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Samsung Galaxy S24 Ultra vs Samsung Galaxy S23 Ultra: Which telephoto camera is better?

We can't say that we're too surprised by the results...
By
February 11, 2024

Samsung’s Galaxy S23 Ultra and Galaxy S24 Ultra are both powerful, top-of-the-line camera phones with two rear telephoto sensors and up to 100x Space Zoom. They even look and feel almost identical in hand. However, one significant difference between the two should give Samsung’s latest flagship just a little more punch in the medium zoom range.

Let’s see if more megapixels (50MP vs 10MP), a smaller zoom (5x vs 10x), and a shorter focal length can trump the tried and true Galaxy S23 Ultra 10x sensor in a telephoto throwdown.

Choose your fighter: 5x at 50MP or 10x at 10 MP?

Samsung Galaxy S24 Ultra vs Samsung Galaxy S23 Ultra backs
Robert Triggs / Android Authority

Before we get to the results, we should probably dig into what these two excellent Android phones are working with. On one side, we have the Galaxy S23 Ultra’s cameras, which carry the same 10MP 10x optical telephoto sensor that Samsung used on the Galaxy S22 Ultra and Galaxy S21 Ultra before. The 230mm-equivalent lens has a maximum aperture of f/4.9 and supports both PDAF and OIS, and the lower resolution means that it doesn’t bin pixels to create smaller files.

On the other hand, the Galaxy S24 Ultra’s camera setup now carries a 50MP 5x optical telephoto sensor with a much wider maximum aperture of f/3.4. That means it can capture more light and offer a shallower depth of field, as well as punch in to 10x zoom using a crop from the sensor’s center. Of course, the higher resolution combined with the similarly sized sensor means that the individual megapixels are smaller than those on the 10MP telephoto camera.

Would you rather have more megapixels or longer optical zoom? Samsung seems to have made up its mind.

Outside of the change in longer-range telephoto sensors, both flagships carry 200MP primary cameras, 10MP 3x optical telephoto cameras, 12MP ultrawide sensors, and 12MP punch hole selfie cameras. As such, your results from 0.6x zoom to 3x zoom should be nearly identical on either device.

The most significant difference, however, should come once you inch past that 3x zoom mark. Shots taken at 5x zoom on the Galaxy S23 Ultra apply digital zoom and post-processing to the 10MP sensor, while the same shot taken with the Galaxy S24 Ultra uses the full 50MP resolution and bins the result down to a more manageable 12MP file. The newer sensor can also apply a sensor crop for lengths between 5x and 10x zoom, while the older sensor leans more and more on digital zoom until you reach its 10x optical telephoto sensor.

With that little breakdown out of the way, let’s get to some real-life examples.

Round 1: 5x zoom

 

Our first comparison comes from my colleague, Rob Triggs, who took his Galaxy S23 Ultra and Galaxy S24 Ultra out for a rare sunny walk in the UK. It depicts a clock on the side of a church tower taken at 5x zoom, a range where the Galaxy S24 Ultra should shine, while the Galaxy S23 Ultra should require a combination of digital zoom and post-processing.

One of the first things you’ll notice is the difference in color profile, with the older Galaxy S23 Ultra offering a significantly lighter result. There’s also a bit of color bleeding in the white highlights, which is especially noticeable on the pole in the foreground. On the other hand, the Samsung Galaxy S24 Ultra offers a much more natural color profile, with a darker blue shade to the sky and a more natural tone across the stone tower.

The two flagships also handle the white stains on the side of the building entirely differently. Where the Galaxy S24 Ultra treats them like a natural part of the scene, the Galaxy S23 Ultra sharpens and brightens them, giving an effect that’s closer to paintballs on the side of the building. While sharpening would probably be helpful for details like those at the top of the tower, the Galaxy S23 Ultra generally goes overboard to produce the sharpest result possible.

The first round is an easy knockout for the Galaxy S24 Ultra and its 5x optical telephoto sensor.

