S23 Ultra Camera Test

So, I have an S23 Ultra smartphone, and I wanted to test out the much-vaulted camera, maybe even compare it to the Note 20 Ultra (Samsung sure likes the “Ultra” label).

DANGER, WILL ROBINSON! — unless you’re interested in phone photography, and specifically Samsung’s S23 Ultra photo prowess, this might be boring for you.

The above is not the first photo I took, but it’s one that illustrates the quality of the macro shots this phone is capable of. Here are two more casual macro shots . . .

All the photos and videos in this post are as downloaded from the phone. That means they are a bit overprocessed and a tab brighter than they should be (it’s the phone’s default which ends up looking good on a small screen). That was an issue with the Note 20, but things are a bit better on this phone (comparison later).

I should also mention this phone’s camera comes with a “Pro” mode like the Note 20, but it also has an Expert RAW mode that gives the shooter much more control and options. There are lots of videos on YouTube going over the higher-end functions of the device, but I’m showing results when shooting with the camera app options as received (default setup).

The S23 Ultra has four cameras:

Selfie Camera (12.0MP), Ultra Wide Camera (12.0MP), Wide-angle Camera (200.0MP), Telephoto (10.0/10.0MP), and Optical Zoom at 3x and 10x, Digital Zoom up to 100x.

I’ve played with the 200MP and the more useful 50MP settings, but neither gave me enough advantage that I could see myself using them. It could be I didn’t use them properly, but, regardless, you end up with very large files.

But, again, my main interest is “regular” shooting without much worrying about higher-end options. To wit, I was waiting for Melisa, and I shot the following series:

1X Zoom
3X Optical Zoom
10X Optical Zoom
30X Digital Zoom
100X Digital Zoom

Now, there’s a controversy floating around . . . people are saying that Samsung is “faking” the photos of the Moon at 100X digital zoom. I won’t go into the whole controversy here, but they are sort of “faking” the above as well.

They are doing what photographers do all the time, namely, processing the photos to make them look as best as possible. As one might guess, AIs are at work behind the scenes doing what photographers do manually.

Let me explain; the next photo is a screenshot of what I saw when shooting the above photo:

What I saw on the screen.

Let me tell you what you’re seeing . . . the small yellow image on the upper right is from the 10X Optical Zoom camera, and it’s there to help you align the shot. The overall image is basically a crop from the 10X camera, and, rightly so, it looks like crap.

When you snap the photo, there is lag, and then there’s another lag while the image is being “optimized” by the AI. The end result is the AI’s best guess at what the final image should look like, and if you go back to the previous image, it’s not bad. Impressive even.

This next image is of the wires on the side of the building . . . followed by what the camera actually saw.

Processed photo
What I saw on the screen

OK, it won’t win any awards, but it’s still impressive (to me). Just to show how much work the AI is doing, here’s a shot of a storefront across the street from the parking lot I was in. This time I will show you the screenshot first.

What I saw on the screen
The processed photo

If you’re looking at that on a small screen, it’s even more impressive …

See? Bigger isn’t always better.

Yeah, but how is it with video?”

Well, the phone can shoot up to 8K (humans can’t even see 4K, but it gives you the option to play the video on bigly screens and look great). The thing is, the files are humongous. So, again, here are some regular videos at different zooms (the second and third are nearly identical; I was trying a slower pan). They were shot at the Rend Lake Spillway.

Even at a minute or less, these files top 500MB. If you have a large screen or a high-definition display, make sure you watch them at the highest resolution available by clicking on the spoked wheel and choosing up to 4K. If you have a small screen, 1080p should suffice.

Here are four photos of the same scene: 0.6X, 1.0X, 3X, and 10X.

0.6X zoom
1.0X zoom
3X zoom
10X zoom

A bit too bright (some highlights are blown), but overall, not bad.

Next, I went to the Rend Lake Visitor Center. Specifically, the interpretative center. It’s not dark, but it’s not well-lit, either. The phone had no issues. By the way, the stabilization function on this phone is crazy good.

“Sure, sure . . . but, what about indoor videos, huh?”

Again, best viewed at higher resolutions. If need be, go to Vimeo proper.

Here’s another photo that impressed me . . .

Here’s a photo from 2019 . . .

That photo was shot on my then Note 8 and processed with Snapseed. Here’s the photo from the S23 Ultra, no processing . . .

Note that the S23 Ultra rendered the scene outside the window, compensating for it being much brighter than the inside scene.

Side note: after snapping the photo, I called one of the Rangers over because I was curious if the placement of the stuffed turkey was intentional. The facility is run by the U. S. Army Corps of Engineers, hence why the president and various department heads adorn the walls, including the local commander.

Anyway, she gave me a puzzled look, as another ranger joined us. I had to explain that I was asking whether the placement of the stuffed turkey was a subtle jab at the command structure. Previously Trump and now Biden. Apparently, it hadn’t occurred to them, and they quickly pointed out that turkeys are actually very smart birds (Ben Franklin wanted the national bird to be a Turkey, and not the dumb-as-doornails Bald Eagle . . . which, it turns out, is a good symbol for a goodly number of citizen and many of the politicians they elect).

Be that as it may, I countered, that’s not the cultural and societal view when someone is called a turkey. We had a good laugh, but it’ll be curious to see if the turkey will be there next time I visit.

Anyway, let me get back to macros a moment . . .

These food faces are significantly better than previous efforts, even without editing.

I’m impressed by the detail the camera picks up. And, again, this is without me doing anything to the photo.

Readers know I photograph rocks . . .

I’m also one of them guys who don’t like shallow depth of field. If I photograph something, I want to see the details of whatever I’m shooting. This phone has two modes for macros; one with focus assist (swaps camera to one with more DOF), and a more traditional one that gives you a blurry background. For example:

As mentioned, some of these photos look a tad oversharpened, slightly overexposed, and oversharpened . . . but all those are things I can set in the settings.

Even so, here are two shots from the Note 20 . . .

And here’s the same rock shot with the S23 Ultra . . .

It may be a matter of preference, but I like the S23 versions. The Note 20 versions were post-processed by hand, and I would typically process these before sharing them.

Anyway, this is getting long in the tooth, but I wanted to leave you with another example of the phone’s capabilities . . .

0.6X zoom
1.0X zoom
3.0X Optical Zoom
10X Optical Zoom
30X Digital Zoom
100X Digital Zoom

To be clear, the 100X zoom is only good for bragging rights, and of not much practical use, but still . . . if you don’t have a regular zoom camera with you, this would do in a pinch, especially to 30X. Even the 100X is better than any Bigfoot or UFO photos I’ve seen, especially if presented in a smaller size . . .

30X Digital Zoom
100X Digital Zoom

The Gallery for these photos (and a few more) is HERE.

This is the slideshow, but it includes videos, and they show up as a still. Again, I’d watch the videos on Vimeo and at as high a quality as my screen allows.

Slideshow of the S23 Ultra Test Shots Gallery — 50 photos and videos

That’s it. This post has ended . . . except for the stuff below.


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