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Is the Galaxy S20 Ultra’s new Space Zoom really out of this world?

Samsung has made a lot of noisesabout its new 100x Space Zoom feature, even plastering the branding over the Galaxy S20 Ultra’s camera module. So what’s all the hype for?

Last year the Huawei P30 Pro amazed us with its 5x optical zoom, so should we be twenty times more impressed with the 100x Space Zoom on the Samsung Galaxy S20 Ultra? Well not quite. It offers impressive ‘lossless’ zoom up to 10x, but the remainder is made up by digital zoom. But Samsung clearly thinks it’s onto a winner, slapping the futuristic “Space Zoom” nametag onto its premium flagship device – so here’s what it does to reach that number, and what’s different compared to other phones.

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The Verge reports that the S20 Ultra’s pure optical zoom is 4x, thanks to a ‘folded’ telephoto lens. Beyond this limit, the device uses a combination of sensor cropping and pixel binning to ensure “lossless” images up to 10x zoom thanks to its 48-megapixel sensor. From there similar methods are employed for higher quality zoomed images, but quality inevitably degrades as simple digital zoom takes up more of the slack. The Ultra is the only smartphone in the series to offer 100x zoom, but the Samsung Galaxy S20 and the Samsung Galaxy S20 Plus offer a hybrid lossless zoom up to 3x (rather than 10x), with the maximum zoom level reaching 30x (rather than 100x).

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Another smartphone that offered comparable zoom was last year’s Huawei P30 Pro. In our review, we noted that the zoom has the device’s standout feature, praising its 5x lossless zoom as “impressively sharp” and its 10x hybrid zoom as “certainly usuable for social media” despite the fact it wasn’t lossless. But we described the results of the 50x zoom as “mostly unusable”, even though they were the best then achievable from a smartphone at the time. We’re looking forward to seeing how the Samsung Galaxy S20 Ultra compares to this performance once we’ve put it through our full review process.

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