Samsung isn’t really trying to make the S23 Ultra stand out from its predecessor. At least, not visually so.
It’s got virtually the same look as the S22 Ultra, except that its display edge is a little more squared off, its cameras on the back are a tad bigger, and its S Pen is a bit larger.
But you’d really only know if you had both phones side by side. These are minor changes that you might consider more quality-of-life improvements than any real upgrades.
The changes that make a real difference are inside the S23 Ultra, unseen and probably unappreciated until you get to try it for yourself.
Particularly interesting is the camera hardware and software, which boast quite the upgrade from the S22 Ultra.
To name a few things, there’s the 200MP main camera sensor, double optical image stabiliser (OIS) technology for video, Astro Hyperlapse, and the Expert RAW feature.
For this article, we’ll be focusing on the 200MP camera and double OIS, since we’d utilise them more frequently. Do note that the pictures and videos taken by the phone here will not be in their original clarity due to some compression for easier loading.
200MP doesn’t mean better pictures
Compared to the S22 Ultra’s 108MP camera, the S23 Ultra’s 200MP sounds like a jaw-dropping upgrade, at almost double the figure.
But as I would soon learn, my photos didn’t necessarily look that much better. In fact, they sometimes looked worse.
To explain why, it’s important to understand how the camera works. The S23 Ultra does something called pixel binning, whereby those 200 mega pixels are stuffed (binned) into other pixels, creating super pixels.
For the S23 Ultra, it uses 16-in-1 pixel binning, meaning 16 pixels are condensed into one super pixel. On the S22 Ultra, it was 9-in-1 pixel binning.
So, to really break it down, you’re getting about a 12.5MP photo, but each mega pixel has a crazy amount of detail since they’re made up of 16 other pixels.
Although, if you’re looking at the picture as is and hoping to see a mind-blowingly amazing shot full of detail, you might be sorely disappointed.
Instead, the 200MP feature really shines when you need to zoom in and spot a smaller detail, or an object further away in the distance.
For example, I recently went to quite a few Ramadhan buffet reviews where countless dishes are crammed next to one another, and lighting can be bad.
I also tend to forget specific dish names fast (it’s amazing how many names one ayam rendang dish can have at different buffets).
With me snapping away in 200MP, I don’t have to worry so much about remembering the names, because I can easily zoom into the pictures and read those scribbles on small labels, all without squinting.
If I had shot in 12MP or maybe even 50MP, I might not have been able to see these details with such clarity.
Another benefit of the 200MP camera is that you get more versatility with cropping photos. Theoretically, the increased pixel count means that you can zoom in quite a bit and crop the photo without losing much detail (to a certain extent).
At the end of the day though, the details are still dependent on how your photo is being shot. Some rules of thumb still apply here, such as better lighting = better photos. Even Nightography can only help so much, as I showed in my previous review of the S23 Ultra.
And, if I may add, better photography skills = better photos too. With my average skill set, my photos would come out rather average.
If you’re taking the S23 Ultra out for a day of shooting, bring along a tripod for properly still shots too, otherwise it’s easy to get some blurring of details, and your photo at a glance could look worse than simply not using 200MP.
Double OIS, so what?
Samsung’s previous OIS attempts were already quite impressive, with the super steady mode as an option for more stabilisation, albeit at the expense of video quality.
The S23 Ultra takes it to the next level. It’s hard to describe just how good the double OIS is, but I’ll try.
So far, I’ve brought the phone on quite a journey, such as a super rough 4WD ride at a safari tour, a slightly bumpy boat ride, and to a go-kart race with the S23 Ultra strapped to my chest.
My goal was to see just how much it could stabilise clips of these chaotic environments, and I was thoroughly impressed by the results.
I won’t even pretend that I understand how the technology works, so it sure seems like magic.
I wasn’t trying hard to keep the phone stable while filming, so although you’ll see the frames of the footage jump around, the central focal point remains clear and steady.
The only time I felt the S23 Ultra’s double OIS was truly challenged was while go-karting. The footage was more jittery, but you can still see lots of detail, and rewatching the footage didn’t make me dizzy.
Some may argue that the steadiness of the S23 Ultra’s video comes off rather fake. I like it though, as it has a slightly cinematic feel to it, as if you’re always filming with a gimbal.
There’s great potential to do film shots with the phone, if you know how to tweak your settings right and perhaps with the help of peripherals.
Otherwise, for casual use, the double OIS is extremely beneficial for those who want next-level IG Stories/Reels or phone vlogging while travelling.
How good or bad your 200MP photo turns out still comes down to your eye for taking shots, and using a tripod can go a long way in terms of clarity.
It’s an ideal mode if you want to cover your bases for cropping pictures, but probably not something you want to use for every picture you take, since each snap could be well over 20MB.
Taking great videos with the S23 Ultra is much more effortless, as pretty much everything I’ve tried ends up looking good enough to upload on YouTube without editing.
However, it’s unrealistic to compare the S23 Ultra to professional photography and videography equipment.
It’s not quite ready yet to replace DSLRs, but I doubt that’s what Samsung is trying to do anyway.
See it for what it is, a great phone camera, there for users to reliably take nice photos and videos when they need to, and a great phone for all other times.
The S23 Ultra 512GB retails from RM5,699.
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