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 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.