The Samsung Galaxy S9 and S9+ have game-changing cameras with variable aperture and 960fps slow-mo video recording

The Samsung Galaxy S9 and S9+ have game-changing cameras with variable aperture and 960fps slow-mo video recording

"The camera, reimagined" – This is the line Samsung used to tease us with the upcoming Galaxy S9 and S9+, and for good reason.

Samsung's 2018 flagships boast improved cameras with many new features on board, such as variable apertures, slow motion video recording in up to 1000fps, and a dual-camera setup for the Galaxy S9+, which now sports a second, telephoto shooter in the vain of the Galaxy Note 8.

But alright, what's so special about them? Ultra slow-mo video recording? We've already seen that in the Xperia XZ Premium. What sets Samsung's newest flagships apart? Well, this would be the variable aperture that's available in the main cameras on both the Galaxy S9 and S9+. The aperture can go from from f/1.5 down to f/2.4, depending on the scenario, which is actually very important for recording high frame rate videos. That's because, when shooting at high FPS, the camera shutter needs to operate at an extremely high speed, which results in less light captured by the sensor. This makes shooting slow-mo videos in darker environments an exercise in frustration, especially when it comes to smartphone cameras.

Of course, shooting in the standard for many smartphone cameras slow motion modes—which vary between 120fps and 240fps depending on resolution—is not nearly the same as shooting at 960fps, which is what the S9 and S9+ can do. This sort of frame rate necessitates a much, much higher shutter speed, which in turn requires a lot more light to actually capture a good video. This is why having the wider aperture is so important – it lets more light in. But without further ado, let's get into the nitty gritty of it.

Improved low-light photography, sharper daylight photos


Variable aperture on the Samsung W2018 flip phone

Variable aperture on the Samsung W2018 flip phone


The wider f/1.5 aperture comes into play not only when recording Super Slow-mo videos, but also when shooting in low-light. When the environment is not well-lit, a camera with a fixed aperture is forced to rely on ISO and shutter speed controls to ensure proper exposure of the scene. However, with Samsung's variable aperture, the Galaxy S9 and S9+ are able to switch between f/1.5 and f/2.4, depending on the scene, which should deliver better shots in low-light, but also sharper photos in well-lit environments, in theory at least. You see, the problem with wide apertures, despite all the perks, is that they could result in blurrier-looking photos due to lens aberrations. We're yet to take the S9s for an in-depth camera comparison, but what we've seen from the Samsung W2018 flip phone (which has the same variable aperture) would suggest that images do, indeed, get softer at f/1.5.

Crops of photos taken on the Samsung W2018 flip phone (left) and the Note 8 (right). Notice how the W2018 shot is softer at f/1.5. You don't want to shoot like that during the day, but it could be better for low-light photography. That's where the variable aperture comes into play

Crops of photos taken on the Samsung W2018 flip phone (left) and the Note 8 (right). Notice how the W2018 shot is softer at f/1.5. You don't want to shoot like that during the day, but it could be better for low-light photography. That's where the variable aperture comes into play

image source iTech

Stopping down the aperture can improve all-around sharpness throughout the frame, although loss of detail can also occur when stopping down to extremely small apertures like f/16 or f/22. That's called diffraction, but it's not something you'll have to worry about on the S9. Chinese outlets who got their hands on Samsung's $3000 W2018 flip phone also note that, when shooting at f/1.5, the image gets noticeably softer. However, since the phones can choose between apertures, depending on the light, this likely won't be a problem. And as far as low-light photography is concerned, when the aperture will likely open up to its widest, image clarity could be improved on a software level, which we know Samsung is good at. 
The company told us that the new, variable aperture is capable of letting 28% more light than S8, and help produce shots with 30% less noise, which should play into how low-light shots turn out on the Galaxy S9 and S9+.

Shallower depth of field (a.k.a better bokeh)


Photo taken on Minolta X-700, Helios 44-3 @ f/2.0, Rollei RPX 400

Photo taken on Minolta X-700, Helios 44-3 @ f/2.0, Rollei RPX 400


F-stop numbers on smartphone cameras don't mean a whole lot when it comes to depth of field, unless you're really close to the subject. Reproducing the shallow depth of field from the photo above, which I took with an old Russian Helios lens at f/2.0, is currently not possible on conventional smartphone cameras, at this distance from the subject and through optics alone. However, a wider aperture can still be beneficial in other situations.

Alright, so bokeh is a big deal right now. It's been like that for a while in the photography community, but it's now getting popular on smartphones as well, thanks to the recent boom of "portrait modes" and the like. Unfortunately, however, the shallow depth of field that can be achieved on a dedicated camera — be it on a crop sensor, full-frame, medium format, or the various sizes of film available — is an impossible feat for smartphones due to physical constraints. That's why smartphone makers have resorted to software solutions to simulate an approximation of the shallow depth of field that can be achieved with a wide aperture lens on a large film plane.

