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Samsung Galaxy S20 Ultra Camera Review: 108MP Samples, 100x Zoom, 8K video, And More
Samsung's recent flagships, particularly the Galaxy S20 Ultra, took the megapixel war to a whole new level. The gigantic Android flagship phablet flaunts an insane and rather unique quad-lens rear camera setup that's capable of performing some never seen before tricks. The Samsung Galaxy S20 Ultra can zoom to up to 100x and captures 108MP high-resolution images.
The smartphone also can record 8K videos at 24fps, 4k videos at 60fps and 4K 30fps videos from all of its five camera sensors, including the 40MP selfie camera.
This sounds nuts for a smartphone camera. That said, we couldn't wait to test the camera in real life and took the Samsung Galaxy S20 Ultra for a spin. Here's how the Galaxy S20 Ultra performed in our real-life camera tests. Before we talk about the image/video quality, let's break down the camera setup to understand the crazy hardware.
Samsung Galaxy S20 Ultra Camera Specifications
Starting with the 108MP primary camera, it uses Samsung's own ISOCELL Bright HM1 sensor. The large 1/1.33" sensor applies Quad-Bayer technology on 0.8µm individual photosites of each color pixel to give resulting 2.4µm pixels. The pixel-binning process is slightly different on the Galaxy S20 Ultra as the phone combines nine pixels to form one bigger pixel.
The f/1.8 aperture sensor supports PDAF and is also optically stabilized. The primary sensor is accompanied by a 48MP telephoto sensor placed in a complex architecture with a periscope lens. The 1/2.0" 48MP camera works on f/3.5 aperture, offers 4x optical zoom and also supports PDAF and OIS.
The third lens in the configuration is a 12MP fixed focus f/2.2 ultrawide angle lens that offers 123° field-of-view. The last sensor in the quad-lens camera setup is a 0.3MP, f/1.0 ToF sensor to create bokeh. For selfies, the Galaxy S20 Ultra sports a 26mm wide 40MP sensor with an f/2.2 aperture. The selfie camera also supports PDAF.
As far as video recording capabilities are concerned, the Galaxy S20 Ultra can record 8K videos at 24fps, 4K videos at 30/60fps, 1080p videos at 30/60/240fps and 720p videos at 960fps for super-slow-motion output. The 40MP front-facing camera is also a very capable video recording sensor.
It can capture 4K videos at 30/60fps and 1080p videos at 30/60fps. The front camera can also capture software-driven portraits and even videos with background blur.
If you have noticed, the variable aperture tech has now been abandoned to fit the aforementioned complex camera setup. How it will affect the image quality is something we will talk about later in this review.
Galaxy S20 Ultra: Daylight Camera Performance
Like any Samsung flagship smartphone, the Galaxy S20 Ultra captures vibrant shots in good lighting conditions which look excellent on the phone's display and also on a bigger screen. The smartphone takes 12MP pixel-binned shots that show good detailing and sharpness.
The daylight shots of buildings, flowers, trees and sky show excellent dynamic range, punchy colors and good contrast levels. There's no visible noise in images captured in broad daylight, and the noise is also very well managed in low-light scenarios. This is largely because of the bigger physical sensor which allows for plenty of light intake, similar to what a variable aperture would have done to produce brighter images.
Standard Photo Mode Offers Pleasing Bokeh
Even the standard mode captures a pleasing bokeh effect, thanks to the bigger sensor's shallower depth-of-field. The above picture was shot in standard mode and the subject isolation looks very natural. However, it is worth mentioning that the standard photo mode results in slightly over-processed colors, especially of flowers and objects with darker shades.
While it is something you can fine-tune later in post-processing, the camera algorithm could use some fine-tuning to address image processing. This is probably due to the slightly tweaked pixel-binning process which joins some extra photosites to create one bigger pixel of the same primary color. The ‘Live Focus' mode delivers more accurate and natural-looking colors.
Galaxy S20 Ultra 100x Zoom Camera Samples
The zoom capability is undoubtedly the highlight feature of the Galaxy S20 Ultra. Samsung calls it ‘Space Zoom' and it allows you to zoom up to 100x. The insane zoom range is achieved by combining a folded lens with two important imaging technologies -- sensor cropping and multiple pictures shot and merged at once.
Up to 5x optical zoom (which differs ever so slightly when compared to the 4x zoom range as calculated by the zoom range slider), the images are perfectly usable. The 5x optical zoom shots have the usual vibrant colors, minimal noise but show slightly cranked up the contrast. But these images are very much usable and can be uploaded on social media platforms.
Even 10x Zoom Shots Decent Details
Take the zoom slider to 10x and the images still show decent details but noise becomes evident. The pictures also display noticeable pixelation. The next stop is 30x which clearly shows the distant objects on the phone's screen but the images aren't much of use as they look highly processed. The 100x zoom images are just not usable at all.
