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A phone you haven’t heard of just beat the Galaxy S24 Ultra in a camera test

The Samsung Galaxy S24 Ultra and the Vivo X100 Pro phones, seen from the back.
The Samsung Galaxy S24 Ultra (left) and the Vivo X100 Pro Andy Boxall / Digital Trends

The Samsung Galaxy S24 Ultra took the telephoto camera crown from the S23 Ultra and managed to take on and beat the Google Pixel 8 Pro, too. Does that make it the undisputed camera zoom champion? To quote Yoda, there is another. The Vivo X100 Pro has a camera and lens system tuned by Zeiss, and we’ve already seen how impressive its portrait photography ability is, but it also has a clever telephoto camera.

To find out if the Vivo X100 Pro can steal the crown away from the Galaxy S24 Ultra, I took photos with both, and the results are surprising.

The cameras

A person holding the Vivo X100 Pro
Vivo X100 Pro Andy Boxall / Digital Trends

You may not have heard of the Vivo X100 Pro, as it’s not officially sold in the U.S., but we’ve long been fans of Vivo’s smartphones and cameras. Hidden inside the massive camera module on the back of the X100 Pro are three 50-megapixel cameras: a 1-inch 50MP main, a 50MP wide-angle, and a 50MP Zeiss APO Floating telephoto camera with a 4.3x optical zoom. Vivo promises high-quality zoom shots from 10x to 100x, just like Samsung.

Behind the cameras is Vivo’s own V3 image signal processor (ISP) and the new MediaTek Dimensity 9300 processor, making the Vivo camera very different from the setup inside the Galaxy S24 Ultra.

For its phone, Samsung has tuned the software and its AI to help deliver better photos than before and has worked with Qualcomm to develop the Snapdragon 8 Gen 3 for Galaxy processor to make the most out of its four cameras.

A person holding the Samsung Galaxy S24 Ultra.
Samsung Galaxy S24 Ultra Andy Boxall / Digital Trends

A 200MP main camera is joined by a 12MP wide-angle camera on Samsung’s phone. There’s also a 50MP telephoto camera delivering a 5x optical zoom, and a second 10MP telephoto camera for a 3x optical zoom. It’s an impressive roster of hardware, and the two camera systems are very different from each other, making this an intriguing test. All the photos you see were taken in auto mode and resized for easier online viewing.

Main and wide-angle camera test

Although this comparison is mainly about the telephoto cameras, it is worth seeing how the Vivo X100 Pro and Samsung Galaxy S24 Ultra’s main and wide-angle cameras compare, as they both inform us of the phones’ individual characteristics. By default, the Vivo X100 Pro’s camera is set to a color profile named Vivid, but there’s also a Textured and a Zeiss Natural mode. However, it was left on the Vivid setting for this test as it’s how the phone comes.

Vivid is definitely an accurate name, as you can see from the first photo. The X100 Pro amps up the saturation in a very Samsung-of-old way, while the actual Samsung phone tones down the colors for a more natural look. I quite like the Vivo X100 Pro’s photo, as it’s certainly striking and fun, while the Galaxy S24 Ultra’s photo could be accused of being a bit drab. There’s nothing that couldn’t be fixed with an edit here, and the detail and sharpness in both are spot-on.

There’s consistency between the X100 Pro’s main and wide-angle cameras, with the Vivo’s bright colors shining through again, while the S24 Ultra delivers punchier tones than seen in its main camera photo. But the Samsung phone’s wide-angle photo is superior, with less smoothing, more detail, and less edge distortion. It’s a more controlled, balanced photo. I really like the way the X100 Pro has handled the sky, though.

Forced to choose a winner, the Samsung Galaxy S24 Ultra’s more natural look and superior wide-angle photo make it the better option for main and wide-angle images, but the Vivo X100 Pro can still deliver some great shots. There’s also a lot of customization, including the option to tone down the colors with the Zeiss Natural setting. I’d personally be happy taking photos with either smartphone.

Winner: Samsung Galaxy S24 Ultra

The S24 Ultra’s 3x zoom camera is in trouble

The Vivo X100 Pro does not have a direct equivalent to the Galaxy S24 Ultra’s 3x optical, but it does have a 2x and a 2.2x shortcut in the camera app. I used the 2.2x zoom as a comparison to the Galaxy S24 Ultra’s 3x optical zoom, and while you may be expecting the Samsung phone to run away with this category, that’s not the case. The first image was shot indoors in normal artificial light, and the Vivo phone does an amazing job of retaining detail. Take a look at the Swiss Made text at the bottom of the watch’s dial, and how readable it is in the X100 Pro’s photo compared to the S24 Ultra’s.

Outdoors, the S24 Ultra performs better, but it has a tendency to underexpose with the 3x telephoto camera, and the photos appear a little washed-out next to the vibrant X100 Pro’s photos. There is more detail in the S24 Ultra’s photo when the light is more favorable, but the X100 Pro’s photo isn’t lacking, and I doubt many people would instantly be able to tell that one is an optical zoom photo and the other is not.

Most of the photos that I took at these zoom levels were quite similar and had strengths and weaknesses of their own, but the Vivo X100 Pro consistently impressed where it perhaps shouldn’t have, whether that was a greater depth of field, better exposure, or more detail. It’s the first of several shocks in our test, as the Galaxy S24 Ultra really should have won here.

Winner: Vivo X100 Pro

5x zoom photos are a closer comparison

The X100 Pro’s 4.3x optical zoom is close enough to the Galaxy S24 Ultra’s 5x optical zoom for them both to be directly compared, as we’ll mostly be concentrating on quality, detail, and overall balance. Sure, the S24 Ultra will get you slightly closer to a subject, but I found the Vivo’s optical zoom length to be very well-judged and extremely useable. Let’s see how the two compare.

