Deception: the Galaxy S20's telephoto camera is not really a telephoto camera

Deception: the Galaxy S20's telephoto camera is not really a telephoto camera
So, we have a new trio of Samsung phones to look forward to — the Galaxy S20 Ultra, Galaxy S20+, and Galaxy S20 all roll out in early March. Exciting!

Samsung really talked up all three devices when it presented them at the Unpacked event earlier this month. Here's the gist of it — all three rock very similar, cutting-edge hardware. The Ultra goes above and beyond with a crazy telescopic 4x optically-zooming camera, which can go up to 100x zoom when the digital algorithms kick in.

The Galaxy S20 and Galaxy S20+ also get pretty impressive camera modules with absolutely "no compromise". That's what Samsung said on stage — it does not believe in compromising when it comes to camera quality. The next sentence said that the S20 Ultra offers "the best of the best" for serious photographers, but the S20 doesn't compromise, apparently.

If you look through the specs sheets of all three phones, you will see that the Galaxy S20 and Galaxy S20+ are listed as having telephoto cameras. Now, traditionally, smartphone telephoto cameras are instantly associated with optical zoom. Since it's in the telephoto lens' nature to magnify things a bit more.

But, oddly, Samsung's specs sheet says that the Galaxy S20 and Galaxy S20+'s telephoto cameras have 3x "hybrid optic zoom". OK, that sounds funky.

Funky enough that the inquiring minds over at decided to dig deeper. Apparently, it didn't take much digging. As per Samsung's own specs sheet for the Galaxy S20 and Galaxy S20+, the "telephoto camera" actually sports a lens that is very much wide-angle — almost as wide as the one on the main camera. Essentially, the "telephoto" lens only provides a 1.06 zoom compared to the regular camera. This means that the 3x "hybrid optic zoom" is actually almost entirely a digital crop.

So, that's something you can achieve with a Galaxy S10e's main camera — just pinch in and zoom to 3x. Well, the Galaxy S20's sharpness will probably be much better — we are pretty sure that's why there are 64 MP sensors behind the so-called telephoto cameras of the S20 and S20+. So that they can provide more information for the crop.

It turns out that only the Galaxy S20 Ultra has a proper optical zoom and what can be called a telephoto lens, with a nice, narrow angle.

Is this proof that the Galaxy S20's cameras will suck?

Absolutely not. In fact, we are pretty sure that they will provide amazing picture quality, like Samsung flagships usually do. Even that 3x hybrid optic zoom will probably look sharp enough. But it's still a bit baffling that older-generation Samsung phones — from the Note 8 through the Galaxy S9 and S10, to the Note 10 — all managed to fit proper telephoto lenses with real optical magnification in there. What happened with the S20 phones?

Also, putting "telephoto" in your specs when your phone clearly simulates this with a digital zoom is gray area marketing to say the least.
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