The Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra, as the range-topping model in the S21 series, naturally features the best hardware. One of the most impressive hardware of this flagship smartphone has to be its sophisticated quad camera system, which can do up to 100x Space Zoom.
But the far-reaching zoom of the S21 Ultra is not the best feature of the camera. Instead, it is the sheer versatility of the quad camera configuration, thanks to its different focal lengths that actually serve their respective purposes in meaningful ways. If you want one of the best camera systems on a smartphone now, you will be very happy with the S21 Ultra.
Now, let’s talk about the specifications of the Galaxy S21 Ultra’s quad camera setup first. It is made up of a 108MP f/1.8 primary shooter, a 12MP f/2.2 ultra-wide angle lens, a 10MP f/2.4 telephoto sensor (3x optical zoom), and of course, another 10MP f/4.9 telephoto camera that can do 10x optical zoom. This camera configuration allows the phone to do up to 100x Space Zoom, and there’s also a laser autofocus system.
Generally, shooting with the S21 Ultra is a pleasant experience. The camera interface is responsive, it’s (mostly) effortless to get sharp, good-looking shots, and with the aforementioned autofocus system, the S21 Ultra can now lock in focus quickly and seamlessly. The iffy autofocus performance of last year’s S20 Ultra was my biggest issue with the phone, so it’s great to see that this is finally addressed with its successor right here.
While the camera interface is responsive for the most part, it’s a different story once I switch to the S21 Ultra’s 10x telephoto lens. Not only does the camera feel more sluggish, it’s harder to capture blur-free images too; the shutter speed slows down quite a bit at this level of zoom to make up for the smaller aperture opening.
But the thing is, I still want to use the S21 Ultra’s 10x telephoto camera despite these shortcomings, and I’m not just using it to capture subjects that are further away. When I need to frame a tighter shot to put more emphasis on a particular subject, this 10x zoom lens can do exactly that. With some patience and effort, I can still get great-looking shots with a good amount of detail. Judge for yourself with these sample shots at 10x zoom:
But what if you want to take close-up shots? Well, that’s where the Galaxy S21 Ultra’s 12MP ultra-wide angle sensor comes into the picture. That’s right, the ultra-wide camera can actually take macro shots, and you can get really up-close to a subject and still be able to capture a good amount of detail.
However, it’s a little bit finicky to get these shots. For best results, it’s best to get close to your subject and wait for the “focus enhancer” notification to pop-up on the camera interface instead of manually switching to the ultra-wide angle lens. This means the phone has automatically switched to the sensor in question to capture as much detail as it possibly can while minimising any form of distortion – with some image processing magic – from using such a wide lens for macro shots.
Really, the end results look great. Just take a look at these close-up shots.
As for the Galaxy S21 Ultra’s camera performance as a whole, it’s fantastic. Yes, it has a tendency to capture images with more intense, saturated colours, but it’s not to the point where they look artificial. It’s no secret that Samsung phones don’t produce the most natural-looking shots, but they do look pleasant to the eyes – well, to my eyes anyway.
However, while the Galaxy S21 Ultra’s camera performance is excellent, it’s worth noting that the phone also heats up quite a bit as I’m using the camera. In fact, it got to the point where the top half of the phone (especially the frame) gets a little too hot to the touch. Once this happens, the camera interface feels more sluggish too.
This is not an issue unique to the S21 Ultra either: I encountered the same problem with the standard Galaxy S21.
Nonetheless, I will take a closer look at this thermal issue – among other things, of course – in the full review of the Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra, which is coming very, very soon. It’s more challenging to review smartphones thoroughly in this second Movement Control Order (MCO) set by the government, so do bear with us!
In the meantime, if you’re looking for a smartphone with a fantastic, versatile camera system, the Galaxy S21 Ultra easily fits the bill. However, depending on how much you’re willing to pay, it can be tough to swallow the RM5,299 starting price of this costly flagship smartphone. Stay tuned to our full review for our final thoughts on the S21 Ultra!