When I was mulling over how to structure this review, one of the first things that came to mind was: maybe we don't want to see a deluge of shots, because they're Samsung flagships...
...everyone else is going to be reviewing them...
and - as the Android phones most compared against iPhones - Samsung flagships can be counted upon to have cameras that are more than decent.
So, let's just do a direct camera comparison of the Galaxy S20 and S20+ versus their bigger Ultra brother to see if there's any sort of yawning chasm between them.
Before we begin, here's a simple breakdown of all three cameras:
Again, we'd like you to note that since the S20 and S20+ have the same sensor hardware, it was unsurprising that the outputs of both cameras were found to be virtually indistinguishable from each other.
As such, we'll mostly be comparing just 2 sets of images: S20/S20+ vs. S20 Ultra.
Let's start by examining basic camera output. At first, it was hard to find meaningful variances in colour, contrast and tonality between all S20-family phones:
We started to see differences only in high-contrast scenes or scenes with light sources that could potentially confuse white balance processing, as this shot at Jewel Changi Airport illustrates:
I had the privilege of hanging out at a homely house in the Tanjong Pagar area over the weekend, and got some really nice views that further drive home the point:
And now, for the part you've really been wondering about:
The S20 and S20+ have "only" 30x hybrid zoom, while the whole planet likely knows by now that the S20 Ultra maxes out at a mindboggling 100x "Space Zoom". However, before you rush out of the house with your fistful of dollars, read this part through:
But at 30x hybrid zoom, the S20 and S20+ are, strangely, not as terrible as you might expect:
Let me try to make this point in a slightly different way. Consider these three shots:
Let's take another look:
Would I say there was a meaningful difference between the zoom quality on the S20/S20+ and the S20 Ultra? Yes - depending on your needs. Would I say it was worth a full $600? Maybe not.
We've come a long way with periscope lenses plus high-megapixel sensors that were once only the preserve of medium-format studio cameras, pumping out huge amounts of detail which today's lightning-fast processors can integrate and crop in a matter of mere seconds to produce levels of digital zoom hitherto unseen on smartphones. But you know what? It's still digital. Don't expect to take the S20, S20+, S20 Ultra, or any of their contemporaries on safaris and get long zoom shots of cheetahs or wildebeest worth a page in a coffee-table book. The quality still isn't there yet.
Verdict: If the idea that the S20 Ultra wipes the floor with any other smartphone today in terms of resolution and zoom power keeps you awake at night, then by all means go for it. However, the average Joe and Jane, unaccustomed to zooming even past 5x on a daily basis, will probably not make enough use of the extra detail to justify the huge premium - and the S20/S20+ already have very good cameras.
There's also the issue of the S20 Ultra's gigantic form factor and huge camera bump. The S20 Ultra is certainly better at this new and exciting hybrid zoom game, but whether it's $600 better off-the-shelf (maybe some can close the gap by signing a telco contract) is something you should think about carefully, especially since for all other intents and purposes both sets of cameras have very similar output quality.
8K video recording is still an idea before its time. There's not a lot of (affordable) gear out there that will play your glorious clips at full resolution, and all you'll be doing is filling up your internal storage (and whatever poor microSD card serves in your phone) at 600MB per minute. Also, video is recorded at a film-era 24fps with no autofocus tracking or image stabilisation.
On top of all these, what I consider the Numero Uno problem with 8K video was that we just could not find anywhere to share it. We read that both YouTube and Vimeo would accept it for upload, but YouTube had only processed it to Full HD 1080p a couple of days later, while Vimeo hadn't even gotten past 360p.
What sounds like a more practical use of 8K video on the S20 phones is the ability to produce 33-megapixel still images from any frame in an 8K video. This can be done from within the phone's native Video player app by tapping the Quick Crop button on the upper left hand corner (the one below the file name.)
Now here's the catch. I say "sounds like" because, with any camera movement and indoors or in low light, the 24fps frame rate results in too many blurred frames to deliver enough keepers for Quick Crop:
On the other hand, Samsung has made sure that the standards are well in place. Good ol' 4K video is recorded at 60fps, doesn't look any less crisp (the difference is practically indiscernible on the phone's display), and best of all, looks great even in low light. The Quick Crop stills from 4K video are 8.3MP, more than enough for social media sharing.
There's something to remember regarding angle of view in both camera modes, too. Eagle-eyed punters will have noticed (and think) that you get more hybrid zoom ("10x") in 4K mode, while in 8K mode you'll have to make do with only "6x". Sorry to burst your bubble, though: the actual amount of zoom is the same!
I'll sum it up thusly: 8K eats storage and battery juice like it's going out of style, while affordable, ubiquitous 8K consumer displays are not even ripe for the picking. Nope - just like "108MP mode", 8K video is, for now, just another party trick.
The S20 and S20+ use a 10MP, f/2.2 selfie cam, losing the dual-camera setup on the S10+.
In normal conditions, the selfie cam is unremarkable (which is to say, quite acceptable...)
Maybe it's that time of the year when your contract is due. Should you get the S20/S20+?
A 128GB S10+ seems to be able to fetch north of $500 (as of the time of writing) in some of the more well-known mobile stores. If you're renewing your contract, it's a no-brainer. You could pay a couple hundred, or nothing, after selling off your existing phone.
As for no-contract purchases, with the street price of the S20+ being about $1,100 now this would mean forking over another $600. Is $600 still worth paying? For the first high-resolution pixel-binning camera hardware on a flagship Galaxy, a class-leading combo of AMOLED and 120Hz display refresh rates, and a more efficient and powerful Exynos processor and more RAM... I say yes.
If the camera is your main concern, here are some comparison images that might sway you. Or not:
Apart from their rather "meh" design language, I found that I enjoyed the time I spent with the S20/S20+ duo more than I expected.
I received all three members of the S20 family for review, and I was initially only excited to finally be able to Space Zoom my way to infamy on my own Instagram feed. But after some time, it became clear that the bread-and-butter casual shots were good enough to impress friends, family and followers - and that the smaller duo were easier to handle than the Ultra, yet with similar battery life.
The S20 and S20+ together represent a solid effort from Samsung that addresses most of the gripes I've had with previous-generation flagship products, and so both come highly recommended from me. Now, if you'll excuse me, I'll be off to look for some flashy cases...