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Camera Comparison: Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra vs Galaxy S20 Ultra

From left to right: Galaxy S21 Ultra, Galaxy S20 Ultra
From left to right: Galaxy S21 Ultra, Galaxy S20 Ultra
Mandatory upgrade? Both, the Galaxy S20 Ultra as well as its successor, feature Samsung's own in-house 108 MP sensor for their main camera. However, Samsung massively upgraded the S21 Ultra's zoom capabilities. Does this alone justify an upgrade?
Daniel Schmidt, 👁 Daniel Schmidt (translated by Finn D. Boerne), 🇩🇪 🇫🇷 ...
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According to the datasheets, both Samsung smartphone cameras seem to share a variety of common features, particularly in regard to the main and the ultra-wide angle lens. In both cases, the main lens features a 108 MP sensor, the HM1 for the S20 Ultra and the more recent HM3 for the S21 Ultra. While sensor and pixel size remained identical the main changes are to be found in an improved interface, an improved autofocus, and deeper colors when shooting in RAW. In comparison, the differences in the ultra-wide angle sensor are not as obvious and limited to the DP autofocus on the S21 Ultra.

Where the new cameras shine is in their zoom capabilities. The Galaxy S20 Ultra features a 48 MP zoom lens resulting in a 4x optical zoom and a 100x digital zoom. This so-called Space Zoom also found its way into the Galaxy S21 Ultra, however it is now supported by a 3x optical zoom as well as a 10 MP periscope camera with a 10x optical zoom.

And last but not least the S20 Ultra’s 3D depth of field sensor has been replaced with a more powerful laser autofocus sensor on the S21 Ultra.

Galaxy S21 Ultra with improved focus and low-light performance

At first glance photos taken with the two contenders in daylight seem fairly similar overall. However, upon further and deeper inspection we noticed that the S21 Ultra applied a more aggressive sharpening algorithm and also showed a higher dynamic range.

Photos taken with the ultra-wide angle lens are so similar that we had trouble making out any differences at all. If anything, then there are more details towards the edges, which we assume is due to improved algorithms rather than optics.

The more pronounced differences and biggest improvements of the S21 Ultra can be detected in low-light photos. Even without automatic night mode enabled photos taken with the more recent Samsung smartphone were higher in contrast and clearer. With night mode enabled these effects are intensified even further. In comparison, photos taken with the Galaxy S20 Ultra and night mode enabled suffer from a visible blurriness.

Image Comparison

Choose a scene and navigate within the first image. One click changes the position on touchscreens. One click on the zoomed-in image opens the original in a new window. The first image shows the scaled photograph of the test device.

WeitwinkelUltraweitwinkelLow-LightNachtmodus
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Zoom mode makes a difference

Unfortunately, we noticed that focus was not quite right on the first photos taken with the Galaxy S21 Ultra, and consequently the Galaxy S20 Ultra had no issues keeping up. That changed rather quickly when taking photos with 10x zoom, which is still handled by the optical lens in the S21 Ultra but requires digital zoom on the older model. The result is a photo with a much higher level of details.

Once you get to 30x magnification the Galaxy S21 Ultra starts to play in its own league, with much more pronounced contours, deeper contrasts, and more natural colors than its predecessor. However, the maximum magnification remains a questionable feature even on the latest Galaxy smartphone, and it certainly requires a very steady hand or, better yet, a tripod.

Image Comparison

Choose a scene and navigate within the first image. One click changes the position on touchscreens. One click on the zoomed-in image opens the original in a new window. The first image shows the scaled photograph of the test device.

Zoom (5-fach)Zoom (10-fach)Zoom (30-fach)Zoom (50-fach)Zoom (100-fach)
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All of the Galaxy S21 Ultra cameras showed visible improvements over their respective predecessors save for the ultra-wide angle lens. However, photos taken with the main camera in particular suffer from a much more aggressive retroactive sharpening. Whether or not you like the outcome is highly subjective.

With that said the only real reason to upgrade are the zoom features. If you require the S21 Ultra’s magnification capabilities then by all means, go ahead. This is the area where the new smartphone was improved most significantly.

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Daniel Schmidt
Editor of the original article: Daniel Schmidt - Managing Editor Mobile - 375 articles published on Notebookcheck since 2013
As a child I was fascinated by my Commodore 16, and this sparked my enthusiasm for computers. Using my first modem, I surfed the BTX videotext system and later the World Wide Web. I have always been captivated by the latest technologies, and this is especially true for mobile devices such as smartphones and tablets. I’ve been part of the Notebookcheck team since 2013 and have also on occasion written for Notebookinfo.de, and I’m looking forward to testing new innovations for our readers. I like to spend my spare time indulging in photography and barbecues and being with my family.
Finn D. Boerne
Translator: Finn D. Boerne - Translator - 424 articles published on Notebookcheck since 2017
Born in the United States and raised in Germany I became acquainted with both languages from an early age and turned this into my profession later in life. Computers have always played an important role in my life, and my love for all things digital is a huge part of my daily routine. Virtual Reality has captured my imagination and interest in particular, and I cannot wait to see what the (near) future will bring.
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> Notebook / Laptop Reviews and News > Reviews > Camera Comparison: Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra vs Galaxy S20 Ultra
Daniel Schmidt, 2021-01-30 (Update: 2021-01-30)