Galaxy S4 to Galaxy S7: a camera comparison spanning 4 generations of Samsung smartphones

It's no secret that Samsung's flagships have some of the best cameras around. For years now, Sammy has vied to push the boundaries of smartphone photography further and further and has definitely earned itself the reputation for stellar photo quality.

One could mark the start of the company's more serious push for camera improvements with the Galaxy S5's release. The phone featured a fresh technology in its sensor, called ISOCELL — basically, individual pixels are separated by tiny walls, which reduce cross-talk, which means sharper details and less color bleed. The Galaxy S6 improved upon this by adding an optical image stabilization (OIS) module in the mix, for less shaky cam and easier night shots. The S7 improved the phase detection autofocus system even further, now called Dual Pixels.

But, of course, we can talk about specs and generations of tech all day, but what does any of this mean in terms of actual photos? Let's cut the talk about pixels and look at some actual images!

Here's just a quick table of how the Galaxy S cameras have evolved specs-wise for the past 4 generations:

Galaxy S4Galaxy S5Galaxy S6Galaxy S7
Resolution13 MP16 MP16 MP12 MP
Pixel size1.14 μm1.14 μm1.14 μm1.4 μm
Sensor size1/3.06"1/2.6"1/2.6"1/2.5"

Galaxy S4Galaxy S5

So, what were the major changes here? The Galaxy S5 now has a higher-res sensor, as seen in the table above, and its size grew a little accommodate them, but not proportionally. As a result, its individual pixels became just slightly smaller, which should impact the camera's speed in collecting light but not by a noticeable margin, considering the 0.02 μm difference. Well, at least that's what we assume when looking at the specs on paper.

In reality, we were surprised to find that it's much harder for us to take a non-blurry shot with the Galaxy S5 than it is with the Galaxy S4. Both of these phones don't have an OIS module, mind you, and we were taking extra care to hold them as still as possible. Of course, there's probably much more at work here that impacts camera performance than the ever-so-slightly smaller pixels on the S5.

When you look at the shots we took, it's hard to define a clear winner. By today's standards, both cameras are mediocre performers and both produce very similar results. The one thing that surprised us is the bokeh effect (background blur) that's much more prominent with the Galaxy S5. And that's nice, sure, but image quality between the S4 and S5 is easily comparable. Sometimes the S4 adds some more noise, but at other times, the S5 just smudges up details.

Once we take the devices indoors, performance drops for both, as details are lost, and it's hard to take a non-blurry photo, due to both devices needing slower shutter speeds to capture enough light. The S5 has more vibrant and lively colors for sure, which is an obvious step above the Galaxy S4, but it's still not enough to compete with today's standards.

Galaxy S5Galaxy S6

2015's Galaxy S6 further evolved the camera with a mechanical optical image stabilizer and a wider lens aperture of F1.9. On paper, this should mean less "shaky hands" effect in photos, making it especially easier to take photos in darker environments, and a shallower depth of field (more prominent "bokeh", a more visible distance between the object in focus and background, etc.).

And in reality? Well, we have to say the difference in detail between the Galaxy S5 and Galaxy S6 is quite noticeable. The latter is easily superior in every battle we pit both phones in. The S6 handles dynamic scenes better, always comes up with better, sharper detail, and has its focus on point much more often than the Galaxy S5.

Indoors, the wider aperture lets more light in and the optical image stabilizer makes it much easier to take a non-blurry image. We found ourselves re-doing shots on much rarer occasions with the S6, which is definitely an important point when it comes to actual usability and positive experience with the camera. Indoor images have a lively quality and fine details that just can't be found on the Galaxy S5.

Galaxy S6Galaxy S7

And now we arrive at the final step of Sammy's camera evolution thus far. The Galaxy S7 dialed the camera resolution down, from 16 MP to 12 MP, but don't panic — image quality is not all about the megapixels. The lower count of individual pixels meant that they could be a bit bigger, stretching from 1.12 μm to a rather impressive (for a smartphone) 1.4 μm. To repeat ourselves — bigger pixels means faster, more efficient light collection, ergo we get faster shutter speeds and less noise, which allows for finer details to shine through.

