Dual camera on the back, straight from the previous Flip
The Galaxy Z Flip3 5G is no camera-centric phone – its key selling points are clearly elsewhere. It comes equipped with the same camera system (in principle, the exact bits may be different) as the Flip and Flip 5G, and it’s one of the least impressive sensor/lens rosters on a smartphone this expensive. Still, it covers the regular wide and ultrawide regions with the two cameras on its back and an inner camera that can be used for selfies or video calls.
The primary camera on our review unit uses the Sony IMX563 sensor, a Type 1/2.55″ imager with 12 million 1.4µm pixels and dual pixel autofocus. Going by the numbers, it’s in principle an iteration on the breakthrough sensor that debuted with the Galaxy S7 in 2016. Obviously, it’s a newer design, but it’s hardly state of the art.
The ultrawide relies on the IMX258, a Type 1/3.06″ unit with 1.12µm pixels, 13 million of them, but the phone still outputs 12MP photos. The fixed-focus lens has a reported 13mm equivalent focal length and an f/2.2 aperture.
The inner camera (or selfie camera if you insist) is based on the IMX374, a staple of Samsung selfie cameras used throughout the S10, S20 (minus the Ultra), Note10 and Note20 lineups. This 10MP Type 1/3.2″ sensor has 1.22µm pixels, and in this implementation, it’s paired with a fixed-focus 25mm f/2.4 lens.
The camera app on the Flip3 is, for the most part, identical to what you’d get with any other OneUI 3.1 Samsung, but with a few tweaks to make use of the Flip3’s unorthodox form-factor. The basics are as usual – swiping left and right will switch between available modes, and there’s an option to re-arrange, add or remove some of the modes from the viewfinder. Vertical swipes in either direction will switch between front and rear cameras.
The familiar tree designation for zoom control is here too, and with no telephoto on board, you get three trees for ultra-wide and two trees for the main cam. You could zoom in with a pinch gesture, at which point additional preset zoom levels appear at 2x, 4x, and 10x.
The viewfinder has the standard set of icons with the settings cog wheel located in the upper left corner of the screen. The usual stuff like grid lines, location data, etc., can be found in the menu. A Flip exclusive, there’s a tiny icon in the far top right corner to activate the cover display for viewfinder purposes, whether it’s for your own personal use or your subject’s.
There’s a Pro mode too, and despite the Flip3’s relatively modest camera system, it’s still the full-featured variant with control over ISO (50-3200), shutter speed (1/12000s-30s, or up to 0.5s for the ultrawide), manual focus (with peaking), and white balance (by light temperature, with icons next to the number corresponding to a common light source). Metering mode and AF area options are available, too, as well as a set of picture controls for contrast, saturation, and whatnot. A live histogram, as usual, is nowhere to be found.
A key Flip3-specific bit is the ability to have the viewfinder in either half of the display. Particularly useful is the option to move it to the bottom section and use the half-folded phone for waist-level or above your head shooting.
Flex mode on the Camera UI
With the phone folded closed, you can launch the camera with a double press on the power button and use the cover screen as a viewfinder. Sideswipes switch between stills and video while swiping up or down toggles between the main and the ultrawide cameras. The only catch is that the display has a landscape orientation as opposed to both sensors’ portrait placement.
So the only way for the viewfinder to give you an exact representation of the framing would have meant only filling the screen partially. Instead, Samsung chose to fill the screen completely by taking a center crop from the sensors, making the display mostly useless for accurate framing, which is its single most important use.
The other peculiarity is that the images and videos captured with a folded Flip3 will have a square aspect ratio.
Daylight image quality
Daylight photos from the Flip’s main camera are very good, though not quite $1000-phone-good. Images have a signature Samsung look with vivid colors, high contrast and good dynamic range, though it’s in this last particular aspect that other high-end phones do outperform the Flip.
Detail is on par with other 12MP cameras on the market, which is the bulk of them. Busy textures like grass, in particular, can have a messy overprocessed look thanks to HDR and liberal sharpening. Straight lines are straight and well defined, though. A minimal amount of noise can be spotted if you go looking for it – a fine grain in the sky that more advanced Samsung cameras do remove completely.
Daylight samples, main cam (1x)
We figured we’d try the 2x zoom level to see just how bad life is without any sort of a zoom camera, and it’s not great, no. Conditioned by the Quad Bayer designs that generally do output usable shots at 2x zoom on phones without a dedicated tele camera, we weren’t thrilled by the Flip3’s soft yet heavily sharpened output. For what it’s worth, the photos do look okay on the screen.
Daylight samples, main cam (2x)
The photos from the ultrawide are decent, but ultimately not as good as you’d expect for the price. There’s more than the usual softening towards the edges of the frame than what we’ve gotten used to from recent phones, though images are sharp in the center. The colors are pleasing, no complaints there, and they are a very close match for the main camera’s, which is always a good thing. Again, though, while not half bad, the dynamic range here is not as wide as on leading camera phones.
Daylight samples, ultra wide cam
Low-light image quality
In low light, the Galaxy Z Flip3 5G applies an auto Night mode of sorts when Scene optimizer is enabled. That gets you well-exposed shots with great dynamic range and excellent color. Pixel-level examination reveals that detail is good but not great – let’s say we’re pleasantly surprised by the results from this small 1/2.55″ sensor, but at the same time, you can get sharper, crisper shots for the money. There’s still quite a bit of noise, too.
Low-light samples, main cam
With Scene optimizer off, differences can range from fairly noticeable (second and third sample below look darker) to virtually non-existent.
