Samsung Galaxy S23 Ultra selfie camera — downgrade or a step in the right direction?

Samsung Galaxy S22 Ultra back showing cameras
(Image credit: Future)

I write about Samsung Galaxy S23 rumors frequently, including for the premium Galaxy S23 Ultra model. During my trawls through the rumors, leaks, renders and so on, something that genuinely surprised me were the claims that the S23 Ultra is set for a 12MP selfie camera.

This new camera was Initially rumored for the base and Plus models, but was quickly tipped for the Ultra model as well, with later leaks backing this up. Unless any new claims appear between now and Galaxy Unpacked on February 1, it seems safe to assume that 12MP front camera will happen.

It would be a flat-out upgrade for the standard Galaxy S23 and S23 Plus, as the Galaxy S22 and Galaxy S22 Plus currently use 10MP sensors on the front. The Galaxy S22 Ultra uses a 40MP camera, which would mean lower-res shots. But for now, I believe that this could be a positive change, and the start of an even larger improvement to Samsung's camera systems.

Cameras are complicated

For the past few years, Samsung has often had the highest megapixel counts for certain smartphone cameras. Its 108MP main camera on the Galaxy S22 Ultra and older models, plus the Ultra's current 40MP selfie camera, immediately spring to mind. These Samsung-made sensors are indeed capable of producing immensely detailed photos, but these cameras do not produce the best shots in the business, and it's nothing to do with fidelity.

Look at our best camera phones rankings, and you'll see that while the Galaxy S22 Ultra places at 5th at the time of writing, it isn't the top. Ahead of it are two phones where the highest resolution cameras are 48MP (the iPhone 14 Pro and iPhone 14 Pro Max), one with a 50MP sensor (the Google Pixel 7 Pro) and one that maxes out at 12.2MP (the Pixel 6a's ultrawide camera). 

It's a cliche to say, but for cameras, megapixels aren't everything. This has always been true even before the rise of computational photography, which added multiple exposures and AI enhancements to long-standing factors like sensor and aperture size to the list of things impacting the final quality of a photo.

Basically with every Samsung phone we review, we comment on how unusual its post-processing is compared to rival phones. It usually makes photos much brighter and with more saturated colors, which can be beneficial in some scenarios. Most of the time though, it just doesn't look right.

But if Samsung were to move to a lower-res selfie camera for the Galaxy S23 Ultra, it could indicate an incoming change of direction. If it's finally accepted that chasing higher and higher megapixel counts isn't doing it much good, then it can prioritise other parts of the camera quality puzzle. Other rumored selfie camera changes, like the introduction of Pro mode and Nightography low-light photos, sound like just the ticket.

But what about the main camera? 

That said, this clashes with another rumored upgrade for the Galaxy S23 Ultra — the 200MP main camera. 

I tested out a 200MP camera phone recently, and my two main takeaways were the color quality of the photos it produced, and the file size when shooting at full resolution. Samsung is said to be holding back a brand-new 200MP sensor for the Galaxy S23 Ultra, so I hope for its own sake that it has done something to address these issues.

My main hope however is that moving to 200MP on the back doesn't go against the trajectory suggested by the selfie camera. Samsung's been working on 200MP sensors for several years now, so my fingers are crossed that we'll only see it on the Galaxy S23 Ultra because of already sunk costs.

Galaxy Unpacked on February 1 is going to be busy if all the rumors are true. I'm particularly excited to see if we are getting Snapdragon chipsets in European Galaxy S23 models. But I'll be keeping an eye on how Samsung sells this new selfie camera if the rumors are true too, and if it suggests the era of huge resolution Samsung camera phones is coming to an end. 

Richard Priday
Senior Writer

Richard is a Tom's Guide senior writer 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.