The Vivo X100 Pro’s Vivid setting continues to give colors a boost, and while it was a pleasant day when I took the photo, the scene wasn’t as electric as the X100 Pro makes out. There’s no denying it’s more eye-catching than the S24 Ultra’s photo, though, if that’s what you’re looking for from your images. There’s a lot of detail in both photos; the X100 Pro isolates it more effectively than the S24 Ultra, but it then loses points for the overly processed look, which is almost distracting.

It’s the same in the second photo, where both photos are clear and defined, but the S24 Ultra’s natural tone will be preferable to many people due to the X100 Pro’s aggressive sharpening. When you get in close in the Vivo photo, the level of detail is slightly enhanced, and while the Vivid color may not be to everyone’s taste, it can be changed. That said, I can see a lot of people wanting to share the X100 Pro’s photo.

On a technical level, there isn’t much to separate them, and I like photos from both cameras for different reasons. Outside of the Vivid color profile, splitting them is difficult, so it’s going to be a draw. Both take excellent telephoto images at this range.

Winner: Draw

What about 10x zoom? It’s not even close

Neither camera is capable of taking a 10x optical photo, and instead, they both rely on software to enhance photos taken at this zoom. We’ve already seen how the Galaxy S24 Ultra’s optical quality 10x zoom is better than the S23 Ultra’s optical 10x zoom, so surely it’s about to beat the Vivo X100 Pro?

The above photos were taken while panning to keep up with the swan’s movement, and while they are at slightly different angles, it’s the water you need to look at in order to see the major differences here. The Vivo X100 Pro’s water is sharp and natural, while there’s obvious pixelization and noise in the Galaxy S24 Ultra photo. You can also more easily spot edge enhancement around the swan’s neck in the S24 Ultra’s photo.

What about a still image? Again the photos are from slightly different angles, but the differences between the two photos are so considerable that it’s hard to say this affected the result. The Vivo X100 Pro’s photo is packed with sharp detail, from the ripples in the water to the droplets on the swan’s feathers. The S24 Ultra’s photo is muddy and lacks any such detail.

Let’s go to a different location and a different subject that’s not in motion. The level of sharpness in the Vivo X100 Pro’s photo is obvious compared to the Galaxy S24 Ultra’s photo, as is the improved white balance and deeper blacks. There’s little noise in the image, and it has carefully avoided an overly sharpened look. The Vivo X100 Pro takes superior 10x zoom photos compared to the S24 Ultra, and I have a feeling that may surprise many people.

Winner: Vivo X100 Pro

Vivo keeps winning with 30x zoom photos

The 5x and 10x zoom modes on both smartphones are usable every day and in most situations, but what about the 30x mode? It has improved a lot over the past few years, and although it’s obvious that the images are digitally enhanced, they still have impressive levels of detail. The first image shows this very well, with the sign’s text being readable, but clearly enhanced.

However, the Vivo X100 Pro again shows better handling of the image, with less blur and much less obvious enhancement around the letters. The colors are also more accurate, there’s considerably more detail visible on the inside of the building, and there’s less noise on the roller door’s surface too. I’d say it’s more usable than the S24 Ultra’s photo.

The second photo shows how the Vivo X100 Pro is better at sharpening the image at 30x zoom without making it appear too unreal. The S24 Ultra introduces more noise in the water, and detail is obscured on the geese. Neither photo looks anything close to one of the 5x or 10x shots, but at a quick glance, the Vivo X100 Pro takes the less digital-looking image, even if it’s still not great.

Winner: Vivo X100 Pro

Just for fun, a 100x zoom test

The 100x zoom mode remains a gimmick, and although both can technically zoom in to this level and take a photograph, it’s not one you’ll ever want to look at or share — and sometimes it won’t even be obvious what the photo portrays. Above, you can see an example of a 100x zoom photo from both smartphones, neither of which is very good at all. Arguably, the Galaxy S24 Ultra’s photo is clearer and less blurred. However, we can’t imagine ever wanting to keep either photo.

Winner: No winner, only two losers

There’s a new zoom champion

The Samsung Galaxy S24 Ultra and the Vivo X100 Pro phones camera modules.
The Vivo X100 Pro (left) and the Samsung Galaxy S24 Ultra Andy Boxall / Digital Trends

While the two smartphones take great photos using the main and wide-angle camera, the Vivo X100 Pro has beaten the Samsung Galaxy S24 Ultra in the 3x, 10x, and 30x zoom categories. It was hard to choose between them in the 4.3x/5x category. It means the Galaxy S24 Ultra has lost its crown as the best smartphone for zoom photography, which it recently took from the Galaxy S23 Ultra. Not even the Google Pixel 8 Pro could steal it away, but the Vivo phone has accomplished just that.

Vivo hasn’t come out of nowhere to win. It comes from the same stable as Oppo, Realme, and OnePlus, but it is the one making the most significant steps forward in terms of camera ability through its extensive work with Zeiss and the creation of its own custom ISP. It’s unfortunate the brand does not have wider availability, and its smartphones have to be personally imported if you want one in the U.S.

The Samsung Galaxy S24 Ultra and the Vivo X100 Pro phone screens.
The Samsung Galaxy S24 Ultra (left) and Vivo X100 Pro Andy Boxall / Digital Trends

What does this mean for the Galaxy S24 Ultra? It’s still an incredible camera phone, and it is an improvement over the Galaxy S23 Ultra, but the Vivo X100 Pro shows Samsung still has work to do for the S25 Ultra if it wants to reclaim the crown of the best telephoto smartphone camera you can get.

Editors' Recommendations

Andy Boxall
Senior Mobile Writer
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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