I loved testing the Samsung Galaxy S23 Ultra ; its cameras were fantastic, giving me the versatility to take great pictures whether I was centimeters from my subject or miles away, and whether my subject was a tiny bird or a giant landscape.
In fact, it’s perhaps only the third phone I’ve tested to make me genuinely excited to roam the world, capturing what’s in front of me. Only the Huawei P30 and Xiaomi Mi Note 10 have given me this feeling before.
Despite this, the Samsung Galaxy S23’s Ultra version needs to do something completely different. Despite the S22 Ultra almost topping our list of the best camera phones, if the S23 Ultra is the same, it’s not going to come close.
Two Samsung Galaxy S22 Ultra models (Image credit: Future)
When I was testing the Samsung Galaxy S22 Ultra, I could freely enjoy all the great camera features it brought; my favorite was its 10x zoom lens, which was fantastic due to the lovely depth of field that telephoto lenses provide.
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However as a reviewer, I also have to contend with two major factors. Firstly is the price, which certainly is high, but it’s not the point of this piece.
Secondly, and very closely linked, is the value of a phone – this isn’t exactly the same as its price, but is rather about how much the cost of a device matches its merits.
While the S22 Ultra is definitely good enough to match its price, there’s actually a phone with identical cameras, that’s better value for money – that’s the Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra.
The Samsung Galaxy S22 Ultra’s cameras were actually identical to those on the S21 Ultra, save for whatever tweaks and algorithmic changes Samsung has made to its software over the year.
Yet the S21 Ultra has seen a year of price cuts compared to its newer sibling, so it’s often available at a lower price, especially during times like Amazon Prime Day.
Because of that, unless you need an S22 Ultra-specific feature (namely its built-in stylus), the S21 Ultra is likely a better buy, particularly if you can get it for a sizeable discount. And that means that, while the S22 Ultra is decent value for money, the S21 Ultra is easier to recommend.
The Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra with a camera sample (Image credit: Aakash Jhaveri)
To make itself a distinct gadget from its two predecessors, the Samsung Galaxy S23 Ultra really needs some newer cameras. That’s going to be hard – how do you improve on the best Android camera phone? But there are certainly ways.
Firstly, I’d like to see the main camera use a longer focal length – the Samsung Galaxy S23 108MP main sensor used a 23mm lens, and that’s the same as most smartphone main cameras, as it has a wide enough field of view yet doesn’t have much edge distortion.
However with the advent of ultra-wide lenses in smartphones, I’ve started to find 23mm or 24mm too wide – I wouldn’t use this kind of lens in my own photography, instead preferring longer focal lengths and the depth of field they bring. So maybe Samsung can start at 32mm or more for its main camera.
I’d also love to see Samsung introduce continuous optical zoom like Sony uses in the Xperia 1 IV, as this gives you loads of versatility for telephoto photography. It’s not something I’m expecting – Sony was the first company to use this tech, and only started in mid-2022 – but a guy can dream.
Finally, it’d be great to see higher-res sensors on the rear cameras – thanks to the range of zoom cameras, it was easy to close the gap for most shots, but if I needed to use a touch of digital zoom to get even closer, the 10MP or 12MP sensors that they have meant that detail was quickly lost.
So even though the Samsung Galaxy S22 Ultra pushed the bounds of mobile photography, the S23 Ultra could push things even further – and it needs to, to differentiate it from the past two generations of Samsung Ultra flagship. And that’s especially true if rumors of a Google Pixel 7 Ultra turn out to be accurate.