Musing #71: Samsung Galaxy A50 Super Slow-Mo and Night Mode

A little over 24 hours ago, Samsung introduced the Super Slow-Mo and Night modes to the Galaxy A50. While Samsung does an impressive job with camera improvements on flagship devices, I had my expectations pared down for the A50.

With all reviews down and dusted for the device at the time of its launch, it is unlikely that anyone other that someone who owns the device would test these features on a short notice. Hence, here I am with this post.

Super Slow-Mo Mode:

The A50 had a Slow Motion mode since launch. That mode recorded 720p video at 240 frames per second and played it back at the same rate. Hence, the super slow-mo mode was a bit of a mystery since there was no official mention of what it comprises of.

The super slow-mo mode in the S9 managed to do 960 FPS for 0.2 seconds. It seemed unlikely that Samsung would push a mid-range device that far even though it has quite a capable chipset. The marketing material mentioned the Exynos 9610 as being capable of recording Full HD at 480 FPS but was unlikely to happen.

The best way to find out what a new mode does is to test it out. Since there is nothing better than watching a (digital) stopwatch in slow motion, that's what I did. The process of recording itself gave no indication to what was actually happening since it would take over 2 secs for the camera to start saving after initiation of recording, with the saving process itself taking longer.

Normally checking the metadata would sort things out, but in this case the output was clasified as a 8m 33s, 30 FPS video; nothing abnormal about it but for the fact that it was supposed to be a super slow motion video. Thankfully, this is where the rather vapid stopwatch came to the rescue.

As can be seen in the video, the actual super slow motion part of the video lasts for about 0.4s, from 0.69s to 1.09s. The video itself  contains 250 frames, so to accommodate 0.4s of super slow motion implies that the recording rate was 480 FPS as it constitutes 192 frames (480 x 0.4). The remaining 58 frames are created courtesy of normal 30 FPS recording preceding and following the super slow-mo part of the recording.

It's great having super slow motion video but to have it at 720p when the chipset is capable of 1080p is a let down. But then, considering the struggles of the sensor to capture light even at 720p, it seems that a 1080p clip might end up being downright unusable. That Samsung has even bothered to add this mode to this device is a huge plus since few would have expected it.

Night Mode:

The clamour for Camera2 API for the A50 has been incessant, if for nothing else, than the ability to use Google's incredible Night Mode. However, it is unlikely that Samsung would ever accede to that demand. Instead, A50 owners get Samsung's take on the Night Mode which was always likely to be somewhat credible rather than incredible.

As always, in matters of camera, it is more apt to let the images do the talking. The rather compressed collage below gives an indication of how the various camera modes deal with extremely low light. It wouldn't take a detective to find out which one is which, so I'd rather take the easy way out of not labelling any of the images. However, for the purpose of verification and lack of astonishment, I have uploaded the original images with rather curt labels at this link.

Review #45: Mi A1 (Updated with Oreo impressions) ★★★★☆

An A1 Choice

The Android One programme was launched in 2014 with the intention of being the entry point for budget conscious users. Perhaps it was the choice of hardware or OEMs that ultimately made it a stillborn venture. On the other end of the spectrum, the Pixel hasn't quite turned out to be the iPhone killer that Google might have envisaged. However, Google isn't one to take things lying down and hence we now have the reinvigorated Android One programme. This time Google has taken a much more hands-off approach, with this being no more than a branding exercise and the entire onus of the device specification as well as updates following squarely on the shoulders of the OEM.

For an OEM like Xiaomi that is well entrenched in MIUI, it certainly came as a surprise when it was mentioned as the first partner of the new avatar of Android One. At the same time, it seemed a logical choice considering the stranglehold that various Mi devices now have at the budget segment of the market. I had already "upgraded" the Redmi Note 3 of one of my family members to LineageOS to make the device more usable and while getting another Mi device, it was a toss-up between getting a Redmi Note 4 and flashing it with LineageOS or getting the Mi A1 with stock android on board. Ultimately, the novelty of the dual camera setup as well as a manufacturer supported implementation of stock Android justified the premium.