Round 2: 6x zoom

Now, let’s jump to a zoom length that forces both phones to do extra work. At 6x zoom, the Galaxy S23 Ultra still uses a mix of digital zoom and post-processing, while the Galaxy S24 Ultra can take a small crop out of the middle of its high-resolution sensor. This time, we’re looking at a small glass ornament shaped like a ladybug next to a tree. It’s covered in reflective surfaces with plenty of additional textures running up the side of the tree.

The results, as expected, follow those of the 5x zoom test pretty closely. The Galaxy S23 Ultra once again delivers a much lighter color profile and severely oversharpens the details in the tree bark. It’s still clearly identifiable but looks closer to an AI-generated image than a real tree. The Galaxy S23 Ultra also loses some tiny flecks of dirt, merging them into a larger brown stain rather than keeping them distinct.

Unfortunately, the same highlighting issues still exist, too, with some of the white portions becoming flat while the Galaxy S24 Ultra preserves more detail where the highlights transition to other colors. The older sensor also makes the spider web look thicker and fuzzier than it is, while the Galaxy S24 Ultra treats it appropriately.

Samsung’s updated high-resolution telephoto sensor wins again.

Round 3: 10x zoom

 

The last of our three comparisons should give the Galaxy S23 Ultra a bit more of a fighting chance as it’s taken at 10x zoom. That means the older 10MP sensor can ditch its digital struggles and get back to optical quality while the newer sensor applies a full crop to its 50MP sensor. In this case, we have a memorial plaque on a concrete base full of small details that would be tough for any camera to process.

As expected, the older sensor’s optical zoom shines, capturing more detail in the bronze plaque and the concrete base than the Galaxy S24 Ultra can match. The lighter color profile on the Galaxy S23 Ultra means you can see some of the darker details around the bronze lettering, while the Galaxy S24 Ultra’s darker color recreation washes them out. Samsung’s newer flagship also makes the base of each letter look a bit fuzzy, but looking at the image from the Galaxy S23 Ultra, you can tell that it’s the base of the letter where it meets the plaque.

One of the more considerable differences between the two photos is a flip-flop of the first example. This time, the newer Galaxy S24 Ultra takes the green stain on the concrete and makes it thicker, almost like a layer of paint on the base. The Galaxy S23 Ultra, on the other hand, keeps it a lighter green that looks more like a natural stain.

Although it loses the best-of-three shootout, Samsung’s older flagship proves there’s still a use case for a longer telephoto sensor.

Which optical telephoto length do you think Samsung should use in the future?

401 votes

Samsung Galaxy S24 Ultra vs Samsung Galaxy S23 Ultra: Which telephoto is better?

S23 Ultra and S24 Ultra 2
Damien Wilde / Android Authority

In boxing, we have a split decision — but not an unexpected one. The newer sensor shines at the shorter zoom lengths (everything shy of 10x zoom), while the older sensor packs its biggest punch once you reach its double-digit optical length. It’s a case of cropping vs digitally zooming and processing, and the former wins every time. And honestly, this is why Samsung made the switch in the first place. During our Q&A session ahead of the Galaxy Unpacked event in January, Samsung’s team explained that most of its users spend their time between 3x and 5x zoom, so the 10x telephoto sensor was going largely underutilized.

Of course, this is only a small slice of what both cameras are capable of. We’ll have plenty more images to dig into in the near future, many of which illustrate the updated processing powers of Galaxy AI on top of Samsung’s already powerful hardware. We did compare other aspects of the Samsung Galaxy S23 Ultra vs Galaxy S24 Ultra to see if other factors justify an upgrade, but the final choice is up to you. It will also take a while to decide if the switch from 10x optical zoom to 5x optical zoom was truly worth it, but the early returns suggest a change for the better.

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Samsung Galaxy S24 Ultra
Samsung Galaxy S24 Ultra
Powerful, flexible cameras
Excellent update commitment
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Samsung Galaxy S23 Ultra
Samsung Galaxy S23 Ultra
New 200MP main camera
Beautiful display
S Pen functionality