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I’m obsessed with the Galaxy S23 Ultra’s camera — and these photos show why

Samsung is the global smartphone market leader, but it’s also known for its tongue-in-cheek advertisements. The company recently ran an ad campaign where everyone constantly asks the main character to send them photos taken with the Galaxy S23 Ultra. Something similar happened when I attended a close friend’s wedding in India last month.

I carried the Galaxy S23 Ultra to the wedding, then on a vacation, leaving every other camera behind. Anyone who saw the images it took immediately inquired what model it was and blurted, “These are as good as a DSLR!” While that may sound exaggerated, I’m confident you will be flooded with similar opinions when you see the pictures below.

The back of the Samsung Galaxy S23 Ultra, showing the camera lenses.
Andy Boxall/Digital Trends

This article emphasizes how I became obsessed with the Galaxy S23 Ultra’s 3x telephoto camera for taking most of the portrait photos during the trip. No, not the 200MP camera that’s the big highlight of the S23 Ultra, but one of its secondary telephoto cameras instead.

I took more than 3,000 pictures over the course of two days at the wedding and then another week exploring the wildlife conservation areas in Assam, India, plus the streets of Kolkata (also known as the “city of joy”). The stunning photography not only drew everyone’s attention toward the phone, but also inspired me to reflect on whether I should replace my DSLR with the Galaxy S23 Ultra.

Here’s a carefully curated assortment of some of the unbelievably good images the phone took.

The Galaxy S23 Ultra doesn’t manipulate skin tones

Indian weddings are known for their glitz and colors, and the one I attended was no different. I was determined to capture some memorable images, but the photos above surpassed my expectations. All of them were clicked from different distances, but the Galaxy S23 Ultra has no problem replicating details on the skin or hair.

The only potential problem I see is from the patches of skin on my wife’s (in the middle picture) and my face (the picture on the right). Areas where sunlight falls directly appear a bit washed out. But other than the small areas, the natural texture and skin color are replicated with immaculate detail.

In the next set of images, the Galaxy S23 Ultra does a phenomenal job again. Whether it is the flower vendor’s endearing smile, the innocence of the kids trying to beat their fellow carom players, or the bookseller’s curious eyes, the smartphone proves to be an unparalleled tool for capturing moments.

Once again, details around the skin and hair are represented with near-natural perfection. What is really appreciable is how the Galaxy S23 Ultra captures these details without any unreal filtering or forcing of faces to abide by unrealistic beauty standards set by Chinese phone brands.

The above images represent the opposite end of the spectrum in terms of human emotions compared to the previous shots. The Galaxy S23 Ultra captures these aspects — which I interpret as indifference, monotony, and despair, respectively — very well. Not only are these images full of character, but (hopefully) they’re also capable of invoking curiosity about each person’s life stories.

The edge detection is nearly perfect

Back to some more images from the wedding, the following comparison shows how impressively the Galaxy S23 Ultra detects edges, thanks to the laser autofocus.

Instead of thoughtlessly blurring everything and everyone out of focus, the phone’s processing algorithm does a great job of meticulously gauging the distance and fine-tuning the bokeh to make the image look like it has actually been captured with a professional camera.

In the above comparison, you can see how moving the focus from the bride to the groom adjusts the amount of blur in the image. This applies to the blur on the couple’s faces in the images and the audience in the background. The transition in depth again makes one wonder if these images are really taken with a smartphone’s camera.

Capture scenes, not just the subject

What really stands out about the Galaxy S23 Ultra’s 3x portrait camera for me is how well it preserves the entire scene. Whether it is the rustic door behind my wife in the first photo, the bustling market behind the person in the second image, or the sculptor’s tattered warehouse in the third, the Galaxy S23 Ultra keeps the essence and the perspective intact.

The Galaxy S23 Ultra actively preserves colors in the background, which is something Samsung deserves to be lauded for. Samsung phones in the past have been called out for overexposing images, but that is not the case with the Galaxy S23 Ultra.

Some people have also previously expressed reservations about photos clicked with Samsung looking better on the phones’ vibrant displays, but appearing dull otherwise. This does not seem to be the case with the Galaxy S23 Ultra, as the hues captured appear very close to what they do in real life.

Some struggles with low light

In low light, the Galaxy S23 Ultra’s portrait camera appears to fall behind in clarity. Starting with this image of the bride, we see some details getting lost in artificial lighting. This is primarily due to the 3x portrait camera’s smaller aperture (i.e., a smaller opening for the sensor to capture light) compared to the primary 200MP camera, which leads it to recreate details, boosting the exposure artificially.

