We’ve known for some time that Samsung is going to be launching three versions of its new flagship phones – the Galaxy S20. But the camera details have been a little obscure, not really revealing which each phone might get.
Cameras are one of the main battlegrounds for modern smartphones and Samsung – while putting in a good performance – hasn’t been leading the pack recently. It looks like there’s a big change coming to the cameras on the S20 series.
The confirmation of the specs, while not official, come from a reliable leaker on Twitter but do paint a confusing picture of Samsung’s plans.
— Ice universe (@UniverseIce) January 14, 2020
While many of these cameras had been mentioned before, we now have a better picture of what each phone will have, so let’s break it down.
The standard Samsung Galaxy S20 is getting a new 12-megapixel sensor for the main camera. This is said have 1.8µm pixels, meaning they are massive and should allow in lots of light. That’s long been something that camera sensors have been looking to do: have bigger pixels to make them better with absorbing the available light.
The S20 then gets a 64-megapixel telephoto, which presumably will let Samsung capture more detail with the more densely packed pixels, but we do worry about how well it will work in poor light conditions – and we don’t know what the optical length is going to be – 5x? Finally there’s a 12-megapixel ultra-wide angle.
The larger Samsung Galaxy S20+ gets the same arrangement of cameras, but adds in a time-of-flight sensor. This is designed to give the camera system a better depth map to allow for better focusing or better depth perception for portrait modes. We’ve not been blown away by ToF-sensor equipped phones so far – phones like the Google Pixel get great separation without that sensor.
Finally we come to the Samsung Galaxy S20 Ultra. This looks like the phone where Samsung wants to go all-out. The main camera has a 108-megapixel sensor, although we can’t help feeling that it is using a different camera philosophy to the 12-megapixel main camera of the S20 and the S20+. It will certainly use pixel combining to give you a 12-megapixel photo, grouping in 9 pixel blocks.
This then joined by a 48-megapixel sensor in the 10x optical telephoto camera. This is presumably where the periscope zoom comes in (although this detail is still a little obscure), and it’s said that you’ll be able to get 100x hybrid zoom from it.
Finally there’s the 12-megapixel ultra-wide angle and the time-of-flight sensor rounding out the picture for the Samsung Galaxy S20 Ultra.
We’ve seen a trend recently – especially in Chinese phones – of putting in huge megapixel sensors. They often result in 12-megapixel photos (because of pixel combining) and Samsung won’t be the first to use a 108-megapixel sensor, as Xiaomi did so on the Xiaomi Mi Note 10 – although that defaults to a 27-megapixel main photo.
But as the Mi Note 10 shows, so much of what you do with these cameras comes down to processing: Google and Apple are getting great results from 12-megapixel sensors, because they are processing well. Increasing the megapixel count isn’t a silver bullet that results in a great camera – and adding extra sensors and options doesn’t always result in the best user experience – it can just lead to complexity.
The most interesting thing about this setup will be seeing how Samsung sells these cameras at Galaxy Unpacked, which we’ll be bringing you all the news from on 11 February.