One of the highlights of the Samsung Galaxy S23 Ultra is its new 200MP main camera. You may know that increasing the number of pixels does not automatically improve image quality. But if so, why are the photos taken by the device so good?
Is the Galaxy S23 Ultra’s 200MP camera a gimmick or does it really make a difference? In this article, we’ll explain the pros and cons of adding megapixels, how to use the 200MP mode on the S23 Ultra, and see if it’s worth buying the device for it.
What does increasing the number of pixels do?
Increasing the number of pixels on a smartphone camera’s sensor doesn’t necessarily improve photo quality, it just increases the maximum resolution the sensor can capture. A high-resolution photo contains more information, allowing you to enlarge and crop it without losing detail. A low resolution photo becomes blurry as soon as you enlarge it.
Here we encounter a problem. If you want to keep adding pixels, you also need to increase the size of the camera sensor, which is easier said than done. After all, the space available in the body of a phone is limited. You have to house the smartphone’s battery, motherboard, speaker, mic, vibration motor, and a plethora of different sensors.
To solve this problem, smartphone manufacturers have found a trick: instead of increasing the size of the sensor, they have reduced the size of the pixels themselves. Think of it this way: Let’s say you have a cookie tin that can hold 10 cookies. If the size of each cookie were reduced by half, you could store 20 in the same jar without increasing its capacity.
This is also the case when comparing the Galaxy S23 Ultra and the iPhone 14 Pro Max. The main camera of both phones has a similar sized sensor: 1/1.3 inch and 1/1.28 inch respectively. But the size of an individual pixel is 0.6 microns on the Galaxy and 1.22 microns on the iPhone.
Samsung’s pixel size is smaller as its sensor is required to contain 200 million pixels (200MP) while iPhone’s sensor is required to contain only 48 million pixels (48MP). For example, the diameter of a human hair is approximately 70 microns.
The problem of adding pixels
Adding pixels to a camera’s sensor increases image resolution, but introduces a new problem: the smaller the pixels, the less ambient light can be picked up by each one. which results in a noisy photo. This issue is especially noticeable in low light conditions, as ambient light is very scarce.
To circumvent this problem, smartphone manufacturers use two techniques: pixel grouping and image processing. We’ve already explained in detail how pixel binning works, but in summary, your phone combines data from multiple adjacent pixels so that they behave as one large pixel (or superpixel) instead of multiple small pixels.
For example, a 108MP sensor with nine pixels will give you a 12MP photo. This means that instead of having 108 million small and noisy pixels, your photo will now have 12 million bigger and cleaner pixels. The resolution will be lower, but at least you’ll get a usable image.
Anyway, that’s the theory. In reality, grouping pixels is not enough. Most of the work is done by image processing algorithms that try to guess what your photo should look like, then automatically alter (or “process”) it in all sorts of ways within seconds before you open the file to check your photo.
The disadvantages of using 200MP resolution mode
Let’s do a quick recap before continuing. We learned that adding pixels increases the resolution of the image, but you also need to reduce the size of each pixel. Smaller pixels capture less light and therefore produce noise. Smartphone makers therefore use pixel binning and image processing to remove noise and modify your photo according to what they think it should be.
Now that you understand how this technology works, you can see why the Galaxy S23 Ultra’s 200MP mode isn’t suitable for all lighting conditions, especially at night. Using it also dramatically increases shutter lag, so you can’t capture moving objects like your dog or kids.
Even if you manage to get a very detailed 200MP photo, it will only look as good in your gallery because social media and messaging apps highly compress shared photos. This means that your friends, family and followers will not be able to see the details of your high resolution photo.
Don’t forget that high resolution photos also take up more storage space, but to give Samsung some credit here, the S23 Ultra comes with 256GB of base storage rather than 128GB.
If you’re buying the Galaxy S23 Ultra for its 200-megapixel camera, you also need to learn how to use it. First, only use the high resolution mode in daylight or in well-lit rooms so that the sensor can benefit from abundant ambient light. In low-light environments, avoid using 200MP mode and switch to the default 12MP mode instead.
When photographing moving objects, always use the 12MP mode, whether day or night. When shooting stationary objects in daylight, use the 200MP mode and consider using a tripod for added stability. Although the Galaxy S23 Ultra has good OIS, nothing beats a dedicated tripod.
If you want high resolution but don’t want noise in your photo, use the 50MP mode to balance detail and light sensitivity. To shoot distant objects such as birds or buildings, use the dedicated 10X optical zoom instead of taking a 200MP shot and cropping it later.
Finally, if you want your friends and family to actually see the details of your high-res photos, avoid sharing them through messaging apps. Instead, use the Samsung Quick Share app to send them without losing image quality. You can also use Gmail, but it takes longer.
So, is the 200-megapixel camera a gimmick?
No, the Galaxy S23 Ultra’s 200MP camera isn’t a gimmick, but you need to learn how to use it to take advantage of it. It’s also not necessary for most people since they share their photos via social media or messaging apps, so the recipient won’t see the details anyway.
Best of all, the 200MP camera isn’t the only reason to buy the Galaxy S23 Ultra. Other improvements such as increased battery life, increased internal storage and improved durability will provide a more obvious benefit to most interested buyers.