Of course, smartphone cameras are still capable of producing a blurry background, when shooing from up close, but people are dreaming of artsy portraits where the subject stands out against a swirly backdrop of impressionist brush strokes. This isn't possible on a smartphone right now—through hardware means, at least—and won't be possible with the S9's f/1.5 aperture, due to the sensor and other limitations. However, it will provide shallower depth of field when taking close-ups. Not to mention that Samsung could further accentuate the effect through software means.

f/1.5 - Samples from the Samsung W2018 flip phone, which also has a variable aperture. Note the blurrier background in the shot taken at f/1.5

f/1.5

f/2.4 - Samples from the Samsung W2018 flip phone, which also has a variable aperture. Note the blurrier background in the shot taken at f/1.5

f/2.4

Samples from the Samsung W2018 flip phone, which also has a variable aperture. Note the blurrier background in the shot taken at f/1.5

image source Sina

Super slow-mo video recording at 960fps


The so-called super slow-mo video recording is another stand-out feature of the Galaxy S9 and S9+. It allows users to record video in up to 960fps for a fraction of a second (0.2s to be exact), which is then stretched to 6 seconds to create a slow motion effect. Slow-mo is available at 720p resolution, much like on the Xperia Premium XZ, although the S9 and S9+ are capable of automatic motion detection, which picks appropriate part of the clip in slow-motion without you having to do almost anything.

This eliminates much of the frustration of catching a split-second of fast action on camera that Sony's implementation caused. And if you're not happy of the automatic slow-mo detection, you can always adjust it manually from the Gallery app. Other than that, the produced slow-motion clips can be shared normally, shared as GIF, or if you're particularly proud of your creation, you can set it as a lockscreen wallpaper, which play every time you wake the phone up.

Final words


The Galaxy S9 won't be the first ever smartphone to feature a variable aperture. The Nokia N86, for example, which launched in 2009, had a three-step variable aperture (f/2.4, f/3.2, and f/4.8), but as smartphones became slimmer and slimmer, manufacturers turned their back on technologies that demanded more room to be implemented (remember Xenon flashes?). However, with technology progressing and components getting smaller, we may now see some interesting concepts making a return.

Related phones

Galaxy S9
  • Display 5.8" 1440 x 2960 pixels
  • Camera 12 MP / 8 MP front
  • Processor Qualcomm Snapdragon 845, Octa-core, 2800 MHz
  • Storage 256 GB + microSDXC
  • Battery 3000 mAh(31h talk time)

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82 Comments

2. surethom

Posts: 1587; Member since: Mar 04, 2009

Very nice, but still not happy if the S9 has just 1 rear camera but the S9+ has dual camera.

14. darkkjedii

Posts: 30786; Member since: Feb 05, 2011

Don't buy it then.

25. yann

Posts: 604; Member since: Jul 15, 2010

Absolutely right! Also i think that variable aperture is future and when the technology became mature, we will loose this ugly 2 camera, 3 camera setups.

27. Milen_Y

Posts: 111; Member since: Jun 09, 2016

Why ditch the second camera, though? The S9+ could feature a "main" camera with a variable aperture, coupled with a "telephoto" camera with a fixed aperture (if rumors are to be believed).

35. yann

Posts: 604; Member since: Jul 15, 2010

All phone cameras are trying to reach the quality of DSLR. How many DSLR with two cameras you know? I'm not speaking to ditch second camera now, but when technologies reach the level, it will happend.

40. Milen_Y

Posts: 111; Member since: Jun 09, 2016

Well, uh, maybe dedicated cameras don't have two lenses because the lenses are interchangeable, which allows for enough variety?

52. Penny

Posts: 1844; Member since: Feb 04, 2011

That's an easy problem to solve, but they probably don't see a demand/market for interchangeable lens phone cameras. The big downside is with these two camera systems is that it inherently limits the size of the sensors, and long term, their innovation focus is on dual camera features rather than sensor/lens performance. For small form factor, it may be the way to go. Maybe multiple sensors/lenses, a la Lytro, is the best you can do with the form factor, rather than one higher quality sensor with higher quality glass.

50. L0n3n1nja

Posts: 1511; Member since: Jul 12, 2016

Smart phone has 2 camera sensors because you cannot change your lens like on a DSLR.

65. Tipsy.trex

Posts: 11; Member since: May 17, 2016

How many DSLR's have lenses that can be measured in single millimeters? The point of dual cameras is to A) allow for "lens swapping" and B) to effectively double the sensor size for portrait work. If anything, future phones are going to have a 4 or 5 camera setups, the majority bunched up at the top and a final one located as far away as possible to provide as accurate depth mapping as possible.

59. Skizzo

Posts: 403; Member since: Jul 14, 2013

Or better yet, A main camera with dual pixel tech like the Pixel 2 phones, and a secondary wide angle camera. Best of both worlds.

15. vincelongman

Posts: 5611; Member since: Feb 10, 2013

Also why limit the S9 to 4GB of RAM?

62. nodes

Posts: 1151; Member since: Mar 06, 2014

Samsung need you to buy the bigger brother, more money! sad but Samsung is turning into Apple, slowly.

64. HansP

Posts: 542; Member since: Oct 16, 2011

There's also a technical explanation. RAM draws power 24/7, unlike storage. Since the battery will be quite a bit smaller on the smaller device, they will have to find places to reduce power draw to make the battery-life equal. Having a hyper-spec'ed small phone is only moderately fun if it needs to be recharged three times a day.

75. Cat97

Posts: 1726; Member since: Mar 02, 2017

Take a Windows 10 computer and see what you can do with only 4GB of RAM. 6GB is just for show-off but it is actually unnecessary and has to be powered, eating battery even if not used.

20. maherk

Posts: 6684; Member since: Feb 10, 2012

Agreed. While Pixel 2 showed that you don't need a dual lens camera to be the best, Samsung's implementing another lens on the bigger sibling means that it will have it's benefits compared to the smaller S9. Also, if Samsung indeed plan to put 4gb of ram vs 6gb on the Plus model, then that's a greedy move that is inspired from Apple. Putting more hardware and software features in the more expensive model to force you to pay more. I'm not against 4gb of ram or single lens cameras, but I do have an issue with them when the company wants me to pay even more to get these upgrades. Not to mention those who doesn't like big phones and are forced to settle for inferior specs even though they are paying premium price for their phones.

23. kkmkk

Posts: 699; Member since: May 06, 2013

it is called a plus for reason why would you buy the plus model for a higher price if it is the exact same device !?

30. maherk

Posts: 6684; Member since: Feb 10, 2012

Because it has a bigger screen you smartass :)

44. talon95

Posts: 981; Member since: Jul 31, 2012

You simply can't fit everything into a small body that a large body has. Unless you can put the second camera in an alternate dimension you'll probably have a smaller battery to fit the camera and you'll have to decide which you want more on your S9. Most people choose battery, but if they could use metal ion and increase the battery to 3 days then maybe a smaller 2 day battery would still be acceptable. But for now, while we only have one day, it's better to have a camera that works than two cameras that are dead.

49. maherk

Posts: 6684; Member since: Feb 10, 2012

Other OEMs found a way to add secondary camera to phones that have similar dimensions to those of the S8, so don't tell me an innovative company like Samsung can't do that as well. Stop giving these gigantic cooperations excuses and defend their greedy strategies. You, me, and everyone know that Samsung is pulling an Apple with this move, make the bigger phone more valuable to force people to spend the extra 100$ and get it.

47. kkmkk

Posts: 699; Member since: May 06, 2013

bigger screen doesn't justify spending 100$ at least for the plus model

48. maherk

Posts: 6684; Member since: Feb 10, 2012

That has been the case with the S8, so I am not sure what you're blabbing about.

82. Jason2k13

Posts: 1445; Member since: Mar 28, 2013

and why are you mentioning the S8, when the S9 is a different phone? you might aswell go back to the S5 removable battery and complain about how the S9 does not have it?

81. Jason2k13

Posts: 1445; Member since: Mar 28, 2013

You call Samsung greedy, but when Hauwei, google, apple makes their Plus size model with extra features, you dont care? lol

24. Trex95

Posts: 2320; Member since: Mar 03, 2013

Apple stratagie

32. maherk

Posts: 6684; Member since: Feb 10, 2012

Exactly.

45. cmdacos

Posts: 3818; Member since: Nov 01, 2016

= profit strategy. Right move...

69. makatijules

Posts: 835; Member since: Dec 11, 2017

No. Its not the right move. Apple strategies work for Apple, because Apple has zero competition with IOS. So thus anything they do will work, because they are locked it. Every-time Samsung has copied Apple's strategy it hasn't worked for them. When the S6 was released with no removable battery, Samsung fans had a crap-fit. Then when they dropped the sdcard support, they had a fit on that too. Thought that wouldn't have been a big deal if that phoen had 128GB or 256GB internal storage. Which is also why Samsung has yet to drop the 3.5 headphone jack, because of possible backlash. Apple can do those things and it won't matter because you can't go anywhere else for iOS. If Samsung had an S or Note with IOS and the same features they have now, Apple would be reduced to a software OEM.

68. makatijules

Posts: 835; Member since: Dec 11, 2017

I also agree. Samsung has since the S6, match the hardware of the regular S and the edge model. Now that they are both edge, and the only difference has been size, I think they should continue to make them match. After all they charge enough for them. If they plan to increase the cost of the base S, which I am sure they will; then the only difference has always been size and thus the hardware should match. Or for the base model, they could make one with the single camera and one with the dual camera in the same small size, that way users who like the small one, can pay a little extra for the dual setup, without being forced to buy a larger phone they may not like. I personally did not like the S8+ and found the S8 to be a much nice phone. I wish Samsung would provide the Note like the S8. In a big and smaller size. I would get the smaller one for sure if it was the size of the S8.

3. Ciro1900

Posts: 591; Member since: Dec 17, 2017

Smoke!

4. Hollowmost

Posts: 413; Member since: Oct 10, 2017

The art of leapfrogging the competitors Let's not talk about Dual camera on Galaxy s9+ with f1.4 aperture .....

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