The Galaxy S22 Ultra fails to excite this professional photographer. And that’s a problem

ByDavid M. Conte

Feb 9, 2022

Samsung

The new from Samsung Galaxy S22 Ultra brings a range of changes over its predecessor, including the addition of the S-Pen stylus from the Galaxy Note now discontinued series. But while the Ultra versions of the flagship Galaxy S series have always focused on bringing cutting-edge camera technology, the S22 Ultra barely seems to have any significant camera upgrades. As a result, it left me, as a professional photographer and frequent mobile shooter, feeling underwhelmed.

The S22 Ultra’s primary camera specs include a 108-megapixel primary sensor, along with 10x optical zoom and 8K video support. Big numbers, sure, but they’re exactly the same as last year. S21 Ultra. And they’re also the same we had on the S20 Ultra from the previous year. Rumors of the S22 Ultra hinted at a 200-megapixel sensor, for even better zoom quality, and an innovative continuous zoom lens, rather than switching between fixed zoom lenses. So where are they?

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Many of the promised improvements to night photography come from software tweaks rather than new hardware.

Andrew Hoyle/CNET

The image sensors are also the same size on the S22 Ultra and S21 Ultra, as are the lens apertures – both of which would have resulted in clearer, brighter shots with improved dynamic range and better images in motion. low light. Instead, Night Mode’s promised improvements appear to be done entirely on the software side with “enhanced AI algorithms” and pixel binning, which merges nine pixels into a single larger one for better light capture. And sure, it might make night shots a bit clearer, but it’s not exactly a feature that’s going to get the hearts of Instagrammers and other mobile phone enthusiasts racing.

Other new camera upgrades supposedly include better AI in portrait mode and a video feature that automatically zooms in and out to bring all your friends into the scene. Again, this isn’t exactly a revolution for mobile photography.

Then there’s the murky question of raw math. Apple launched its ProRaw feature on the iPhone 12 Pro, giving the phone the ability to merge multiple exposures into a single raw DNG file. This gave the best dynamic range you get from a merged image, but with the editing flexibility of a raw DNG file – that’s a big deal for photographers, like me, who want to capture the best images possible with their phones.

The press conference I attended on the S22 Ultra suggested that the phone is capable of taking, and I quote, “high dynamic range images in multi-frame raw format”, which sounds like the Samsung version from ProRaw and would be a very welcome addition to the camera setup. However, there’s little to no mention of this elsewhere in Samsung’s press releases and even after asking the company for clarification, we still don’t know if this is actually a raw calculation or s it’s just a normal 16-bit raw.

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The iPhone 13 Pro has one of the best camera systems on a phone.

Andrew Hoyle/CNET

It’s disconcerting that he’s hidden away like that. Even more disconcerting is the fact that this raw shot is only available when using a dedicated Expert Raw app that you have to download separately from the Samsung Galaxy store. On the iPhone, all you need to do is press a button on the main camera that says “raw” to activate ProRaw, making it an entirely easy way to improve your image quality when shooting fast.

All of this means that, on paper at least, the S22 Ultra’s camera setup looks disappointingly similar to the last two generations of this phone. The biggest upgrades are seen at the cheaper end, with the base S22 and S22 Plus getting more camera improvements over their previous counterparts. But the Ultra is the flagship and as such it needs to push the envelope and give people a reason to be excited over the competition.

With Apple and Google pushing hard for amazing images on the iPhone 13 Pro and Pixel 6 Pro, Samsung needed to increase its offer this time around. Instead, its tired camera specs make it hard to get excited about this phone or consider it an upgrade over previous generations.

As such, I’m even more keen to put it in my hands to properly test its cameras and see how far these software upgrades go in improving overall image quality.