The Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra's best feature could soon be found on more and cheaper smartphones.
A 10x optical zoom "folded" telephoto camera like the one found in the S21 Ultra is now being sold as a single component to other companies. If you're not fussy about which brand of Android phone you buy, it could mean you can save money while still getting some impressive photo hardware.
- Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra review
- Get the perfect selfie with the help of the best camera phones
- Plus: OnePlus 9 leak just revealed pre-order date and colors — and free gifts
Samsung Electro-Mechanics announced the start of mass production for the folded 10x zoom module in a new blog. It states that the module would be sold to both smartphone and automotive companies, but didn't name any of the manufacturers it would be supplying.
Folded cameras have their lenses arranged along the length or width of the phone, rather than the depth. It means that the phone's total size can remain compact, but that it can offer much more effective sensors.
Although Samsung makes its own phones, Samsung Mobile is only one part of the whole company. Samsung Electro-Mechanics providing camera modules to third-parties in this instance is one example. There's also Samsung Display, which provides the screens for many phones that compete directly with the Galaxy S and Galaxy Note series, such as the iPhone 12.
We'll likely see this sensor, or a version of it, on the Samsung Galaxy Note 21 Ultra towards the end of this year. So if you want this kind of telephoto potential, the S21 Ultra won't your only choice from Samsung for long.
Another improvement to Android photography
You may have noticed that a lot of Android phones launched over the past couple of years use a similar 108MP main camera. These are Samsung's HM-series sensors, another camera designed for use on flagship Galaxy phones (such as last year's Samsung Galaxy S20 Ultra) but then sold to other smartphone makers.
These high-resolution sensors have boosted the photo performance of a huge number of devices, such as the Xiaomi Mi 10 or the Motorola Edge Plus. Given our praise of the 10x telephoto sensor in our review of the S21 Ultra, it's going to be interesting to see which other smartphone companies decide to use this sensor in its upcoming phones.
Openly selling this telephoto module won't mean Samsung's own phones are obsolete. Photo processing software is crucial for making great smartphone images, and Samsung's processing is among the best you can get. What it does mean, however, is that our list of the best camera phones available today may soon include some new names and much cheaper devices than before.