Galaxy S24 Ultra: Goodbye, 10x zoom camera - is Samsung’s flagship losing its superpowers?

This article may contain personal views and opinion from the author.
Galaxy S24 Ultra: Goodbye, 10x zoom camera - is Samsung’s flagship losing its superpowers?
As per reliable tipster Ice Universe, the zoom system on the Galaxy S24 Ultra will be changing for the first time in three years. However, this time, the changes will divide plenty of opinions.

The Galaxy S24 Ultra is now expected to feature a 10MP camera with 3x zoom and a new, 50MP camera with 5x zoom. Of course, the unexpected twist here is the alleged removal of the (kinda iconic) 10x optical snapper Samsung has been using for three years in a row now.

I crunched the numbers so you don’t have to, and it turns out… Five is less than ten. But is it actually that simple? Is Samsung downgrading the camera system of its most expensive phone for 2024? Or can a 5x zoom camera turn out to be the smarter choice? The varying answers might surprise you.

Oh, and here’s how a phone with a 3x camera beats the Galaxy S23 Ultra in 10x zoom photography. Oh, and it’s a folding phone… No big deal.

OnePlus Open - the folding phone that takes better zoom photos than the Galaxy S23 Ultra proves the Galaxy S24 Ultra’s new 5x camera might be the right call

Before I explain why the Galaxy S24 Ultra might be switching to a 5x zoom camera, and why this could turn out to be (mostly) a good thing, take a look at the these photos comparing 10x zoom with the Galaxy S23 Ultra and the brand new OnePlus Open / Oppo Find N3 (in China).

Your brain isn’t playing tricks on you. Most of the 10x zoom photos taken by the OnePlus Open look better than those taken with the S23 Ultra. But how is this possible, considering OnePlus’ folding phone has a 3x optical camera? Honestly… I’m not sure, and I’m just as puzzled as you probably are.

That being said, having seen enough photo samples over the years, taken by countless phones, my guess is that OnePlus is using sensor-cropping (which results in a 6x lossless zoom) + extra data from the 50MP 3x camera + some sort of upscaling/sharpening.

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But why is Samsung expected to “go backwards” with a 5x zoom camera instead of a 15 or a 20x one?

The real reason Samsung might be removing the 10x zoom camera from the Galaxy S24 Ultra: Make it more like the Pixel 8 Pro and iPhone 15 Pro Max

I’d be lying if I told you I knew Samsung was eventually going to get rid of the 10x optical zoom camera… While I’ve always found shorter zoom snappers to be more useful, the 10x camera is a standout feature only one phone in the world has - the Galaxy Ultra model.

Moreover, Samsung kept this camera around for over three years, first introducing it with the Galaxy S21 Ultra in 2021. Sure, Sammy wasn’t the pioneer of the 10x camera (the Huawei P40 Pro+ did it first), but it stuck to it long enough to become the one that made it “cool”.

However, as you can see from the photo samples above, the Ultra’s 10x optical camera no longer feels as special as it did back in 2021, and that’s thanks to the competition, which has figured out ways to match or surpass its performance with much shorter zoom lenses.

  • As we’ve seen over and over again with phones like the iPhone 15 Pro Max, Pixel 8 Pro, and OnePlus Open, 3-5x zoom is much more useful for everyday photography - especially Portrait mode

  • Cameras with shorter focal length + larger sensors + larger apertures + sensor cropping can result in 10x zoom photos every bit as good as 10x optical zoom (often better - at least in challenging lighting conditions)

  • Apart from the tiny sensor and aperture challenges, 10x optical zoom is incredibly difficult to stabilize when taking photos, and especially shaky when recording video

The Galaxy S24 Ultra's rumored 50MP 5x zoom camera should be of much higher quality than the 10x zoom of the S23 Ultra; very similar to the Pixel 8 Pro's 5x zoom camera

If Samsung is to change the 10x zoom camera, the company could’ve gone in one of three directions.

  • Stick to 10x but make the camera better by increasing the sensor’s size and widening the aperture - quite tricky considering the super-long focal length

  • The second option is to double down on the extra-long zoom with an even more ambitious 15-20x optical lens, while keeping the tiny sensor and aperture (or quite likely making them even smaller)

  • The third option is to dial back the crazy 10x zoom to something more conventional but switch to a new, much larger sensor, and rely on computational photography to make up for the shorter focal length - Samsung’s most likely choice as of right now

As per leaks and rumors coming from Ice Universe, the new 5x sensor in the Galaxy S24 Ultra should be of much higher quality compared to the sensor behind the 10x snapper of the S23 Ultra. The exact properties of the two cameras are below. As you can see, we’re talking about a much larger sensor and a far larger aperture (although the latter hasn’t been confirmed).

  • Galaxy S23 Ultra: 10MP, 1/3.52-inch, 10x zoom camera - longer zoom, much smaller sensor, tiny aperture (f/4.9)

  • Galaxy S24 Ultra: 50MP, 1/2.52-inch, 5x zoom camera - shorter zoom, much larger sensor, far wider aperture (at least f/3.0)

If you’re wondering how the Galaxy S24 Ultra’s alleged 5x camera compares to the Pixel 8 Pro and iPhone 15 Pro Max’s 5x zoom cameras, the Galaxy should have an identical sensor size to that of the Pixel, which is larger than the iPhone’s. That being said, none of them come close to the 3x shooter of the OnePlus Open, which has both a wider aperture and a noticeably larger sensor, which is to be expected considering the shooter focal length.

Is Samsung making a mistake by removing the unique 10x zoom camera from its Ultra flagship?

For one, the beloved 10x snapper gives Samsung’s Ultra flagship bragging rights. However, at least in certain scenarios, it actually gives it some real advantage over the competition.

For example, thanks to having a starting point of 10x optical zoom to work with, taking super-long, yet usable 20-30x zoom photos/videos is something only the Galaxy S23 Ultra can do right now. Sure, you need plenty of light to achieve this, and you must be standing as still as possible but… you can do it.

That being said, I bet the switch to a more conservative 5x zoom snapper with far better optics will pay off in the long-term. Of course, this depends on how quickly Samsung manages to optimize the rumored 5x zoom camera to take full advantage of it.

In theory, longer-range zoom photos from the 5x camera can be just as good or even better thanks to sensor-cropping, and especially in low-light. Apart from that, the 5x snapper should be useful for long-range Portrait mode photography, similar to the iPhone 15 Pro Max, which currently takes the best portraits in the business.

Numbers aren’t everything, so let’s hope Samsung is cooking up something special. Meanwhile, you can find out everything we know about the cameras of the upcoming Galaxy S24 Ultra in our dedicated Galaxy S24 Ultra hub.

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