6 things we love about the Samsung Galaxy S23 Ultra camera

Samsung Galaxy S23 Ultra camera
The Samsung Galaxy S23 Ultra's five-camera array now sports a 200MP main sensor.

The Galaxy Unpacked event has barely wrapped in San Francisco, and I tested out the much-hyped Samsung Galaxy S23 Ultra camera. Here’s a quick first take on some of its stand-out camera features. (We’ll be publishing a full review of the Galaxy S23 range soon.)

We also have a full summary of the Samsung Galaxy S23 range in addition to the best Samsung Galaxy S23 pre-order deals available now.

200 megapixel sensor

The “adaptive pixel 200MP sensor” in the Samsung Galaxy S23 Ultra camera has more megapixels than its competitors (save a few exceptions like the Motorola Edge 30 Ultra, which uses a slightly downgraded Samsung-made sensor). More megapixels means more detail captured per shot, larger file sizes and, ultimately, more creative options for your photos. This includes printing out A4 or larger photos without losing detail, or the ability to re-frame parts of your shot, focusing in on a specific area and turning it into the perfect crop.

Samsung also says that its sensor “…combines 16 pixels into one larger pixel for brighter more detailed shots in lower light situations.” The rationale is that as larger pixels are more light-sensitive than smaller ones, using this “pixel binning” technique, means the camera gets the light benefits of low-megapixel cameras with the added detail benefits of larger megapixel sensors. It also means that the file size of pixel-binned shots can be made smaller than a full 200 megapixel photo.

In practice, I took photos via the main camera in the 200 megapixel 3:4 mode, right from Samsung’s Galaxy Unpacked event mezzanine along with a few outside the building. We were then able to zoom into the shots, such as faces in the audience or the brick and ironwork. I was surprised by how much detail was retained in an extreme zoom of the photo, and this was noticeably more than the same photo taken via the iPhone 14 Pro Max.

Nightography

‘Nightography’ is a term coined by Samsung for taking great photos in low light conditions. While the dedicated night mode isn’t new, there is an all-new AI-powered image signal processing (ISP) algorithm that helps reduce noise in dark scenes. This is complemented by the S23 Ultra’s ability to take night portraits, thanks to the Dual Pixel AI stereo depth map, which can figure out fore and background objects in low light. Then there’s improved night video, which uses multi-frame processing to clean up noise, thanks to the extra power from its Snapdragon 8 Gen 2 mobile chip.

Low-light photo showing the Samsung Galaxy S23 Ultra camera
Notice how the S23 Ultra’s low light sensitivity brightens up the crowd vs the iPhone 14 Pro Max.

We shot an ‘alleyway’ scene using the Night Photo mode. It certainly does an impressive job of making very low light shots appear as much more visible shots, while not brightening things up to unrealistic levels. While the S22 Ultra did a reasonable job, the S23 is distinctly better, especially when cleaning up noise and appears to have better light sensitivity overall.

Astro photography

There are exciting new creative options for astro photographers thanks to a couple of astro modes enabled by the Samsung Galaxy S23 Ultra camera. The first, called ‘Astro Hyperlapse’ is for capturing super-sharp long exposure shots of the night’s sky. There are 4 and 10-minute exposure times, however, what’s really cool is that there is an algorithm that compensates for the earth’s rotation and repositions the sky so that you don’t get ‘star streaks’ during the exposure. It uses GPS data to figure out where you are in the world too, so it works from any location. The other is a Star Trail mode for that curved long exposure streaked look as the stars trace across the sky.

Improved selfies

There’s a new Dual Pixel sensor in the front-facing selfie camera which is better at estimating the depth between the subject and background. This improves the bokeh effect, and the system is now better at managing thin objects like the glasses’ arms and stray pieces of hair.

You can also now set a “warm” tone along with the “natural” one if you prefer this look. It can be set as a default colour profile for all of your shots.

The S23 also gets a SuperHDR mode for recording selfie videos, meaning greater dynamic range so you don’t have to worry about backlit or other tricky lighting conditions since the sensor can compensate and clean things up.

HDR10+ video support

While we’re on the topic of video, Samsung says that the S23’s 4K HDR10+ recording mode is now perfected and out of beta, so you can capture pro-level HDR video footage. In fact, at the Unpacked 2023 launch, Samsung announced two films shot on the S23 Ultra – Behold – directed by the one and only Ridley Scott, and Faith, by Na Hong-jin.

Pro control and RAW

There’s more for experts too with new RAW and Pro modes. You can access 16-bit computational RAW files should you wish, and you can even get RAW data from the selfie camera. The main 200MP camera now supports 50MP RAW output, which has increased from the S22 Ultra.

For even more creative control, as well as tuning your default settings, there’s a Camera Assistant app that can be downloaded.

All in all, while the S23 range may appear similar on the outside to the S22 from last year, there’s a lot of change on the inside, which looks to make the Ultra the pro photographer’s smartphone of choice.

Valens Quinn attended the Unpacked 2023 event in San Francisco as a guest of Samsung Australia.