The latest generation of Samsung, the S22 seriesmay appear on the surface to simply copy your excellent state-of-the-art camera suitebut this is a good lesson in why it’s vital to never judge a new phone by its spec sheet.
The first thing to note is that the S22 and S22+ share the same camera system, so in the future I’ll refer to them collectively as the S22. In terms of design, the S22 and S22 Ultra retain the same design as the S21 series. However, while the S22 retains the S21’s singular camera block in which the cameras are built in, the S22 Ultra takes a drastic new direction and ditches the larger bulge for individual camera lenses that stick out.
Personally, I’m not sure how I feel about this design choice, as I actually found the camera bump on the S21 Ultra to be visually appealing. On a more practical note, I can’t help but wonder if removing the larger protrusion might make the cameras more vulnerable to damage. Also, now when you place the S22 Ultra on a table, it will now balance on the telephoto camera, rather than on the edge of the larger camera bump like it did with the S21 Ultra. All that said, it’s an exciting cosmetic change that sets it apart from its predecessors.
The rear camera is practically identical to that of the S21 series. The S22 has a 10 MP hole-punch camera with an F2.2 aperture and a 1/3.24-inch sensor size. The S22 Ultra similarly shares a hole-punch selfie camera with its predecessor, featuring a 40MP lens with an 80-degree field of view, F2.2 aperture, and 1/2.82-inch sensor. If selfies are a big deal for you, upgrading to the S22 Ultra offers a huge advantage over less expensive models.
The S22 has three cameras. In addition to a 50MP wide-angle camera with an F1.8 aperture and a 1/1.156-inch sensor, there is a 12MP ultra-wide-angle camera with an F2.2 aperture and a 1/2.55-inch sensor. Finally, the 10MP telephoto camera has an F2.4 aperture and a 1/3.94-inch sensor.
This mix of wide, ultra-wide and telephoto cameras may look similar to the camera array found on the S21, but in reality the wide and telephoto cameras work very differently. The S22 opts for an optical telephoto lens and a separate high-resolution wide-angle camera, while the S21 actually had two wide-angle cameras, one low-res and one 64MP, which it used together for a hybrid zoom. In practice, while it worked quite well, I wasn’t satisfied with the S21’s telephoto results. The S22 corrects this with its fully optical telephoto camera, although 30x digital zoom is also available.
The S22 Ultra is much closer in terms of camera specs than the S21 Ultra. The biggest physical change is that Samsung now uses higher quality glass for its optics to reduce flare. It does this by drastically reducing the reflectivity of the glass. This is a huge issue for me, as my S21 Ultra suffers from some pretty noticeable flaring, and it’s great to see this fixed on the S22 Ultra.
You get a 108 MP wide-angle camera with an f1.8 aperture and a 1/1.33-inch sensor. The ultra-wide and telephoto cameras are the same as on the base S22. However, the 10MP super telephoto camera gives the S22 Ultra a 10x zoom range that is still rare for phones. Despite this camera’s relatively dim f/4.9 and small 1/3.52-inch sensor, it’s a feature that lifts the S22 Ultra above the competition. The S22 Ultra also features up to 100x hybrid digital zoom.
Samsung is touting improvements in telephoto image quality, both optical and digital, with the S22. This is a big part of why I personally decided to upgrade the S21 Ultra to the S22 Ultra, as I use the telephoto capabilities on a daily basis.
With the S21, the quality of the super-telephoto camera was definitely a step down from the 3x zoom camera, and the hybrid digital zoom didn’t produce particularly pleasing images. I don’t expect photos taken beyond 10x to be super sharp and beautiful, but it will make the digital zoom more useful for the purpose I normally give it, which is basically as a pocket telescope.
I use the 100x zoom all the time on my S21 ultra to identify birds at extreme distance. Thanks to digital stabilization, it’s easy to see distant objects and I’m excited that this camera can deliver clearer images with its hybrid digital zoom. One thing to note is that the S22 Ultra’s 3x telephoto lens is marginally shorter than the one found on the S21 Ultra.
The most significant photography-related difference between the S22 series and the previous generation of Samsung phones is in the major software-based updates that power its cameras.
Samsung is touting its new “Nightography” mode, which drastically improves the S22’s performance in low-light conditions. This also translates to video as it features the new “Super Night Solution” noise reduction. The camera is also now better able to detect lighting conditions with “Adaptive Pixel” and can intelligently adjust highlights and shadows to improve image quality.
The S22 also improves the quality of portraits with more natural background blur that is less artificial, as well as improved smart subject brightness. Samsung claims that portrait mode also works better now in low light conditions. The selfie camera has also been similarly upgraded for better self-portraits.
The video, resolution and frame remain unchanged from the S21. The S22 can shoot up to 8K and handle slow motion at lower resolutions. However, stabilization has been drastically improved, and Super HDR video on the S22 Ultra improves color accuracy to a significant degree.
Photographers also have access to the Expert RAW app on the S22 Ultra. This allows you to capture lossless 16-bit JPEG and DNG RAW image formats, greatly expanding the post-processing you can do with the images you capture. Speaking of post-processing, the S22 Ultra now includes an object eraser for retouching photos in its default editing app.
Other features include Auto Framing, which automatically keeps the video centered and focused on your subject, and Directors View, which automatically records with all cameras at once. Single Take captures multiple different formats, including still images and video.
S-Pen to edit photos
The most striking feature of the S22 Ultra is the fact that it now includes a built-in S-Pen, essentially making it a new Galaxy Note in all but name. For photographers, this is very important for editing photos on the go, as it offers much greater precision than just using your fingers. I edit images on my phone all the time, and having a built-in S-Pen is something I really missed when I moved from the Note 9 to the S21 Ultra last year.
As fantastic as the S22’s cameras are, these phones don’t exist in a vacuum. Here in the United States, it’s basically a battle between S22, the Google Pixel 6and the Apple iPhone 13. Farther out, the question of camera dominance becomes even more crowded and murky to contemplate.
Between the Galaxy, Pixel, and iPhone, blows are traded back and forth for the most part, with no clear winner among them. However, it’s worth mentioning that the S22 Ultra stands out with its 10x optical zoom, and with its enhanced digital zoom, there really isn’t another phone on the market that comes close in terms of such capabilities.
Ultimately though, my conclusion would have to be that modern phones are simply too similar in terms of their cameras for that aspect to be a deciding factor when trying to choose between them.
Calling the S22 an evolution rather than a revolution in terms of its camera is correct in some ways, but a closer look reveals a more complex story. Samsung has refined its camera system here to an impressive degree, taking advantage of hardware similarities to fine-tune its implementation. This is a significant upgrade from the S21, and it’s safe to say that Samsung has secured the S22’s status as a top-tier mobile photography machine.