The Megapixel race and Samsung's S20 Ultra: Stop it, this is getting silly...

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Cue a Graham Chapman (Python) voice for the end of the headline - but he'd be right, the Megapixel race just got very silly indeed. We've covered the 108MP sensor before, of course, but the confirmed configuration in the Galaxy S20 Ultra is very 'PureView'-like with a nona-binned (9 to 1) output at 12MP, plus a separate periscope (folded optics) zoom camera at '10x' with a 48MP sensor at the back. Yeah, add the Megapixels together and you get a crazy 156MP from just those two sensors alone - now add in wide angle and more. Who'd have thought phone cameras would go this far when the Nokia 808 launched in 2012 with an unheard of 41MP sensor with similar ambitions?

The selling points here are supposed to be a token 100x zoom - which won't be great, I think the pixel-binned 10x 12MP shots will be ample good enough - great low light performance across the board, plus 8K video, from which you can apparently take (up to) 33MP freeze frame snapshots, itself a jaw dropping statistic. Remember when 4K video debuted on the Lumia 950 and the ability to take 8MP shots was touted? (Though video frame grabs are never as sharp as dedicated stills, note...)

Original comment:

As to how often most people will even get close to 10x zoom, I'm sceptical. And note that the telephoto can ONLY be used after 10x, so everything up to that, i.e. 99.9% of photos people will actually ever take, will be  'PureView'-like zoom on the 108MP sensor. So expect very blocky and blurry zoom shots from about 5x to 9.9x. As I say, all getting a bit silly. Having used numerous phones with 5x telephoto, they've all got 'too close' to most action so in reality the dedicated lens isn't used much. And the sweet spot for telephoto remains 2x or 3x. In my opinion.

Update: those who have now had hands-on report that the actual optical (folded) zoom is only 4x, but with PureView like sensor cropping to get to '10x'. Which makes a lot more sense. After all, the main sensor can easily handle up to 4x. So we do in fact get to a continuum of zoom. Kind of. Anyway, it's interesting to see where Nokia's 2012 experiment led the industry!!

Update 2: from Samsung: "The HM1 allows users to preview and capture full shots and close-ups of the subject at up to 3x lossless zoom, preserving the quality of the image. This is made possible by the sensor directly converting the pixels using an embedded hardware IP, rather than having the task delegated to the mobile processor. With 108-million pixels, the sensor is also able to produce images up to 3x zoom at a 12Mp resolution without upscaling."

So the main sensor is in many ways a direct descendant of that in the original Nokia PureViews. They output 5MP at 2.5x zoom from 41MP, eight years ago. This outputs 12MP at 3x zoom from 108MP. But I do think there's still a grey area between 3x and 4x zoom (where the periscope lens kicks in). We'll see when I get this in for review!

S20 range

Leave aside the zoom tech, at least you'll get super results from that 9-to-1 main sensor, even if it's smaller than that in the 2012 Nokia 808 PureView and only marginally bigger than that in the 2013 Lumia 1020 - tech has come a long way in terms of sensitivity and image processing.

Anyway, for completeness, the raw stats (as far as they're known) for the Galaxy S20 series then (I'll include the cheaper models, should they be on your buying radar as a jump into Android, plus note that 5G variants are regional and add extra choices!):

 Galaxy S20 Ultra 5GGalaxy S20+/5GGalaxy S20/5G
Display tech 120hz Infinity-O Dynamic AMOLED 120hz Infinity-O Dynamic AMOLED 120hz Infinity-O Dynamic AMOLED
Display size 6.9-inch 3200x1440P 20:9 WQHD+ 6.7-inch 3200x1440P 20:9 WQHD+ 6.2-inch 3200x1440P 20:9 WQHD+
Phone dimensions 167x76x8.8mm 162x74x7.8mm 152x68x7.9mm
Weight 221g 188g 164g
Chipset (world) Exynos 990 Exynos 990 Exynos 990
Chipset (USA) Qualcomm Snapdragon 865 Qualcomm Snapdragon 865 Qualcomm Snapdragon 865
Storage 512/128GB storage plus microSD 128GB storage plus microSD 128GB storage plus microSD
RAM 12/16GB 8/12GB 8/12GB
Camera 1 108MP 12MP 12MP
Camera 2 48MP Telephoto (10x 'hybrid optic', '100x' digital) 64MP Telephoto (3x optical, 30x digital) 64MP Telephoto (3x optical, 30x digital)
Camera 3 12MP ultra-wide 12MP ultra-wide 12MP ultra-wide
Video Up to 8K 30FPS (on main sensor) Up to 8K 30FPS (on 3x telephoto only) Up to 8K 30FPS (on 3x telephoto only)
Front Camera 40MP 10MP 10MP
Front Video 4K 60FPS 4K 60FPS 4K 60FPS
Battery 5000mAh 4500mAh 4000mAh
Speaker Dolby Atmos, stereo speakers Dolby Atmos, stereo speakers Dolby Atmos, stereo speakers
Water/dust Resistance IP68 IP68 IP68
OS, interface Android 10 with One UI 2.0 Android 10 with One UI 2.0 Android 10 with One UI 2.0

All very impressive, as well they should be for the high prices. From £800 (for the cheapest S20) to £1400 (for the most expensive Ultra) in the UK, inc VAT, though of course many people will end up getting them on contract, so things will be more bearable.

PS. For interest, here's the S20 Ultra's promo reel: