The Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra is working hard to establish itself as the benchmark for smartphones in the first half of 2021

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In January 2021, Samsung unveiled its trio of high-end smartphones: the Galaxy S21, S21+ and S21 Ultra. All three rely on a very extensive technical sheet. However, the S21 Ultra definitely stands out. It is indeed the best equipped model (and the most expensive) of these 3 models. Curved screen, quadruple rear camera, 108 Mpx main sensor… The Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra is working hard to establish itself as the benchmark for smartphones in the first half of 2021. After using it as your main phone for a month and a half, here is our full review of the Galaxy S21 Ultra.

Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra test: the photo quartet that does not disappoint

Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra test: the photo quartet that does not disappoint
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Galaxy S: Samsung’s technological showcase

The Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra is part of a trio of smartphones launched in early 2021 by the South Korean electronics giant. They embody the 12th generation of the prestigious Galaxy S series. The latter allows the manufacturer to show all its technological know-how.

Thus, the Galaxy S are intended in particular to consolidate the brand image of the South Korean giant. But also to strengthen Samsung’s position in the smartphone market. Number 1 in sales for many years, Samsung is stepping up its efforts in the face of the rise of Chinese players: Xiaomi, the BBK Electronics group (Oppo, Vivo, Realme, OnePlus, etc.) or even Huawei – despite US sanctions.

Within the Galaxy S trio made in 2021, the Galaxy S21 Ultra stands out by being the smartphone of all superlatives. Like its main competitor, the iPhone 12 Pro Max, it is the largest, the heaviest, the best equipped in photo and video – and incidentally the most expensive of all Samsung Galaxy S.

Huge 6.8-inch screen, new Exynos 2100 processor, up to 16 GB of RAM, new sensor >108 Mpx, “periscopic” x10 zoom… the Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra clearly displays its ambitions: to be crowned the best smartphone of the start of 2021.

What about the field? This is what we will see together during this complete test.

Here are the full specs of the Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra:

  • Screen: AMOLED, 6.8 inches
  • Definition: 1440 x 3200 pixels
  • Back Camera:
    • 108 MP (1/1.33 inch), 26 mm wide-angle, f/1.8, Dual Pixel AF, Laser AF, OIS
    • 12 MP (1/2.55 inch), 13 mm ultra-wide angle, f/2.2, Dual Pixel AF, Super Steady Video
    • 10 MP, (1/3.24 inch), 70mm x3 zoom, f/2.4, Dual Pixel AF, OIS
    • 10 MP (1/3.24 inch), 10x zoom 240mm, f/4.9, Dual Pixel AF, OIS
  • Front Camera: 40MP (1/2.8 inch), 26m, f/2.2, Dual Pixel AF
  • Video: 8K (30 fps), 4K (60 fps), FHD (240 fps), 720p (960 fps)
  • OS: Android 11, OneUI 3.1 overlay
  • Processor: Exynos 2100
  • Memory fast: 12 or 16 GB
  • Battery: 5000 mAh
  • Storage: 128, 256 or 512 GB
  • Dimensions: 75.6 x 165.1 x 8.9mm
  • Weight: 229g
  • Price: from €1,249

Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra: big but beautiful

When you pick it up for the first time, the Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra impresses with its size. Equipped with a giant 6.8-inch edge-to-edge screen, the smartphone adopts generous measurements. Count 16.5 cm high, 7.5 cm wide and 8.9 mm thick. On the scale, it easily exceeds the 200g mark with 229g – 1g more than the iPhone 12 Pro Max, by the way.

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Beyond its dimensions, the Galaxy S21 impresses with the quality of its finishes. Resolutely high-end, the device is truly flawless. In this regard, note the matte glass finish on the back of the device, which is not very sensitive to fingerprints.

Similarly, its huge 6.8-inch screen, in 20:9 format, is a success. It offers immediate comfort: reading long articles, watching videos, playing games… is a real pleasure.

The AMOLED panel (a constant at Samsung since the 1st Galaxy S) offers very good color and contrast reproduction. Particularly bright, the screen can be used without worry in direct sunlight. Only concern: by default, the latter is set to Vivid mode, offering colors that are certainly more pleasing to the eye, but quite saturated. The Natural mode is certainly more faithful to reality, but the colors seem frankly dull…

Also mention the definition of 1440 x 3200 pixels. A particularly high figure… but do we really need such a definition? Thus, on mobile, Netflix limits the display to Full HD (1080p)!

Note also the high format of the device, which allows for better grip. Obviously, one-handed use is more complicated than with a compact model – despite the dedicated mode included by Samsung. More annoying, the device protrudes from the pockets of some jeans, which can cause some cold sweats when cycling for example.

