The Samsung Galaxy S24 Ultra might only have a 5x zoom and that's good news

Samsung Galaxy S23 Ultra hands on white camera close
(Image credit: Future | Alex Walker-Todd)

The Samsung Galaxy S23 Ultra is at the top of our list of best camera phones, so of course we’re very interested in all of the rumors and leaks surrounding its likely successor, the Samsung Galaxy S24 Ultra. If you’re following closely, you may have been equally excited learning about the brighter display and new materials (titanium!) and disappointed learning about camera downgrades. Those downgrades actually have me hyped about the Galaxy S24 Ultra’s cameras; it feels like Samsung has finally been listening. 

First, a side-by-side comparison of what we have now in the Galaxy S23 Ultra and what we expect in next year’s model. The main camera on the Galaxy S23 Ultra is a Samsung ISOCELL HP2 sensor with 200MP. It’s around 0.76-inches large, so not quite a full 1-inch sensor. The Galaxy S24 Ultra will likely use a slightly newer version of the same sensor, an ISOCELL HP2SX. That won’t be a big upgrade.

Samsung Galaxy S23 Ultra camera lenses up close

The 10X periscope zoom lens is the one on the far right (Image credit: Future / Philip Berne)

The 3x optical zoom telephoto camera on the Galaxy S23 Ultra is also tipped to stay the same on the S24 Ultra. It uses a 10MP sensor that is, frankly, quite small. The smaller sensor is less than one seventh the area of the big main sensor, so it’s too bad there’s no improvement coming.

The 10x zoom camera on the current S23 Ultra also uses a tiny sensor, the same size as the 3x zoom. Here’s where things get very interesting for next year. Rumors suggest that the Galaxy S24 Ultra will use a sensor twice that size on the longer zoom lens. The zoom length will shrink to only 5x, but I’m actually pleased with that trade off, and I’ll explain why in a bit.

The other sensors on the Galaxy S24 Ultra, including the 12MP ultra wide camera and the 12MP selfie camera, seem to be unchanged from the Galaxy S23 Ultra. I have no problem with that. A sensor is a complicated piece of equipment, and what we've seen over the years in the phone world is that the best camera phones don’t always use the newest cameras.

Apple stuck with the same cameras for years and years

Take Apple’s example. For years, Apple’s iPhone was the best camera phone you could buy, even though Apple kept using the same 12MP sensor. Until the iPhone 14 Pro, the highest resolution on an iPhone camera was 12MP. As the company and its developers grew more and more familiar with the sensor, the photos kept improving, even though the resolution never changed.

Apple iPhone 14 Pro full back

The 48MP camera on the iPhone 14 Pro was groundbreaking for Apple (Image credit: Future / Lance Ulanoff)

I’m actually happy that Samsung is using the same sensors again, especially that 200MP sensor. That's because I don’t think we’ve seen the best photos that sensor can offer, and I want to see Samsung spend more time tuning its image processing. In fact, if the rumors are true, this maybe exactly what Samsung is doing.

The most significant changes in the Galaxy S24 Ultra cameras have to do with image processing and how photos will be edited later. AI will likely play a role, though we’re not sure how. More importantly, leakers have said that Samsung will employ more realistic photo processing; Samsung fans can finally breathe that sigh of relief.

Samsung photos pop. Don’t get me wrong, I like photos that pop, but sometimes they pop too much, and the mess gets everywhere. They can be dramatically oversaturated, with colors that seem more like a video game than real life.

Flowers, photo taken by Galaxy S23 Ultra

These flowers are so oversaturated they almost look alien (Image credit: Future / Philip Berne)

I don’t want to see Samsung photos that look like deadpan Apple pics - I find iPhone photos a bit cool and impersonal for my taste. But I do like that we’re hearing the word “realistic” in the same sentence as “Samsung” for once.

AI could help with more than moon photos

There are a few ways that AI could play a role in Samsung’s Galaxy S24 Ultra camera, and they are all part of Samsung’s software already. Samsung has scene optimizer software that tries to detect what you’re shooting and choose the right mode and settings. Applying so-called AI, which really means applying machine learning logic to solve the puzzle much faster, could dramatically improve scene optimization. 

Samsung got in a bit of hot water for its heavy hand with AI imaging when it came to taking photos of the moon. While the Galaxy S23 Ultra’s best moon photos are light years ahead of other smartphones, there is some question how much detail is being added to the photo by Samsung’s AI. In the future, those changes could be more dramatic, but also more accurate and natural, with better AI technology.

Moon, photo taken with Galaxy S23 Ultra

A photo of the moon taken with the Galaxy S23 Ultra (Image credit: Future / Philip Berne)

In fact, I think we’ll see the AI Moon phenomenon applied to many other subjects. If the current software is just smart enough to recognize the moon, future software with better machine learning tools and a neural processing unit could recognize much more complex subjects.

You like that AI moon? Here’s AI Mount Rainier! Have an AI Statue of Liberty, you can actually read the text on the tablet! Do you like pizza? AI pizza is more delicious than you remember. The moon was easy, but the future of AI could enhance any number of subjects, especially subjects that are photographed all the time, with plenty of samples from which a machine can learn.

Hopefully Samsung will let us turn this off, if we want to go for more realistic photography. In any case, the Galaxy S23 Ultra was the best phone we saw this year because it had so many tools available. It looks like the Galaxy S24 Ultra will give us even more options, while answering the biggest critique about Samsung’s phone photography. Forget the disappointment over zoom lengths or using older parts, and focus on what Samsung is finally doing right.

More about the Samsung Galaxy S24

Philip Berne
US Mobiles Editor

Phil Berne is a preeminent voice in consumer electronics reviews, having reviewed his first device (the Sony D-EJ01 Discman) more than 20 years ago for eTown.com. He has been writing about phones and mobile technology, since before the iPhone, for a variety of sites including PCMag, infoSync, PhoneScoop, and Slashgear. He holds an M.A. in Cultural Theory from Carnegie Mellon University. 


Phil was the internal reviewer for Samsung Mobile, writing opinions and review predictions about top secret new devices months before launch. He left in 2017. He worked at an Apple Store near Boston, MA, at the height of iPod popularity. He has been a High School English teacher at Title I schools, and is a certified Lifeguard. His passion is smartphones and wearables, and he is sure that the next big thing will be phones we wear on our faces.