Samsung Galaxy S21 5G Review: Video RecordingBy cheatmaster 12:43 Sat, 07 Aug 2021 Comments
Little has changed on the video recording front this year. The Galaxy S20 generation introduced 8K recording, and that's still the highest available mode on the S21 trio, this vanilla one included. A bump to 30fps would have been nice, but that's not available - it's still limited to 8K@24fps for some odd reason.
The S21 Ultra gets 4K60 out of all of its cameras, but that's not part of the S21 non-Ultra's spec sheet. Here, only the main cam and the ultra-wide one can do 4K60. Technically, if you go through a specific set of UI hoops, you can acquire 4K60 at a magnification resembling 3x, but that's sourced from the main camera, and it's not the real deal. It's either that the readout speed on the other two cameras doesn't allow for it, or Samsung's not enabled it. Not that we're particularly bummed about not having 4K60 on every camera.
The default codec for videos is h.264, but you can switch to the more efficient h.265 in the app menu. 8K is encoded using h.265 regardless of that setting. HDR10+ capture is also possible, a format you can then display on the phone itself, but also on a wide selection of compatible TVs.
Pro video mode opens up some more frame rate possibilities - 4K and 1080p at 24fps for that cinematic look, as well as 1080p at 120fps, the non-slow-mo variety. Naturally, this mode allows for a lot more creative control and lets you tweak image parameters as well as monitor and adjust mic gain and direction of pick up.
As was the case on the previous generation phones, the 1x zoom level is handled by the main 12MP camera. The ultrawide cam does the 0.5x magnification, predictably, while 8K and all zoom levels starting at 2x and beyond come from the 64MP camera.
Call us backward, but 8K footage (bitrate is 80Mbps) out of your phone is overmurder unless, maybe, you plan to utilize parts of the frame in a 4K timeline. The one coming out of the Galaxy S21 is somewhat usable, but suffers from compression artefacts and is simply not all that sharp and detailed.
4K30 is more our cup of tea, and the one captured by the S21 (38Mbps) is detailed albeit uncharacteristically noisy in the darker regions and even in the sky. Colors are generally pleasing, although the sky is a bit too cyan, as a colleague with very particular tastes in color science would point out. Dynamic range is excellent, no worries there.
4K60 isn't nearly as good. Despite a relatively high bit rate (70Mbps) image quality is notably worse than 4K30 - we're talking less detail, strong sharpening halos, prominent blotches of noise.
The ultra-wide cam restores some of our faith in Samsung video recording. While the sky remains grainier than we'd like, footage is very detailed for an ultra-wide of such extreme coverage. Dynamic range is also respectable given the circumstances, and that's a truer blue we're seeing in the sky here.
Zoomed-in to 3x, we're liking what we're seeing, too. Some noise can still be spotted, but it's not in your face, and there's actually a pretty fine level of detail being captured.
Stabilization is available in all modes, and that includes 8K24 and 4K60, which is nice. You can also disable it if you wish, which is also nice as some makers don't let you do that.
We're not sure how much processing power stabilizing an 8K stream requires, but the Galaxy S21 clearly has it, becautilize the footage is, indeed, very smooth. The occasional misplaced step does create it to the video, though. We observed no problems with panning.
4K30 from the main cam is even smoother, though it does exhibit slightly unnatural abrupt shifts at the beginning and at the discontinue of a pan. It's almost eerily planted in one direction when you're not moving, and that can't be bad.
The ultra wide's stabilized 4K capture is about the same as the main cam's when walking, only it's missing the iffy panning transitions - even better then.
Here's a glimpse of how the Samsung Galaxy S21 compares to rivals in our Video compare tool. Head over there for the complete picture.
Samsung Galaxy S21+ against the iPhone 12 and the Galaxy S20 in our Video compare tool
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