Foldable phones may change the way you take pictures, but the Samsung Galaxy Z Fold 4 won’t be the one to change the picture quality, if that’s what you’re looking for.
As Samsung continues to refine its vision for its foldable flagship, it has relegated the camera array to familiar territory. From the first iteration, the cameras were holdovers from other phones in the Galaxy S line. It’s the real hinge and overall usability that continues to break new ground for the Galaxy Z Fold line, and the cameras are really just right for the route.
Despite replacing the image sensor with the wide camera here, has Samsung done enough to make the camera array more viable and worthy of the Fold 4’s high price tag? Let’s say the answer is a bit complicated.
Design and build
Although this phone is a little lighter and thinner, it is still one of the heaviest and thickest you can carry around. It may seem trivial, but you notice it over time, whether it’s as simple as putting it in your pocket, taking it out to look at a notification, or taking a photo.
The general design features remain, although the 6.2-inch Dynamic AMOLED Cover display looks better. The larger 7.6-inch Dynamic AMOLED that reveals itself when you fold it open also benefits from smaller bezels. A smoother hinge still offers that satisfying snap when closing, although using this phone for photography does require some muscle memory.
Under the hood, the phone has no problem running apps and tasks. The new Snapdragon 8+ Gen 1 chipset, along with 12 GB of RAM and at least 256 GB of storage, complement each other perfectly. If you want to browse the photos and move them to Lightroom or Snapseed viewing them side by side, you can easily remove it. If you wanted to edit the same photo using two apps at once, that’s also easy to do. This type of utility is hard to find, and one of the reasons the Galaxy Z Fold 4 is unique as a mobile photography device.
The phone supports the S Pen, but only the Fold edition or the S Pen Pro, and you have no way to store either unless you have a case. Try any other S Pen and a warning appears on the screen suggesting you may damage the screen if you continue to do so. This phone is fragile in more ways than one, despite its IPX8 protection.
The wide camera on the rear is the same 50-megapixel (23mm equivalent) ISOCELL GN5 image sensor that Samsung equips in the Galaxy S22 and S22+. A new 10-megapixel (66mm equivalent) telephoto camera for the Fold 4 is also a recycled device from those two phones. Only the ultra-wide 12-megapixel (13mm equivalent) remains a remnant of the rear camera array, an image sensor that Samsung really likes to use where it can.
Just like the two S22 phones, the 50-megapixel sensor doesn’t shoot full resolution by default. Pixel binning brings it down to 12.5MP for better low-light shots, leaving 50MP mode as an alternative when you want it. Given that the interface is pretty much the same as other Samsung phones, none of this will come as a surprise.
The two front cameras have little in common. Comparing the 10-megapixel camera on the cover display with the dreadful 4-megapixel camera trying to stay hidden under the bigger screen is no contest. Apart from video calling, the latter fails as a photography option. Not that it matters that much as the foldable form factor allows anyone to take a selfie using the much better rear cameras anyway, as the cover screen shows a preview to frame the shot.
There are no real surprises with the layout of the camera app since the interface is the same as previous Fold smartphones. If you’ve never used one of Samsung’s Folds before, you’ll notice how things look and feel different from other phones simply because of the extra space. Take a photo from half of the screen and the resulting preview appears on the other half.
Place it to one side and the controls move to the bottom half, leaving the top as a live view unobstructed by overlapping settings. It’s not unlike how you press the display button on a DSLR or mirrorless camera long enough to remove all the detail from the auxiliary settings. It also works when you prop the phone up in portrait orientation, making the Galaxy Z Fold 4 one of the few phones that essentially has its own mounting capability.
It’s not always a substitute for a tripod, but it’s certainly handy for long exposure shots in Pro mode, or if you really need to hold steady for a Dark Night mode shot. It’s also rare to be able to keep the camera app open and have an editing app like Lightroom in a split-screen setup. It would even be possible to take photos while watching a tutorial on YouTube.
Seeing all of this brings a certain novelty to the device from a photography perspective, even if the software doesn’t bring anything new elsewhere. Samsung realized this by including these usability points as part of its marketing campaign for the Fold 4.
Getting the Galaxy Z Fold 4 to take photos is accepting bizarre contrast. It’s not often you see a phone that starts at $1,800, but pulls like a phone closer to $800. It’s not that you can’t capture good photos, but putting it into context makes the distinction clearer. For example, the Google Pixel 6a starts at $449 and can deliver on par with this phone.
I knew what I was getting with the Fold 4 because I had used the Galaxy S22+ and S22 before. The results are the same, meaning you get solid images in a variety of conditions, but not necessarily what you’d expect from a high-end device. Maybe people don’t want the Fold 4 for its camera, but if that’s a factor for you, you have to measure expectations.
The good news is that this iteration offers a significantly better image sensor than previous Folds. Daytime and low-light shots are better all around. Shooting RAW in Pro mode gives you more to work with, although noise is still an issue. Samsung has also added Expert RAW support, although you’ll need to find this app through the Galaxy Store to get it to work. This helps improve the RAW output a bit more and save manual settings as custom presets that you can always access.
At least it’s easier to shoot hands-free when flat surfaces are available to you. A lot of the experimentation around this phone’s camera lineup relies on the wide camera as it’s by far the best option, including for selfies.
Ultra-wide and telephoto
Again, nothing shocking happens with either of these two lenses. The ultra-wide image sensor has made the rounds so much that even the Galaxy A53 uses it. Image quality follows suit, with the only real difference being the tweaks Samsung has made on the software side. Images aren’t bad at all, although it’s hard to see ultrawide shots much better than last year.
The telephoto lens is an improvement, and even the hybrid zoom benefits from the better sensor that Samsung has chosen here. This route also increased the optical zoom from 2x to 3x, increasing the equivalent focal length from 52mm to 66mm. Hybrid zooms up to 10x are also very good. Things get tricky in low-light and night shots, and very shaky with active subjects, although the ultra-wide lens is less susceptible to shaky hands.
Video is better thanks to the better sensor for the wide camera, and you get all the modes you’d find in other current Samsung phones. The Fold 4’s unique design makes video recording an interesting exercise, partly because you can grab it better and because you can prop it up to shoot from more interesting angles.
A high-end foldable smartphone with a mid-range camera
Granted, you’re paying a premium for the Galaxy Z Fold 4 because of its design and screen, not for the range of cameras it offers. You could say the flagship Galaxy S22 Ultra was the opposite. In the absence of a Galaxy Note, the flagship Galaxy S series is what sets the tone for Samsung’s mobile photography advancements.
The Fold 4 doesn’t advance the needle at all, it’s just a collection of Samsung image sensors put together to incrementally improve image quality on the company’s most expensive phone. Undoubtedly, the foldable design has utility you won’t find elsewhere, and there’s value in that for the creativity it fosters, so it’s not all mediocre. Perhaps Samsung’s market research for the Fold line indicates that the camera is less important. I have no idea, but in the future this phone should be able to capture better images.
Are there alternatives?
The Galaxy Z Fold 4 is part of a still-nascent subset of smartphones. Foldables aren’t plentiful, but if you wanted something like this in a more mainstream design, the Galaxy Z Flip 4 might be right up your alley. If you want similar results from a camera perspective, the Galaxy S22+ will deliver that.
On a tighter budget, the Pixel 6a is a fraction of the price and is arguably the best in its class. When your budget allows and you want something few others have, the Vivo X70 Pro+ still offers one of the best camera sets on the market.
Should you buy it?
Not for the camera. If you’re into the idea of using a foldable phone, despite the limitations of the camera, that’s another story.