150-photo Samsung Galaxy S20 Ultra test: 100x zoom, 108MP camera, 40MP selfies

Samsung Galaxy S20 Ultra
(Image credit: Future)

Update 4: We now have over 150 photos in our Samsung Galaxy S20 Ultra camera test with photo samples spanning all modes: 100x zoom, 108MP resolution, and 40MP selfies. Is it worth Samsung's 'ultra' high asking price? You can judge for yourself. We have a new comparison tool so that you can slide between S20 Ultra photos and those of Samsung's top competitors, all in the lead up to our Galaxy S20 Ultra review.

Ready for the first of 150 photos? Here's the S20 Ultra (at 108MP) vs iPhone 11 Pro Max, followed by a series of portrait photos from seven different smartphone cameras starting with Samsung's new handset (more portrait photos on Page 4) and a comparison between 40MP selfies and a 12MP selfie in Live Focus (portrait mode).

Galaxy S20 Ultra camera test: how we did it

We don't have to tell you that the Samsung Galaxy S20 Ultra camera is incredible – the 150 photos we're including in this camera deep dive speak for themselves.

We tested the S20 Ultra 100x telephoto lens, which Samsung calls 'Space Zoom', and have updated this page with photo samples from shooting on a tripod as well as while handheld; most importantly, we put the phone's photos side-by-side with those shot by top competitors (the likes of Apple, Google, OnePlus).

As you can tell, we're taking our Galaxy S20 Ultra camera very seriously:

Samsung Galaxy S20 Ultra

Yeah, we're kind of nuts when it comes to properly testing smartphone cameras. (Image credit: Future)

The photo comparison gallery is below, however, if you have specific requests for a comparison or shot scenario, ask us about it on Twitter. We'll try to update this ongoing S20 Ultra camera review with answers. Yes, we'll include the S20 and S20 Plus as comparisons when we get those phones in for review, too.

We're showing the results of the following S20 Ultra camera modes:

  • 100x 'Space Zoom' telephoto lens with a tripod + rival phone comparisons
  • Night time photo comparison from 1x to 100x when shadows creep in
  • 108MP photos and 40MP selfies – does it really make a difference? It depends
  • Live Focus portrait mode and all of its fun filters
  • The upgraded selfie camera and automatic group selfie UI (this is  the best selfie camera we've ever tested)
  • Ultra-wide photos (and how they compare to normal wide photos)
  • Handheld 100x 'Space Zoom' telephoto attempts

Now onto the Galaxy S20 Ultra photo comparison gallery below.

Galaxy S20 100x: What's it like in 'Space Zoom'?

What's it like in 'Space Zoom'? That's the No. 1 question we got asked when we first did our Samsung Galaxy S20 Ultra unboxing and fired up the camera. In a few words: impressive, but not always useable at the maximum 100x times zoom level.

Samsung's folded lens, similar to the Huawei P30 Pro's periscope lens, sits sideways inside the smartphone to give it extra room and uses a mirror to turn 90 degrees and take shots out of the back of the phone. Otherwise, you wouldn't be getting to extreme zoom levels with a thin smartphone.

Using a tripod for this first test, here are the results, starting with 1x (no zoom) and going to 2x, 10x, 30x and 100x, then back down to 0.5x for the ultra-wide.

Edit: We went back and re-did our testing to include both day and night to see what happens when more shadows creep in. The night photos are now on page 2.

S20 Ultra photo gallery

S20 Ultra: 1x (no zoom) vs 100x (max zoom)

All of the Galaxy S20 Ultra zoom levels

The S20 Ultra camera at 100x isn't something you'd post to Instagram – it's almost a stylized hand-drawn version of what New York City's Grand Central Terminal clock looks like. But this is close to what 10x digital zoom looks like on Samsung's competitors.

Essentially, Samsung's camera is making 10x optical hybrid zoom fairly useable when that's the maximum digital zoom on many of its rivals (and its own previous cameras). Even 4x and 30x (which are preset zoom levels on the camera UI) are usable in the right scenarios (read: good lighting conditions and with a steady hand or tripod), while the 100x zoom feels like a neat tech demo and similar to the quality of 10x digital zoom on other phones cameras.


Besides the S20 Ultra, here's what we've included

Looking at the Galaxy S20 Ultra camera's photos is helpful, but examining them alone isn't good enough for our testing. So we've included several of Samsung's rivals and two of last year's Samsung phones in many of the scenarios.

Here's what we've included and why:

  • Samsung Galaxy S20 Ultra: because... otherwise this is pointless, right?
  • iPhone 11 Pro Max: the S20 Ultra's chief competitor from Apple
  • Google Pixel 4: one of the best camera phones in our book
  • Samsung Galaxy S10: how much has the S20 Ultra improved things?
  • Samsung Galaxy Note 10: some people are deciding between the S20 Ultra and Note 10 (and have emailed us, so this is for you)
  • OnePlus 7 Pro: a flagship at a mid-range price, now 1/3 cheaper vs S20 Ultra
  • Google Pixel 3a: a phone that's $1,000 cheaper than the S20 Ultra

iPhone 11 Pro Max

Galaxy S20 Ultra vs iPhone 11 Pro Max (10x zoom)

All 11 Pro Max photos to compare to S20 Ultra

Google Pixel 4

Galaxy S20 Ultra vs Google Pixel 4 (~10x zoom)

Note: the Google Pixel 4, doesn't go to 100x zoom like the S20 Ultra – and it doesn't go to 10x, either. It maxes out at an 8x zoom. So, for the slider tool at least, we had to crop in on the Pixel version to get a better sense of how they compare.

All Google Pixel 4 photos to compare to S20 Ultra


S20 Ultra vs last year's big Samsung phones 

Galaxy S10

All Galaxy S10 photos to compare to S20 Ultra

Galaxy Note 10 Plus

Galaxy S20 Ultra vs Galaxy Note 10 Plus (10x zoom)

All Galaxy Note 10 photos to compare to S20 Ultra


S20 Ultra vs much cheaper phones

OnePlus 7 Pro

Galaxy S20 Ultra vs OnePlus 7 Pro (10x zoom)

All OnePlus 7 Pro photos to compare to S20 Ultra

Google Pixel 3a

Galaxy S20 Ultra vs Google Pixel 3a (~10x zoom)

As we explained with the Pixel 4, The Google Pixel 3a is another Google phones that maxes out at an 8x zoom, and since the S20 Ultra camera can do a 10x hybrid optical zoom, we can do crop the Pixel 3a version to better overlay the image. The originals (before cropping) are embedded below this side-by-side comparison photo set.

All Google Pixel 3a photos to compare to S20 Ultra

Matt Swider