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S20 Ultra’s massive zoom could be a mobile photography game changer

The large lens protuberance on the back looks reasonable on the S20, but by the time you get to the Ultra it looks like someone sliced the front off a garage door opener and stuck it on the back. Although it has the same number of lenses, the Ultra offers significantly fancier specs, with a massive 108MP sensor on the main shooter compared to 12MP on the other phones, and a periscope lens for zoom rather than a standard telephoto.

Taken together these give the S20 Ultra a maximum “hybrid optic” zoom of 10x, and a digital zoom of up to 100x. According to a spokesperson at the briefing, this is the biggest change that’s come to the Galaxy S cameras since the S7, and has been redesigned from the ground up.

In my hands-on time, I took a photo of a small globe from roughly three metres away. The photo of the globe looked like a pretty standard photo of a distant object, nothing too exciting. But when I zoomed in to take another photo, I could see a tiny pin that had been stuck in San Francisco. I sure as anything couldn’t see that pin with my bespectacled eye from that distance, and yet thanks to the software stitching the best bits of 20 simultaneous shots together I could see it on the screen with surprisingly little grain.

I was also shown a picture of a stadium someone took from a plane, where I couldn’t even see it from the unzoomed picture. This feature is going to be great for people who want pictures of birds or particularly tiny things, and a nightmare for people with windows and a false sense of privacy.

Zooming in reveals details not visible from a distance.

Zooming in reveals details not visible from a distance.Credit:Alice Clarke

Aside from zoom, the best new feature to come to the camera is Single Take, which will also be introduced to some older Samsung cameras through a software update in the coming months.

Single Take is a mode where you take a ten second video, and then it’s turned into six photos and some different video lengths, often including a boomerang or two. These best moments are decided using AI, and I was very impressed with the shots it gave me from the 10 second video I took of a juggler. I can see how this would be perfect for birthday parties when it comes to cake time, or when you can’t decide if a short video or taking photos is better and you just want to be in the moment instead of deciding.

I do wish the videos could be longer, though, and that you could go through and say different shots you want instead. Single Take is a mode where you get what you’re given.

The front-facing camera has also been improved to a 40MP, 80°, F2.2 lens. While this will certainly provide incentive to up my selfie game and get better face cream, the main thing I noticed was just how fast it was to set up and use facial recognition to unlock the phone; I could also hold it at weird angles and still have it unlock fast.

The S20 series will be available in Australia from March 6 2020, with prices ranging from $1349 to $2249.

The author travelled to San Francisco as a guest of Samsung.

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