There are several reasons why the Samsung Galaxy S23 Ultra is hailed as the best camera phone around. That’s because it goes the extra distance over other phones with its epic 10MP telephoto 10x optical zoom camera, which I find tremendously useful in my day-to-day shooting.
Samsung has kept to a 10x optical zoom camera ever since the Galaxy S21 Ultra, and it’s proven to be a serious advantage for the series. Recent flagship releases like the iPhone 15 Pro Max and Pixel 8 Pro have been more reserved with their respective 5x optical zoom cameras — which inevitably still gives Samsung the edge in the numbers game.
Samsung’s ongoing claim to fame with its telephoto camera is its ability to achieve a maximum 100x zoom, which a new rumor claims will remain a staple feature with the Galaxy S24 Ultra despite the rumored downgrade to the optical zoom capabilities. As for the reasons on why Samsung could be making that downgrade to a 5x optical zoom camera, they're pretty lame in my opinion. Having used the Galaxy S23 Ultra for professional work, there are a handful of practical situations when I’ve used its 10x telephoto camera with great results.
|Galaxy S24 Ultra|
|Main camera||200MP HP2SX 1/1.3" sensor with 0.6μm pixels|
|Ultrawide||12MP Sony IMX564 1/2.55" sensor with 1.4μm pixels|
|3x telephoto||10MP Sony IMX754+ 1/3.52" sensor with 1.12μm pixels|
|5x telephoto||48MP GMU 1/2.25" sensor with 0.8μm pixels|
Yes, 100x zoom is impractical to use handheld
The first reason why Samsung’s reportedly making this change actually relates to what Apple opted to do with the iPhone 15 Pro Max. Apple’s VP of camera software engineering John McCormack explained that the company’s flagship was limited to a 5x optical zoom because of the challenges of trying to stabilize a camera with a 10x optical zoom.
I understand how incredibly tough it is trying to capture something in the far distance, but when the conditions are ideal, like when it’s sunny outside, I’ve found it a breeze to capture photos with the Galaxy S23 Ultra. That’s because the camera shoots at a much faster shutter speed than when it’s in dimmer conditions, which reduces the chance of photos coming out blurry due to unsteady hands.
At 100x zoom, however, it’s a totally different story. It’s undoubtedly harder to keep the frame still because the slightest movement moves the framing by a lot, but I don’t think people intend on using 100x zoom to remember precious memories. Rather, I think they’d use it much like how I do now — to see details I can’t otherwise see with my own eyes unless I physically move closer to what I’m trying to look at.
I'm talking about trying to make out the beer on draft at the bar from my seat in the restaurant, or perhaps when I'm on line at a fast food joint trying to make out the micro-sized print of food descriptions splattered across tiny screens.
And for those times when you want to capture a clear photo at 100x zoom, that's why they make tripods to steady your phone.
Weaker optical clarity at 5x zoom
Ask any enthusiast that handles professional camera equipment and they can tell you there’s no better way to get sharper results of faraway subjects than with an optical lens. No amount of software magic or post processing could match the clarity you get with a true optical zoom.
While the rumors hint at the Galaxy S24 Ultra retaining its 100x zoom ability with its 48MP 5x telephoto camera, it’s at a disadvantage by default against the Galaxy S23 Ultra’s current 10MP 10x telephoto camera. True, Samsung could be leveraging a similar pixel binning technique that Apple has with the iPhone 15 Pro Max, to still achieve that 100x zoom. However, I’m skeptical that the 0.8μm sized pixels are enough to capture the same amount of detail that the 1.12µm sized pixels of the Galaxy S23 Ultra's 10x telephoto camera.
It’s been a numbers game
Lastly, Samsung’s Galaxy Ultra line has been marketed with over-the-top hardware specs, so I don’t think that a downgrade would be logical. Apple has certainly bridged the gap a little by upgrading to a 5x telephoto camera, but in my many camera face-offs of late, the Galaxy S23 Ultra’s 10x telephoto camera remains the best camera phone for capturing faraway stuff.
The average consumer might actually be puzzled by a 5x telephoto camera, especially when a 10x one looks more appealing on paper. Samsung wouldn’t be able to market its flagship with double the zoom capability as its main rivals, so this downgrade would be a mistake from my perspective. I know there’s still time before we see the Galaxy S24 Ultra in the flesh, so I’m banking on this rumor to not pan out.