Fake Zoom, Samsung! Neither Galaxy S20 nor S20+ feature real Telephoto or Zoom Cameras
This article is freely based upon our original German language article here.
Sometimes the industry plays little tricks on the uninformed customer and dazzles us all with marketing bullshit, that we so desperately want to believe. Case in point: The new Samsung Galaxy S20-generation, which finally landed last week and can already be pre-ordered for a delivery in early March. To better compete with the likes of Huawei, Xiaomi und Apple, Samsung decided to go all nuts over its new cameras in all the three versions of the Galaxy S20-series.
While the Samsung Galaxy S20 Ultra may be the best choice for the discerning mobile photographer and videographer, the $1399 price tag may lead most of use to consider the more sensibly priced Galaxy S20 and Galaxy S20+, all you'd miss is a higher megapixel main camera, more zoom-range, a slightly larger display and a bigger battery, right? Wrong!
When it comes to the cameras, the virtually hidden specsheet of the Galaxy S20-trio reveals a pretty massive difference between the Galaxy S20 Ultra and its slightly smaller siblings. However Samsung's clever marketing tricks try to cover it all up. Neither the Galaxy S20 nor the Galaxy S20+ have any kind of real zoom camera, the so-called "Telephoto Camera" only offers a ridiculously low 1.06 optical zoom factor, which is essentially no magnification at all. The touted "3x Hybrid Optic Zoom" is a mere crop into the (presumably) 64 megapixel wide-angle image, followed by regular, lossy, 10x digital zoom.
Wide-angle instead of Telephoto-Lens
As you can see from the official Samsung spec sheet above, both "Telephoto"-lenses in the Galaxy S20 and Galaxy S20+ have a 76-degree field of view (FOV, highlighted in red) as opposed to the 79-degree wide-angle main lens. Basically, both these lenses can be considered wide-angle, the "Telephoto" one has the above mentioned 1.06 times narrower field of view. Samsung does not reveal the focal length of these lenses but they should be around 26 mm equivalent (wide-angle) and 28 mm (telephoto) - very similar optical characteristics.
Lots of Megapixels do not equal Zoom
Instead of offering any kind of real optical zoom, Samsung instead uses the 64-megapixel image or video (
presumably 64 MP, since there might be pixel-binning in place: Update: No pixel-binning involved as we learned) and crops into it to simulate getting closer to an object. Samsung calls it "3x Hybrid Optic Zoom" but as we established, the real optical part is just 1.06x - basically nothing. Still, because of this tiny optical magnification, Samsung is technically not wrong, calling it "hybrid", mostly it is fake zoom though - a mere crop, albeit lossless up to 3x, followed by 10x digital zoom, which Samsung calls "Space Zoom" but will lead to image deterioration as Samsung correctly warns in the fine print.
Other manufacturers have been accused of using similar tricks in the past to tout a higher zoom factor. The latest, OnePlus in its OnePlus 7 Pro, at least offered a real 2.2x optical lens and added a bit of crop to achieve the promoted 3x zoom. Compare that to Samsung's 1.06x optical lens with up to 3x crop: In our opinion, it is quite deceiving to call this combination "Hybrid optic zoom" and the 64 MP camera a "Telephoto-Camera".
But why? Maybe because of 8K video?
So why did Samsung choose to basically include a second 64 MP wide-angle lens instead of a real telephoto camera? Well, while we do not know for sure, we do have our suspicions. Thanks to the Snapdragon 865, the Galaxy S20-series is capable of 8K video recording. This, however, requires a 33-megapixel sensor or higher; anything below simply does not cut it. That is why the 12-megapixel main sensor is not used if you record 8K video with the new Galaxy phones. Instead, the Galaxy S20 will activate the 64-megapixel sensor automatically thus it needs to have a similar field of view as the main camera.
Maybe Samsung considers this 64-megapixel sensor to be of inferior quality to the main 12-megapixel sensor and therefore decided to keep both? We don't know. This does result in a bit of a mess, though, because the main sensor is useless for 8K video and the 64-megapixel wide-angle camera doubles as a fake telephoto zoom lens. We know that most people who just want to "zoom in onto an object" will not be able to spot a difference between optical magnification and cropping; however, there are creative differences for instance regarding depth of field or background-to-foreground separation. Neglecting this and calling a wide-angle lens "Telephoto Camera" with "Hybrid optic zoom" could probably be criticized as deceitful marketing practice.
If you want real zoom, get a Galaxy S20 Ultra!
There is a solution for Samsung fans, if you are willing and capable to spend $1399 and up. The Galaxy S20 Ultra does indeed feature real optical zoom. Here the Telephoto-Camera starts off based on a 4x-5x optical periscope lens with a very narrow 24-degree field of view - probably comparable to a 35 mm lens with 100 mm focal length. It then adds up to 5x crop into the 48-megapixel image which results in up to 10x hybrid optic zoom. On the Galaxy S20 Ultra, this term can be considered truthful. Also, the 108-megapixel main camera is capable of 8K video so there is no need for a second wide-angle camera.