The screen edges of the S21 Ultra are very slightly curved – unlike the “classic” S21 and S21+, which have a decidedly flat screen. The curvature is particularly subtle and hardly noticeable. After popularizing curved screens (from the Galaxy S6 Edge, sold from 2015), Samsung seems to be gradually abandoning this technology.

We should also mention the small punch, located in the center of the upper part of the screen. This small hole accommodates the front camera. Samsung thus avoids the use of the “famous” notch dear to iPhones… but the S21 Ultra also ignores secure facial recognition, which is a shame. In addition, let’s mention the fingerprint reader located under the screen. The latter is correctly positioned and offers a very fast unlocking of the device – despite a few hiccups.

Generally speaking, the S21 Ultra opts for adesign with softer, more rounded lines. Result: the terminal offers a grip very comfortable, despite its size. However, the edges of the terminal are quite slippery. At the bottom of the device, there is a single USB Type C port. Alas, no jack plug – Samsung having decided to follow in Apple’s footsteps on this point.

Samsung therefore delivers a terminal very pleasing to the eye, a little heavy but offering an exemplary level of finish and equipped with a superb screen. Does the Galaxy S21 Ultra show itself to be as good in terms of photography? That’s what we’re going to see now.

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Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra: an ultra-complete photo module

Before discussing the quality of the photos and videos of the Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra, we need to go back in detail to the characteristics of its five-fold rear photo module. The latter takes place within a (huge) rounded rectangle placed vertically at the top left of the rear face. For aesthetic reasons, this rectangle “overflows” on the side of the smartphone and encompasses the volume buttons.

The Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra is definitely the smartphone of superlatives. Number of sensors, definition of the main sensor, zoom range… the S21 Ultra plays the card of excess to offer an ultra-complete photo and video experience.

Thus, the Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra integrates:

  • Wide-angle optics (24 mm equivalent) stabilized opening at f/1.8, powered by a 108 Mpx sensor measuring 1/1.33 “(with 0.8 photosites µm), with phase detection autofocus;
  • An ultra wide-angle (13 mm equivalent) opening at f/2.2, powered by a 12 Mpx sensor measuring 1/2.55 “(with 1.4 µm photosites ) and Dual Pixel autofocus;
  • A “standard” telephoto lens (72 mm equivalent) opening at f/2.4, paired with a 12 Mpx sensor measuring 1/3.24 “(1.22 µm photosites) and Dual Pixel autofocus;
  • A “periscopic” telephoto lens (240 mm equivalent) opening at f/4.9, coupled with a 12 Mpx sensor measuring 1/3.24 “(1.22 µm photosites) and Dual Pixel autofocus;
  • A “Laser AF” sensor, which helps the main sensor to model the scene and focus.

Several points are worth noting here. We will highlight the ultra-wide focal range of this terminal. From 13mm to 240mm (excluding digital zoom), the Galaxy S21 Ultra is rarely versatile.

Let’s also dwell for a moment on the main sensor, which is none other than a Samsung ISOCELL Bright HM3. Successor to the Bright HMX (unveiled in summer 2019), this 108MP sensor promises wider dynamic range and digital noise reduction.

Measuring 1/1.33 inch (9.6 x 7.2 mm), this sensor is approximately 40% smaller than a 1 inch sensor . For a smartphone, however, this is a large sensor – for comparison, the iPhone 12 Pro uses a primary sensor of 1/2.5 inch (5.75 x 4.32mm).

In practice, the sensor delivers images of 12 Mpx thanks to the process of matrix grouping of pixels dubbed “Nonacell” by Samsung. Thus, 9 photosites are grouped into a single one, in order to form pixels 2.4 μm wide. However, the device also makes it possible to exploit all the pixels of the sensor and to capture images of 108 Mpx. We will not fail to return to this point in the rest of this test.

For now, let’s focus on the dual-telephoto lens of the Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra. Indeed, the terminal is distinguished by offering 2 long-range optics, in order to offer2 different optical zoom levels. For this, it relies on 2 12 Mpx sensors. Measuring 1/3.24 inch, they are quite small in size.

The 1st telephoto lens offers a “classic” x3 zoom, 72 mm equivalent, with an aperture of f/2.4. The 2nd is more atypical. Indeed, it is a “periscopic” zoom, where the lenses are mounted perpendicular to save space. Thus, the S21 Ultra can proudly display a x10 zoom, 240 mm equivalent. Unfortunately, this lens is very dim, with an aperture of… f/4.9. We will have the opportunity to come back to this point later.