Indian bride in her wedding dress captured with the Samsung Galaxy S23 Ultra’s 3x telephoto portrait mode camera.
Image used with permission by copyright holder

While the Galaxy S23 Ultra still manages to capture the surroundings well, images taken in low light still lack the vibrancy seen in brighter scenes. At times, the Galaxy S23 Ultra may even try to compensate for low exposure by slapping images with a heavy dose of HDR, as we can see in the image of the motorboat’s operator (right).

Besides lost details, the Galaxy S23 Ultra may suffer at approximating what is to be focused on in low light.

Losing track with objects

Just like humans, the Galaxy S23 Ultra’s 3x portrait camera captures objects superbly. Whether it is the budding sunflower in the first (left) of the following three photos or the uniquely shaped orchids in the other two, the images retain clarity and colors.

However, without faces to focus on, the Galaxy S23 Ultra may be prone to excessive and non-uniform background blur, which may be off-putting.

The Galaxy S23 Ultra’s bokeh is more refined for objects that try to replicate human faces. The clay sculptures on the left (below) and the life-size chess pieces in the other two images suggest the Galaxy S23 Ultra’s slight favoritism for face-resembling objects.

Difficulty with movements

Another challenge for the Galaxy S23 Ultra is to capture moving subjects. In the images below, I focused on dancers performing folk dances native to the Indian state of Assam. Capturing movement is definitely tricky for the Galaxy S23 Ultra, and you can see some trails in the images below.

However, it maintains focus on the subjects without exaggerating the background blur, making it look natural.

Notably, Samsung gives you the option to quicken the shutter response using an app called Camera Assistant. While this is useful for capturing fast-moving subjects, it may result in some quality loss. I, therefore, chose to keep default settings instead.

Kind to animals

Lastly, I tested the Galaxy S23 Ultra on some friendly beings from the animal kingdom. The first set is of pets at the bed-and-breakfast where I stayed. The Galaxy S23 Ultra manages to create a very subtle blur around the faces of the beautiful mother dog and the handsome kitty in the first two images from left. In the third one (right), the bokeh wraps around the stone wall and Monsieur Cat, who can be seen assessing the vastness of his kingdom.

This makes the phone really useful for some memorable pictures of your pets.

I also took the Galaxy S23 Ultra for a spin during a safari at the Kaziranga National Park in India, the only place in the world where the one-horned rhinoceros is found. I was lucky to capture an enormous mother with a baby rhino during an early morning visit. Because of our shaky ride, the image came out slightly blurred and did not include any background blur/bokeh.

On the other hand, a close-up of the friendly 40-year-old elephant we met at the end of our safari did quietly convey its life experience with her spellbinding eyes.

In this article’s last set of camera samples, you can see the Galaxy S23 Ultra struggles to capture the shadows around the langur’s face (left). The middle image captured without direct sunlight dulls the shadows, reducing visibility around the two langurs’ fur and faces. In the third image, the phone brilliantly captures the sparkle in those heart-melting puppy eyes.

Once again, the phone captures these images with a realistic blur, even though the lack of clarity makes them less attractive than the images above.

The Galaxy S23 Ultra is the best in its class

The Galaxy S23 Ultra's camera module.
Andy Boxall/DigitalTrends

A picture is worth a thousand words. However, the impact of the story it tells can vary a lot with factors that include the scene and its quality. Thankfully, advanced features in modern-day smartphone cameras take away most of the user’s load and considerably improve pictures. This has even led my fellow Digital Trends writers to replace elaborate DLSR cameras with smartphones such as the Galaxy S23 Ultra and the iPhone 14 Pro.

The primary reason replacing your DSLR with one of these smartphones with astounding cameras makes sense is the intelligent processing that reduces the need to try to retouch photos after clicking them. This image processing simulates the same camera results as dedicated camera hardware, but only using software, making phones much more convenient options to lug around. Even if you want to add a professional touch to your photos, you can click them in RAW mode and implement your vision while editing.

The Samsung Galaxy S23 Ultra is undoubtedly one of the best tools in this pursuit, and its cameras can offer a life-changing experience to users who want to seize mesmerizing moments. Its 3x telephoto setup, as we saw in the images above, is a valuable addition to its camera assembly.

The camera is not perfect and scrambles in scenarios related to low light, moving subjects, or shaky hands. But it manages to push the final images to a very realistic DSLR-like bokeh effect. In my case, everyone who saw these images was fascinated by the quality and asked me to share their photos with them. It’s safe to say that the Galaxy S23 Ultra has an outstanding camera package — even if you aren’t using the 200MP camera Samsung’s making a big deal about.

Lastly, I’m grateful to my dear friend, Suhani, for allowing me to use pictures from her wedding!

Editors' Recommendations

Tushar Mehta
Tushar has a passion for consumer tech and likes to tinker with smartphones, laptops, wearables, smart home devices, and…
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