Samsung Galaxy S24 Ultra vs. Samsung Galaxy S23 Ultra Camera Showdown: Did Samsung Make the Right Move?

Like its predecessors, the Samsung Galaxy S24 Ultra still comes packed with enough camera lenses to trigger someone with trypophobia, but this year, that comes with a pretty major change. Most of the hardware is still the same as the previous generation, the Samsung Galaxy S23 Ultra, but there’s one significant change in the telephoto camera. In 2024, Samsung decided to go with a 50-megapixel telephoto sensor with a 5X optical periscope lens. This replaced the 10-megapixel, 10X optical sensor from the Galaxy S23 Ultra.

This seems like a step back on paper, but in theory, it may actually be the right move. The 50MP camera gives you plenty of sensor to crop in to reach that 10X capability, while the larger sensor gives you better resolution and light capture capabilities, making the sensor better at night.

At least, that’s the theory, so we wanted to find out by putting the cameras up against each other head to head. We conducted these tests with a personally purchased Samsung Galaxy S23 Ultra and a Samsung Galaxy S24 Ultra review sample provided by T-Mobile. Here’s what we found out.

Samsung Galaxy S24 Ultra vs. Samsung Galaxy S23 Ultra Color Science

The first thing you’ll want to look at when comparing different sensors on a phone (especially a flagship phone) is the color you get from photos. Notably, you want to see if there are any color differences between the lenses.

Often, especially on mid-range phones, you’ll see a noticeable change in color between the ultrawide camera and the main camera. This is usually due to factors including sensor size, aperture, and, generally, corners being cut. You don’t expect to see this in a flagship phone.

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Fortunately, you don’t see much of it here. The most noticeable shift in colors comes from the Galaxy S23 Ultra when switching from the ultrawide camera to the main camera. It’s a very subtle shift, and it only shows up occasionally, such as in the sky around the clock tower in these two photos.

The same shots from the Galaxy S24 Ultra don’t show the same level of difference, so this seems like something Samsung may have cleaned up. Considering the hardware is virtually identical, it would be nice to see that fix migrate to last year’s phone.

Of course, this isn’t terrible — nobody’s photos are going to be ruined by switching to the ultra camera. But color consistency is a good way to ensure that a photographer can get the same photograph regardless of the lens they use.

Speaking of color consistency, Samsung is basically famous (or infamous, depending on your stance) for over-saturating its images in an attempt to make them “pop” more. That tradition is alive and well in both of the phones.

Samsung Galaxy S24 Ultra vs. Samsung Galaxy S23 Ultra Main Sensors

The Samsung Galaxy S23 Ultra and the Galaxy S24 Ultra have the same 200MP main sensor with f/1.7 aperture. By default, the main sensor uses Pixel binning (combines several surrounding pixels into one bigger “pixel” in order to absorb as much light as possible. This allows for really good light capture during the day and at night.

The S23 Ultra really ramps up the sharpness and contrast in photos from the main sensor, which leaves the S24 looking a bit more subdued (if you’re optimistic) or washed out (if you’re pessimistic). Things also look a hair sharper on the S23 Ultra.

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Mostly, I prefer the output of the Galaxy S24 Ultra because I prefer a more natural look to the photos, but it’s a really close race. Technically, photos taken on the S23 Ultra will probably look better when compressed into a social media post. Still, if you plan to look at these photos at full resolution, you might prefer the output of the newer phone.

Neither phone does particularly well at capturing motion either in burst mode or when taking a single photo. Moving subjects are always a challenge, but given the price of these phones, you’d like to see better performance in that arena. As it is, this particular area is a push for both phones.

Samsung Galaxy S24 Ultra vs. Samsung Galaxy S23 Ultra Ultrawide and 3X Optical

The ultrawide camera did not change between generations either. Both phones feature a 12-megapixel ultrawide camera with an f/2.2 aperture and 120-degree field of view and a 10-megapixel 3X optical zoom lens with f/2.4 aperture.

The only minor difference is that the S23’s 3X optical lens has a 70mm equivalent lens, while the S24 steps it back a bit to a 67mm equivalent. The hardware has not changed here either, but that doesn’t mean the software processing is identical.

