When Samsung announced its Galaxy S20 lineup, it was tough to focus on anything other than the S20 Ultra. This phone is a monster, both on paper and in person. Oh, it also has a starting price of … $1,400.
Yep. It’s not cheap.
Packed into its gigantic body is a whopping 108-megapixel wide-angle lens with f/1.8 aperture, a 120-degree 12-megapixel ultra-wide lens with f/2.2 aperture, 48-megapixel telephoto lens with f/3.5 aperture, and a Time of Flight sensor for depth.
But everyone seems to be particularly interested in its zoom capabilities. While all three of the new Galaxy S20 phones come with Samsung’s Space Zoom feature, the Ultra is the only one that offers an impressive 100x zoom. Meanwhile, the S20 and S20+ come with up to 30x zoom.
I took the S20 Ultra for a spin around New York City—testing everything from zoom and live focus to night mode. To compare shots, I took the same photos on my iPhone 11 Pro, which I use as my primary phone.
A full review is on the way, but here are some sample images to hold you over until then.
100x Space Zoom
When I first tweeted images I took with the S20 Ultra, everyone’s main question was, “What about the Space Zoom?” So, let’s start with that.
I’m going to be completely honest. I really didn’t find a need for it (although it could come in handy at concerts). It just made me feel creepy and the photo quality on 100x zoom reminded me of paparazzi photos in tabloid magazines.
Anyway, here are some examples below.
During a trip to Brooklyn Heights, I had a friend stand in the middle of this art installation while I stood on the other side.
As you can see from the above photo, I’d say I was about 50 feet away. Regardless, it remained clear at 10x zoom and 30x zoom.
With 100x zoom, you can easily make out her features. But it’s probably not a photo I’d use.
As for the sample images of the window below, at 30x zoom, it actually looks really sharp.
At 100x zoom, the window is … well, let’s just say that at least you can tell it’s a window.
Regardless, using the 100x zoom can be really frustrating. While the target guide helps, it still gets really shaky, and it’s almost impossible to pinpoint things.
I’d often find myself zooming out, finding the subject, and then trying my best not to lose it while zooming in again. It’s definitely a feature you’d want to use with a tripod or gimbal.
Photos taken in broad daylight came out super punchy and bright, which I would hope with a 108-megapixel sensor.
Colors definitely look a lot sharper (such as the moss on the rocks) with the wide-angle lens than the ultra-wide lens.
Unlike on the Galaxy S10 and S10+, the ultra wide angle lens also doesn’t distort the image as much. It also doesn’t add too much of a curve to the photo either.
Above, I compared the S20 Ultra to the iPhone 11 Pro and, yet again, preferred the Ultra.
The 11 Pro surprisingly looks more saturated than the slightly pastel colors on the S20 below. At one point, I held up both photos in front of the brownstones to compare which looked more true to life — there was no question it was the S20 Ultra.
Using the Live Focus feature, you can take bokeh shots on the S20 Ultra. You have the ability to adjust the level of blur in the background before and after taking the shots.
While I do like the feature, I noticed the blur was a bit overkill even on the lowest setting. Rather than sharpening the subject, the blur would often leak into the person’s hair or other features.
In both sets of photos above and below, you can see the S20 Ultra washes out the skin tones a bit and also darkens the background.
It creates more of a contrast that highlights the subject (a little too much at times), and dims what’s behind it.
Meanwhile, Portrait Mode on the iPhone 11 Pro does the opposite. It adds a bit of a yellowish tint to both photos and also highlights the background simultaneously.
When I tested Live Focus with the ultra wide lens, I couldn’t help but laugh. Both photo backgrounds looked weirdly Photoshopped, as if both people weren’t actually in those locations.
I probably could’ve taken it a little easier on the bokeh here, though.
For the most part, I found the S20 Ultra didn’t really struggle too much in low light. It did have trouble, however, at this dark restaurant below.
With Night mode turned on, the colors looked true to form.
I like that it highlights the brighter colors in the shot, like the yellow label and the lime green container behind it.
The photo above, taken with Night mode turned on, is a bit oversaturated for my taste. There’s a sheen to the photo, particularly on the street, that makes it seem like it was raining that night when it actually wasn’t.
I’ve also noticed that it tends to struggles with actual lights and bulbs, which you can see in the street light and the crossing sign.
The S20 Ultra comes with a 40-megapixel hole punch selfie camera, which I found a little terrifying. Considering the iPhone 11 Pro has a 12-megapixel front-facing camera, I wasn’t interested to see what my face looks like under such an intense selfie camera.
So, I was surprised when I actually preferred the S20 Ultra to my iPhone.
If you shift between these two photos, my skin looks almost airbrushed with the S20 Ultra. And, yes, I took this after I made sure Samsung’s beauty filter effects were turned off.
Compared to the iPhone 11 Pro, everything just looks a lot brighter. My hair looks almost highlighted throughout and my glasses look a little lighter in color than in the photo below.
The selfies on the iPhone 11 Pro look a lot more realistic. My skin looks a bit more bland and you can see patches of dry skin in between my eyebrows (which also look darker and more defined).
You can also see more flyaways and strands of hair sticking up from the top of my head. Meanwhile, my hair with the Ultra S20 looks a lot more smooth.
It’s safe to say, I’m no longer terrified of that 40-megapixel sensor.
Thoughts so far
While there’s more than just a camera to this phone, I must say that if you’re someone who takes a ton of photos, then it might be worth it to splurge on the S20 Ultra.
Sure, I didn’t find a use for the 100x zoom as much as I would’ve liked to, but it’s great to know that it does work pretty well and is there in case I do need it.
These are also only a handful of the images I took throughout the weekend, and I’ll be taking a lot more this week. For now, I’m super satisfied with the brightness and crispness of the samples so far.
Enough so that, at some points, I didn’t even want to take out my iPhone 11 Pro to snap photos throughout the weekend. Yes, I’ll admit there are some pictures I didn’t take with it.
Of course, there’s still more testing to be done and yes, I do have some complaints about the camera. Like the fact that autofocus is rather unpredictable and the phone is also too big to take phones with one hand. So, be sure to check back for our full review of the Galaxy S20 Ultra.