Samsung Galaxy S20 Ultra – An 8K Camera in Your Pocket

February 13th, 2020 Jump to Comment Section 3
Samsung Galaxy S20 Ultra - An 8K Camera in Your Pocket
Samsung has announced their next-generation flagship phones, the Galaxy S20 series, and they have been able to somehow squeeze 8K video out of them. Let’s take a look at what they’ve been cooking up.

Three Flavors, One Max Resolution

First off, there are three different models in the Galaxy S20 line. The S20 and the S20+ share the same camera array: 12mp ultra-wide, 12mp wide, and an incredible 64mp telephoto. This 64mp camera is what you will be capturing your 8K footage with, as neither of the others come close to the necessary resolution.
Then there’s the S20 Ultra. It’s a spec monster, with a 108 megapixel main camera and a 48 megapixel telephoto. The 108mp camera also boasts a nice and bright f/1.8 aperture, while the telephoto is only f/3.5. And to top it off, the Samsung S20 Ultra packs a 10x optical zoom and a whopping100x “space zoom.” Samsung is clearly making a play for “best smartphone camera” with these resolution and optics.

Storage and Bit Rate

8K footage can take up a whole lot of storage space. Samsung tells us that 8K footage from their S20 phones will be recorded at 600MB per minute, or 80mbps. That’s going to fill up your internal storage faster than you think, especially if you opt for the 128gb model. Luckily, all three phones accept microSD cards of up to 1tb – and yes, those really exist.
There are a couple of caveats when shooting in 8K. First, your one and only available frame rate is 24fps – you can’t even reach 30. Secondly, the recording limit is 5 minutes. I can’t imagine you’d want to be recording long events in 8K from your smartphone, but if that was your plan, you might want to reconsider.

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Is 8K Worth It?

The arguments for shooting in 8K will sound familiar to anyone who remembers the rollout of 4K just a few short years ago. Higher resolution footage allows for more flexibility in post, with lots of room to crop, reframe, or stabilize without sacrificing sharpness. It provides more detail for precise compositing, and when downsampled it can create a richer 4K or 2K image. The downside, of course, is that a higher resolution requires a higher bit rate. Is the choice is either to compress those extra pixels more heavily, or else create massive files that are harder to edit. Since this is a smartphone, I think we can reasonably expect that Samsung has had to opt for the compression. But we’ll have to wait and see how the footage holds up when the reviews come in.

Should You Care About The Galaxy S20?

Just to set expectations, this section is going to be my personal and professional opinion. I have an iPhone XS Max, but I do not use my iPhone as my A, or even B camera. I use my current iPhone, as well as all of my retired iPhones, as Swiss-army knives that can fill a hole in a pinch. No audio recorder? I can plug a lavalier into my old iPhone 5s and stuff that in the subject’s pocket. Need a quick cutaway but everything is already broken down for the day? I can capture up to 4K/60p that looks good enough as long as I don’t hold on it. If I need to storyboard, or need a digital director’s viewfinder, I’ve got it in my pocket.
The other advantage a phone has is that it is unobtrusive in public spaces, where even a small mirrorless camera might draw unwanted attention.  Whether at a protest, rally, public hearing, or public square, being able to capture high-quality video without marking oneself as a cameraman, and thus outsider, can allow you to get closer to the action.

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Final Takeaways

For my needs, then, 8K is a completely unnecessary feature that distracts from what I actually need in a cell phone. I look for a decent codec and bitrate that won’t collapse under grading. I look for low light performance, autofocus, dynamic range, and optical zoom. Apple and Google have made tremendous progress in these areas and more through computational photography, and I can’t wait for them to do more. For my money, a strong image and a robust feature set beat raw specs any day of the week. That said, the raw processing power that allows a smartphone to capture 8K video in the first place bodes well for everything else I just mentioned. And maybe that’s the real takeaway.
If this over-specced beast of a phone has you drooling already, you can place your pre-order today.
Does your phone have a place in your gear bag? Or are the advances in phone tech still too limited to catch your attention? Let us know in the comments!

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