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Like the main sensor, photos coming from the ultrawide camera and the 3X optical lens on the S24 are more subdued and less saturated. In this case, that’s a good thing.

Since the resolution is a lot smaller, there’s less room for error when it comes to the edges and shadows, and the S24 does a marginally better job.

Considering the only difference here is in the software processing, that’s fine, but I’d like to see this evolution make its way to the S23 and other older phones. It gives the photographs a more natural look.

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Samsung Galaxy S24 Ultra vs. Samsung Galaxy S23 Ultra 10X vs 5X Telephoto

Now, we get to the subject of the conversation — Samsung’s decision to change the 10X optical zoom lens.

There’s potential here, but before we delve into the results, let’s talk numbers. The Samsung Galaxy S23 Ultra has a 10X optical lens over a 10-megapixel sensor with f/4.9 aperture. As a result, low-light photos from the S23 Ultra’s 10X optical zoom were not great.

This year, Samsung stepped back the optical magnification by half, bringing a 5X periscope lens. But it attached it to a 50-megapixel camera sensor with a larger f/3.4 aperture, which is supposed to allow for better light capture and finer detail, even at 10X.

So, let’s take a look.

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Right off the bat, with this set of photos of a statue from fifteen feet away, you can already see much greater detail, especially in the hair. Similarly, this image of a clock tower that was shot from a great distance yields better detail (though admittedly not much) and better color reproduction.

The image is brighter, and not because of any post-processing on Samsung’s part. There’s just more light to play with on this overcast day. It’s not that the S23 Ultra’s photo is bad, but physics is much more on the S24 Ultra’s side.

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The photos of this fireplace from roughly 30 feet away don’t yield a ton of detail on one camera or the other, but again, the color reproduction here is more accurate, as is the sense of depth.

At night, the trend continues with the 5X optical zoom capturing a brighter image at 10X. Meanwhile, colors pop more, such as the red, white, and blue ribbon around the dog’s neck.

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The biggest difference at night came when capturing a person. Notably, the 5X zoom is much cleaner with less noise. The S23 does not natively capture 5X zoom, relying on a cropped zoom, which is actually an argument in favor of Samsung’s S24 approach here.

The gulf between 3X optical and 10X optical is too large to bridge cleanly, so enlarging the sensor while scaling back on the optical zoom makes transitions much smoother and gives a photographer more options to play with.

Samsung Galaxy S24 Ultra vs. Samsung Galaxy S23 Ultra Final Verdict

Overall, Samsung absolutely made the right call here. When it comes to previous generations’ 10X optical zoom, it’s a pretty cool party trick, but it always felt lesser when compared to the other sensors on the phone. It was never as clear nor as useful in anything but the best light. But there’s another factor here — the iPhone.

Two phones on a table

Samsung Galaxy S24 Ultra is on the left, and the S23 Ultra is on the right.

When held up against previous generations of iPhone cameras, it was no contest that the most versatile camera set you could buy on a smartphone. The iPhone 15 Pro Max introduced a 5X optical zoom sensor, which was a pretty great step forward in iPhone photography, so Samsung had to answer and answer it did.

The 50-megapixel 5X optical sensor is also a big step forward as well. Now a photographer can choose from .5, 1X, 3X, 5X, or 10X zoom when framing a shot and that versatility is pretty awesome when it comes on the back of a smartphone. There’s no question this was the right move.

You can learn more about the Samsung Glaxy S23 Ultra by clicking here, and about the Samsung Galaxy S24 Ultra by clicking here.

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About the Author

Adam Doud
Adam has been a leader in the tech media field for over a decade, with bylines at a number of different publications. When he's not hosting the Benefit of the Doud podcast, he's busy getting his hands on as many phones, tablets, and laptops as possible. He regularly uses both iOS and Android (six-month rotation for each), and he fully embraces technology. He hasn't carried cash money since 2018, and pays for everything with his phone wherever possible. You can find his work on dozens of publications, but most recently at SlashGear, Forbes, and CNN.

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