There’s much more exciting stuff going on in the Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra’s cameras. Samsung went all-out on zoom tech, even more so than in the Galaxy Note 20 Ultra.
You get a 10MP 3x zoom and a 10MP 10x zoom. This isn’t the “fake” hybrid zoom Samsung packs into the Galaxy S21 and S21+. You get twice the legit lens magnification we’ve seen in other top Androids to date.
This is the one part that made our jaws drop when Samsung announced the S21, so is it a world-class banger?
For the most part, yes. Comparing it to the Oppo Find X2 Pro, the best pericope zoom camera we could lay out hands on in time, the Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra renders more detail when you really dig in to 20-30x zoom. Try that with a 2x or 3x zoom and you end up with photographic Ready Brek.
Stills look great at 15x zoom and we’ve been bowled over by some of the stuff the Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra has captured, like the beautiful and complicated patterns in someone’s iris, and the somewhat less beautiful micro-veins on their eyeball. Seriously, check out our gallery.
You can treat the 10x zoom like a remote macro camera, which is damn impressive. This stuff just isn’t on the menu in most other phones.
The only real issue we have with the super zoom is it has a habit of not engaging at 10x, so you end up with mushy digital zoom shots. However, this smells like a launch software bug. Oh, and despite that crazy lens, Samsung’s Space Zoom 100x images are still poor.
This feature was introduced in the Galaxy S20 Ultra, which has a higher-resolution 4x zoom. 100x images may have improved a bit, but they are still mushy in the extreme.
How about the main camera? The Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra has a 108MP sensor, spitting out the usual 12MP images. There’s no groundbreaking change in image quality here. You still get the great, clean and contrasty photos we expect from a top Samsung, complete with the tendency to amp up the colour just a little too much for some tastes.
The main change we noticed is about HDR, used in photography to bring out shadow detail without blowing out the highlights. Samsung seems to push it further than ever in the Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra.
This phone almost never takes a dull-looking photo, but sometimes even the darkest-looking shadowy areas look a little smushy. It may be a great sensor, but this is still a phone sensor, and one with teeny-tiny sensor pixels and only ok native dynamic range.
Samsung mitigates this in low light using the multi-exposure technique you see in every top-end phone these days. You may have to wait a few seconds and hold the phone still, but the results speak for themselves.
The Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra doesn’t quite reach the awesome heights of the Huawei P40 Pro when you’re dealing with virtually zero light, but you can use a night mode with the ultrawide camera, the 3x zoom and even the 10x. Out in the real world, that kind of flexibility is more important.
Oh, and the ultrawide camera wipes the floor next to the iPhone 12 Pro Max. It might just be the best ultrawide you can get in any phone right now. It’s great for macro shots too, so is the main camera, as it lets you focus far closer than almost every other top Android.
The list goes on: video is impressive. You can shoot at up to 8K resolution at 24fps and this is even stabilised. It’s an actual usable 8K video mode, however, most of you should stick to 4K at 60fps or below as 8K uses a sensor crop and the motion at 4K is significantly smoother.
Want to bail out of all decisions, completely? There’s a mode for that, called Single Take. This shoots a bunch of photos and little video clips while you just hold the camera there, or move it around.
It sounds like a junk feature, but ask a friend to do something silly as Single Take does its thing and you end up with a bunch of shareable moments, complete with quick-fire editing and a soundtrack. It’s fluff, but tasty fluff.
Before we end up writing a Haynes manual on the Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra, let’s just quickly touch on the selfie cam. It’s excellent. You get a 40MP sensor, which uses the high res to offer two fields of view. Detail is terrific in daylight and — like every other camera on the phone — it can use the Samsung Night mode. This camera array is simply ridiculously capable.