Of Samsung’s three new phones, the Galaxy S20 Ultra is the one most stuffed with camera goodies. While Samsung redesigned the entire camera system — the company says the S20’s sensors are three times larger than the Galaxy S10’s — it’s the 108-megapixel sensor and 100x AI-assisted zoom that make the biggest splash. Part of my job during my ongoing Galaxy S20 Ultra review is to evaluate if the photo experience helps justify the Ultra’s $1,400 price.
I’ve already shot dozens of photos, peering at them closely from my computer screen and on the phone. It’d be overkill (and probably break your browser) if I shared them all here, so consider these the highlights. In the coming weeks, my colleagues and I will snap and analyze hundreds of photos and scores of videos to drill down into exactly where the S20 Ultra’s camera stands, especially against top competition like the iPhone 11 Pro Max, Google’s Pixel 4 and Huawei’s Mate 30 Pro.
These photos are not touched up or edited in any way unless stated. But note that they have been processed by CNET’s content image tool — you won’t see every pixel, but you’ll hopefully see enough to give you an early idea of the S20 Ultra’s camera performance. I’m also testing the regular and 8K mode video camera, but those files are huge and harder to share here. There will be plenty of footage in the final review, though.
Samsung Galaxy S20 Ultra’s 100x zoom makes snooping easier
Galaxy S20 Ultra cameras
- 108-megapixel main camera: You need to select the 108-megapixel quick setting to take a super high-resolution photo, otherwise images resolve to 12 megapixels using nona-binning, which essentially creates one super pixel out of nine individual pixels. Part of the benefit of such a high-resolution image is to get more detail when you crop into a shot.
- 12-megapixel wide-angle lens: Samsung enlarged the sensor, so this isn’t the same camera as on the Galaxy Note 10 or S10 phones even though it uses the same megapixels. The goal is to let in more light, for better image quality, especially in low light.
- 48-megapixel telephoto camera: This gets you up to 100x “space zoom,” a feature that uses AI algorithms to take shots at extreme distance. The higher the zoom, the shakier your photo will be (a monopod or tripod is key).
- DepthVision camera: I didn’t go out of my way to test this yet, but it’s meant to assist with various camera modes. You can’t take individual photos from it.
What I think so far
In abundant lighting scenarios, the S20 Ultra’s photos look fantastic: crisp and bright, with plenty of detail. Low-light shots get a typical Samsung boost of brightness that you may love or find a little overly cheerful, but that comes down to your mood. Selfies look good, and there’s even a new feature to select a warmer or darker image tone than the default (to apply to the scene, not to skin).
At this early stage in my testing, the two marquee features confuse me. In some of my shots using the 108-megapixel camera option versus the main camera’s 12-megapixel resolution, the benefits of using 108 are clear. Cropping in or zooming in on the image, the superior detail practically punches you in the face. In others, I don’t see much difference. In others still, zooming in on the phone screen or in a full-screen image on the computer reveals mushier edges and more noise than the 12-megapixel counterpart.
I’m going to keep testing that.
The camera’s 100x zoom feature absolutely works, but at such distance, images are intensely blurry, and to me, fairly unusable beyond showing off the phone’s technological capability. I’m just not sure why Samsung didn’t stop at a really good 30x zoom, apart from one-upping competitors. I’m open to being convinced as I continue to learn about the feature and use it in the wild.
*The 108-megapixel resolution version of this image was too large to load.
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