Samsung Galaxy S23 Ultra camera review: 200MP photos, 100x zoom and better AI
The first photos from Samsung's 200MP Galaxy S23 Ultra camera show that there are subtle, but meaningful improvements year-over-year.
There’s a lot of hype around the Samsung Galaxy S23 Ultra and its 200 mega-pixel camera, but does it actually translate into better smartphone photos than its rivals?
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I’ve had Samsung’s new flagship phone for 2023 in hand for 24 hours, and its five cameras were the first thing I tested. I did it in an unbiased way, too. My Galaxy S23 Ultra camera tests include side-by-side photos taken with a Google Pixel 7 Pro and iPhone 14 Pro Max to determine which camera phone captures the best images.
This is just the beginning of my Samsung Galaxy S23 Ultra camera review. I’m still several days from coming to a final conclusion on whether or not to recommend the $1,199 phone for its photography prowess. Now that we’ve analyzed the Samsung Galaxy S23 colors and the S23 specs, let’s get to the in-depth camera snapping.
How the S23 Ultra camera uses clever AI
More important than any 200MP photo I’ve taken so far is the fact that the Samsung Galaxy S23 Ultra camera knows more about subjects before I hit the shutter button. This is mainly down to the Qualcomm Snapdragon 8 Gen 2 chipset that is able to better segment photo layers on the Galaxy S23 phones.
The result is more natural skin tones and fewer blown-out highlights, something that I noted Samsung had struggled with in my Galaxy S22 Ultra review. Where the S22 series would try too hard to amp up the exposure in a dark bar, the Galaxy S23 Ultra camera keeps things in check, similar to the Google Pixel 7 Pro.
200MP Galaxy S23 Ultra camera review
It does make a difference – but I had to crop in to see the improvements in the 200MP Samsung Galaxy S23 Ultra camera photos. As you can see from these pictures of the iconic Golden Gate Bridge (Samsung’s launch event was held in San Francisco), when cropped in the 12MP photo (the last one) is much more pixelated).
Samsung’s 100x Space Zoom still wins
I did discover limitations to the 200MP Galaxy S23 camera in my testing this week. I found that fairly distant subjects looked cleaner on cropped-in 200MP shots, allowing me to create a whole new image without much quality loss vs cropped-in 12MP shots.
But very distant subjects looked better at 10x, 30x and even 100x ‘Space Zoom’ levels. These photos of the distant island of Alcatraz looked better when tapping through the various zoom levels. It was just too distant for proper AI camera analysis, even when capturing all of that data with the 200MP camera.
And, frankly, the fact that I can read the letters on the side of a ship passing through San Francisco Bay on this smartphone camera says a lot about where the Samsung Galaxy S23 Ultra camera is compared to the Google Pixel 7 Pro and iPhone 14 Pro Max.
S23 Ultra does 16-to-1 pixel binning
Eschewing 200MP photos in favor of 12MP photos has its benefits – besides the fact that 200MP shots can take up to 80MB. Samsung’s camera does something called pixel binning, meaning it takes the smaller individual pixels of the 200MP camera and merges them into larger pixels, which is ideal in lowlight environments (larger pixels are always better as it allows for more light to be captured).
So for every 16 pixels, there’s one, and the Galaxy S23 Ultra benefits, even at the 12MP setting.
Warmer selfies at 12MP on the S23 Ultra
Don’t fear the fact that the Samsung Galaxy S23 Ultra has a 12MP selfie camera when the S22 Ultra featured a seemingly better 40MP selfie camera. At a close range, you don’t really need such a high-resolution camera, but you do need better skin toning.
That’s exactly what the Samsung Galaxy S23 Ultra camera provides, and it does this in a setting that allows for “natural” or “warmer” colors. I found that the differences were much more dramatic indoors and in lower light conditions than in outdoor settings. There’s no better version – the results are going to be subjective – but it’s good to see that Samsung is trying different shades for wider appeal.
More Samsung Galaxy S23 Ultra camera photos
I’m going to continue to test out the Samsung Galaxy S23 Ultra camera in various real-world scenarios this week and next. I’ve got more low-light shots to test out and I want to continue to snap 200MP photos to see if the differences are even clearer.
So far, because the Galaxy S23 Ultra design hasn’t changed much and the 6.8-inch screen has remained a constant, I feel as if a lot of the work Samsung did went into tweaking what really matters: the S23 battery, camera, and the software. It’s finally catching up with its chief camera rivals, Google and Apple, to be a contender again.