One thing Samsung’s new foldables tell us is that the company is reluctant to put its best cameras into any phone that folds or flips open. Should a device that carries such a premium cut a few corners on the camera side?
It’s a question I ask myself every time I come across a new foldable phone, not least of which because the category is burgeoning and Samsung’s competitors seem to view it differently. Google’s Pixel Fold treats the cameras much like other Pixel models do, while the likes of Oppo, Xiaomi, and Vivo all continue to nip at the heels of releasing their fold and flip phones to global markets.
Indeed, when Samsung talked about the Galaxy Z Fold 5 and Flip 5 — at least in reference to the cameras — it had more to do with using the rear lenses to take selfies. The company has noted the practicality of setting up its foldable phones for creative camera angles in past releases, but this time around, it largely ignores that with the Fold and touts it with the Flip.
First Impressions of the Galaxy Z Flip 5
Everything about the Fold 5 and Flip 5 felt incremental once I got my hands on them, except for the obviously larger Cover Screen on the Flip 5. I’m totally baffled as to why Samsung would do away with the matte finish on the back panels and replace them with something so glossy that it takes mere seconds to ruin the veneer. Samsung also chose to do this only with the Flip 5, and not the Fold 5, which retains the excellent matte finish.
In predictable fashion, little has changed on paper as far as the cameras go. Samsung says it used better image sensors for the main cameras on both phones, but hasn’t confirmed exactly which ones. If we’re going by past patterns, then we can assume it’s either the Isocell GN3, like the Fold 4 and Flip 4 used, or the Isocell GN5, which we’ve already seen in various phones, including the Galaxy S23+ and S23. The GN3 was in the Galaxy S22+ and S22, so we’re probably on the right track.
It’s still a dual-camera array in the rear, and I can understand why given how limited real estate must be on a device like this. Perhaps it’s a cost-cutting measure not to use Sony image sensors like the Galaxy S23 Ultra does. It just feels like a letdown when hearing little has changed from the outset.
It’s also hard to make any lasting impressions without fully testing the cameras in varying conditions, and a small room with little to shoot during my hands-on time wouldn’t reveal much, either, but some nuances are apparent. The biggest two are the hinge and Cover Screen. Samsung is right to refer to these two pieces for their utility, especially for selfies, but the sturdy hinge can do wonders for angling shots, while the Cover can do the same for framing, particularly from a worm’s eye view. If you’re rocking a compatible Galaxy Watch on your wrist, you could even treat that as your shutter.
Samsung claims the Flip 5 will capture better low-light and night images, including references to software improvements for overall camera output. There was no way to tell in the brief time I had, and with an interface unchanged a year later, the results may only be marginally better than the Flip 4.
First Impressions of the Galaxy Z Fold 5
The Fold 5 is noticeably lighter than its predecessor, courtesy of shedding 10 grams and shaving 2mm across its dimensions. Samsung continues to refine its flagship foldable and there’s no doubt it’s come along nicely since the first iteration back in 2019. Each year, Samsung successfully manages to close the gap just a little each time out to make the Fold actually fold up like a book. It’s not totally flush just yet, but it’s getting there.
Comparing the camera specs from the Fold 4 and Fold 5 are like mirror images. The 50-megapixel main camera may be using the same image sensor the Galaxy S23+ used, whereas the rest of the rear camera array may be carryovers from last year’s Fold or mid-range sensors at best. The main camera shoots at a pixel-binned 12.5-megapixels with f/1.8 aperture and optical image stabilization, though you can go full-resolution with the 50MP mode. Don’t expect to do that in RAW on this phone, though. Rounding out the rear triple array are the 12-megapixel ultra-wide and 10-megapixel telephoto.
The focus for the Fold 5 has more to do with usability and convenience than it does anything to do with the cameras. Samsung barely touched on them in my hands-on time, and I can see why, given there’s little to point out that’s compellingly new. Instead, the phone’s practicality remains well suited to being creative with how you shoot, even more so with a smoother hinge like this one. Gorilla Glass Victus 2 covers the back and the front screen Samsung calls the “Flex Window” to ensure a higher level of protection. I’d still consider a case for another protective layer if the plan is to mount or prop it up for photos.
You still can’t use the S Pen Fold Edition as a remote shutter because it doesn’t have the Bluetooth connectivity the S Pen Pro does, so you’d have to go with that one if you want that functionality.
Vague references to “AI-powered image signal processing” were impossible to ascertain in the setting I was in, but even if we were shooting more interesting subjects, I’m not sure if the differences would be that obvious. We’ll have to see under proper testing. Either way, software would have to be the main driver for what’s new and improved with the cameras in this premium foldable.
No Crossover Appeal?
As much as Samsung wants to close the gap when clamping these phones shut, it appears reluctant to thicken the rear camera bump to accommodate something better. Could a periscope telephoto lens be possible? I would think so. How about a larger image sensor for the main camera that befits the premium category these phones sit in? If the question is whether or not people would accept bigger bumps in the camera module, then maybe Samsung could figure out what’s ultimately acceptable.
The joy with these phones is the ability to orient and position them almost effortlessly in some cases — a huge advantage over the typical phone slabs. But then the pendulum largely swings the other way when it comes to actual output. If you love foldable phones and mobile photography, you’re left with a tough choice in both the Fold 5 and Flip 5 since both do advance the former, but the latter is left to languish.