Top Galaxy Note 8 camera tips and tricks

It's funny: the Galaxy S8 and S8+ have cameras that can compete with the best phones out there, but because they weren't huge leaps in image quality, speed, and features from the Galaxy S7 they weren't really given a lot of attention. That's a shame, because despite having a single 12MP sensor, the Galaxy S8 series takes some of the best photos I've ever seen.

Given Samsung's predilection for using its Note line to make sizeable improvements to its hardware, pushing the entire company forward into new territory, it would seem disappointing that on paper the Note 8 doesn't do this. Sure, it adds a second sensor and optically stabilized telephoto lens, but do people really want to take photos at twice the distance, or kludgy portraits with artificial background blur?

Actually, yes. And the Note 8 does a tremendous job at both while maintaining the extremely high quality of photos and videos from its main sensor.

In fact, the Note 8's cameras may be among the best across the Android ecosystem. Read on to find out why.

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The main camera speaks for itself

Even if the Galaxy Note 8 didn't come with a second camera, it would still have a primary sensor that rivals the top phones on the market.

Samsung began using an updated 12MP Sony sensor with the Galaxy S8 series (contrary to early rumors that it reused the same sensor from the S7) which amounted to subtle improvements in most scenarios. The Note 8 builds on that with the same excellent pedigree and a few months of additional engineering. While most photos are going to be indistinguishable from the S8, there are minor improvements to be found in the speed at which the camera app opens, both from a cold open (upon, say, a phone restart) and when cached (after using it several times), thanks in large part to software improvements to the camera app and the additional two gigabytes of RAM.

This is the kind of shot you can expect from the Note 8 without trying too hard.

This is the kind of shot you can expect from the Note 8 without trying too hard.

In our tests, the Galaxy Note 8 put out photos that were incredibly warm, rich in color, and sharp, with the software correctly choosing the shutter speed and exposure settings for a given scenario. Like the S8, the Note 8 is a camera that I consistently feel comfortable about shooting with, where I will likely get a good, usable shot most of the time. And in more challenging scenarios, the manual mode is among the best out there, with support for custom metering and autofocus points — things that are usually reserved for more expensive mirrorless and DSLR cameras.

Try Live Focus — it's a gimmick, but a good one

Galaxy Note 8 (left) / iPhone 7 Plus (right)

I present to you two photos. The left was taken using Live Focus mode on the Galaxy Note 8; the right was taken using Portrait Mode on the iPhone 7 Plus. (Yes, there's an iPhone 8 Plus coming out shortly, and we'll take another look at the two phones then.)

You can tell that the iPhone's Portrait effect is much more severe, blurring a considerable amount more of the background by default than Samsung's. The good news is that the Note 8 allows for real-time adjustment of background blur, which is helpful when trying to find the right balance between realism and effect. On the other hand, even the heaviest of effect does not quite match the iPhone's.

The iPhone's Portrait Mode may look better to the average person, but it's also a lot more artificial.

The Note 8's Live Focus mode uses the secondary camera to create a true three-dimensional depth map that attempts to distinguish a foreground subject from the background; this isn't dissimilar to having a camera lens with a very narrow depth of field that creates bokeh, except that this is artificial because the phone's sensor is tiny and the lens is even tinier.

This is very cool stuff, and even though it's Samsung's first attempt at the thing, I think it's done a great job overall. There are scenarios where the edges of the subject are a little ... clipped ... leading to some interesting results, but that doesn't happen too often. And between the three photos above, while I like the iPhone 7 Plus's results better, the Note 8 isn't far behind — and Apple has a year of updates behind its belt (these photos were taken running the iOS 11 Public Beta).

Zoom in — really far

I'm not joking when I say that I hate digital zoom. It's a bad tool and people should feel bad for using it. Obviously, I'm kidding, but the reality is that, when there's no actual lens movement happening, digital zoom amounts to cropping.

Except on phones with telephoto lenses like the Note 8. Sure, the lens isn't exactly telephoto, but it is about double the focal length of the primary camera, which allows for lossless photos at twice the distance, and considerable less loss at up to ten times the difference. See below.

