When Samsung shows off its new Galaxy S22 phones at this Wednesday's Galaxy Unpacked event, expect a number of features to compete for stage time. Samsung's latest flagships are expected to be powered by new silicon — the Snapdragon 8 Gen 1 — and sport brighter displays. In the case of the Galaxy S22 Ultra, Samsung's top-of-the-line phone is expected to invite comparisons to the Galaxy Note, right down to the included S Pen.
But no matter what features Samsung spends time promoting this week, it's a safe bet that the phone maker will return to one topic time and time again — the cameras on the new Galaxy S22 models. And this is important, as both the iPhone 13 Pro Max and Google Pixel 6 Pro are ahead of Samsung in our best camera phone rankings.
It's no secret why phone makers focus so much on the cameras of their latest devices. Outside of battery life, the quality of the photos a phone's camera produces are usually its most talked about feature. Mobile photography — from snapping selfies to capturing Instagram fodder — is an important part of the mobile lifestyle, so naturally smartphone shoppers want camera phones that are going to help them produce memories worth sharing with others.
You can bet Samsung has spent the months leading up to this week's product unveiling working on ways to make the Galaxy S22's cameras potentially surpass Apple and Google. Here's a look at what's changed with Samsung's top competitors since last year's Galaxy S21 release and how the rumored new camera features in the Galaxy S22 lineup could help Samsung vault past the competition.
Sizing up the Galaxy S22's competition
To understand the challenge Samsung is facing with the Galaxy S22 launch, it's important to revisit some of the key camera phones that have come out in the last year, led by our pick for the best current camera phone, the iPhone 13 Pro Max.
With both iPhone 13 Pro models, Apple increased the size of the main and ultrawide sensors, adding autofocus to the latter lens. In addition to wide-angle shots, the Pro models' ultrawide angle shooter can double as a macro shooter for extreme close-ups The telephoto lens on the iPhone 13 Pro models got some love, too, adding support for a 3x zoom. And Apple bolstered the software on its cameras by adding real-time filters in the form of Photographic Styles.
The end result is that the iPhone 13 Pro and iPhone 13 Pro Max deliver better quality zooms — long an area where Samsung has dominated — and that overall pictures look better than ever, particularly in low-light.
Google also took some big steps forward with its Pixel 6 lineup, boosting the main sensor on both the Pixel 6 and Pixel 6 Pro to 50MP after sticking with a 12MP camera for many years. Spring for the Pixel 6 Pro and you also got a telephoto lens, again giving Samsung more competition in an area where it was once miles ahead of its rivals.
Even OnePlus, not exactly known for producing top-tier camera phones, has stepped up its game as of late. The OnePlus 10 Pro has yet to debut outside of China, but that device continues the phone maker's partnership with lens specialist Hasselblad. When it arrives in the U.S. and other countries, the OnePlus 10 Pro figures to give Samsung's next flagship another potential rival.
What Samsung has planned: Galaxy S22 Ultra cameras
So how does Samsung respond to this stepped-up competition? If rumors about the Galaxy S22 Ultra cameras are accurate, it's going to fine-tune many of the features already introduced with the Galaxy S21 Ultra while also introducing a few new capabilities.
Putting its best foot forward with the Galaxy S22 Ultra is pretty critical for Samsung. Not only is it the centerpiece of the S22 lineup, the Ultra is also the model most potential S22 buyers say they're likely to get, according to a survey by trade-in site SellCell.com.
Rumored Galaxy S22 Ultra camera features include:
Super Clear Lens: Probably the most anticipated feature on the Galaxy S22 Ultra, the Super Clear Lens is also the most mysterious, though some recent leaks have shed some more light on what Samsung may be adding. Supposedly, the Super Clear Lens will cover the main camera, and it's meant to cut down on glare and reflections.
That's a common problem, even on top camera phones, and the Super Clear Lens sounds like it's Samsung's attempt to eliminate lens flare from the photos you take. We'll doubtlessly hear a lot about this during the Samsung Unpacked event on February 9.
