These Galaxy S20 Ultra Space Zoom camera samples are amazing and a bit creepy

Galaxy S20 Ultra
Galaxy S20 Ultra (Image credit: Andrew Martonik / Android Central)

The Galaxy S20 Ultra is here! Samsung's latest flagship was announced a few weeks ago and we've received our review unit ahead of the phone going on sale tomorrow. As we begin the review process, we wanted to share these first zoom samples captured by the Space Zoom camera.

The Space Zoom feature uses the 48MP telephoto sensor, presumably as well as detail from the 108MP main camera (camera samples coming soon) to offer 10X hybrid optical zoom, and a maximum zoom range of 100X. Samsung isn't the first to use a periscope camera — this was made popular by Huawei on the P30 Pro— but the 100X zoom is the highest we've seen on a mainstream smartphone.

How does this camera fare and what can you do with it? Let's find out!

For most people, digital zoom on phone isn't going to be a widely used feature. However, just sometimes you're too far away to take a picture that you really want to take. For example, in the shots above I'm on the pier in Brooklyn, looking into Manhattan. I can see the Empire State Building with my naked eye, but most phones can't zoom in enough to capture it with enough detail. The Galaxy S20 Ultra clearly doesn't have that problem, as it gets you closer than any other phone to date.

The 10X image in particular features enough detail and is close enough to be the type of image you'll want to share to social media. The 30X image definitely features loss in detail but is still usable, while the 100X image lets you zoom in real close but ultimately doesn't provide much usable detail. This is actually a recurring theme as we'll see in the next set of shots.

Starting off in a very similar fashion to the set above, a slight change to the angle shows how the zoom can help you take an entirely different image. This set also showcases just how good the 10X zoom is, as I couldn't see the MetLife building sign while standing at the pier, but it is legible and clear in the 10X image. The purple logo on the 30X image shows that there's a considerable drop-off in the quality between 10X and 30X, but overall, this set seems to show how capable the camera actually is.

With a large amount of zoom, and enough detail at the highest zoom amounts, there is likely to be some cause for concern around privacy and there's definitely merit to this conversation.

Take this set of shots, for example. Simply turning around facing Brooklyn versus trying to capture Manhattan presents an opportunity to look at how it handles zooming into buildings and details. Beginning at 5X, the level of detail reaches a point where you can see into someone's balcony. Granted, by stepping out onto a balcony, there is a small assumption that anything you do is no longer private, but this also raises another question.

These buildings — one of which I live in — feature floor-to-ceiling windows, meaning when it's dark out and the lights are on inside, it's theoretically easy enough for someone with a Galaxy S20 Ultra to zoom into your apartment. Most people aren't predisposed to want to spy on others, but the Galaxy S20 Ultra — and any phone with a half-decent zoom feature — does make it easier and more subtle than using a DSLR with a huge zoom lens.

However, beyond invading someone's privacy, there are a few theoretical reasons you'd want this level of zoom. Take for example the shots above: I'm about two minutes away from the ferry, and the detail in the electronic sign isn't legible with my eyes. so the zoom comes in handy to see whether I need to run to catch it. Similarly, if you're waiting on a busy Manhattan avenue, being able to zoom a few blocks down to read number plates could prove to be useful.

That said, the 100X zoom isn't all that useful, but my first reaction to the 10X zoom is that it is fantastic. It's better than the zoom on any other phone I've used, and while the 30X and 100X modes hit and miss, I can see myself using the 2X, 4X, 5X, and 10X regularly. We'll be updating this post in the next few days with more on the Space Zoom camera, so stay tuned!

Nirave Gondhia

Nirave Gondhia has been writing about the mobile industry for over a decade and began his career selling and fixing phones in the UK. He's used every flagship smartphone over the past five years and carries at least two phones at all times - currently, he's using the iPhone 11 Pro, [Samsung Galaxy Fold and Motorola RAZR. Say hi to him on Twitter at @nirave.