You can surprise people around by displaying the insane zoom range but cannot make use of such images. The camera interface shows a viewfinder to help you lock on a subject in the zoom mode, which comes quite handy. In fact, the One UI 2.1 offers one of the best camera interfaces on a smartphone.
Galaxy S20 Ultra 108MP Camera Samples
The Galaxy S20 Ultra is also capable of taking 108MP pictures. You can crop these super-high-resolution images for specific details in the frame, and that's the only advantage you have with 108MP pictures. These high-resolution images take up to 40MB space and seem irrelevant to me as the 12MP pixel-binned shots look exactly the same. You won't even notice the minor contrast and white balance differences on the phone's excellent display. It's a good show-off feature though.
Galaxy S20 Ultra Camera- Portraits And Selfies
Due to a large sensor with shallower depth-of-field, the Galaxy S20 Ultra captures impressive portraits. The images show pleasing bokeh as the subject isolation is impressive and looks natural. The portraits with people in the frame also come out good. You will notice very good edge detection and natural color tones.
The portraits shot in outdoor light show fine textures and natural skin tones. However, the indoor portraits (with people in the frame) are mostly marred by the unwanted skin smoothening issues, something we also experienced with the Galaxy S20+.
Both the flagship smartphones tend to add some artificial softening on facial details resulting in slightly less natural-looking shots in indoor lighting. The 40MP selfie camera captures detailed shots but the artificial skin-softening only get worse.
Galaxy S20 Ultra Camera Low-Light Performance
With a bigger sensor in action, the Galaxy S20 Ultra captures bright pictures in low-light with punchy colors. The larger physical sensor lets in more light to produce well-lit shots with no or minimal noise if there's artificial lighting in the frame. However, some images simply turn out slightly over-processed and show excessive sharpness.
The night mode could also use some fine-tuning via software updates. Enable the night mode to preserve highlights, dynamic range and to boost up saturation for a pleasing overall output. I only wish Samsung could have mimicked the Google Pixel's one-minute long exposure shot. That would have made the Galaxy S20 Ultra almost unbeatable. Nevertheless, the Galaxy S20 Ultra still offers one of the best low-light cameras on a smartphone.
Galaxy S20 Ultra Camera- Video Recording
From 8K videos to 720p 960fps, the camera setup on the Galaxy S20 Ultra can do it all. The 8K video recording is limited to 24fps. You can also record 4k videos at 60fps from the primary sensor and can shoot 4k @30fps from all cameras. The stabilization works across the resolutions, which is remarkable. Besides, you can also enable the ‘Super Steady' mode; however, it only works with the ultrawide angle lens.
As far as video quality is concerned, the 8K footage doesn't offer any significant advantage over the 4k @30/60fps footage. You won't notice any visible difference in detailing and colors. A two -minute clip occupies as much as 1GB of space, plus you also require a supported panel to stream the 8K videos.
In short, the 4K @30/60fps videos make much more sense in real-life. Just like images, the videos across the resolutions and the frame rates show crisp details, punchy colors and impressive dynamic range.
I shoot a lot of ultrawide angle videos and was delighted to see the crisp and vibrant video output. The Galaxy S20 Ultra even captures well-lit videos in low-light. Most importantly, the smartphone also ensures pretty impressive zoom videos. You can record crisp 4k videos in 4x without super steady mode so make sure you have a tripod handy. The smartphone even shoots pretty decent 10x zoom videos in 1080p resolution.
Last but not the least, you can also get to experiment a lot with video modes such as super-slow motion, slow motion, hyperlapse and the newly added ‘night hyperlapse' which can create some pretty interesting light-trail videos by taking long exposure shots. Overall, the Galaxy S20 Ultra is a pretty remarkable video recording device and will please content creators who are always recording videos on-the-go.
Samsung has managed to create a smartphone with a versatile and high-performance camera setup. The large physical sensor does make a difference in real life and not just on papers. It allows the smartphone to capture bright still images and well-lit videos in different lighting conditions. The image/video output shows excellent details, punchy colors and impressive dynamic range. The refined camera app offers a lot to experiment and results are mostly impressive.
The ace features, such as the 108MP high-resolution pictures, 100x zoom range and 8K footage are nice additions to the setup. These features show how far smartphones have come in the camera department but honestly, they aren't much of any use in real-life. These features don't offer any additional advantage over the widely-used ones (such as 12MP pixel-binned shots, 4K videos and up to 30x zoom) which make us question their existence and impact on increasing the overall price of the handset.
But the Galaxy S20 Ultra is not just about the crazy camera setup. The phablet also offers the segment-best display, long-lasting battery and swift overall performance. We will test these features in our comprehensive review of the smartphone.