How is 100x 'Space Zoom' possible on the Galaxy S20 Ultra?

How is 100x 'Space Zoom' possible on the Galaxy S20 Ultra?
One of the biggest stand-out features of the new Samsung Galaxy S20 Ultra is its "Space Zoom" camera feature that allows you to do a mind-boggling 100x zoom when taking pictures or shooting video. This sort of zoom is what you'd expect from a small telescope, not a smartphone, but don't let that huge number confuse you. The Samsung Galaxy S20 Ultra can't do 100x lossless optical magnification, but it can, indeed, do a crazy zoom through a lot of hardware and software trickery. Here's how it works.

The Samsung Galaxy S20 Ultra is the only model in the S20 family equipped with a 'periscope' lens. It has a 48MP sensor and can do up to 4x optical zoom on its own, but you can go up to 10x without losing any quality, thanks to what Samsung is calling a "Hybrid Optic Zoom". Although this isn't purely optical magnification, Samsung says that up to 10x zoom you won't really notice any drop in image quality. We're inclined to believe, based on what we've seen thus far, but we've already seen smartphone cameras that fare great at this zoom level. But what about 30x, 50x, and beyond? Well, the new "Space Zoom" feature on the Galaxy S20 Ultra promises to take you as far as 100x zoom, albeit without any grand claims about picture quality.


How the Galaxy S20 Ultra does 100x "Space Zoom"




We've already seen phones can go as high as 20x or 50x zoom, but the Galaxy S20 Ultra goes twice as high. Still, its method for doing so isn't quite as revolutionary as its name may have you believe. In fact, Samsung is using the same concept that allowed Huawei to push P30 Pro's periscope camera to do 50x zoom, only Samsung now has higher-resolution camera sensors and more powerful hardware to achieve this.

The Galaxy S20 Ultra achieves 100x zoom by leveraging two high-resolution camera sensors and the power of on-the-fly image processing. Simply put, after you pass the 10x threshold, the phone will rely heavily on digital methods to maximize the potential of the telephoto camera and its 48-megapixel sensor by cropping, sharpening, and otherwise attempting to improve the result on the fly using software. But since algorithms can only go so far, the Galaxy S20 Ultra is also pulling data from the massive 108-megapixel sensor of its main camera and combining it with the image data from the telephoto camera to deliver the final result. Having access to more image data from both sensors, and combining it, is what allows the S20 Ultra to achieve "Space Zoom."

From what we've seen so far, however, image quality at 100x zoom isn't nearly as crisp as what you get on lower levels of zoom, although it is still mighty impressive to be able to do something like this on a smartphone. Big numbers aren't everything when it comes to photography, so we will be putting the incredible zooming abilities of the Galaxy S20 Ultra to the test in our review and pitting it against the current zoom champion, the Huawei P30 Pro.

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