Galaxy S23 Ultra brand new 200MP camera - big mistake letting the competition pull far ahead?

This article may contain personal views and opinion from the author.
Galaxy S23 Ultra brand new 200MP camera - big mistake letting the competition pull far ahead?
If Samsung’s recent release schedule is anything to go by, we are just about three months (or less) away from laying eyes on the brand new Galaxy S23, Galaxy S23+ and Galaxy S23 Ultra. For better or worse, we already know pretty much everything about the hardware on the new Galaxy S23 series, including their camera systems. But we’re here to talk about the Galaxy S23 Ultra in particular!

According to reputable tipsters Yogesh Brar and Ice Universe, the Galaxy S23 Ultra will bring a brand new 200MP primary camera, but will keep the same 12MP ultrawide and two 10MP telephoto cameras (at 3x and 10x optical zoom).

But hold on… Why in the world is Samsung giving us a 200MP camera when the rest of the phone world is moving towards different and better... camerathings? Is Samsung focused on the wrong aspect of the camera hardware here and would the South Korean company regret this move?

Let’s talk...

Galaxy S23 Ultra is bringing a 200MP camera but that’s not nowhere near as exciting as it sounds...

So, here’s the thing…

Xiaomi, Oppo, Vivo, (and probably other phone-makers) are all expected to introduce their new flagship phones in the next 1-2 months. They are going to have one thing in common, because they'll be using the IMX 989 mobile camera sensor that we first saw in the Xiaomi 12S Ultra earlier this year.

According to reports, the IMX 989 is a creation that Sony and Xiaomi invested in and developed together but the more important variable here is that this is the very first 1-inch type sensor that’s ready to be mass produced and used in mainstream flagship phones... and it will be! Just not by Samsung.

I can’t stress this enough, but this is a big deal for the smartphone camera world. A 1-inch sensor, just like the ones used in virtually all pocket cameras, has been the goal of phone-makers and the dream of phone camera enthusiasts (like me) for years!

The benefits of the Galaxy S23 Ultra’s 200MP camera might pale in comparison to the benefits of the 1-inch sensor which will be used in the Xiaomi 13 Pro and other Android flagships

The times are different now, though! Judging by the absolutely outstanding Xiaomi 12S Ultra photo samples lurking around the internet, phones are now 100% ready to move to 1-inch type camera sensors. So, I guess you can understand my sheer disbelief when Samsung seems to be focusing on something as different and simple as pixel count, instead of sensor size.

The benefits of a larger 1-inch camera sensor are too significant to ignore

  • A larger camera sensor provides you with better bokeh/background separation, which is one of the main (if not the main) photography trait that makes pictures taken with a phone seem like they were taken with “a real camera”

  • A larger sensor provides you with more light, which is essential for phone cameras, which are already struggling in low-light conditions; more light means less need for utilizing software processing which (as we’ve seen a million times) can often make photos look, well… over-processed

There are some benefits of a high-res 200MP camera but they are unlikely to make a difference to the average user

On the other hand, more megapixels give you two main benefits that, in my opinion, aren’t nearly as pivotal for the photo/video-taking experience of the average user…

  • More megapixels let you take… higher-megapixel shots that you can then zoom into (but that’s the job of zoom cameras on phones)

  • A higher megapixel count lets manufacturers utilize a technique called “sensor-cropping” - phones are intelligent enough to be able to crop the middle portion of a sensor with a large megapixel count and give you lossless zoom quality at 2x magnification (an example is the iPhone 14 Pro which gives you optical quality photos at 2x zoom thanks to its 48MP primary camera)

Is a 200MP camera really what the Galaxy S23 Ultra needs? Probably not...

But that’s where the benefits of a super high-res camera end and also where the more confusing part begins…

The Galaxy S23 Ultra will have a 3x telephoto camera for short-distance zoom and portrait photos, as well as a long-range 10x optical zoom lens, making the need for sensor-cropping smaller.

On top of all of that, the 108MP camera found in the Galaxy S22 Ultra already delivers plenty of detail (when used in its full-res mode) which many people will never even use, unlike a 1-inch camera sensor that you’ll literally use all the time (duh!).

For instance, in our testing (as you can see above), the iPhone 14 Pro’s brilliant 48MP mode runs circles around the 108MP mode of the Galaxy S22 Ultra, delivering better and cleaner detail. The iPhone 14 Pro even excels against the Motorola-made Moto X30 Pro, which is the first phone with a 200MP sensor (ironically, made by Samsung).

For the record, the Galaxy 23 Ultra is expected to use a different 200MP sensor, as well as improved processing thanks to the unreleased Snapdragon 8 Gen 2 chip. So, there’s little doubt that Samsung’s flagship will do better than other 200MP phones on the market. But how much better?

Samsung hasn’t faced tougher camera competition since Huawei’s domination in the camera phone market and Xiaomi is coming in (very) hot

Well(p), of course, we can’t judge a book by its cover, especially when we haven’t seen the cover, let alone read the book. Forgive the ridiculous analogy - I haven’t had lunch.

So, sure… I can’t tell you that the Galaxy S23 Ultra is going to lose out to the Xiaomi 13 Pro/Ultra, Vivo X90 Pro and Oppo Find X6 Pro before seeing what all of these cameras can do. But one thing is for sure and it’s that the current evidence (read: the Xiaomi 12S Ultra and Galaxy S22 Ultra camera results) doesn’t exactly go in Samsung’s favor.

What makes things more exciting is that after a long absence from the global phone market, Xiaomi’s super-premium Ultra flagship phone is now expected to be sold in markets other than China.

Apart from that, somewhat surprisingly, the more humble Xiaomi 13 Pro is also expected feature the same Sony IMX 989 1-inch sensor, which means two things - Samsung’s more affordable Galaxy S23 and S23+ models will face tougher camera competition, and the Xiaomi 13 Ultra (expected to arrive in the middle of 2023) will surely be hiding even bigger camera surprises (for the Galaxy S23 Ultra & Co).

So, the game is on! Apple and Google aren’t going to be releasing new phones anytime soon, but the big three from China (Xiaomi, Vivo, and Oppo) might make Samsung’s life difficult. The last time Samsung was put under Chinese camera pressure, the company didn’t exactly win. Huawei’s P and Mate series of phones dominated the Galaxy for years before the US trade embargo...

Is history going to repeat itself?

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