Moving on to the photos, you can see the performance of both cameras is easily comparable. Sometimes, one might say, the Galaxy S7's camera produces colors that are a bit more natural and mature, but that's not consistent. Both snappers perform equally well outdoors and you'd be happy with any of the two cameras. Indoor performance is once again improved, with more natural colors and finer, sharper details present in each shot. When the light is less-than-ideal, we'd say the Galaxy S7 really manages to outshine the S6, if only by just a bit.

If there is a huge difference to be pointed out, it's in the ease of use of the camera. The Galaxy S7's “Dual Pixels” autofocus technology is blazing fast and can really spoil the user. Its shallow depth of field, due to the F1.7 aperture, also unlocks some more creative potential with bokeh and focus play, and makes the shooting experience that much more fun.

Conclusion and full gallery

While each generation has something better than the one before it, we feel it's safe to say that the most important jump in Sammy's cameras over the past 4 generations was the one made between the Galaxy S5 and Galaxy S6. The OIS module, the wider aperture, and the new software all make a pretty huge difference in image quality and in overall user experience. So, while users that upgraded from the S4 to the S5 probably didn't feel much of a performance bump in the camera department, anyone switching from an S5 to a next generation Samsung smartphone will have a pretty great time with their new camera.

Now, the S7's camera is better than the one on the S6, but only by a margin. We'd say that the Galaxy S6 is pretty consistent at capturing amazing scenery and its camera easily ranks among the best even today, a year and a half after its release. Of course, the S7 has a few advantages, like better low light performance, but it's hardly a dramatic improvement.

Now, we are anxious to see what the Galaxy S8 brings about. Could it make the same jump in quality that we witnessed between the S5 and S6?



1. avmitking

Posts: 19; Member since: Aug 29, 2011

I'm always been a Galaxy Note series user, so would request for Galaxy Note series comparison. And yes Samsung has given it's best in camera department to Apple run for it's money

10. UglyFrank

Posts: 2200; Member since: Jan 23, 2014

Note 3 is very similar to S4, Note 4 is slightly worse than S6 but similar. Note 5 is very similar to S6. Note 7..... is basically the same as the S7

31. vincelongman

Posts: 5807; Member since: Feb 10, 2013

PA should do a Nexus series comparison From one of the worst to arguably the best

2. fancollo

Posts: 130; Member since: Dec 30, 2015

i think the S7 has a technological advantage being fast etc, but the actual picture... i do not really think it's among the best. oversharpening and oversaturated, loss of details compared to other cameras do not make it good.

8. Macready

Posts: 1830; Member since: Dec 08, 2014

RAW for the rescue.

13. WPX00

Posts: 513; Member since: Aug 15, 2015

Yep. As an S7 user, I can definitely attest that the quality is not top-notch. G5 and iPhone 7, which I've had the pleasure of testing, and now Pixel, deliver much less overprocessed images. S7's main advantage is that focus. It's unbeatable. I've had my S7 for nearly a year now, since launch, and I've taken ONE blurry picture. ONE.

14. Macready

Posts: 1830; Member since: Dec 08, 2014

The iPhone 7 has less sharpening artifacts, but in return introduces horrible NR artifacts (paintery effect) and a yellow cast in most outdoor daylight shots. The Pixel does better in both the NR and sharpening department, but trades quality with (bright) halo's from its HDR algorithm. The G5 is too heavy on the NR in low contrast and green tones such as grass.

32. vincelongman

Posts: 5807; Member since: Feb 10, 2013

The Pixel's occasional halo's are from its lens Google has updated the HDR+ algorithm to try hide them, but they still apear in certain cases

34. Macready

Posts: 1830; Member since: Dec 08, 2014

No, that's not a halo from HDR effects, those are lens flares and indeed a hardware issue that I forgot to mention. The HDR halo's are the light edges you see around subjects (backlit or in the shade) that have been brightened heavily. You can get a similar effect if you go overboard in Photoshop or Lightroom when lifting shadows. Here's an example: See the bright edge above the building.

