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Galaxy S24 Ultra: The Shift from 10x to 5x Optical Zoom

My initial discontent arose upon discovering Samsung’s decision to reduce the optical zoom on its flagship, the Samsung Galaxy S24 Ultra, from 10x on the S23 Ultra to a mere 5x. I was baffled by the removal of my favorite Galaxy feature.

With the Galaxy S24 line unveiled and some hands-on experience with the titanium-rich Galaxy S24 Ultra, I’m inclined to reconsider my frustration. Perhaps, just maybe, Samsung made a prudent move.

Fitting 10x optical zoom into a 7.6mm thick smartphone is no simple task. Employing periscope technology, Samsung redirects light 90 degrees from the lens through the body to a sensor, requiring expertise, innovation, and space. 5x zoom, now the norm for most flagship phones, might be the practical limit without periscope technology.

Though I’ve tempered my enthusiasm for Samsung’s 100X Space Zoom due to excessive AI involvement, nothing dampened my appreciation for the sober, 10x optical zoomed imagery of the Galaxy S23 Ultra. In real-world use, it brought me twice as close to the action compared to the iPhone 15 Pro Max’s 5x zoom – a boon at concerts, whether I had distant or prime seats.

While Apple edged out Samsung in zoom camera megapixels, with the iPhone 15 Pro Max’s 5x zoom boasting a 12MP camera versus the S23 Ultra’s 10MP, this megapixel disparity never propelled the best iPhone ahead in the telephoto race against the best Samsung phone.

Zooming In: Comparing iPhone 15 Pro Max and Samsung Galaxy S24 Ultra's Telephoto Capabilities
Image credit: Samsung

Zooming In: Comparing iPhone 15 Pro Max and Samsung Galaxy S24 Ultra’s Telephoto Capabilities

The iPhone 15 Pro Max and Samsung Galaxy S24 Ultra now share parity in telephoto zoom with dual 5x zoom cameras, omitting the need for a periscope. However, Samsung’s strategic choice, evident in my brief hands-on experience, suggests it might still outshine in zoom capabilities.

Behind the S24 Ultra’s 5x zoom lies a substantial 50MP sensor, surpassing Apple’s best zoom in pixel count. Intriguingly, Samsung claims 10x zoom, displayed in the camera app after 5x, with no distinction between optical and digitally-assisted zoom – a point that doesn’t thrill me.

Samsung deploys a common trick: while 5x optical zoom condenses 50MP to a 12MP shot, the 10x zoom utilizes the full 50MP frame, selecting a 12MP center for a “zoomed” image at full resolution.

Critics argue the S23 Ultra’s 10x optical zoom suffered from low megapixels, leading to subpar image quality. Now, the S24 Ultra boasts more megapixels, potentially enhancing the final “10x zoom” product.

While I favor genuine 10x optical zoom, I grasp the intention here. In my brief encounter with the Samsung Galaxy S24 Ultra, I started to perceive that this managed 10x zoom might not be as dreadful as I initially thought.

Holding on to the 10x Zoom Dream
Image credit: Samsung

Holding on to the 10x Zoom Dream

I can’t let go of that 10x zoom allure. While I yearn for Apple, Samsung, and Google to surpass the 5x optical zoom limit with maximum pixels, I comprehend the necessary tradeoffs.

Traditional cameras achieve zoom with larger lenses, requiring space and distance between the glass lens and sensor to capture ample light. Our sleek phones aren’t built for this. For Samsung and Apple, it’s an ongoing tradeoff. Incorporating a periscope might mean sacrificing battery space or excluding the Galaxy S24 Ultra’s larger vapor chamber, vital for temperature control and efficiency.

In the early days of the Samsung Galaxy S24 Ultra, I’m still disappointed by the absence of 10x optical zoom. Yet, I can consider this optical/digital/sensor compromise. Will my S24 Ultra’s 10x photos rival those of the S23 Ultra? They might surpass or fall slightly short.

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