Samsung has been the king of smartphone cameras, especially when it comes to zoom range. The company's flagship Galaxy S series phones have been using a 10x optical zoom camera since the Galaxy S21 Ultra, and Samsung has been refining its zoom performance over the years. It is safe to say that the Galaxy S23 Ultra has the best zoom camera on any smartphone right now.
Last night, Apple unveiled its first iPhone with a USB Type-C port. Apart from its new port and a faster processor, the biggest talking point about the iPhone 15 Pro Max is its long-range zoom camera. Apple is getting closer to Samsung, but we think it still isn't there yet.
iPhone 15 Pro Max's 5x zoom camera is nowhere close to Galaxy S23 Ultra's 10x zoom range
The iPhone 15 Pro Max, Apple's newest flagship phone (and its priciest phone yet), has a 12MP telephoto camera paired with a 5x optical zoom lens. Unlike the Galaxy S23 Ultra's periscope-style zoom lens (that folds light once) and 10MP camera sensor (placed perpendicularly to the phone's body), the iPhone 15 Pro Max uses a tetraprism lens design (that folds light four times) and a conventionally placed camera sensor.
It's a neat trick, and it probably circumvents various patents from Samsung and Samsung Electro-Mechanics. However, its reach is not as good as the telephoto cameras on Samsung's latest flagship phones, such as the Galaxy S22 Ultra and the Galaxy S23 Ultra.
While Apple's long-range zoom camera's design appears more compact than Samsung's, its reach is limited to just 5x optical zoom, while the Galaxy S23 Ultra can reach up to 10x optical zoom. Apple generally has really good image processing algorithms, but even with its new 5x telephoto camera, it probably won't be able to capture zoomed images as well as Samsung does, as the iPhone 15 Pro Max only uses a 12MP sensor.
With the Galaxy S23 Ultra, Samsung refined its image processing algorithms with the help of AI. In our testing, we've found that zoomed-in images captured using the Galaxy S23 Ultra look good even at up to 30x digital zoom. Apple probably can come close to Samsung's 10x zoom performance, but it may not be as good at zoom levels above 10x. Maybe Apple will use a higher-resolution sensor in the coming years, but knowing Apple, it will be slow in doing so.
Samsung has a chance to extend its lead in zoom camera performance
This is good news for Samsung as it has the chance to improve its telephoto camera next year with the Galaxy S24 Ultra and extend its lead over Apple. The company is rumored to upgrade to a 50MP camera sensor for its telephoto camera with 3x optical zoom, theoretically resulting in sharper and more detailed images in the 3x-10x zoom range.
Ideally, Samsung should look at using a continuous optical zoom lens for its future flagship smartphones. They work like real telephoto lenses used with DSLR cameras. However, upgrading to a bigger, higher-resolution sensor for its telephoto camera with a 10x optical zoom lens would be a good step forward for next year.