Monday, May 29, 2023

Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra review: a capable but expensive flagship

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Space Zoom feels a lot more functional, more consistent than last year, especially at super long range. One could even argue about the relative merits of shooting with a 30x zoom – it gets you significantly closer to your subjects and the results are still clear enough to be worth sharing. But shooting at 100x still seems like an insignificant flex on Samsung’s part. It’s proof of what the company can do, but I feel like Samsung has never stopped thinking about the opportunity.

However, there’s still more to Samsung’s bag of camera tricks. SingleTake, a feature designed to collect a multitude of stylized photos and clips from a single one-second recording, produces a slightly wider variety of results, but you probably won’t find more than two or three that worth hanging on. And beyond that, a new (and fairly well-hidden) content eraser tool lets you selectively remove objects from your photos, much like Photoshop’s content-aware fill feature. It’s a work in progress, however, so you’ll likely end up with at least a few unsuccessful or awkward attempts for every successful, clean excision she performs.

Chris Velazco / Engadget

The Ultra is also very good at video, if that’s more your speed. Samsung has added a host of new features to spice up your images (and I’ll get to that), but there’s one big update to note right off the bat. For the first time ever, you can shoot 4K60 video using any of the Ultra’s cameras, even the one pointed directly at your face all the time. If that wasn’t enough, you can also upgrade to full 8K video recording, although I can pretty much guarantee you don’t have a screen that can do it justice yet. Hell, even some desktops will have a hard time reading these images.

This is where Samsung’s new features start to come in. If you still want to record in 8K, have fun and know that you can press a button to squeeze some pretty decent footage out of the video stream. Meanwhile, Director’s View is a legitimate treat – rather than blindly switching between cameras and hoping for the best, you can now see video feeds from each one so you know exactly what you’re committing to. And just like last year, Samsung’s Super Steady video mode returns – with support for 60 fps recording, nothing less – to make sure your running footage doesn’t get messy. .

Whatever weird tool you use to help you shoot, your footage will generally be excellent. Emphasis on “mainly”. There are a few exceptions though – at least a few of my clips with highly detailed scenes look grainy and over-processed when viewed on a proper monitor, but they were thankfully in the minority. Even so, overall video quality is one area where the iPhone 12 Pro and Pro Max easily get the Ultra beat.

All in all, I was – and still am – shocked at how much I enjoyed the S21’s cameras. Aside from these relatively minor video issues, the flexibility, scope, and overall competence exhibited here make me wonder if I should trade in my personal phone for an upgrade. They say the best camera is the one you have with you, and if you carry one around you have a great tool for just about any occasion.


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