Low-light samples, main cam, Scene optimizer off
The actual Night mode can give shadows a boost in darker scenes and extract detail there that we don’t see in the regular Photo mode shots. It doesn’t come with any significant detail penalty, so you can just go ahead and default to that for low-light shooting.
Low-light samples, main cam, Night mode
The ultrawide camera is not a particular fan of the dark, but it’s doing a decent job for what it is. Samsung has prioritized tonal development at the expense of noise, and in all but the darkest scenes, the images are well exposed and have good dynamic range. Colors are also pleasing, with little to no loss in saturation. The flip side is that there’s a lot of noise.
Low-light samples, ultra wide cam
We’re not seeing any differences here between the results with Scene optimizer engaged and disengaged. That’s actually logical, since the auto Night mode behavior does not kick in for the ultrawide with Scene optimizer on.
Low-light samples, ultra wide cam, Scene optimizer off
Particularly dark or contrasty scenes benefit greatly from Night mode, which lifts the shadows and lower midtones, making for an overall brighter shot, without overexposing the highlights. Effects of heavy sharpening can be observed, but we consider the trade-off well worth it.
Low-light samples, ultra wide cam, Night mode
Once you’re done with the real world samples, head over to our Photo compare tool to see how the Samsung Galaxy Z Flip3 5G stacks up against the competition.
Samsung Galaxy Z Flip3 5G against the iPhone 12 mini and the Zenfone 8 in our Photo compare tool
Portrait mode on the Flip3 comes with the added benefit that your subject can look at themselves on the cover display while you’re taking the shot – as long as you tap on the button the enable it. Of course, they won’t have an idea as to the precise framing due to the difference in aspects, so if you place them slightly off-center, you may need to explain why the preview has half of their faces cut off.
The end results are very good to excellent when it comes to subject isolation, with very rare errors around clothes and generally great handling of hair. Dynamic range is nicely wide, and color reproduction is very likable too.
Portrait mode samples
Selfies on the Galaxy Z Flip3 5G can be taken in a number of ways. Let’s call the inner dedicated selfie camera the default method and start with that. Its focus is fixed, but it’s fixed at the right distance, and this reviewer had sharp selfies at an arm’s length.
Detail from this camera is very good, and even if there’s a fair bit of noise, we don’t find it objectionable. Less likable is the iffy exposure in bright light and the relatively dark faces in backlit scenes, and the muted colors don’t help either.
The selfie camera can also shoot portraits, and it does a great job with subject separation.
Selfie samples, Portrait mode
The next way to capture selfies is with the main camera, using the cover display for framing. That’s very rough framing, mind you, because of the differences in aspect and orientation between screen and sensors, but if you keep your mug in the center, all will be well.
Then there’s the matter that if you take rear-camera selfies with the phone folded shut, those will come out in a square aspect at 2992x2992px (9MP), with either camera. You can combat the square aspect photos by flipping the phone open, launching the camera and enabling the cover screen preview, and then you’ll get regular 4:3 shots. That way, you can also use Portrait mode with the rear camera. The discrepancy between cover screen preview and actually captured frame will remain, though.
That was the case on the previous Flip, but its tiny display could only give you a general idea of what you’re framing anyway, so it was not a huge loss.
Here, where you have a larger screen, the preview could maybe be shown in a cropped area in the center with an aspect to match the sensor and a resulting image in the correct aspect as well. That’s easily fixable with a software update, provided Samsung finds the will to do it, instead of thinking a smaller preview in the otherwise large display will somehow make them look bad.
Selfie samples, main rear camera
The ultrawide camera’s fixed focus doesn’t do wonders with subjects at an arm’s length, but your surroundings will be relatively sharp. The thing is, if you want to see your face on the screen, it will be in the center of the frame, and if you move outside of the screen’s coverage, it’s as good as having no screen at all and just guessing where you’re going to end up in the photo.
Selfie samples, ultrawide rear camera
The Flip3 5G records video up to 4K resolution with all three of its cameras. The main rear camera and the selfie camera can go up to 4K60, while the ultrawide on the back has no high frame rate capability (so no 1080p60 either). You can choose between the default h.264 codec and the optional h.265, and HDR10 video capture is also an option. Stabilization is available on all three cameras up to 4K30.
Using the cover display for preview comes with the same limitations as for stills – if the phone is closed, you’ll get a square video in 1440x1440px, but you can circumvent the square by shooting with the phone open and enabling the cover screen preview. In any case, the preview won’t be an accurate representation of the actual captured area. The cover screen isn’t available in 4K60.
Footage from the Flip3’s main camera has its flaws. Detail is plenty, but there are processing artefacts as a result of noise and heavy sharpening. On a more global scale, colors are spot on, and the dynamic range is nice and wide.
The ultrawide camera captures decent 4K videos, with good colors and dynamic range, but absolute sharpness isn’t its strong suit. At least it doesn’t suffer from the main cam’s noise/processing woes.
Electronic stabilization works great on both the main and the ultrawide cameras. The resulting footage is free from walking induced camera shake, pans are smooth without abrupt transitions at the ends, and pointing the phone in one direction makes for a very stable clip, too.
Super steady mode is available on both rear cameras too. It locks you into 1080p resolution at 30fps and introduces a further crop from the respective camera’s coverage, as usual. Our pans look a little too sharp at the start when shooting with the main camera, something we didn’t encounter with the ultrawide. There’s the weird effect of the viewfinder not keeping up with the phone when capturing the video, but ultimately these clips, too, are very smooth.
Here’s a glimpse of how the Samsung Galaxy Z Flip3 5G compares to rivals in our Video compare tool. Head over there for the complete picture.
Samsung Galaxy Z Flip3 5G against the iPhone 12 mini and the Zenfone 8 in our Video compare tool