I just tested the Galaxy S23 Ultra vs Galaxy S22 Ultra cameras and I'm very surprised

Samsung Galaxy S23 Ultra and Galaxy S22 Ultra
(Image credit: Future)

The Samsung Galaxy S23 Ultra has already proven itself to be among the best camera phones. Just check out our Galaxy S23 Ultra review, which has several includes several comparisons with the iPhone 14 Pro Max and Google Pixel 7 Pro.

I also had a chance to put the Galaxy S23 Ultra vs iPhone 14 Pro Max head to head in a dedicated face-off, and Samsung came out the winner. But how good is this 200MP camera phone compared to the previous Samsung Galaxy S22 Ultra?

The main new sensor is the biggest difference between these two phones, as the S23 Ultra sports a 200MP main wide camera compared to a 108MP shooter for the S22 Ultra. Otherwise, the camera hardware is largely the same for the rear cameras on both handsets. 

Up front, the S23 Ultra features a 12MP selfie camera, compared to a 40MP camera for the S22 Ultra, though Samsung promises better looking portraits overall with improved AI. I decided to put all the cameras to the test in a wide range of scenarios to see how much better — or not — the new Samsung S23 Ultra is over the S22. 

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Galaxy S23 Ultra vs S22 Ultra: Camera specs
Galaxy S23 UltraGalaxy S22 Ultra
Rear cameras200MP main (f/1.7), 12MP ultrawide (f/2.2), 10MP 3x telephoto (f/2.4), 10MP 10x telephoto (f/4.9)108MP main (f/2.2), 12MP ultrawide f/2.2), 10MP 3x telephoto (f/2.4), 10MP (f/2.4), 10x telephoto (f/4.9)
Front camera12MP (f/2.2)40MP (f/2.2)

First up, I took this close-up photo of a colorful M&M topped sugar cookie with icing using both the Galaxy S23 Ultra and Galaxy S22 Ultra. Both shots look fairly delicious, but I'd actually give an edge to the S22 Ultra in this case. 

If you look closely at both photos, the Galaxy S22 Ultra delivers a brighter and sharper pic. You can make out the frosting a bit better and there's more detail in the M&Ms on the cookie. 

The Galaxy S22 Ultra notches another victory here using Night mode with this photo of a home bar in near darkness. The colorful stained-glass design on the glasses pops more, and the liquor bottles look brighter, too. Check out the 1800 label in particular. 

Turning to portrait mode, I give the Galaxy S22 Ultra credit for getting the color of my gray jacket right and for a brighter exposure, but my face looks a bit washed out. I prefer my skin tone in the S23 Ultra photo, and my blue-and-white checkered shirt looks crisper. 

The Galaxy S23 Ultra and S22 Ultra are pretty much even in this photo of a statue of William Cullen Bryant in Bryant Park. However, if I had to pick one, I'd give a slight edge to the S23 Ultra because the text is a bid bolder and sharper at the bottom of the statue, and the statue itself has more detail. 

Next up, I used both phones to take a photo of downtown Freehold, NJ right after sunset. The Galaxy S23 Ultra wins here because you can make out the top of the light on the left edge of the image, which gets totally blown out in the S22 Ultra pic.

The right side of the photo with the Castillo sign is also sharper and better exposed. You can make out the inside of the store with the S23 Ultra, where it's blurry with the S22 Ultra. The middle of the street and cars are brighter with the S23 Ultra, too, though it's aided by a car coming into the frame and its headlights. 

I was worried that the Galaxy S23 Ultra's 12MP camera would be a letdown compared to the S22 Ultra's 40MP sensor, but in this selfie the S23 Ultra is the clear winner to me. 

I really like how the Galaxy S23 Ultra captures the light in my green eyes, which gets lost in the S22 Ultra photo. My face is also more evenly lit and the blue in my shirt is more vivid. 

Here's another case where the Galaxy S23 Ultra simply takes a better photo. In this shot of the Bryant Park fountain, the fountain itself is brighter in the S23 Ultra's image, and the water drops look a lot clearer dripping off the left side. The Samsung S23 Ultra just does a better job of revealing details in the shadows. Even the buildings in the background and the sign on the left side of the frame are crisper. 

For my ultrawide test I took this photo using both the S23 Ultra and S22 Ultra of Bryant Park and surrounding buildings. I'd say the two cameras are evenly matched here. There's definitely some distortion on the left side of the frame by the garbage can for both phones.

If you look really close you can see that the sidewalk has more definition in the S23 Ultra's photo but not enough to make a huge difference. On the other hand, the trees pop a bit more in the S22 Ultra's image as there's a bit more contrast. 

This one is no contest. In this photo of decorative candles, the Galaxy S23 Ultra produces a much brighter shot of the candles and table below. And the glass looks much sharper as well. Even the leaves in the background look better. The Samsung S22 Ultra's pic looks blurry by comparison. 

To test out the zoom on both Samsung flagships I first used the 10x optical zoom setting on the S23 Ultra and S22 Ultra on the Empire State Building. In this case I prefer the S23 Ultra's photo because it does a better job handling the sun on the right side of the frame. The spire also looks brighter and more detailed through the S23 Ultra. 

As we zero in on the top of the spire at 30x zoom, the Galaxy S23 Ultra once agin produces a brighter shot and it's slightly less noisy. However, I wouldn't say the S22 Ultra is that far behind. 

I'm not really a fan of either camera phone in this 100x zoom shot of the very top of the Empire State building. Both images are quite blurry to the point where they're not really usable, though it is indeed neat that you can zoom in this far. I'd give just a slight edge to the S23 Ultra because the windows don't look quite as much like an illustration. 

Bottom line

Overall, the Galaxy S23 Ultra took better looking photos in several instances, but not all, with the S22 Ultra winning with our close-up contest and one Night mode scenario. The S23 Ultra was a clear winner for me in the shot of the fountain, our selfie round and low-light candle pic.

Is the Galaxy S23 Ultra dramatically better? I would say not. In fact, the Samsung Galaxy S22 Ultra is arguably still one of the best camera phones you can buy, and it's clear that software updates have helped in terms of improving overall image quality.

Let me know what you think in the comments. 

Mark Spoonauer

Mark Spoonauer is the global editor in chief of Tom's Guide and has covered technology for over 20 years. In addition to overseeing the direction of Tom's Guide, Mark specializes in covering all things mobile, having reviewed dozens of smartphones and other gadgets. He has spoken at key industry events and appears regularly on TV to discuss the latest trends, including Cheddar, Fox Business and other outlets. Mark was previously editor in chief of Laptop Mag, and his work has appeared in Wired, Popular Science and Inc. Follow him on Twitter at @mspoonauer.

  • atorbtech
    Really good review, the sliding comparison of the photos from both devices is just amazing. The S23U is for those who looking for a better battery life device, all the rest are very much comparable to the S22 Ultra.
  • Huey 989
    I adjust lighting on most of the photos I keep and I wonder how much better the 23 is after making those adjustments. The 23 was clearly better in a couple of the photos regardless of color, but color was a big difference.