Galaxy Note 8 @ 1x, 2x, 10x

In other words, you shouldn't be afraid to zoom using the Galaxy Note 8, which may not happen a whole lot, but the results you get — say at a wedding, when everyone is craning to get that perfect shot — are sure to come out better than your friend's single-camera device.

Galaxy Note 8 @ 10x (left) / iPhone 7 Plus @ 10x (right)

As an added bonus, here's a comparison between the Note 8 and the iPhone 7 Plus at 10x. You can (hopefully) see the advantages of the improved sensor in the lower noise in the sky and the more-legible text of the billboard. Again, the iPhone 8 Plus is around the corner, but it's nice to know that the Note 8 holds its own in this regard.

Take the slo-mo out for a spin

720p at 240fps. That's what you can look forward to with the Galaxy Note 8's slow motion (or slo-mo) mode. It's quite an accomplishment, and the results are pretty stunning.

But Samsung also makes it pretty easy to find the slo-mo mode, and stupid easy to use, which is great. Better yet, there are extensive video editing features within Samsung's Gallery app, which has silently improved over last year's Galaxy models with nary a mention. It's definitely worth exploring the editing features to make sure you're getting best results you want from your video.

Take advantage of built-in photo-editing

Speaking of editing, there are even more features to improve your photos hidden in Samsung's Gallery app. While basic features like rotation, cropping, and filters are available through the default editing suite, tapping the menu button and opening the photo in Photo Editor Pro lets you make fine changes to images, including the adjustment of the tone curve, specific colors, and backlight — modes that one would regularly see in professional editing suites like Lightroom.

And they're quite good — I've improved many photos using Samsung's Photo Editor Pro. I just wish they weren't hidden away in a menu.

Don't be afraid to take low-light shots

Note the subject matter on the left 😂

The Note 8 has a 12MP main camera sensor with a f/1.7 lens and a secondary 12MP sensor with a f/2.4 lens. Both are optically stabilized.

This means that you should be able to get a great photo in any lighting condition regardless of the presence of hand movement, or when you want to zoom in on something using that second camera. Some of my favorite low light shots ever have been taken on the Note 8 in recent days.

Having OIS on the second lens means that the Note 8 is more likely to let it take a shot in low light rather than default back to the primary lens with digital zoom.

Try the other modes

If you swipe right in the camera app, you get to try a few of the additional camera features long-time users of the Note series will be used to. From Food and Sports modes to Hyperlapse and the aforementioned Slow motion, they're all there. But there's one you may want to take advantage of every once in a while: Animated GIF.

If you don't want to mess around with a third-party app that may or may not work properly, you can create a GIF from directly in the camera app. All you need to do is download the mode from the Galaxy Apps store, which requires a Samsung account login (opens in new tab).

Make sure Quick Launch is enabled

The fastest and easiest way to quickly enter the Note 8's camera app from anywhere — the lock screen, or any app — is Quick Launch. By default, you can quickly double-tap the power button on the right side of the phone to get to the camera, and because there is 6GB of RAM inside the phone, doing so should always be fast.

Enjoy it!

My pup, Zadie, captured using Live Focus.

Here's a bonus: take lots of photos, and don't be afraid to fill up that 64GB of storage (or, even better, your unlimited free Google Photos storage) with lots of images and videos you may not think you want. Because that's how you become a better photographer over time.

If you have a kid (or a dog), or something else in your life you just love taking photos of, the Note 8 is going to be a great companion. While I love the wide-angle second camera in the LG V30, and I appreciate the monochrome sensor in the Huawei P10 Plus, I understand why people love the iPhone's Portrait Mode, because something like it on the Note 8 has been a terrific addition to my photographic arsenal.

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Note 8 cameras: Everything you need to know

Daniel Bader was a former Android Central Editor-in-Chief and Executive Editor for iMore and Windows Central. 

