Samsung s21 Ultra camera – first look

copyright 2021 Douglas Stockdale

Yesterday I announced that I had just acquired the latest Samsung s21 Ultra phone, chosen mainly for what I read about it’s phone system. And of course, my announcement proceeded having a wonderful illustrative photograph from that Samsung s21 Ultra camera system to show and discuss . Okay, that parts now been fixed (above).

First to be clear, I am principally as still photographer, thus I am not going to write very much about the video capabilities, which for the Ultra look impressive and include: Director’s view, a Zoom-in Mic, High efficiency video capture, HDR10+ video (what ever that is), Video stabilization (still need to find out if that’s available for stills, which it better have), Tracking auto-focus (also still mode), Grid line option (also still mode), Super slow-mo as well as Slow motion, Hyperlapse (some kind of time-lapse video), and GPS location tag capability (also for still mode). Wow. I am impressed and I don’t shoot video.

On the still photo side of things, I suspect that I will use only a few of the camera options as my go-to process, much like how I use Photoshop, which can be overwhelming. I quickly found out with Photoshop that they offer three different ways to accomplish the same function; so pick one and make sure I know how to tweak it if I need to, but that allows me to quickly get the photo editing done. Still camera options on the S21 Ultra include something new to me call ‘Single Take’; capture multiple photos from different angles, so not much more about that option on this article. Same for something called AR (for Augmented Reality); AR Doodle, AR Emoji (gotta feeling that this resonates with the much younger crowd), AR Emoji Studio, AR Emoji Stickers and Deco Pic. The AR is something to experiemental/play with in the future. Nice to have creative options…

What I spend my experiemental/play time with are the basics of Camera mode. Like talking still photos ;- D

New to me were the various screen swipes to change camera shooting modes. I think that is something that I will need to get experience with over time as I become more comfortable with this camera system. I remember the old adage; “to get comfortable with a new camera system, you need to shoot at least a 1,000 frames”, and that was in the days of film.

What is new and cool; with the phone off, if you quickly press the Side key button on the phone twice, it will immediacy open into the Camera app. Called Quick Launch. How many times have I had to fiddle with the process to try to get into the phone mode to make a quick snap-shot of some rapidly changing event. That seemed to take FOREVER, or at least long enough to miss the moment. But this is a really, really fast process to get into camera mode; ideal for photographers, especially street photographers. Thumbs up for this feature.

What is a current pain that I am working through; I am used to touching the phone screen to focus on something as well as taking a picture of it. That does not appear to work with this camera phone, but I am learning some options. Such as turning on the phone’s side button option to use it for a shutter release. There is also the option of adding a ‘floating shutter’ button within the monitor, but that takes a photo but does not focus on an object. Btw, that floating shutter button is an opaque white circle and it blocks out what’s on the screen. Looking at some of my takes yesterday confirms that with the numerious out of focus objects. sigh. So still working the bugs out on focusing…

Also a Scene optimizer that I am working to understand; kinda like auto-exposure that will allow the camera app auto adjust the exposure, contrast, and white balance based on what the camera detects. May appeal to a lot of folks who love auto point and shoot cameras. Which by the way, I used to capture the photo above, which in Adobe Bridge the meta data for this photograph indicates Auto for exposure with a center-weighted-average metering mode.

What does appear exciting is a Pro camera mode that allows you to adjust the ISO sensitivity, exposure value/ shutter speed, focus, white balance and color tones while taking pictures. You can observe the results on the phone screen as you make the various adjustments; real old school picture taking. Also a choice of JPEG or RAW files. Wicked cool!

There are some other photo modes to play with such as Panorama (so far, not intuitive), Food (creates vivid colors, so this could be interesting), Night for low-light without flash and Portrait (yet to play with, but allows the background to be adjusted). The Samsung manual is pretty thin on how to use all of these options, so other than providing a bit of background as a tease, you will need to hunt down elsewhere more specifics on how to use these functions…

What I did manage to experiement/play with is the image quality. Obvious looking at the front of the phone the S21 Ultra has multiple lens, apparently one is for ‘normal’, another for ultra-wide angle while another (or two) is set for telephoto. Since I am not that much of telephoto user, the tele lens maybe ones that I might take a bit longer to experiment/play with. The on-line specs from Samsung state that the s21 Ultra camera sensor is 12Mp for ultra-wide, 10Mp for the telephoto, the rear facing selfie camera of 40Mb and a whopping 108Mp for the normal; but the output for the 108Mp sensor is still a 12Mp image as the RGB conversion is 9 to 1 to improve texture, noise and dynamic color range. (in my testing, the resulting image was 19.6Mp) Btw, in the Pro mode, mentioned above, you can obtain 12-bit color images (dang, only found out about that after I created the image above).

What was interesting to me; the resulting photo above looked pretty close in sharpness, quality, edge details to similar photographs that I made from my Canon 5DMk3. And hands down much better defined photos over my much older Canon 5D, also a 12Mp camera. And that was after printing similar images at 24 x 30″. The Canon 5DMk3 still has sharper and better defined photographs that result from a 23Mp capture on a much larger sensor; but pretty amazing the image quality with the S21 Ultra, which my meta data indicates is a 19.6 Mb image (not 12Mb). Perhaps why the S21 Ultra and 5DMk3 look close in image quality. In the past, my earlier Samsung s5 was an idea generator and if something was looking good, I would start using the 5DMk3. I can see that images with the S21 Ultra are not only for generating ideas, but potential keepers to augment anything I use with the 5DMk3. Wicked Cool!

For the photo above, the last of this year’s Ala Vera that is still standing, subsequent image tweaking was completed in another phone App, which seems to decrease the image file size by about 5%. So for the side by side comparison, I selected photographs that I had used the App to tweak as well as comparing some original files.

I am still very impressed with the Samsung S21 Ultra, a decision that I am not regretting, as well as I feel my mojo returning.



Memory Pods series (#110155) copyright Douglas Stockdale 2021



Developing a Creative Photo Book, a virtual (Zoom) workshop I will be leading again in conjunction with Medium Photo, September 11th, 12th, 18th, & 19th, New dates: March 5 – 6, 12 – 13, 2022 More details and sign-up available now at Medium Photo. New Dates!

New Book Workshop added: I will be leading a Creative Photo Book workshop with the Southeast Center of Photography (SEC4P) later in the Fall of this year. This will be a virtual event (Zoom); November 6 & 7th and 13 & 14th, 2021, 10 AM – 1 PM, EDT (3 hour session each day, with a week between the weekend sessions to work your book-dummy). Registration is now open, and there is a SEC4P membership discount. Just advised that it is half-way sold out. Let me know if you have any questions!


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