Theis a fantastically expensive phone. Starting at $1,399 (£1,199, AU$1,999) it offers luxuries like a 6.9-inch, 120Hz display and 5G connectivity. But the phone is mostly being sold around its camera. The and phones give you more bang for your buck but, if you are willing to splash over four figures, the S20 Ultra has one hell of a camera setup — at least on paper.
A 108-megapixel main shooter, a 48-megapixel telephoto lens, a 12-megapixel ultrawide angle camera and a time-of-flight sensor for depth perception. Yep, that’s a whole lot of megapixels.
But as extravagant as this quad-camera family is, Google has continuously proven that more cameras and megapixels don’t automatically mean better photos. The Pixel 4 was the tech giant’s first phone to rock dual cameras — a 12.2-megapixel and 16-megapixel telephoto combo — yet Pixel devices have been photography standouts each year.
There’s no question: Samsung’s S20 Ultra has a more feature rich camera. It’s got and at this point the Pixel’s lack of an ultrawide-angle camera is scandalous. But what about standard photography, zoom, low-light shots and portraits?
The Pixel 4, which starts at $799, does an admirable job at keeping up with a newer phone that’s nearly twice the price. And despite its considerable price, the S20 Ultra suffers from autofocus issues that Samsung is trying to patch with software updates. (I haven’t got that update, but CNET’s Lexy Savvides did — and notes that it may have only exacerbated the autofocus issues).
But despite all that, the S20 Ultra wins this race. While the Pixel is more consistent, ultimately it’s the S20 Ultra that takes better photos.
Galaxy S20 Ultra vs. Pixel 4 Camera Comparison
|Samsung Galaxy S20 Ultra||Google Pixel 4|
|Main camera||108 megapixels, f/1.8||12.2 megapixels, f/1.7|
|Telephoto||48 megapixel periscope||16 megapixels|
|Ultrawide angle||12 megapixels||N/A|
|Time-of-Flight sensor||0.3 megapixels||N/A|
|Front camera||40 megapixels||12.2 megapixels|
|Front telephoto||N/A||16 megapixels|
|Special features||108 megapixel mode, 100x zoom||Astral photography|
Let’s start with bokeh-style portrait shots. Which phone will shoot you a better Facebook profile picture? Broadly speaking, this is a tie. Which you prefer will come down to personal preference. The S20 Ultra implements light beautification, even with the “skin smoothness” function turned off. As a result, “live focus” portraits it takes end up looking lightly brushed. The Pixel 4’s retain more detail, but can sometimes look harsh in comparison.
Take this shot of Ian, one of CNET’s video wizards. As you’ll see, both phones performed superbly. The differences take a closer look to spot, but they’re there. The S20 Ultra’s softening affect makes Ian’s stubble look less prickly and his skin smoother. But there’s also a loss of detail, as you can see clearly in his hair to the left of his fringe.
You can see a similar effect in these photos of my housemate. Esther herself preferred the shot taken on the S20 Ultra and the Pixel almost looks unusually detailed in comparison — like it’s been put through Instagram with the “structure” slider cranked up. You’ll see that the line between foreground and background is a little jarring in the Pixel shot by her hair, too. But the Pixel also has a more accurate white balance, with the S20 Ultra photo having an artificially cool hue.
Still, I’d give the portrait advantage to the Pixel. Though you may prefer the portraits taken by the S20 Ultra above, the phone struggles more in non-ideal lighting conditions. True, the Pixel portrait of Hugh here does compensate for lower light with some extra contrast and shadows. But it does a better job than the S20 Ultra’s live focus shot, which looks flatter and more washed out.