  • I have a different opinion on the camera. I am returning the note because it doesn't perform nearly as good as my pixel XL did in low light. When it comes to kids inside the house, the note struggles to get the focus and also freezing motion. My pixel opted for higher shutter speed and high iso vs the vs the notes low shutter speed and low iso, which blurs slight motion. Higher shutter speed is always better when it comes to taking pictures of kids.
  • If your shooting kids in doors playing use pro mode in shutter Priority. Been shooting with my n8 for 2 weeks now in and out doors an the thing is a beast . Not sure whats up with your note 8 ...yep you need to send yours back asap it's broken hehe
  • Don't know if you have young kids, but there is absolutely NO time for trying to capture a moment using pro mode. I will definitely take it to a store and compare my shots with a display unit to see if there is a difference. Ill also compare with the pixel since I traded mine in.
  • There's zero chance your pixel had a better camera. The s7 edge camera was better than the pixel. Take some time and learn how to use all of the options before making a judgment. The Note Camera is a beast.
  • Well unfortunately there is a 100% chance that the NOTE8 that is in my hands does NOT have a better camera than my Pixel had. I know how to use a camera. I am a photographer and know a GREAT deal about shutter speed, ISO, f-stop, white balance, and so on. I have every right to place judgement when I have had both of these devices IN MY HANDS and have comparison photos taken in the same spot and pixel captured motion BETTER and sharper. Take some time to kiss my ass.
  • Forgot to mention that the Google pixel is still tied for number one mobile camera on with the s8 scoring an 88 and pixel a 90. Note8 won't be much better than s8.
  • Sorry. You immediately lost any credibility by even mentioning the Cash-for-Comment site, DXOMark. Their system of scoring is less than empirical of "I feel this is a better shot" (which is basically your scoring system). Do some blind tests on other sites like GSMArena and have a look at the scores yourself that almost everyone votes Samsung cameras much higher in blind situations (4-6 pictures of the same scenery and shot, no details about which camera).
  • First of all I could give a hot damn what you think of my CREDIBILITY. I posted MY opinion about phones that I have seen in person and even compared at the store. I could care less what you think. It's not like I am an apple fan boy trying to blindly defend an iphone. I LOVE android. I BOUGHT the note 8. I returned it for legit reasons. I am a photographer and most likely have much more knowledge about it than you (unless you are also a photographer", and I know the difference between a sensor that actually has good sharpness vs a photo that has been oversharpened by software.
  • First of I am not necessarily saying I agre or disagree with this, but I was too curious not to look it up. It got an overall score of 94. If you separate photo from video, it actually got a perfect score of 100. It was the video that brought it down which it got a very poor score on autofocus under video (which I sort of agree -while I don’t think it was the bad, I keep waiting for a software update to improve it which I know someone else that was complaining about it as well. I actually don’t have any major issues with photo or video. I wonder if just like anything else (maybe you got a lemon). I am kind of curious about one thing, and I’m not looking for an argument (going through too many health issues right now). I am an amateur photographer and when I really want better pictures I take on my Nikon and if really trying to get specific video effects, I again use my video camera. I use the any phone that I have owned as just a point and shoot for something in the moment and most have been adequate. That being said when I was using my V20, I thought it took horrible selfies, but if I used the manual mode for the rear camera I was extremely impressed. I’m digressing. The point I was trying to make is that if you’re a photographer I would think you would use your DSLR. Although if DXOMark is reliable they’re actually giving the Note 8 a perfect score for photos (which personally I think it’s good, but not 100). Just curious on your thoughts. Good luck on whatever you buy. I am still partial to the Spen that’s why Samsung keeps getting me to come back. I am still wishing someone would come out with competition. Maybe they will now that Samsung has had record sales and the best launch its ever done. In case any other manufacturers are reading, not just looking for a stylus. I’m look for a phone with the equivalent to a Spen. I really would love competition for many reasons, but obviously to have a choice, think it would push all companies to make better products, and I’m still disappointed on how Samsung handled the Note 7 fiasco. Oh and I more thing if the V20 had a Spen type feature, I probably would still be using that. I was actually pleasantly surprised overall by the LG. Unfortunately some of the features I liked they took away already such as the second screen (surprised by it, but I used it all the time, ir blaster, and of course removable battery and others.). 1 last thing Samsung and LG please keep the headphone jack! DON’T FOLLOW APPLE AND GOOGLE WITH GETTING RID OF THIS!!! While I’m not an IOS fan, my daughter is primarily because of FaceTime, but she is getting ready to upgrade from the iPhone 6 to the 6s because she refuses to go any higher because of the headphone jack. She’s hoping they bring t back, which from what I read I think everyone agrees. I was shocked to hear the Google ( who I like as a company) got rid of it for 2 reasons - They can read on how many Apple fans hated this and second when they themselves came out with the original Pixel that was their main feature that they advertised to try to get people to buy their phone over an IPhone. Well again good luck on whatever you buy. Personally, if camera is your first priority, I would look at the LG V30.
