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Samsung Galaxy S9+, Galaxy S9: Beginner's guide to shooting mind-boggling 960 fps videos

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Samsung Galaxy S9+, Galaxy S9: Beginner's guide to shooting mind-boggling 960 fps videos

In fact, there are scenarios especially in low light, where the Galaxy S9+ even outshines the Pixel 2. Making it one of the top contenders for the best camera smartphone of 2018. Period.

The Samsung Galaxy S9 and the Galaxy S9+ boast of some mind-boggling camera credentials. Whether or not, they re-imagine or re-invent smartphone photography, is a subject of debate, although one thing is certain, the Galaxy S9 and the Galaxy S9+ -- the Galaxy S9+ in particular -- can hold a candle to the Pixel 2 and Pixel 2 XL. In fact, there are scenarios especially in low light, where the Galaxy S9+ even outshines the Pixel 2. Making it one of the top contenders for the best camera smartphone of 2018. Period.

But this piece isn't about how awesome the Samsung Galaxy S9 and the Galaxy S9+ cameras are, especially in low light, but how awesome they are at doing some really cool things other than taking awesome photos in low light. And before you go about judging me, let me get one thing straight, Samsung's AR Emoji's are not cool. Samsung's AR Emoji's, in fact, are anything but cool. But you know what's really cool -- and sort of crazy even -- about the Galaxy S9 and the Galaxy S9+ cameras? It's a feature called Super Slow-mo.

The Galaxy S9 and the Galaxy S9+ can theoretically shoot slow-motion videos at a mind-boggling 960-frames-per-second. The technology, largely seen in dedicated digital cameras, has been miniaturized, by Samsung, to fit the phone form factor. But while digital cameras can afford the luxury of protruding lenses, for a phone, to accommodate a similar sensor inside is no walk in the park.

Let's talk about Samsung's crazy ISOCELL image sensor

The Galaxy S9 and the Galaxy S9+ are high-end flagship phones that come with high-end flagship specs. Although the hardware inside Samsung's Galaxy S phones has always remained top-notch, the company is known to offer slightly tweaked versions in different markets. Samsung usually brings its Exynos-based Galaxy S phones to India, while in the US, these phones come with Qualcomm chips. The same is true about the camera sensors inside these phones. One part of Samsung's Galaxy S phones are known to ship with Sony sensors, while the other part is known to ship with Samsung's in-house sensors.

This year, things are a little different though. Samsung, it seems, is using only its in-house camera sensors -- particularly the rear sensors -- inside the Galaxy S9 and Galaxy S9+. This is probably because Samsung wants to maintain consistency across the board, and also probably because, its in-house ISOCELL Fast 2L3 sensor -- that's inside the Galaxy S9 and the Galaxy S9+ -- has everything it needs to re-imagine or re-invent smartphone photography. At this point of time.

Samsung's ISOCELL Fast 2L3 sensor is a three-layer stacked CMOS sensor that's different from a conventional two-layer sensor. A three-layer sensor allows Samsung to accommodate a two-gigabit (Gb) LPDDR4 DRAM layer of memory in between the pixel section and the circuitry. It's actually the DRAM layer that does all the heavy-duty stuff -- vis-a-vis recording a Super Slow-mo -- storing all the visual information the sensor takes in until it's ready to be used by the rest of the phone, primarily the image processor. This allows the Galaxy S9 and the Galaxy S9+ to record super-slow motion video at up to 960 frames per second (fps).

Why 960 fps videos are such a big deal?

For your reference, the slowest slow-motion video captures available in a commercially available phone right now can't exceed 240 fps. The Galaxy S9 and the Galaxy S9+ can record videos 4X times slower than the slowest in the trade.

How do you record 960 fps videos using the Galaxy S9 and Galaxy S9+ ?

The 960 fps Super Slow-mo mode is activated via a dedicated toggle inside the camera app. But if you thought freezing a live-action moment was as simple as pushing a toggle, well, it's not that simple. Rather, it's quite complex. For one, it's going to take some time getting used to, and even when you do get used to it, recording a 960 fps slow-mo the way you imagined would be a hit or miss really. Timing and proper lighting are crucial.

