Samsung today gave us an early look at the first smart phone with a true optical zoom lens, the Galaxy S4 Zoom. Optical zoom lets you get closer to your subject without the degradation of photo and video quality you'd get using digital zoom (for more details, read "Digital zoom will doom your photographs.") The S4 Zoom's 10x zoom lens, which protrudes from the front of the phone when fully extended, includes a 24mm wide angle setting, which is also rare on phones. Here's our first impression.
CORRECTION: The Samsung Galaxy S4 is the first smart phone with 10x optical zoom, but the Nokia N93 smart phone, which was introduced in 2006, included a 3x optical zoom lens.
In addition to the zoom lens, this 16-megapixel smart phone includes other important features often found on basic digital cameras, but not on smart phones. These includes a back-side illuminated CMOS sensor similar in size to those on cameras, which should provide better low-light performance than on most smart phones; a true flash; and mechanical image stabilization (sensor-shift types), which is rare on smart phones.
The S4 Zoom also includes a very nice physical control: A ring positioned around the lens that you can turn to zoom in and out. (You can also use it for selecting other features. However, one strange omission: You can't use the ring to manually focus the camera.) You can also zoom in and out using a "virtual control" on the 4.3-inch touch screen display.
The S4 Zoom also includes around two dozen scene modes, including one called Smart Mode Suggestion, which offers three scene modes from which to choose depending on subject matter and lighting. Samsung has included a number of other intriguing modes that take advantage of wireless connectivity, including Photo Suggest mode, which brings up a bulls-eye target icon on the screen when shooting in certain locations. If you click on this icon, a map appears with thumbnails, showing photos shot by other photographers of important monuments, locations, or tourist attractions near where you're shooting. The S4 Zoom includes other wireless technologies, such as NFC (near field communication), for quickly transferring photos and videos to other wireless devices.
The smart phone can also capture HD video (1080p at 30fps), and you can zoom via the control ring while recording video. It comes with 8GB of internal storage as well as slot for a microSD memory card, for additional storage.
Samsung hasn't yet announced pricing or availability, but the Galaxy S4 Zoom is expected to be available by end of summer.