  • Whew.... long read but I read the whole thing because you know how to communicate a case. The case is DSLR is that they are bulky and inconvenient for every day all day use. Since I have kids I need something to quickly pull out and snap and it be great. Note 8 was not doing it for me. I figured out why I always liked the pixel photos better. Since you are a photographer you’ll understand. dXomarks tests are done by using clarity on a still image. In this regard, I’m sure the note 8 did well with proper lighting and still image. The note 8 always chooses the best iso for clarity but it will sacrifice shutter speed. As we both know, this can result in blur when you use low shutter speed, resulting in a poor image of kids/dogs/handheld shots. The pixel ops for higher iso to keep the shutter speed high. This makes it able to capture motion better and the software is able to smooth out the grain from higher ISO. I would much rather get an acceptable picture with a bit of grain than an unusable blurry one. Of course there is manual, but once again, kids don’t afford you that kind of time. This whole convo started before the new Pixel was announced and I’m so glad I returned the note 8 because although dxomark score only means so much, it got a 98. I have seen samples from YouTubers from the pixel 2 and I can definitely believe it earned that 98.
  • Stop it. Get some help.
  • I'm a samsung user and this is not correct. Pixel camera was for sure better than the S7, and I would venture to say the S8+ i had as well
  • I just left the store to compare my note to another note to see if maybe I had a lemon... Nope. I also compare to the pixel. Selfies are DEFINITELY better on the Pixel. As for the back camera, Samsung does this weird post processing and over sharpens the pictures which is what makes them look bad. Pixels results look better in my opinion. Took a picture of some text far away and you could read it on the pixels picture but Samsung sharpened the picture so much that it made the distant text unreadable.
  • My Note 8 does a great job indoors and out. I've taken many pics of my kids aging from 5 yrs to 7 months. It's almost always crisp and balanced.
  • Loving the continuation of consistently functional and extremely customisable cameras on my devices s6, s7edge and note 8. I use pro mode quite a bit and got used to making custom quick profile on s6. Raw dng files have been great as well. Our is very hard to take a" bad photo" with any of the new galaxy phones. I tend to zoom with my feet from my manual camera days. It is great to have an optical zoom to not have the pit falls digital zoom brings.
  • Portrait Mode is for portraits of animate objects and such (i.e. people, pets). That's why they call it portrait mode... It's not for bushes, Lol. In any case, I don't like the overblown colors that come out of the Samsung devices. It's just too extreme, and the whole point of photography is to create a replica of the scene. The iPhone output is better for editing than the more heavily pre-edited Samsung output, as well, and it has better editing tools built into the software (Photos) than Samsung devices (plus, 3rd party apps can hook into Photos on both iOS and macOS - the workflow is really, really good). Also, the iPhone is way better for video, especially for athletes like me who make heavy use of its high frame rate features during training sessions. Nothing in the Android ecosystem (except maybe one Sony phone I've heard about... I think) can really compete with it, there. Virtually all of the athletes and coaches here use iPhones and iPads. There are maybe 2 Android phone users out of everyone. There used to be more (myself included), but almost everyone has moved to iOS because of the superior Slo-Mo and how well apps like Coach's Eye and Dartfish Express work on iOS (and how much better they are on iOS compared to Android). I took a lot of indoor images on iPhone 7's at a competition and they seemed fine. I think a 7 Plus would have been better, but nothing about them seemed off - unless not artificially pumping up the lighting is "off," of course.
  • I would love to see examples of the what you describe as I don't actually agree with the output as you have full control over the output of both when one knows the tools on both devices Iphone and s8. It is very subjective. One could also say that the output of the iPhone is washed out and more bland than reality as much as the processed output from Samsung over saturated. The best is somewhere in the middle. And that is the raw image. To each their own though as it is your money. I came from an industry that used tools provided but that never meant it was best for us, just meant we had a deal to purchase the tools and they were adequate.
