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Before and after: Galaxy S20 Ultra camera update is a mixed bag
The Samsung Galaxy S20 Ultra is a powerful, formidable smartphone. As is often the case with fresh hardware, however, the software wasn’t quite ready at launch. The Galaxy S20 Ultra camera app suffered from some performance issues. In response, Samsung issued a software update to resolve the problems. Did Samsung get the job done? We took the revised camera software out for a spin to see.
Most Galaxy S20 units shipped with an initial software build of G988U1UEU1ATBN. The release date for that build was February 29 and included the March 1 security update. By now, most S20 owners should have received the latest update, from March 27, which is G988U1UEU1ATCH, or ATCH for short.
The change log for ATCH references only one thing, security. It doesn’t make mention of the camera at all. Lest you be unconvinced, Samsung has confirmed to Android Authority that the ATCH build does in fact bestow new code upon the Galaxy S20 Ultra camera.
What, exactly, does ATCH do? The problem facing the S20 Ultra camera was its ability to focus. The camera app was often slow to snap to focus, or, worse, spent time hunting around for a focus spot. We highlighted the issue in our video review of the S20 Ultra.
How are the results? We have opinions.
Editor’s note: For this comparison, we recreated shots we took during our initial Galaxy S20 Ultra review period. We tried to match the shooting conditions to the best of our ability.
The S20 Ultra camera app is slightly better. It is much faster to focus when shooting in bright light. No longer does the software poke around for something on which to lock focus. The same isn’t quite true in low-light situations. I found focus still a bit slow to come by when shooting in dimly lit spaces.
While that is somewhat good news, there’s some bad news. In a bid to improve focus, the software appears to be over-sharpening photos. This makes for noisy, displeasing results on occasion. The noise is most obvious if you zoom in on the images. Here is a series of before-and-after comparisons so you can see the differences for yourself.
In this color sample, you can plainly see more detail in the shot on the left, while the image on the right is noisier and slightly overexposed. I also think Samsung is boosting the colors a bit more than it was before.
The image on the left (above) is less noisy than the one on the right. The image on the right shows more detail. However, look at how crazily the green pops.
Here are more images to compare:
These images are curious. The rock wall shows a fairly equal amount of contrast and detail, but the one on the right has more noise. Same is true, though to a lesser extent, of the left and right images under the bridge. Again, it’s striking how much the green jumps out at you in the image on the right, though the sky color is off in that shot.
These river shots show better HDR performance on the left, but better sharpness and color on the right. Here (below) are yet more samples taken after applying the software update.
Taking everything into consideration, we’d say the software update delivered mixed results at best. While it’s true that the camera app is less frustrating to use, this small victory is offset by the noisier images. We can lay some of the blame at the feet of the S20 Ultra camera’s main 108MP sensor. Even binned down to 12MP, it relies on the slightly older phase detection autofocus method when compared to the sensor is the S20 and S20 Plus, which use dual-pixel autofocus.
We suggest that if you want the proper balance of size, cost, usability, and camera performance, go with the Samsung Galaxy S20 Plus. It’s the better buy.