Is the 200MP Camera on the Galaxy S23 Ultra a Gimmick?


One of the highlights of the Samsung Galaxy S23 Ultra is its new 200MP main camera. Now, you might know that just increasing the pixel count doesn’t automatically improve image quality. But if that’s the case, why do the photo samples from the device look so good?

Is the 200MP camera on the Galaxy S23 Ultra a gimmick or does it actually make a difference? In this article, we’ll explain the pros and cons of adding more 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 sensor doesn’t necessarily improve its photo quality, but simply increases the maximum resolution that the sensor can capture. A high-res photo has more information in it, so you can enlarge and crop it without losing detail. A low-res photo becomes blurry as soon as you zoom into it.

Here, we run into a problem. If you want to keep adding more pixels, you’ll also have to keep increasing the size of the camera sensor—but this is easier said than done. After all, there’s only so much room inside a phone’s body. You have to fit the battery, motherboard, speaker, mic, vibration motor, and a plethora of different smartphone sensors.

To solve this problem, smartphone companies found a clever hack: instead of increasing the sensor size, they reduced the size of the pixels themselves. Think of it this way: let’s say you have a cookie jar that can store 10 cookies. If each cookie was half the size, you could store 20 of them in the same jar without increasing its capacity.

Such is also the case when comparing the Galaxy S23 Ultra and iPhone 14 Pro Max. The main camera on both phones has a similar sensor size: 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 because its sensor has to fit 200 million pixels (200MP) but the iPhone’s sensor only has to fit 48 million pixels (48MP). For context, the diameter of a single human hair is about 70 microns.

The Problem With Adding More Pixels

Fitting more pixels in a camera sensor does increase image resolution, but it poses a new problem: the smaller the pixels, the less ambient light each one can capture—resulting in an overall noisy photo. This problem is most visible in low-light conditions since there is an acute scarcity of ambient light.

To get around this, smartphone companies use two techniques: pixel binning and image processing. We’ve already explained how pixel binning works in great detail, but in a nutshell, your phone combines the data from multiple adjacent pixels so they behave like one big pixel (or superpixel) instead of many smaller pixels.

Samsung nona-binning on 108MP sensor
Image Credit: Samsung

For example, a 108MP sensor binning nine pixels would give you a 12MP shot. This means instead of having 108 million small and noisy pixels, your photo will now have 12 million larger and cleaner pixels. The resolution will be lower, but at least you’ll get a usable image.

That’s the theory, anyway. In reality, pixel binning is not enough. Most of the heavy lifting is instead done by image processing algorithms that try to guess what your photo should look like and then auto-edit (or “process”) it in all sorts of ways in a matter of seconds before you open the file to check out your shot.

The Cons of Using 200MP Resolution Mode

Let’s do a quick recap before we proceed. We learned that adding more pixels increases image resolution but also requires shrinking the size of each pixel. Smaller pixels capture less light and hence produce noise. So, smartphone companies use pixel binning and image processing to remove noise and modify your photo based on what they think it should look like.

Now that you understand how the tech works, you can see why the 200MP mode on the Galaxy S23 Ultra is not suitable for all lighting conditions, especially nighttime. Using it also greatly increases the shutter lag, so you can’t capture moving objects like your dog or kids.

Even if you manage to get a really detailed 200MP shot, it’ll only look that great in your gallery because social media and messaging apps heavily compress your shared photos. That means your friends, family, and followers won’t be able to see the details in your high-res shot.

Don’t forget that high-res 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.

How to Use the 200MP Camera on the S23 Ultra

If you’re going to buy the Galaxy S23 Ultra for its 200MP camera, you should learn how to use it too. Firstly, only use the high-res mode in bright daylight or well-lit rooms so the sensor can get plenty of ambient light. In low-light environments, avoid using the 200MP mode and switch to the default 12MP mode instead.

When shooting moving objects, always use the 12MP mode regardless of whether it’s daytime or nighttime. When shooting still objects in the daytime, use the 200MP mode and consider using a tripod for additional stability. Although the Galaxy S23 Ultra has good OIS, nothing beats a dedicated tripod.

Samsung Galaxy S23 Ultra Lavender color
Image Credit: Samsung

If you want a high resolution but don’t want noise in your shot, use the 50MP mode to balance details and light sensitivity. For shooting faraway objects such as birds and buildings, use the dedicated 10X optical zoom lens instead of taking a 200MP shot and cropping it later.

Lastly, if you want your friends and family to actually see the details in your high-res photos, avoid sharing them over messaging apps. Instead, use the Samsung Quick Share app to send them without losing image quality. You can also use Gmail, but it takes more time.

So, Is the 200MP Camera a Gimmick?

No, the 200MP camera on the Galaxy S23 Ultra is not a gimmick, but you do 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.

And most importantly, the 200MP camera is not the only reason to buy the Galaxy S23 Ultra. Other improvements such as increased battery life, more internal storage, and improved durability will provide a more obvious benefit to most interested buyers.


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