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I’m still using the Samsung Galaxy S23 Ultra for one important reason

The back of the Galaxy S23 Ultra, focusing on its rear cameras.
Joe Maring/Digital Trends / Digital Trends

It’s been about five months since the Samsung Galaxy S23 Ultra hit the scene. In the time since then, the S23 Ultra has made it obvious why it’s one of the best smartphones money can buy. It looks great, has incredible performance, and has one of the most versatile cameras on the market.

Although the Galaxy S23 Ultra isn’t my main Android phone these days, it is one that I love coming back to — and for one reason. The camera! The entire camera system on the Galaxy S23 Ultra has proven its worth time and time again, and over the course of this year, one aspect of it has stood out among every other phone I’ve used.

The telephoto camera is too good

Samsung Galaxy S23 Ultra in Sky Blue, seen from the back.
Andy Boxall / Digital Trends

What is that reason? It’s the telephoto camera. Or, more specifically, both of the telephoto cameras on the Galaxy S23 Ultra. As a quick refresher, the S23 Ultra has two telephoto cameras — one with 3x optical zoom and another with 10x optical zoom. And using the main 200MP camera, you can digitally zoom all the way up to 100x.

Telephoto cameras on smartphones are nothing new in 2023, but the quality of the S23 Ultra’s zoomed-in shots is what really sets it above the competition. You can zoom in a lot, and even at 10x or above, photos look shockingly good.

You can really see just how good the telephoto performance is in our Galaxy S23 Ultra vs. Google Pixel 7 Pro camera test. Look at the two pictures above from the Pixel 7 Pro — taken at 10x zoom and 30x, respectively. At first glance, they look pretty good!

But then compare them to the same scene captured by the Galaxy S23 Ultra. It has much more detail, clearly depicting details and textures that the Pixel 7 Pro fails to capture when trying to zoom in at such great distances.

This is one of the Galaxy S23 Ultra’s best traits, and it’s one of the reasons why it’s one of the best phones you can buy today. And as the weeks and months have passed since the S23 Ultra’s release, I’ve found a particularly great use for its telephoto capabilities.

It’s the perfect wildlife photography tool

A person holding the Galaxy S23 Ultra and taking a photograph.
Andy Boxall/DigitalTrends

Animal photos. The answer is animal photos.

There are so many things you can use the Galaxy S23 Ultra’s telephoto cameras for. You can zoom in on faraway buildings, get new perspectives on random objects in your home, and so much more. But every time I pick the S23 Ultra up, I find myself using the camera as a wildlife photography tool.

I take animal photos with every phone I use, but most of them often leave something to be desired. I can technically take photos of birds, squirrels, deer, or other critters with any phone I’m using — but none of them let me get as up close and personal as the S23 Ultra does. Just look at the dirt on the squirrel’s whiskers in the third photo!

Most importantly, it lets me do this safely and without disturbing any of my outdoor neighbors. I can zoom in 3x, 10x, or even 15x to get an up-close photo while maintaining my distance, and unlike most other smartphones, I know the Galaxy S23 Ultra is going to deliver a photo that’s actually worth sharing even when zooming at such great distances.

Are the photos perfect? No. The Galaxy S23 Ultra can only do so much, and if you zoom in to 15x, 20x, or beyond, you will notice clear quality differences between using the main camera at a normal 1x distance. But compared to zooming to those same lengths with other smartphones, the S23 Ultra is leaps and bounds better than almost anything else.

This is also something Tushar touched on earlier this year when he wrote about why he’s obsessed with the Galaxy S23 Ultra’s camera. Regardless if you’re taking pictures of geese, squirrels, elephants, or rhinos, the S23 Ultra handles them exceptionally well.

I want this on every phone in 2024

The Galaxy S23 Ultra, Xiaomi 12T Pro, Redmi Note 12 Pro+, and the Motorola Edge 30 Ultra's camera modules.
Andy Boxall / Digital Trends

As we make our way through the rest of 2023 and gradually creep closer to 2024, I’d love to see manufacturers take quality telephoto cameras more seriously.

Smartphone cameras have gotten exceptionally good in recent years, but when it comes to primary and ultrawide cameras, it feels like we’ve begun to plateau. It’s becoming increasingly difficult to find a smartphone with an outright bad camera system. There are still some stinkers here and there, but for the most part, you can safely rely on getting a dependable camera setup with the next phone you buy.

But telephoto cameras? There’s still plenty of room to grow! The Pixel 7 Pro has a maximum optical zoom of 5x, the iPhone 14 Pro taps out at 3x optical zoom, and the OnePlus 11 offers a meager 2x optical zoom. These are some of the best smartphones you can buy today, but the S23 Ultra handily beats all of them for zoom photos.

That’s good for Samsung, but I want more phones I can rely on for great telephoto shots. There’s tremendous value in having a smartphone camera with such a reliable zoom — especially if you like capturing cute critters — and I desperately hope we see more of that soon.

Joe Maring
Joe Maring is the Section Editor for Digital Trends' Mobile team, leading the site's coverage for all things smartphones…
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