AI enhancement mode: It sounds as if the Galaxy S22 Ultra won't feature upgraded hardware specs over the Galaxy S21 Ultra, with the newer phone expected to feature a 108MP main lens along with a 12MP ultrawide camera and a pair of 10MP telephoto lenses. But that main sensor will reportedly see some improvements, including a new AI enhancement mode.
This could be Samsung's answer to the computational photography that's propelled phones from Apple and Google to the top of camera phone rankings. Reports about the AI enhancement mode claim that it will call out detail, color and brightness in shots captured by the 108MP sensor on the Galaxy S22 Ultra.
Samsung cameras can get a little over-aggressive when it comes to highlighting colors in photos. It will be interesting to see if this AI mode handles colors a little more consistency for better balanced photos than what Samsung phones have produced in the past.
Low light features: Reports around the Galaxy S22 Ultra's cameras have referred to dual pixel phase detection autofocus technology. That's supposed to help the phone capture clear, sharp images — presumably, even in low lighting.
We say presumably, because Samsung's few public pronouncements about its upcoming phone have promised a camera that can "break through the night" and "break the rules of light." The latter phrase may refer to Super Clear Lens mentioned earlier, but the references to night seem like they're tied to low-light photography.
"The next generation of Galaxy S is here, bringing together the greatest experiences of our Samsung Galaxy into one ultimate device," said TM Roh, president and head of Samsung's mobility business in a blog post teasing a February phone launch. "With it, you will own the night — taking the best and brightest photos and videos you’ve ever captured with a phone."
What Samsung has planned: Galaxy S22 and Galaxy S22 Plus cameras
The Galaxy S22 Ultra may command a lot of the attention at this week's Unpacked event. But it's not the only one of Samsung's phones due a camera update. The Galaxy S22 and Galaxy S22 Plus are in line for some changes as well, according to the rumor mill.
Bigger main sensors for both phones: The Galaxy S22 and Galaxy S22 Plus are expected to feature a 50MP wide camera, which would be an upgrade from the the 12MP sensor used in the Galaxy S21. It sounds similar to the move Google made with its Pixel 6 phones, right down to the Samsung GN5 sensor that's likely to be put to use in the S22 lineup.
The main camera upgrade isn't going to be limited to megapixels, the rumors claim. One rumor points to the Galaxy S22 Plus offering an "adaptive pixel" feature in which the sensor will combine pixels to make larger virtual ones for enhanced brightness and color in photos. It's unclear if that feature would extend to the Galaxy S22 or just be limited to the Plus.
An Optical Zoom: The Galaxy S21 and Galaxy S21 Plus both featured a telephoto lens, but it relied an a hybrid zoom for 3x shots beyond the 1.1x optical zoom. Multiple reports claim the S22 and S22 Plus will get a true optical zoom at 3x for clearer, more detailed images.
Wider apertures on the front cameras: The front cameras on the Galaxy S22 and Galaxy S22 Plus aren't going to see a change in resolution from the 10MP sensor their predecessors used. But Samsung might opt for wider apertures on those selfie cams which would let in more light when taking self-portraits. Such a move would certainly be in line with Samsung's stated focus on improving low-light photography, though the rumors here see more speculative.
If this change does take place, it wouldn't be limited to the S22 and S22 Plus — the Galaxy S22 Ultra could get a wider aperture for its front camera, too.
Samsung Galaxy S22 camera outlook
We won't have to wait long to see which of these rumors pan out. The Galaxy Unpacked event is just a few days away on February 9 starting at 10 a.m. ET. We've got a guide on how to watch the Galaxy Unpacked live stream so you can see all of Samsung's announcements first hand.
Whatever Samsung ends up announcing — and there figures to be a lot of news coming out of Unpacked — expect cameras to command a significant portion of the spotlight.