Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra could get this big upgrade to fight iPhone 12 Pro

Samsung Galaxy S20 Ultra camera
(Image credit: Future)

The Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra will have not one but two telephoto cameras in its rear sensor array, according to a new leak.

This is a claim that comes from Sammobile, citing industry sources in Korea. The anonymous sources say there will still be four sensors on the back of the range-topping S21, but two of them will have zoom abilities, which matches an earlier leak.

The new leak reveals that one of the telephoto cameras will be a 3x optical sensor, while the other will be capable of 5x zoom or higher. That's thanks to a periscope-style arrangement that we've seen on phones like the Galaxy S20 Ultra previously.

This wouldn't be as redundant as it sounds. Having two sensors with two different optical magnifications makes a phone less reliant on digital zoom, which tends to spoil the quality of images.

In contrast, the iPhone 12 Pro is expected to just have one telephoto camera, likely the same 2x zoom model seen on the iPhone 11 Pro, which could prove to be a weakness when taking close-ups or long-distance shots. The standard iPhone 12 models won't get this camera, but they're unlikely to be rivals for one of Samsung's Ultra models.

The other cameras on the S21 Ultra will apparently be a 108MP main camera, a 12MP ultrawide camera, just like the S20 Ultra. There will also be a similar 40MP selfie camera, but this will allegedly be embedded beneath the display instead of in Samsung's current central punch-hole notch.

Note the lack of a time-of-flight sensor. This has been previously rumored for the whole S21 lineup, and is a curious decision on Samsung's part. The use of a depth sensor can be very useful for photo effects and AR applications, something that Apple is rumored to be taking advantage of on the iPhone 12 Pro with a LiDAR sensor.

Samsung could be using a laser depth sensor instead though, as seen on the Galaxy Note 20 Ultra. This wouldn't count as a camera, but would offer similar functionality.

There's not much other information about the S21 to go on right now. We'd expect it to launch in February next year, and for it to use the newest flagship Qualcomm chipset, likely the Snapdragon 875.

We're also unsure of the name. Samsung could just go back to its usual numbering scheme after skipping from the Galaxy S10 to the Galaxy S20, or it could start increasing the number by 10 each year, which is why this phone is currently both known as the S30 and the S21.

Apparently Samsung also has had multiple names for the device. While its previous codename was allegedly "unbound," the phone is referred to in Sammobile's report as "palette." This won't be the name we see when the phone goes on sale, but can be useful for confirming a phone's identity when other leaks appear.

It also suggests a similar idea to an earlier rumor — that the Galaxy Note series will be killed off and future Galaxy S phones will get S Pen styluses to make up for it. Samsung would do this in order to focus on foldable phones, like the Galaxy Z Flip and the Galaxy Z Fold 2, as its top phone offering.

Richard Priday
Assistant Phones Editor

Richard is based in London, covering news, reviews and how-tos for phones, tablets, gaming, and whatever else people need advice on. Following on from his MA in Magazine Journalism at the University of Sheffield, he's also written for WIRED U.K., The Register and Creative Bloq. When not at work, he's likely thinking about how to brew the perfect cup of specialty coffee.