35. vincelongman

Posts: 5807; Member since: Feb 10, 2013

Oh that what you meant with the "(bright)" I interpreted that as light halo's lol So I thought you meant the lens flares, I've seen others calling them halo's That's a good point IMO its still better than overexpousing then skies But yea, it would be nice if Google could improve their algorithm to reduce them

24. ebilcake

Posts: 1231; Member since: Jul 16, 2016

Can't you just enable raw? I thought that reduced the post processing? But I would disagree and say it is top notch, but the processing may not appeal to everyone. Samsung should provide a separate camera mode for either the post processing or a more natural mode. The focusing speed is amazing on the Galaxy S7,even in low light its rarely ever blurry.

28. marorun

Posts: 5029; Member since: Mar 30, 2015

G5 give much more realistic colors than any others phone currently on the market. IPhone 7 and pixel come pretty close but are still a bit unnatural ( like halfway between G5 and S7 ) Overall the Pixel easily beat all the others or come pretty close. I do agree the S7 is king of focus in all condition but G5 , iPhone 7 and pixel are also pretty good. Only had 1 or 2 blurry pic max on my G5 and i take load of pictures.

37. ebilcake

Posts: 1231; Member since: Jul 16, 2016

This has nothing to do with the G5 or the iPhone, get lost and troll somewhere else. .

38. VVayne

Posts: 103; Member since: Oct 01, 2015

yea and even the camera2api does not work well (did not when I tried it at the end of september at least)

3. hwb01

Posts: 355; Member since: Apr 17, 2014

That snowman picture is some crazy difference, didn't know the S6's camera improved that much over the S5

25. ebilcake

Posts: 1231; Member since: Jul 16, 2016

Galaxy S6 camera is still very good, I had no complaints with the camera at all, OnePlus 3 camera is a downgrade in that department.

33. vincelongman

Posts: 5807; Member since: Feb 10, 2013

IMO S5->S6 is the biggest jump of Samsung's S Series Especially in low light, it went from their weakness to their strength

4. peegieislim

Posts: 68; Member since: Dec 14, 2016

S7 images are only good when they are compared to computer generated unreal graphics.

6. s.mrabet

Posts: 147; Member since: Oct 26, 2011

Lol, who you think you're fooling?

5. twens

Posts: 1186; Member since: Feb 25, 2012

For me the s7 edge's camera is on a different level. I've not yet used any phone that takes satisfying pictures than the s7E. Coming from a 6s plus

36. SupermanayrB

Posts: 1188; Member since: Mar 20, 2012

The Note 7 camera was above that level. I had it until all the BS & am now in S7E. Give this phone the Note 7 UI, features & camera & it would be THE best phone out, period.

7. shield

Posts: 888; Member since: Sep 12, 2015

S4 is better than S5, S5 is better than S6. S7 is Best.

17. Tyrion_Lannister unregistered

S5 is better than S6! Hell no.

19. trojan_horse

Posts: 5868; Member since: May 06, 2016

And shield also said the S4 is better the S5... WTF.

39. Tyrion_Lannister unregistered

S4 and s5 were quite comparable.

9. nebula

Posts: 1009; Member since: Feb 20, 2015

Wood trunk photo S4 and S7 images are nearly identical in appearance and quality. Now I know S7 has same old S4 camera.

15. Macready

Posts: 1830; Member since: Dec 08, 2014

"Now I know S7 has same old S4 camera" Nonsense. The S7 has a larger sensor, much larger aperture, much faster focusing, better dynamic range (see highlights plus shadow detail in the shots of the iPhone against the tree) and much better low light qualities (mostly a result of the first 2 factors).

18. trojan_horse

Posts: 5868; Member since: May 06, 2016

^^ Right... And needless to say, the S7 has OIS which the S4 lacked... The saying of the S7 having "the same old S4 camera" is beyond laughable.

21. nebula

Posts: 1009; Member since: Feb 20, 2015

You must be Mr Takemeliterrally right ?

20. nebula

Posts: 1009; Member since: Feb 20, 2015

I am stilk looking for that"much" factor in the wood trunk image. For sure s7 was fitted with old s4 camera .

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