We need to talk about the Samsung Galaxy S22 Ultra's zoom photography

Samsung Galaxy S22 Ultra Cameras
(Image credit: Future / Lance Ulanoff)

You might not like that Samsung took its Galaxy S Ultra line and basically reassigned it to Team Note, but you'll forget all about the look and feel of the phone, and even that nifty integrated S Pen, once you start using the stunningly effective Samsung Galaxy S22 Ultra zoom.

The S22 Ultra sports a 12MP ultra-wide lens, two 10MP telephoto lenses (left and right), and a 108MP wide lens, just like the S21 Ultra - but those specs are a big leap up from the standard Galaxy S22.

I've only spent a little time with the new device, but I simply had to show you these results. All the photos below were taken on the same day at New York City's lovely Bryant Park.

In each case, I started with the 108MP wide or 12MP ultra-wide lens and then, using the camera app, progressively worked my way up from 1x to 3x to 10x zoom, (all optical zooms), before soaring on to 30x and 100x Space Zoom (it's beyond me why Samsung didn't call this 'Galaxy Zoom'), both of which are digitally enhanced telephoto images.

It's worth noting that even with the optical zoom, Samsung is doing a bunch of algorithm somersaults to enhance the imagery. Its Nona-Binning technology starts by combining the information from nine pixels to enhance the color and contrast of your photo, and then it takes the capture from the 108MP lens and combines that with the first result to create a final image.

The 30x and 100X Space Zoom are particularly impressive, not only for what they can capture, but for how the phone works to keep the shot steady, and this is tech Samsung has been perfecting for several years since Space Zoom debuted in the Galaxy S20 series.

Samsung's optical and digital image stabilization system can feel a little strange at times. At 100X, it's working extra hard to keep the image stable, so much so that the lens can feel like it has a mind of its own, no longer moving in sync with your slightly shaky hand (every movement at 100x would normally be exaggerated, ruining the photo).

As you'll see below, the image stabilization strategy wasn't 100% effective. Still, zoom of this level and quality on a smartphone is sure to change the mobile photography game. I'll be back with more thoughts on the Samsung Galaxy S22 Ultra soon, as well as a full review.

For the above photo set, I stood in one spot and changed the zoom, stepping through 1x, 3x, 10x, 30x Space Zoom and 100x Space Zoom. I did try to reframe the photo before each shot. The clarity remains quite good through 30x, and even at 100x, while the quality is significantly degraded, you can still see a good deal of detail in the top of that building.

The light was better for this second series (above), but my concern about being run down by a taxi might have impacted my steadiness and framing. Even so, the Radio City sign I end up focusing on is at least five city blocks away. The 100x Space Zoom shot is one of my blurriest – all of Samsung's stabilization tricks couldn't overcome my unsteady fingers.

I just love the series of photos above, although if I have one early complaint about Samsung's Galaxy S22 Ultra photography it's that the colors are still a bit too punchy. Yes, the sky was blue, but the saturation here is a little bit surreal.

Note that, for this series, I started with the 12MP ultra-wide lens. The final 100x Space Zoom shot is incredible.

Finally, the above set of images were captured in more challenging lighting, but the Samsung Galaxy S22 Ultra's cameras still performed well. It's hard to believe that a smartphone camera captured that level of detail from the Empire State Building's spire.

Lance Ulanoff
US Editor in Chief

A 35-year industry veteran and award-winning journalist, Lance has covered technology since PCs were the size of suitcases and “on line” meant “waiting.” He’s a former Lifewire Editor-in-Chief, Mashable Editor-in-Chief, and, before that, Editor in Chief of PCMag.com and Senior Vice President of Content for Ziff Davis, Inc. He also wrote a popular, weekly tech column for Medium called The Upgrade.

Lance Ulanoff makes frequent appearances on national, international, and local news programs including Live with Kelly and Ryan, Fox News, Fox Business, the Today Show, Good Morning America, CNBC, CNN, and the BBC.