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March 7, 2018

The Galaxy S9’s variable aperture should be on every flagship moving forward

by John_A

samsung-galaxy-s9-plus-black-cameras-tig

The variable aperture camera is easily the most compelling feature of the Galaxy S9.

Remember when your smartphone could barely take a decent photo in broad daylight, let alone replace your point-and-shoot camera? Those days are thankfully long gone, as smartphone camera technology continues to improve each year. 2017 was especially kind to cameras, with phones embracing all sorts of dual camera combinations for added flexibility, and some like the Pixel 2 even adding machine learning into the mix.

This year is already off to a great start for camera technology, with Samsung introducing an entirely new paradigm to smartphone photography: dual apertures in a single lens. We’ve seen camera software emulate different apertures before, as is the case on the Huawei P10, but the Galaxy S9 is the first example of a genuine physical change in aperture. Andrew’s sample photos give us an early view at some of the incredible shots the S9 is capable of taking, but not everybody is on board with Samsung’s software or design— so when is this same feature coming to other phones?

What is variable aperture?

The Galaxy S9 and S9+ are able to physically stop down from f/2.4 to f/1.5, which is extremely impressive for such a small sensor, but if you’re inexperienced in professional photography, these numbers and letters might not make much sense. Let’s break it down.

Your camera’s aperture and f-stop directly relate to how much light is being let into the sensor. The wider your aperture, the faster your lens and the more light being let in. This is why an f/1.8 lens performs much better in low light than, say, an f/4 lens — a lower number means a wider aperture.

With variable apertures, who needs Portrait Mode?

You can see this happening on the Galaxy S9; as you change the f-stop in the camera software, the aperture blades physically move to adjust how much light passes through to the sensor, almost like how your pupils dilate to adjust to sudden changes in lighting. But if f/1.5 lets in more light and performs better in dark environments, why wouldn’t Samsung just use a constant f/1.5 lens instead of a variable aperture?

Why would you need it?

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Well, for the same reason you need sunglasses when it’s too bright outside; one setting doesn’t work for every scenario, and too much light can lead to blown out photos. In addition, a wider aperture means a smaller focal plane, meaning that only a small portion of the shot will be fully in focus. This works out great when you want a nice blurry background (what photographers call “bokeh”) for product shots and portraits, but it isn’t always ideal for landscape photography where you want to show off the entire frame.

This all shows in Andrew’s sample photos. There’s a genuine level of depth that even machine learning can’t match with slower glass, and the authentic nature makes you wonder why Samsung even bothered including an artificial bokeh Portrait Mode in the camera software. In addition, the Galaxy S9 is already proving to have one of the best low light cameras we’ve ever seen on a phone, with insanely little noise and sharp details.

Are you sold?

With all of this in mind, has Samsung won you over with its dual aperture lens on the Galaxy S9? If you can’t tell, I’m pretty excited about it — and if your answer is still no, you might want to take another look at the sample photos. Either way, we’d love to hear what you think. Let us know in the comments below!

Samsung Galaxy S9 and S9+

  • Hands-on with the Samsung Galaxy S9 and S9+
  • Galaxy S9 and S9+: Everything you need to know!
  • Complete Galaxy S9 and S9+ specs
  • Galaxy S9 vs. iPhone X: Metal and glass sandwiches
  • Galaxy S9 vs. Google Pixel 2: Which should you buy?
  • Join our Galaxy S9 forums

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