Samsung Galaxy S20 Ultra is talk of the tech town right now, and rightfully so. It has a gorgeous IP68-rated glass and metal build, the most powerful mobile chip out there, fast charging support, and a lot more. But the most exciting aspect is the phone’s impressive camera hardware, and more specifically, the 100X zoom feature.
I get it. The name 100X zoom is descriptive enough, but is that all? Well, this is not your straight-up 100X telescopic magnification. Instead, the Galaxy S20 Ultra’s 100X zoom capability can be broadly divided into three parts based on the quality of resulting images. In fact, the heavily-marketed Space Zoom feature has two components in itself – Hybrid Optic Zoom at up to 10X and Super Resolution Zoom that goes up to 100X.
Before we get into the technical aspect of it, let’s talk about the hardware that makes it all possible – the massive 48-megapixel telephoto lens arranged in a periscope layout. Unlike a regular camera sensor, the periscope hardware has an L-shaped tunnel. On the outside, you see a rectangular opening for collecting light which falls on a prism below it. This prism bends the light at a 90-degree angle and redirects it to the camera sensor located at the end of the tunnel after passing it through a series of stacked elements.
The Galaxy S20 Ultra’s 48-megapixel telephoto camera has a 1/2–inch sensor with an f/3.5 aperture and 0.8-micron pixel. Once you start zooming in, the lens elements move internally to provide 4X optical zoom. Optical zoom is backed by OIS and will result in lossless quality photos. Beyond 4X, the hybrid zoom kicks in, which is essentially a mix of optical zoom and digital zoom. Samsung says the Galaxy S20 Ultra offers up to 10X lossless hybrid zoom, which means you won’t perceive any major loss in sharpness, color fidelity, and exposure.
Lossless zoom is usually associated with optical zoom, but Samsung says it employs AI-based multi-frame processing to minimize the loss in image quality for its hybrid zoom output. This is collectively done by sensor cropping and pixel binning. The Galaxy S20 Ultra’s 48-megapixel telephoto camera employs the Tetracell technology to perform 4-in-1 pixel binning. What this means is four individual 0.8-micron pixels are joined to create a larger 1.6-micron pixel that collects more optical data. Doing so also reduces the image resolution from 48-megapixel to 12-megapixel.
Between 10X and 100X zoom, it is all software-backed digital zooming after collecting additional data from the main 108-megapixel camera. Yes, anything beyond 10X zoom on the Galaxy S20 Ultra will result in image quality loss. Sharpness will be reduced, color accuracy will go down, and you will have a hard time adjusting the focus at a high zoom level unless you have extremely steady hands or are using a tripod. This was quite evident even in the case of 100X zoom live demo that Samsung showed at the Galaxy Unpacked event earlier this month.
Drawbacks aside, 100X zoom is definitely a handy feature to have, but as you go up the zoom level beyond 10X, quality deterioration will become inevitable. But compared to phones such as Huawei P30 Pro and Oppo Reno 10X Zoom – both of which also offer high zooming range – the Samsung Galaxy S20 Ultra has a big advantage.
The Samsung flagship has the highest resolution telephoto lens on any phone in the market at 48-megapixel. The Huawei P30 Pro has an 8-megapixel telephoto camera and the Oppo Reno 10X Zoom packs a 13-megapixel telephoto lens. This essentially means the 48-megapixel camera on the Galaxy S20 Ultra can click significantly more detailed photos than the rest. Similarly, it can also collect much more data from the main 108-megapixel camera during software-based image processing for digital zoom compared to its rivals.
So, after going through the technical aspect and weighing in the pros and cons, here’s the conclusion. On paper, the Galaxy S20 Ultra promises the best grade camera zoom output with its 100X zoom feature. But we’ll have to wait for an in-depth camera review to decide whether it is just a gimmick, or if it can actually prove to be a winning card for the Galaxy S20 Ultra.