I ditched the Galaxy S23 Ultra for the Pixel 8 Pro — here’s why

Google Pixel 8 Pro inside of a camera rig for a video shoot.
(Image credit: Future)

When I first got my hands on the Google Pixel 8 Pro, I was skeptical it could even steer me away from using the Samsung Galaxy S23 Ultra as my backup video camera on video shoots. On paper, it’s hard to overlook the disparity between the 10x telephoto camera of the Galaxy S23 Ultra and the 5x one in the Pixel 8 Pro, or so I thought.

And it turns out, I was dead wrong.

There’s something to be said about the optical range of a camera, but in an era where artificial intelligence, machine learning, and post processing techniques are continually being improved, this is a camera spec I can no longer trust on face value. More is better, right? Well, after swapping out my Galaxy S23 Ultra for the Pixel 8 Pro, I’m convinced that Google’s phone is the superior video camera.

I wasn’t sold on that idea the first couple times I used the Pixel 8 Pro to record acting reels with some talented aspiring actors. The more I used it, though, the more I became convinced of its superiority, forcing me to ditch the Galaxy S23 Ultra altogether. Here’s why.

5x zoom is that ‘just right’ telephoto range

Hear me out: the Galaxy S23 Ultra has the most utility in a camera phone I’ve tested all year with four cameras to choose from. And that's why it tops Tom's Guide's best camera phones list. The S23 Ultra is also one of the very few camera phones with a dedicated manual mode for video — something you don’t get with the Pixel 8 Pro. Samsung's phone also has two telephoto cameras that I can choose from: a 10MP f/2.4 with 3x zoom and 10MP f/4.9 with 10x zoom.

Meanwhile, the Pixel 8 Pro only has a single 48MP f/2.8 5x telephoto zoom camera. I would argue that the Pixel 8 Pro has that "just right" telephoto range that I rely on heavily when shooting acting reels. It’s true that I can get a tighter shot with the Galaxy S23 Ultra’s 10x telephoto camera, but it results in faces taking up the majority of the shot — whereas the Pixel 8 Pro’s 5x telephoto zoom gives me a better looking shot from the waist up.

Of course, I could achieve a similar framing by using the Galaxy S23 Ultra’s 3x telephoto camera, but the extra reach to 5x zoom results in a simple digital zoom. Therefore, the quality at 5x zoom isn’t as detailed or crisp looking as with Pixel 8 Pro. This is why I think the Pixel 8 Pro has that "just right" zoom range with its single telephoto camera. Check out the comparison still grab I captured above with the two camera phones at 5x zoom to see for yourself.

Seamless video zooming

Google Pixel 8 Pro inside of a camera rig for a video shoot.

(Image credit: Future)

The second reason why I think the Pixel 8 Pro has the superior video camera is because of its seamless zooming. But didn’t I say earlier that the Galaxy S23 Ultra has the most utility because of its quadruple cameras? The problem is that I’m locked into one camera lens when I switch to Pro Video mode. Meaning, if I start recording with the 3x telephoto camera, I can’t get to the 1x wide or 0.6x ultra wide options — and zooming only results in a digital zoom.

Gif animation of Samsung Galaxy S23 Ultra video camera zooming.

Zooming is locked to one camera on the Galaxy S23 Ultra in Pro Mode. (Image credit: Future)

However, seamless zooming in video is actually available in normal video mode. The problem with this is that there’s no option to record video at 24 frames per second, so the only options at my disposal in this mode are 30 fps and 60 fps — which don’t get me the cinematic look I need.

Gif animation of Google Pixel 8 Pro video camera zoom.

Seamless video zooming with the Google Pixel 8 Pro. (Image credit: Future)

With the Pixel 8 Pro, I can seamlessly switch between all three cameras while capturing 4K video at 24 fps. This becomes especially handy in the middle of a video shoot when I need to switch up the framing of the shot, so I don’t have to constantly stop recording to use a different camera like on the Galaxy S23 Ultra. The flexibility of seamlessly switching between all zoom levels and cameras is invaluable.

Video Boost coming soon

After recording countless acting reels with the Pixel 8 Pro, the only flaw I’m able to make out is that the footage captured by the 5x telephoto camera tends to be noisier than the Galaxy S23 Ultra. It’s most noticeable when I punch into the Pixel 8 Pro’s maximum 20x zoom, which you can see in the side-by-side still shot above I captured from both phones.

Under good lighting, the noise is dampened enough without requiring me to fix it up in post. However, it becomes more challenging under low light situations — whereas the Galaxy S23 Ultra’s 10x telephoto zoom camera isn’t as bad. 

But this problem may be short-lived thanks to Video Boost coming out to the Pixel 8 Pro in the feature.

Video Boost is exclusive to the Pixel 8 Pro — you won’t get it with the standard Pixel 8. Even though I haven’t tested it out myself, I did see a demo of Video Boost showing how it dramatically improved the video quality — and Google even released a YouTube clip showing off a Night Sight video mode, which you can watch above.

The video looks like it was shot mainly with the main camera, which doesn’t have as much noise in the shot as the telephoto camera. Even with the noisier looking 5x telephoto zoom video of the Pixel 8 Pro, details are just as sharp as the Galaxy S23 Ultra’s 10x telephoto zoom camera. There’s no exact time frame yet on when Video Boost will be available to the Pixel 8 Pro — Google has simply said by the end of the year. But it’s yet another reason why I’ll be using the Pixel 8 Pro in the interim, though perhaps the upcoming Galaxy S24 Ultra could sway me back. We’ll see.

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John Velasco
Senior Channel Editor for Phones

John’s a senior editor covering phones for Tom’s Guide. He’s no stranger in this area having covered mobile phones and gadgets since 2008 when he started his career. On top of his editor duties, he’s a seasoned videographer being in front and behind the camera producing YouTube videos. Previously, he held editor roles with PhoneArena, Android Authority, Digital Trends, and SPY. Outside of tech, he enjoys producing mini documentaries and fun social clips for small businesses, enjoying the beach life at the Jersey Shore, and recently becoming a first time homeowner.

  • Technerd71
    If the camera is the only metric you judge a phone on them this might be a helpful article.

    It is nice to highlight the camera and give all the information in the article but it would have been nice to know if there were any other reasons than the camera for the author to switch from his s23 ultra.

    The two phones are very different in certain ways and it would have helped people trying to choose if they could see what else was good about the Pixel 8 Pro over the s23 ultra.
  • markusd1984
    Sure there will be many other differences in features and specs, but for the most part they pretty much do everything we need these days and for one who replaces a dedicated camera more often / always with a mobile the more important are the overall improvements on camera usage that therefore become the deciding factor (unless again you care more about gaming, stylus, etc ).

    I know Google has the upper hand with software capabilities to make up for some of the lower hardware specs, very impressive, if only we could use if on other mobile phones.

    Interesting insight with the sweet spot of x5 telephoto, as indeed not only zoom or bokeh/DOF is nice but also framing indeed.

    I hope that the OnePlus 12 may beat the Pixel 8 Pro, but they have less camera software experience and fine-tuning compared to Samsung and Google. But can provide better hardware than S24 Ultra for much less money.
  • Brad.Scott
    IMHO phone manufacturers and reviews placing most of their "focus" on pics & vids is just plain dumb. The emphasis should be on improving call quality and clarity with better microphones and speakers.