There are two ways in which you can record a super slow-mo with the Galaxy S9 and the Galaxy S9+. You can either record a regular video interrupted by short spats of slow-mos or a full-scale slow-mo depending on the situation at hand. Since, 9 out of 10 times, your subject would be in some sort of motion (because, that's the whole point of recording a slow-mo) you'll have to be quick to make that decision. While the latter is quite straight-forward, the former would be a little more adventurous.

Samsung, on its part, offers some help, so you don't have to go about button mashing at all times. It allows for two modes, on the Galaxy S9 and the Galaxy S9+, one for auto and another for manual. Auto, as the name suggests, will track motion for you so you won't have to wait for specific moments to freeze-frame. A box will then appear, on screen, and you can move it across the view-finder to tell the camera sensor that you'll be expecting motion inside it. The sensor will then start recording slo-mo for you as and when it detects motion inside the box. It's a little finicky though, and more often than not, I preferred manual control unless I knew before hand that motion will be a given in lab-like scenarios.

You begin by pushing the super slow-mo toggle that sits next to the standard video recording toggle. Once enabled, the process begins with a standard recording. You then wait for that perfect moment you want to freeze in time and push the same toggle again. The sensor will then capture a super slow-motion 960 fps video for a period of 0.182 seconds before going standard again. Pushing the toggle once again will capture one more freeze-frame. So on and so forth. You can do this 20 times at max. The recording -- when played -- will then play as standard video interrupted by 6 seconds of dramatic slow-mo depending on how many you recorded.

Samsung, on its part, also offers a few extra nuggets so you can actually do post-shooting work on these Super Slow-mo videos. You can add music to your Super Slow-mo videos with a random selection from preloaded choices or use a song from your own playlist. You can also turn them into a GIF with three styles of looping: reverse, forward, or swing.

But, is it perfect?

The technology that Samsung has employed inside the Galaxy S9 and the Galaxy S9+ is fantastic, but, it has its shortcomings. To begin with, you can record Super Slow-mo videos at mere 720p -- even as the main camera can record 4K -- and because it's all a game of speed and accuracy, more often than not, focus will be an issue especially when shooting close ups. The farther the subject, the better the focus you would be getting in your videos. But that's only in manual. In auto, farther the subject, more difficult it becomes for the sensor to detect motion and as such you're more likely to get nothing out of it. This is another reason, why I preferred manual slow-mo on the Galaxy S9 and the Galaxy S9+, because not only did it give me more control, the results were also better.

As for the video quality, well, a lot of it will depend on the available light. Since the sensor operates at a much higher ISO in super slow-mo, the quality of videos shot goes for a spin. Even more so in tricky and low light.

Samsung isn't doing anything new though

If I was to be straight-forward, Samsung is doing something that Sony achieved last year. Sony's Xperia XZ Premium was the first commercially available phone capable of shooting slow-motion videos at a mind-boggling 960-frames-per-second. Sony has, since then launched a number of high-end phones, with this feature. You can say that Samsung is offering more customization options and also its solution allows for auto motion detection, but, then Sony has gone ahead and raised the bar with this year's Xperia XZ2 that can record 960-frames-per-second slow-motion videos at 1080p.

Shooting 960 fps videos isn't the only USP of the Galaxy S9 and the Galaxy S9+

The Galaxy S9 comes with a single camera on the rear. It can shoot dual-pixel 12-megapixel photos, assisted by OIS. This sensor has a variable aperture and can shoot between f/1.5 and f/2.4 with the former assisting in low light and the latter jumping in when lighting is ideal. A dual-aperture camera should allow the Galaxy S9 to shoot photos with more detail in low light, and photos without metering -- overexposure -- issues when lighting is more than adequate, for instance, when you're out and about in a warm sunny environment. It's (also) possible to manually switch between the two apertures using the phone's pro-mode although it's not possible to shoot in apertures in between the two.

The Galaxy S9+, meanwhile, carries the same primary sensor but it also includes a secondary 12-megapixel tele-photo sensor with fixed aperture (f/2.4) for portrait photography or bokeh and Samsung's hallmark Live Focus.