Samsung Galaxy S22 Ultra Space Zoom may do something no one expected

We’ve established that the Samsung Galaxy S22 Ultra’s 100x Space Zoom is a photographic and technical marvel, but it has a trick up its sleeve that I didn’t notice until recently.

I’ve been using Samsung’s big-screen Note-in-disguise Android 12 phone for five months (mostly without incident), but not consistently. The 6.8-inch device is, at 228 grams, a bit heavy, especially compared to my 6.1-inch, 204-gram iPhone 13 Pro. Yet whenever I want the best in smartphone zoom photography, there’s no other choice.

When I bought tickets to see Brian Wilson (opens in a new tab) (of the Beach Boys) and Chicago (opens in a new tab) (out of 21 of the top 10 singles) at Jones Beach Theater (opens in a new tab) in New York, I decided to take the Samsung Galaxy S22 Ultra with me because its 10x optics and 30x to 100x Space Zoom blow away iPhone long distance photography. Given my nosebleed seats (no, I won’t pay $200 for the orchestra), if I wanted decent shots of the band on stage, I couldn’t count on the 3x optical zoom and 15x digital zoom -max of the iPhone 13 Pro.

Like twins

As soon as the legendary 80-year-old Brian Wilson approached his all-white piano, I started using the Samsung Galaxy S22 Ultra’s zoom and large screen as digital binoculars. With the 10x zoom, I felt like I was sitting in the orchestra. With 30x Space Zoom, I took my place on stage, and with 100X Space Zoom, I was above Wilson’s piano, looking him in the face.

To be clear, the image quality differences between 10X and 30X or 100X can be quite significant. 10X uses Samsung’s pericope and prism lens technology to deliver excellent optical zoom. No interpolation, only 10 MP of pure image data. 30X and 100X look decent unless you scale them up to full size, where detail tends to look more like an image interpreted by an abstract painter or even DALL-E.

watch it move

The further you zoom in, the more light movements of your hand can push your subject out of frame. The Galaxy S22 Ultra, however, does an excellent job of optical and electronic image stabilization. Brian Wilson helped my cause by performing his entire 45 minute set sitting behind that white piano.

Chicago, however, was a different story. Current vocalist Neil Donnell roamed the stage throughout the band’s set. Initially, because I didn’t know who he was (longtime singer Peter Cetara left in 1985 and since then Chicago has had a revolving door of singers), I didn’t bother to use a 30x or 100x zoom.

Eventually, however, I decided to follow the mighty singer with the phone’s Super Zoom. I hit 30X first, but it wasn’t until I tried 100X that I noticed anything surprising. Even though I was holding the Galaxy S22 Ultra perfectly still — or as still as my half-century hands are — the phone’s camera casually followed Donnell as he paced from side to side. from the scene.

I didn’t realize it at first. I just watched Donnell sing and walk and it wasn’t until I noticed the backstage moving to the left behind him that I realized the phone camera had locked onto Donnell and followed him.

But how

Beach Boy Al Jardine at 100X

(Image credit: Future/Lance Ulanoff)

To understand how the Samsung Galaxy S22 Ultra’s camera can track moving objects, you have to accept that the phone’s 30X Space Zoom and, in particular, 100X are highly interpolated images where chip-level computer vision Qualcomm Snapdragon 8 Gen 1 is constantly at work understanding what you’re looking at – is it a planet, a person, a bird – and what it might be doing.

When I asked Samsung about the capability, they confirmed that Space Zoom uses both OIS and EIS to reduce shake and blur. The tracking I was seeing is a product of Auto-Focus Tracking in which the cameras attempt to adjust framing to keep the subject in focus and – in my experience – in frame.

With Donnell filling the frame, the Samsung phone accurately assumed he was my subject and, without asking me, kept him centered in frame as he tried to exit. This ability allowed me to capture a series of photos of the singer in motion. Granted, the quality is Van Gogh-esque, but if I tried to capture a 100x optically magnified image of a moving person, I probably wouldn’t have anything to show you.

This tracking does not work in video, which achieves 20x interpolated zoom, but it is repeatable in a number of different still image scenarios.

Back in town, I took the Galaxy S22 Ultra to Bryant Park, which has a huge lawn in the middle. I stood at one end and focused on the other end, where people were coming and going. Using 100x zoom, I would choose a walker, then wait for the phone to follow them. It did every time, but stopped when they went too far out of frame. I guess if Donnell had left the scene, the Galaxy S22 ultra would have stopped following him as well.

what should i do with it

100X interpolated zoom isn’t the right photographic tool for every job, but it’s effective for astrophotography and in situations like concerts where, more than likely, you’re not sitting front row, 10th or even 50th.

Image quality is what you would expect from Computer Vision. In situations where he can fill in the blanks with what he knows about a subject, the results can be impressive (I think the moon looks great because Samsung’s AI knows what the moon should look like) but he’ll struggle, for example, with a relatively new singer from Chicago that even I couldn’t easily identify.

If you want to compare all the best smartphone cameras and see which ones push the optical zoom envelope, read our roundup of the best phones.

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