While the review is focussed on the Mi A1, I found it a good idea to compare it with the other phones I have at my disposal which is the Redmi Note 3 and the iPhone 7. The Note 3 should be a good comparison coming from the same stable but based on a year-old higher performance chipset while the iPhone 7 acts like a good benchmark.

Review #9: Panasonic HC-V270 High Definition Video Camera

Worth its price in memories!

The product is stated to record up to 1080p videos at 50fps and 28 Mbps in either AVCHD or MP4/iFrame format. For my test, I selected the 1080p MP4 option and let the camera run through its battery. My findings are as follows:

Package and Weight:
Apart from the unit and battery, it comes with a 8GB card, carry case, charger, micro-HDMI and mini-USB cables. The unit alone tipped 213g on my weighing scale and with the battery and Memory Card, it went up to 258g.

Video Specification:
The continuously recorded video was split to 3.70 GB files of 22m 1s duration each. The container used is MPEG-4 Version 2. The video codec is AVC (High @ Level 4.2) whereas the audio codec is AAC (Low Complexity). The video bit rate was variable at 23.9 Mbps for one of the videos recorded in daylight which reduced to 14.4 Mbps as the sun set. The audio bit rate was 2-channel, 128 Kbps at 48 KHz.

Video Quality:
We enter subjective territory over here but I found the quality to be pretty decent in daylight, though not astounding. The performance deteriorates as daylight fades and hence it is not a good option for poorly lit areas, mainly due to the 1/5.8" CMOS sensor. Having said that, the quality is more than enough for any home or vacation videos. You can of course move on to better options with bigger sensors, but those will cost you a pretty penny (certainly twice as much). The mic picks up the ambient sound well enough, thereby serving its purpose but the unit lacks any external mic interface to boost audio quality.

Definitely the USP of the product. The 50x optical zoom really allows you to read signboards at least a kilometer if not more away and that feels awesome. The sensor resolution at 2.51 MP is bigger than the 2.1 MP that Full HD Videos require and that allows you to zoom further in to an image without losing the resolution, accorded the moniker Intelligent Zoom or iZoom (up to 90x). It also has the useless digital zoom options of up to 3000x which are thankfully not mentioned on the product itself like the days of yore.

Image Stabilisation:
It has Hybrid OIS which combines conventional and in-camera stabilisation to offer stability across 5-axis (horizontal, vertical, axis of rotation, vertical rotation and horizontal rotation). It certainly seems to do its job, especially when zoomed in.

Still Image:
Inspite of the 10 MP still image line mentioned on the camera, the photos are frankly quite abysmal. Still cameras are still sold separately for a good reason.

The camcorder took about 140 - 150 minutes to eat up its 1940 mAh battery before switching off. It also takes a couple of hours to be fully charged up. Also, one can continue recording when charging which seems logical but warrants a mention since I had read about a competing Sony model which did not allow you to do so.

The camera itself doesn't come with any built in storage but supports SD/SDHC/SDXC cards. My 64 GB Samsung Evo+ works fine with this and indicates a total recording time of 5h 34m at 1080p.

Quite surprisingly, the unit comes equipped with NFC and WiFi at this price point which is a definite plus. Set up was actually quite easy using the Panasonic Image Android app and a much better alternative that setting up manually. The inclusion of WiFi also results in the addition of features like Remote Shooting, Remote View, Baby Monitor and Real-time Broadcasting. WiFi is however only limited to 2.4 GHz, b/g/n standard and hence stuttering when viewing through the phone app is a common occurrence.

It is a 2.7 inch (230,400 dots) touch screen. It must be resistive because it requires quite a hard touch to respond, but does its job.

Software Interface:
Won't be winning any design awards for sure. Clunky, but you can find your way through. However, it makes using the manual mode a chore and perhaps a no-go option.

It is a good Value for Money buy, especially when you compare it when competing units from Sony. It packs in a great zoom, WiFi connectivity and offers good image quality for its price. Image quality isn't too great but if that alone is a concern for you, then you are better off spending twice the money on camcorders like V770 with a much larger (1/2.3 inch) sensor, though they don't offer any significant feature upgrades other than external mic inputs.

Originally published on Amazon on 7th November 2015