Covering an optical range of 13mm to 240mm, the Galaxy 21 Ultra offers an 18.5x optical zoom never seen by Samsung. Which renews its confidence in its 108 Mpix sensor, updated for the occasion.
Here he is, the photographic champion of the Android galaxy: while Huawei is in a difficult position due to deprivation of Google services, Samsung finds itself in a position of strength in its segment with its new Galaxy S21 Ultra. The highest-end model of the 2021 batch, this Ultra model claims to be opposed to the Huawei P40 Pro + with its four rear camera modules. Photographic anatomy of a fleuron.
Samsung can’t count
Offering 13mm, 26mm, 70mm and 240mm equivalents, the Galaxy S21 Ultra ultimately offers an 18.46x digital optical zoom (to be exact). Yes, you read “10x optical zoom” on Samsung communications. For reasons of hazy marketing paradox, Samsung does like Huawei: they calculate the coefficient between the wide-angle module and the maximum telephoto lens, which therefore gives a x9.2 zoom. The explanation we have had in the past, both in China and South Korea, is that “ we have always calculated like that in smartphones “. Which is stupid: The magnification power (the zoom) is calculated by dividing the minimum angular coverage (most telephoto position) by the maximum angular coverage (widest-angle position).
Here, we therefore obtain 240/13 = a coefficient of 18.46. Samsung can thus do a little better than the Oppo Find X2 Pro and other Huawei P40 Pro +. Forget the assertion of the x100 zoom on the other hand: even if we haven’t seen it, this kind of big digital zoom is generally used as a mash of pixels.
A Samsung which, let us remember, is here in full demonstration of its material mastery. In addition to the fact that it concerns (for Europe) its Exynos processor, its screen, its memory modules (RAM and Flash) and which, except for supply problems, are manufactured in its factories, it is ‘also acts of its own image sensors. Which also come out of Samsung factories. The only thing missing is a compatible Android OS for Samsung to do better than Apple in terms of mastering the terminal!
Four rear camera modules, plus a laser
01net.com – Samsung is not damned to make a summary infographic, here is the result of a compilation of screenshots plus the addition of information gleaned from left and right.
On the menu of the Samsung champion, four rear modules:
- An ultra wide angle, 13mm f / 2.2 equivalent of 12 Mpix with a large enough sensor (1 / 2.55 ”)
- A stabilized wide angle, equivalent to 26 mm f / 1.8 of 108 Mpix with large sensor (1 / 1.33 ”)
- A stabilized moderate telephoto lens, equivalent to 70mm f / 2.4 of 10 Mpix with small sensor (1 / 3.4 ”)
- A stabilized super telephoto lens, equivalent to 200mm f / 4.9 of 10 Mpix with small sensor (1 / 3.4 ”)
A kind of 5th sensor seems to appear on the back, but it is in fact a laser that acts as a stand for the autofocus. It measures the distance to objects and allows the sensor in use to pre-position itself to trigger faster. This should be useful not only for telephoto modules (smaller and less bright optics) but also for the main camera module. Indeed, based on the second generation of Nonacell organization of photodiodes, the 108 Mpix sensor is the only one that does not rely on Dual Pixel technology.
Another technological exception, the optical unit of the ultra wide-angle module and the only one not to be optically stabilized – which is not very serious given the wide angular coverage.
Reading the technical sheet, we immediately note that the sensors remain smaller than those of Huawei, in particular the ultra-wide-angle module, an area in which only the Chinese offer “giant” sensors. It remains to be seen the quality of the software implementation which matters as much as the hardware quality.
If we are not fond of selfies, this is no reason to ignore the front camera module. Namely a 40 Mpix sensor in 1 / 2.8 ” format equipped with an optics equivalent to a 26 mm f / 2.2. We are not too afraid of its autofocus given the use (the algorithms must be calibrated for a fairly short AF distance), but it remains to evaluate its behavior in low light.
108 Mpix: the advantages of the second generation
Samsung has been very stingy with information, but if we are to believe corroborating sources who claim that the 108 Mpix sensor is in 1 / 1.33 ” format, it is therefore not the ISOCELL HM2 which is in 1 / 1.52 ”.
It is not a question here of cutting the hair in 108, but of being sure that what one advances. If we know that the structure is indeed of the Nonacell type – groups of 9 photodiodes -, on the rest of Samsung’s claims, we have little technical literature to analyze the component.
According to Samsung, this would be the second generation of 108 Mpix sensor which would offer, in addition to better results in low light, the possibility of recording images in 12 bit RAW format. Enough to offer photographers files much richer in information for development with software like Lightroom for example. However, it remains to be seen if Samsung has done the job of providing the demosaicing data to software vendors.
4K60p for all, 8K30 for the wide-angle module
The 108 Mpix of the 108 Mpix sensor allows it to capture 8K video sequences either at 24 fps or at 30 fps. Enough to heat up the image processor (ISP) since it still represents a speed of 995 million pixels to compress per second (7680 x 4320 x 30!). But if this mode is interesting for improving the quality of a shot to be broadcast later in 4K or to capture 33 Mpix of the video file, 4K is more important and easier to handle.
And that’s good since, according to Samsung, the four camera modules are able to capture 4K60p footage. Better still, in this mode, the main camera module benefits from an “action cam” mode. A mode which, at the cost of a crop, stabilizes the video sequence. Be careful though, a real action cam like a GoPro Hero9 Black is really shockproof and waterproof … and costs only 400-450 euros. Not sure if you really want to play acrobats with a phone that ranges between € 1259 and € 1439…
Which version to choose?
The Galaxy S21 Ultra has three variations:
- 12 GB of RAM and 128 GB of storage for € 1259
- 12 GB of RAM and 256 GB of storage for € 1309
- 16 GB of RAM and 512 GB of storage for € 1,439
Considering the number of camera modules – an invitation to take pictures! -, considering 8K video mode, support for 12bit RAW files, etc. it goes without saying that we do not recommend the 128 GB version. For only 50 € more, the 256 GB version is clearly the most interesting. And those who have the budget have every interest in extending by 130 € (i.e. 180 € more than the basic version) not for the additional 4GB of RAM, but rather to take advantage of 512GB of storage. If only because Samsung has decided to dispense with a micro SD card slot.
But hey, before buying it, we invite you to wait for our tests. Hopefully Samsung has made progress in two areas: autofocus speed and low-light noise management.
Read also : Top 10: best smartphones in photos (July 2020)