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Samsung Galaxy S22 Ultra camera test: Check out these quick look photo samples

The Galaxy Ultra series has set a high bar for mobile photography — does that continue with the Galaxy S22 Ultra?
By
February 10, 2022
Samsung Galaxy S22 Ultra in Burgundy showing the rear of the phone with a plant in the background
Eric Zeman / Android Authority

The Galaxy S22 Ultra claims to offer Samsung’s most impressive camera package to date. Not much has changed on the hardware front, aside from a few minor under the hood improvements to the sensor and lenses. But Samsung is still touting a number of imaging upgrades, including Adaptive Pixel details, Nightography, and super smooth video.

We highlighted the Galaxy S21 Ultra as the best camera phone of 2021 (and you agreed in our poll!), so we have high hopes for the new model. While we’ll be conducting plenty of in-depth shootouts in the coming weeks and months, we didn’t want to wait before taking it for a spin. Let’s dive right on into some image samples and early impressions in this quick look Samsung Galaxy S22 Ultra camera test.

Samsung Galaxy S22 Ultra camera test: Photo samples

As you’d expect from a $1,199 camera phone, it’s hard to complain about the quality of the photos above. At least not without nit-picking. Exposure, color balance, and details are all sublime for a smartphone. As you can see from some of our more colorful scenes, there’s a fair bit of pop and punch here. However, the Galaxy S22 Ultra is undoubtedly not as oversaturated as years gone by.

Our early verdict: Samsung Galaxy S22 Ultra hands-on impressions

We can spot at least one fault here, though. The tree example shows signs of fringing and aberration in the foreground — typical of mobile lenses that aren’t fast enough to focus the light correctly. Likewise, the bokeh blur in the selfie portrait shot is perhaps a tad strong. But that’s being pedantic. These are minor but familiar complaints, so those looking for a significant upgrade over last year’s Galaxy S21 Ultra will be disappointed. Still, camera hardware has hit a plateau lately across the wider industry.

However, Samsung states that it’s improved the detail capture of its 108MP ISOCELL HM3 main camera this year. Specifically, Samsung says that its Adaptive Pixel technology extracts more detail from the camera by merging 108MP and 12MP pixel-binned data.

In good daylight, there’s certainly plenty of detail on offer here. Although, like all pixel-binned cameras, fine details take on a painted effect due to a combination of image cleanup and demosaicing from the quad-bayer filter. It’s pretty hard to tell if Adaptive Pixel has made any difference here — we’ll have to grab some side-by-side shots against the S21 Ultra. Still, the crops are every bit as good as you’d expect from a top-tier phone.

Of course, if you’re really into distant details, the Galaxy S22 Ultra packs not one but two zoom cameras, with 3x and 10x optical focal lengths, respectively. As such, the S22 Ultra is the king of long-range shots, boasting impressive levels of color and detail outdoors. Intermediate zoom levels between the two cameras look decent too, and the phone holds up OK out to about 30x as well. However, the phone’s 100x capabilities are severely oversold.

A quick look at the ultrawide snapper reveals a familiarly large step back from the main camera. The colors here err a little more on the yellow side, and there are a few telltale signs of lens distortion and chromatic aberration near the edges. Overall the setup looks to be in about the same spot as last year’s ultrawide — solid but certainly not 100% perfect.

Samsung Galaxy S22 Ultra vs Galaxy S22 Plus camera test: How do they compare?

Samsung Galaxy S22 Ultra black vs Samsung Galaxy S22 Plus Pink Gold rear on bench
Eric Zeman / Android Authority

Of course, Samsung’s Galaxy S22 and S22 Plus have their own set of noteworthy camera improvements and have seen more significant hardware upgrades than the Ultra at this outing. The old 12MP main sensor makes way for a larger 50MP affair, and there’s an optical rather than hybrid 3x telephoto lens on board this year. While the Galaxy S22 Ultra still has a notable hardware advantage, just how big is the difference between the two?

Color-wise, there doesn’t appear to be anything between the two. Both offer vibrant colors without too much hint of oversaturation, and the white balance is essentially identical too. If I had to be picky, there’s slightly more yellow saturation on the S22 Plus, but really there’s nothing in it.

In our second picture, the phones share the same sky hues, and even in terms of full-frame detail, there are no obvious issues to tell the two apart. However, the S22 Plus is a little warmer and more saturated, particularly on the amber brickwork and the red woodwork. That isn’t to say the Plus is worse as such, but perhaps a tad less accurate in its color processing.

You really have to pixel-peep in bright daylight to make out any detail differences between these two cameras. However, in the shot above, we can see slightly better fine detail retention with the Galaxy S22 Ultra’s pixel-binned 108MP camera compared to the result from the S22 Plus. Pay particular attention to the trees and the wood textures.

Previously, the Ultra series offered superior zoom quality over the Plus. Still, this year’s hardware improvements have leveled the playing field at around 3x, despite the S22 Ultra retaining a slightly larger telephoto sensor. Exposure, color, and even detail are a virtual match between the two at full-frame. There’s nothing to tell them apart in this scene, even on a close inspection. The same goes for the wide-angle camera, which offers the same field of view across all Galaxy S22 phones.

Of course, the Galaxy S22 Ultra’s additional periscope lens runs away at 10x and beyond. But the Galaxy S22 Plus is competitive over short-range zoom and in general daylight photography. We’ll have to pit these phones against each other in some more extreme conditions to tell them apart meaningfully.

Samsung Galaxy S22 camera test: Our early verdict

Samsung Galaxy S22 Ultra in Green in hand showing the rear of the phone
Eric Zeman / Android Authority

As expected, given the limited hardware changes, we’re certainly not looking at a revolution in mobile photography with the Samsung Galaxy S22 Ultra. Instead, Samsung has focused more on software and feature improvements, tidying up image quality, and introducing new features like Pro shooting modes and Nightography.

Those are all very welcome changes, and the Galaxy S22 Ultra is undoubtedly in good stead to be one of the best camera phones you can buy this year. However, the stationary hardware presents an opportunity for its rivals to close the gap, so we’ll have to see if others can up their game too.

See also: The best camera phones money can buy

Although the Ultra often overshadows the Samsung Galaxy S22 and S22 Plus, it would be an error to discount these two as inferior camera phones this year too. Our early hands-on suggests their upgrades have closed the gap on the Ultra’s image quality and shooting flexibility, all while costing significantly less.

Stay locked to Android Authority for even more detailed Galaxy S22 camera tests in the near future. In the meantime, let us know what comparisons with other camera phones you’d like to see in the comments.

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Samsung Galaxy S22
Refined, compact design
Small yet sweet display
Impressive camera setup
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Samsung Galaxy S22 Plus
Excellent display
Powerful camera package
Solid battery life
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Samsung Galaxy S22 Ultra
Solid performance
Punchy, versatile cameras
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