No, the Galaxy S20 Ultra won't have 10x optical zoom, here's why

This article may contain personal views and opinion from the author.
No, the Galaxy S20 Ultra won't have 10x optical zoom, here's why

Galaxy S20 Ultra won't have the 10x pure optical zoom level bandied about, because:

  • Samsung's periscope zoom module suppliers Optrontec and Actro are shipping prisms for a 5x optical zoom kit;
  • Samsung has only announced a 5x optical zoom periscope module so far;
  • Ming-Chi Kuo has stated that the first phone with 10x periscope zoom won't be in the S20 series but rather the Huawei P40 Pro.

With its deployment of unique variable aperture lens on the S-line and Note series, and as an early investor in the Israeli firm Corephotonics that pioneered dual cameras, telephoto and periscope zooming before it was cool, Samsung has certainly created an aura of camera engineering prowess. More so since the photo and video quality from the Galaxy S10 and Note 10 series consistently ranked among the best a phone can deliver in our real-life comparisons as well.

This is why it wasn't hard for the rumor that a phone in the upcoming Galaxy S20 series will sport up to 10x optical and 100x digital zoom to spread like a bushfire (dark humor these days, we know), being repeated ad nausea by tech publications and famed leaksters alike, in a self-feeding loop. 

Samsung's recent trademark of the phrase "Space Zoom" in regards to mobile phones, and the leaked "Hubble" codename of the S20 camera (as in the space telescope), didn't help to dispel that speculation, either. Heck, even a tipster whose Samsung source has been feeding us live images and specs of the S20+ for the past few days, reiterated the 10x optical zoom blurb about the Galaxy S20 Ultra.

10x optical zoom on the Galaxy S20 Ultra? 

We regret to inform you that this most likely won't be the case, and not only because today Korean source The Elec, which has been spot-on many a times before, tucked the exact zoom level in a report about a Samsung Galaxy optics supplier. The report was about the local company Optrontec which, together with another Korean company across the street, Actro, will apparently be supplying the very prism that refracts the light for the periscope zoom tech on the Galaxy S20 Ultra. 

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What is the prism's distance from the sensor? You guessed it, an equivalent of 5x optical magnification, says the report, throwing cold water on the 10x optical rumor. What could have happened between the rumor and the eventual specs reality?

If you remember, last year Huawei added another differentiating factor to its already stellar phone camera credentials, namely the periscope zoom lens on the P30 Pro. It was followed by other phone makers that used the periscope zoom kit, like Oppo with its Reno series.

After Huawei announced the P30 Pro with its 5x optical zoom of the periscope type that houses the sensor perpendicular to the lens, it gave an example of the 50x hybrid magnification it is capable of achieving with... a moonshot. Say what you will about such stunts, but this was the most talked about feature in the otherwise excellent phone, creating the most headlines in non-specialized publications. Even Google with its puny 2x telephoto on the Pixel 4 followed suit with a dedicated "Astrophotography" blog, and disseminated its hybrid zooming to older Pixels as well.

Nah, but 5x periscope zooming still...

Thus, if the competition wanted to really have an answer to Huawei's phones and benefit from something more sustainable than US government whims, it had to step up its camera game, and that is precisely what Samsung seems to be doing. The purported 5x periscope zoom kit is actually of its own, Samsung Electro-Mechanics (SEM) making, which announced it way back in May last year.

At the time, it detailed it as a 5x periscope zoom camera module that was being developed for a while, and is ready to go into mass production. Samsung decided against implementing it in the Note 10, and instead kept it as a wow factor for the signature S20 series in the year 2020.

In fact, Samsung acquired a commanding stake in Corephotonics last spring, and is even using part of its "folded optics" video for its own periscope zoom lens promo footage from September that actually pretty much tips what will be in the Galaxy S20 Ultra.

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The added value of Samsung's new kit, compared to what is in the P30 Pro or the Oppo Reno, is that it is just 5mm thin, against 6mm for a regular vertical telephoto lens that only allows for 2x magnification. So, where did the 10x optical zoom number come from?

Well, the P30 Pro also advertised that its lossless magnification goes up to 10x, though the "optical" part of it is 5x, and the rest is pixel-binning from the high-res sensor. In the same vein, the aptly-named Oppo Reno 10x Zoom that uses a similar kit, does five point something optical which Oppo rounds up to 6x in the camera app, and the rest is pixel-binning and cropping from the large main camera sensor when sliding up to the record 60x digital zoom in the camera interface that is still unsurpassed on a phone.

Given that the Galaxy S20 Ultra is expected to be equipped with Samsung's second-gen 108MP sensor that may output 12MP shots from a record 9-in-1 pixel binning, there is plenty of detail to play with with binning and cropping to reach the advertised 10x "lossless" optical and 100x hybrid/digital magnification.

Moreover, while there are indeed 10x periscope zoom kits already, and Oppo even demonstrated one not long ago, the one that Samsung has produced and advertised, is only the 5x zoom set. Moreover, famed analyst Ming-Chi Kuo wrote in a memo to clients not long ago that 2020 will be the year of periscope zoom on flagship phones, but that the first high-end handset with the new 10x periscope zoom lens won't be in the S20 family, but rather Huawei's P40 Pro, after the P30 Pro pioneered the 5x optical periscope zoom. 

Mr Kuo has a pretty stellar track record when it comes to new phone feature forecasts, based on his vast supply chain network of sources, so he's yet another tangential confirmation that the Galaxy S20 Ultra, as stellar as it is shaping up to be, won't be the first phone with 10x periscope zoom lens.

We don't mean to rain on anyone's parade, just to set realistic expectations for what will probably be the Android phone go get this year, now that Huawei is largely out of the picture in the Western markets. Will you be disappointed still if the Galaxy S20 Ultra ships with 5x optical and 10x "lossless" hybrid magnification, instead of straight out а 10x periscope zoom kit?

Would you be miffed if the S20 'only' has 5x optical zoom?

Yes, I got hyped up by the 10x optical rumors
No, 5x is plenty still

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