger than Galaxy S6 — that allows them to absorb more light in poor lighting. In comparison, the 16MP shooter on the Galaxy S6 features 1.12u pixels, which is the same as most of the other smartphones.


So why did not Samsung fit a sensor with an even bigger pixel size, say something like 3μ or even 4μ on the Galaxy S7?

This is because as the size of the individual pixels increase, the camera sensor also grows in size, and space is a big premium inside a smartphone. Samsung would have had to drop the resolution of the sensor even further to increase the pixel size while keeping the thickness of the Galaxy S7 same or with only a marginal increase. A drop in resolution below 12MP would have meant that the Galaxy S7 and Galaxy S7 could no longer record videos in 4K resolution, which would have been a huge marketing setback.


So, is this the only reason why the camera on the Galaxy S7 and S7 edge are better than their predecessors or for that matter any other smartphone in the market right now?

No, that’s not the only reason. Samsung has also included a breakthrough ‘dual pixel’ technology on the cameras of the Galaxy S7 and S7 edge, which allows the phones to focus almost in an instant. No, we are not even talking about 0.25 seconds focus time here, we are talking about almost instantaneous focus, irrespective of the lighting condition.

‘Dual pixel’ sensor technology is usually seen in DSLRs, and this is the first time that this technology has been employed in a smartphone camera sensor. A dual pixel sensor uses 100 percent of the pixels for phase-detection autofocus, while a traditional camera sensor with PDAF uses less than 5 percent of the pixels for this. The light being absorbed by the sensor is sent to two pixels — instead of one — which then allows the ISP to process it better and focus quickly.

Galaxy S7 Dual Pixel

That’s it, I guess?

No. Lastly, to further improve the camera performance in low-light, Samsung has used a wide F/1.7 aperture lens on the Galaxy S7. This is 25 percent larger than the F/1.9 aperture lens found on the Galaxy S6. A bigger aperture ensures that more light is able to hit the sensor, which is really beneficial in poor lighting. The Galaxy S7 and S7 edge are also likely the first smartphones in the market to feature such a wide aperture lens.

In the end, the combination of f/1.7 aperture, large 1.4u pixels, OIS and ‘dual pixel’ sensor will ensure that the Galaxy S7 and Galaxy S7 edge deliver outstanding image quality that cannot be matched by any other smartphone in the market.

What about the front camera?

Sadly, due to space constraints, Samsung has not increased the individual pixel size on the 5MP camera of the Galaxy S7 and S7 edge. It has, however, increased the aperture from F/1.9 to F/1.7, which does ensure that the sensor is able to take in more light than before. Plus, Samsung has included a Selfie Flash mode on the Galaxy S7 that makes the display on the handset act as a front-flash akin to Retina Flash feature on the iPhone 6s and iPhone 6s Plus.

Ok, enough of hardware jargon. I get it that the Galaxy S7 will offer stellar picture quality. Anything else that I should be aware of?


Samsung has also included a trio of new camera modes on the Galaxy S7: Motion Photos, Motion Panoramas and Hyperlapse. Motion Photos is Samsung’s take on Apple’s Live Photos, which automatically records and saves 1.5 seconds of a scene before and after shooting a photo. Motion Panorama is similar to Motion Photos, but for panoramas. In this mode, any moving object while shooting a panorama is captured in its full range of motion rather than just being captured as a blurry moving object.

Lastly, Hyperlapse is the opposite of Time lapse , which can compress hours of video footage in into just a few seconds or minutes. By using a combination of OIS and EIS, Samsung has also ensured that jerks and movements are kept to a minimum while shooting hyperlapse videos on the Galaxy S7.