  • The iPhone for all its claim hasn't won a camera shoot out in 4 years. An that's coming from some of the biggest camera publications. An photographer magazines. An there low light pictures are not even close to samsung are any other flagship android phone. An your point that a lot of folks use a iPhone to take pictures don't mean jack for its capabilities. McDonald's sells a s*** load of hamburgers but........
  • Samsung's always beat iPhones in comparison tests.
  • The note 8s camera is by far one of the best in cell camera's. I took some live Portrait mode pictures over the weekend an they look like they where shot from a professional camera they where that good . An as much as some like to complain about the colors of Samsung's pictures they are what most want . Reason why Samsung's phones have won the blind camera test every year here on AC an other publications. Samsung's camera hardware just checks all the boxes for me. The low light pictures an auto focus is just crazy
  • I'm very impressed with my Note8's camera. Images are absolutely stunning and I'm coming from an S8+. Great article Daniel.
  • Exactly this ^^^
  • Dear Daniel, I know the guys on android central likes to call the LG v30 secondary as a wide angle and note 8 primary as not a real wide angle. In photo terms the LG secondary camera is an ultra wide, the note primary is a true wide angle. I like the drama of an ultra wide lens and of course who don’t love bokeh, that’s the whole reason people get mirrorless. 50mmf1.8 is the most popular beginner lens for most people. What these phones need is a tango or Kinect depth sensor to create a better portrait mode, if it works well, then people will start to carry less cameras, of course there’s still tons of benefits, 5 axis stabilisation, tilt screen for lower angle photos, real telephoto beyond 85mm, and insane battery life, better speed light supports also to get a real studio lighting. I hope next year they start making the primary lens wider, 20mm equivalent would be nice enough. And with a better depth map, can go crazy with the background blur, go 50mmf0.95 like a Leica.
  • I must have had a lemon of a Pixel XL cause the Note 8 camera is superior in every way to the one on that phone.
    It's faster, I get better low light pix, (haven't tried low light video yet but the Pixel's was terrible in low light) and I am getting way better shots. And I definitely did not become more proficient as a photographer. Lotta comments from my family on how good the shots of the grandkids are, and I have been wandering around town snapping things just to see how they come out. I really like the camera. I am just getting into what the editing can do. Enjoying the photographic properties of the Note a lot. Good article.
  • Well maybe I have a lemon of a Note8 because I am disappointed in image quality. There is a Samsung forum where people also state the same thing. I even took the same picture side by side a S8 and the S8 image was way more clear.
  • I was disappointed my in S8+ camera
  • Same here. I thought it was okay. Just okay though
  • I love the Dual Camera plug in as well. Great for Holiday snaps so you can get the Scenery and also your face shot (in a stamp for example)
  • How do you use the optical zoom on the note8? if you hit the "x2" in the camera that is not optical zoom. it does not switch to the telephoto lens. Cover the telephoto camera lens with your finger and see for yourself. Also, after you take the pic using the x2 zoom and you go to photo details if you look at the focal length it is the same length as when you take a pic with no zoom. The only time i have seen the focal length number change is when i take a live focus pic. Anyone know what the story is here?
  • I have the Note 8 and I am actually quite disappointed in the camera performance. I owned the Note 7 and was truly impressed with the camera at the time. After, I had to turn in my Note 7 (twice), I bought the Nexus 6P as a temporary phone. The 6P's camera was not bad. It captured the same amount of details as the Note 7 but the photos were much darker and the colors were less attractive. Worst of all, it takes up to a second or more for it to take a pic after you press the button, which is frustrating. After I got the Note 8, I carefully compared it with the 6P under many different conditions and it did no better than the 6P in terms of detail but the photos had better color and brightness, which is not unlike the Note 7. Yesterday, I stumbed upon a modded google camera app for the 6p, which is based on the software for the Pixel phone. OMG, it fixed all the issues I had with the 6P. Instant photo taking, bright pics, improved colors, and captures even more detail. I spent a couple hours testing it against my Note 8 and OMG, the 6P with the modded software consistently captures far more detail than the Note 8 when you zoom in. Text and textures that cannot be read or seen in the Note 8 photos can be read or seen with the 6P, when zoomed in. However, when zoomed out, the Note 8 photos look a bit more attractive due to higher color saturation. For those with the 6P, you can get the modded camera app here: