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I did a camera test with two $1,800 phones. Then something annoying happened

The Galaxy Z Fold 4 (left) and Galaxy Z Fold 5 rear panels.
The Galaxy Z Fold 4 (left) and Galaxy Z Fold 5 Andy Boxall / Digital Trends

Samsung hasn’t drastically changed the camera setup on the Galaxy Z Fold 5 over the Galaxy Z Fold 4, promising instead that the new processor, lenses, and software changes will see it take better photos than before. To find out if the claim is accurate, I put the two big-screen folding smartphones against each other in a camera shootout.

The results are fascinating — and also quite annoying. On one hand, the Z Fold 5’s camera really does take better pictures, but on the other, it sometimes comes in second. Here’s a closer look at the two cameras and their photos.

For our take on how the two phones compare overall — including their performance, battery life, and more — see our full Samsung Galaxy Z Fold 5 vs. Galaxy Z Fold  4 comparison.

Galaxy Z Fold 5 and Fold 4 camera specs

The Galaxy Z Fold 4 (left) and Galaxy Z Fold 5 with the screens open.
The Galaxy Z Fold 4 (left) and Galaxy Z Fold 5 Andy Boxall / Digital Trends

The Samsung Galaxy Z Fold 5 has a 50-megapixel main camera, a 12MP wide-angle camera, and a 10MP telephoto camera for 3x optical zoom and 30x digital zoom. At the top of the cover screen is a 10MP selfie camera, and there’s a simple 4MP Under Display Camera (UDC) at the top of the inner screen. These specifications are identical to the Samsung Galaxy Z Fold 4.

What separates them is the choice of processor, the lenses, and the software optimizations Samsung has made. The Galaxy Z Fold 5 has the same Qualcomm Snapdragon 8 Gen 2 for Galaxy processor as the Galaxy S23 Ultra, which is optimized specifically for the phone and includes alterations to the Image Signal Processor (ISP) too. The Galaxy Z Fold 4 has a Snapdragon 8+ Gen 1, but Samsung did not work with Qualcomm to tweak it specifically for the phone.

The Galaxy Z Fold 4 (left) and Galaxy Z Fold 5 showing the cover screens.
The Galaxy Z Fold 4 (left) and Galaxy Z Fold 5 Andy Boxall / Digital Trends

Samsung also changed the camera lenses for the Galaxy Z Fold 5 and has made various software improvements that it promises make the phone’s cameras perform better than the ones on the Galaxy Z Fold 4. It claims the lenses produce less flare, and the software results in less noise and improved lowlight performance. It’s not all that unusual for manufacturers to continue using the same camera sensors over a few generations, and improvements more often come from upgrades to the processor, ISP, and software. Has this happened with the Galaxy Z Fold 5?

Galaxy Z Fold 5 vs. Fold 4: main camera

When you compare the two cameras directly against each other, there are genuine differences between the photos taken, but they don’t always result in one camera consistently being better than the other. In fact, going through my photos taken with the two phones’ main cameras, it was hard to find examples from the Z Fold 5 that consistently beat the Z Fold 4.

The first photo above is where the Z Fold 5 returned the better image. The color of the sky, the depth and coloration of the water, and better exposure in the Z Fold 5’s photo make it more pleasant than the underexposed, heavily contrasted photo from the Galaxy Z Fold 4. Promises of reduced noise seem a little optimistic, as the clouds in the Z Fold 5’s photo are noisier than the ones in the smoother Z Fold 4 image.

Our second image is far more difficult to assess, and while they are different photos, I’m not sure if one is decisively better than the other. There is more detail in the paper in the Z Fold 5’s photo, but the white balance is spot-on in the Z Fold 4’s photo, and I do prefer the sharper, less blurry focus in the Z Fold 5’s photo. However, this may just have been a result of me rather than the camera’s problem. I would be pretty happy with either image.

Here’s another main camera photo, this time taken inside a church in average lighting, and it shows Samsung’s promise to reduce noise in the Z Fold 5’s camera. There’s also a lot more detail and better focus, which can be seen on the walls and the wooden pews. Plus, the Z Fold 5’s HDR does a better job of exposing the bright day outside the window, but again, I think the Z Fold 4’s white balance is a touch more accurate.

The final photo is an example of where the Z Fold 4 can take the more attractive photo, although the lighting may have changed while I swapped cameras. Despite this possibility, it wasn’t the first time the Z Fold 4 nailed a photo better than the Z Fold 5 did. As the interior photo shows, Samsung has improved the camera for the new phone, and often in the areas where processing power and software are key drivers, but it doesn’t always outclass the old phone.

Winner: Draw

Galaxy Z Fold 5 vs. Fold 4: wide-angle camera

Like the main camera, the Galaxy Z Fold 5’s wide-angle camera shows improvements over the Z Fold 4, but not all the time. There is a dramatic difference in the first photo, with the Z Fold 5’s photo being obviously more realistic — showing better contrast, exposure, and dynamic range. You would happily share the Z Fold 5’s photo, but probably not the Z Fold 4’s.

In the second photo, the differences are harder to see, and the ones that are there don’t really mean one photo is much better than the other. The Galaxy Z Fold 5’s photo’s exposure means darker skies, but more detail in the wooden bench and fence. There’s only a little edge distortion in the images.

Our final wide-angle example shows how our last main camera photo wasn’t necessarily a fluke, as once again, the Galaxy Z Fold 4 brightens the scene considerably compared to the Z Fold 5’s far darker, less effectively exposed image. Remember, both these photos were taken with essentially the same sensor and aperture, and at the same time. The EXIF data confirms the Z Fold 4’s shorter (1/2930) exposure time compared to the Z Fold 5’s 1/3,906 time.

Which is best? It’s going to be a draw, as there’s often more detail in the Z Fold 5’s photos, but the software definitely needs tweaking to improve the way the wide-angle camera captures its images. More than once, the Galaxy Z Fold 4 took the more attractive photo.

Winner: Draw

Galaxy Z Fold 5 vs. Fold 4: telephoto camera 3x

If the Z Fold 5’s main and wide-angle cameras don’t always show a consistent improvement over those on the Z Fold 4, the 3x optical zoom changes are more obvious. The photo of the statue was taken inside and in average lighting, and there is so much more detail, less smoothing, and more effective focus; it’s extremely clear where the new phone has improved.

In the photo of the bridge, it’s a little harder to see how the Z Fold 5 improves, but zoom in, and the new phone has sharper focus and more detail, especially in the trees and the far distance. The water itself also shows less noise and has more realistic coloration and depth. At first glance, they aren’t all that different, but examine them closely, and you see that the Z Fold 5 took a far superior image.

Finally, the photo of the car demonstrates how much better the focus is on the Z Fold 5, with the entire vehicle, right down to the Porsche emblems and logos on the tires, being far sharper in the new phone’s photo. The background gets a similar treatment, while the Z Fold 4 has the same noisy blur seen on the car. The Galaxy Z Fold 5’s 3x optical zoom is a vast improvement over the Z Fold 4’s.

Winner: Samsung Galaxy Z Fold 5

Galaxy Z Fold 5 vs. Fold 4: telephoto camera 30x

The 30x Space Zoom still isn’t a camera mode you’ll want to use often, if at all, but there is evidence the Z Fold 5 takes better 30x photos than the Z Fold 4. There’s less noise, and the photos are slightly sharper, plus the colors are a little more natural. It’s obvious what you’re looking at in both images, but Samsung has clearly made some software advancements for the Z Fold 5 with its 30x zoom mode.

Winner: Samsung Galaxy Z Fold 5

Galaxy Z Fold 5 vs. Fold 4: Night mode

Samsung has made changes to the way the Z Fold 5 captures lowlight photos, which we have already seen in both the main camera and the 3x zoom sections. But what about in real lowlight environments? The changes are largely positive, but as the first photo shows, the Z Fold 5 smooths out a lot of the noisier textures seen in the Z Fold 4’s photos, which isn’t always a preferable look.

In the second photo, the Z Fold 4’s white balance and exposure are more accurate than the Z Fold 5’s, and although the real color of the Lego pieces is somewhere in-between the two photos, it’s closer to the lighter gray in the Z Fold 4’s photo. I also prefer the overall ambiance of the Z Fold 4’s photo compared to the Z Fold 5’s heavily shaded image.

In the final photo, a lot of these aspects get turned on their heads, as the white balance improves in the Z Fold 5’s photo, but there’s still a lot of smoothing going on, which robs the walls and ground of its texture in places. The Z Fold 4 also introduces more detail in the background than the Z Fold 5. Neither camera consistently improves on the other though, so it’s another draw.

Winner: Draw

Galaxy Z Fold 5 vs. Fold 4: selfie camera

The selfie taken with the Z Fold 5’s cover screen 10MP camera shows all the big changes we expected, with improved skin tone, more detail added in, more accurate edge recognition from the portrait mode, and more vibrant colors too. While the cameras may be the same, the Z Fold 5’s software has taken the selfies up a notch in quality. It’s probably the most decisive win of the comparison.

Winner: Samsung Galaxy Z Fold 5

Galaxy Z Fold 5 vs. Fold 4: which camera is better?

The Galaxy Z Fold 4 (left) and Galaxy Z Fold 5 camera modules.
The Galaxy Z Fold 4 (left) and Galaxy Z Fold 5 Andy Boxall / Digital Trends

The Galaxy Z Fold 5 has won three sections, with the rest being a draw. It has been a rather frustrating camera test, as the Galaxy Z Fold 5 clearly does take better photos than the Z Fold 4, but not in every situation and at all times. When it does show improvements — especially when using the 3x optical zoom and the selfie camera — the changes are very positive, and I’d always choose the Z Fold 5 over the Z Fold 4. But where it counts in the main and the wide-angle camera, it doesn’t consistently take better photos. Sometimes, it takes worse photos.

I’m left unable to recommend the Z Fold 5 as a must-buy camera upgrade over the Galaxy Z Fold 4, as unless you always take selfies or zoom shots, you probably won’t notice a huge change. If you’re looking at the Z Fold 5 as a new owner and not coming from the previous version, I’m pleased to say that the alterations Samsung has made mean you won’t feel shortchanged, for the most part, and you definitely shouldn’t go looking for the Z Fold 4 instead.

While I understand the Z Fold 5 isn’t Samsung’s flagship camera phone, I’m hoping for a more wide-ranging upgrade with the Galaxy Z Fold 6 next year.

Andy Boxall
Andy is a Senior Writer at Digital Trends, where he concentrates on mobile technology, a subject he has written about for…
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