We will quickly move on to the ultra wide-angle, which appears to be quite classic. Driven by a sensor measuring 1/2.55 , and opening at f/2.2 it nevertheless offers a very short focal length, 13 mm equivalent. strong>. Perfect for lovers of very wide shots.

Last but not least, let’s mention the Laser AF sensor. The latter projects a laser beam on the subject, and must help the main sensor to focus more quickly. Indeed, Samsung has not yet succeeded in combining the 108 Mpx resolution with the Dual Pixel AF technology – present on all the other sensors of this S21 Ultra. Also, the Laser AF sensor must overcome any weaknesses of the main sensor in terms of autofocus – Samsung seeking to avoid the AF problems encountered by the S20 Ultra.

Image quality of the Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra

But beyond all these technical aspects, does the S21 Ultra live up to our expectations? Let’s put an end to this unbearable suspense right away, the Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra is a very good photophone. Thanks to its versatility and image quality, it will make a very good companion in everyday life and when traveling.

Sunset Rivoli – Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra, 24mm, f/1.8, 1/221s, ISO 50

The interface of the Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra’s Camera application is clear and easy to use. To simplify the appearance of the application, only the Single Take, Photo and Video modes are immediately accessible. The (many) other shooting modes are stored in a “More” tab.

To trigger the capture of a photo or video, the large white button falls easily under the thumb; however, it is possible to move and position it anywhere on the screen. In general, the interface is pleasant and user-friendly.

As mentioned above, the terminal offers a particularly wide focal range, ranging from 13 to 240 mm – further extended by the “Space Zoom , which we haven’t talked about yet. In the field, this unparalleled versatility makes it possible to adopt a multitude of framings, which we greatly appreciated.

In practice, this “super zoom” is easy to use thanks to Samsung’s interface. Small virtual buttons make it easy to switch between lenses. You can also use the “pinch to zoom” function, in order to quickly reach the maximum magnification allowed by the device.

In the field, the Galaxy S21 Ultra is capable of generating very beautiful daytime photos. Samsung’s HDR mechanism turns out to be sufficiently subtle, and offers polished images – but without too much excess.

Overall, the software processing applied to the images is sufficiently moderate. But when the subject has vivid colors, the post-processing algorithms are sometimes a little heavy-handed, and the camera then delivers shots in colors. quite saturated, with fairly pronounced contrasts. Similarly, the details can sometimes appear too accentuated.

Villiers, snowy day – Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra, 24mm, f/1.8, 1/1128s, ISO 50

Fortunately, the terminal is comfortable with situations with large differences in terms of brightness. On this point, the Galaxy S21 Ultra does a little better than the iPhone 12 Pro Max, which sometimes delivered a kind of rather questionable in-between. Despite everything, we find this tendency to over-saturation of the primary colors.

Under the Bridge of Europe – Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra, Zoom x3, 72mm, f/2.4, 1/167s, ISO 50
Rouen station and saturated colors – Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra, 26mm, f/1.8, 1/447s, ISO 50

And on the autofocus side, how is the Galaxy S21 Ultra doing? In fact, the camera focuses quickly – even if it remains a bit slower than some of its competitors. More annoying, there is sometimes a micro-latency between the moment you press the shutter button and the capture of the image. Admittedly minimal, this latency can be annoying.

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Place Michel Audiard and scooter in snowplow mode – Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra, 24 mm, f/1.8, 1/212s, 50 ISO

Fortunately, the device makes up for it with a high-performance burst mode. To use it, just slide the (virtual) shutter button to the right, and the camera captures a large number of images. Once in the Gallery app, these are grouped into “stacks”.

For its part, the ultra wide-angle (13 mm equivalent) is interesting. It makes it possible to diversify the shots. It should delight lovers of architecture, landscape, urbex or real estate.

Baie de Somme, minimalism – Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra, 13mm, f/2.2, 1/842s, ISO 50

However, the width of the field (120°) imposes a certain rigor in the framing, at the risk of capturing wobbly and uninteresting photos.

Geometry – Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra, 13mm, f/2.2, 1/1060s, ISO 50

As with the main sensor, the exposure of the shots is very good… but the level of detail is lower (compared to the main module). The fault is a smaller sensor (1/2.55 inch), which is a little less efficient. In terms of distortions, the Galaxy S21 Ultra is a good student… even if its correction algorithms sometimes show their limits. Fortunately, the autofocus is very fast.

Batignolles and rainy weather – Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra, 13mm, f/2.2, 1/123s, ISO 50

The x3 telezoom, meanwhile, is very relevant. It bridges the gap between the primary (24mm) focal length and the “super-telephoto” (240mm). In the field, we really appreciate being able to play with the zoom, in order to frame tighter and further isolate your subject. In practice, the images delivered by this lens are very qualitative.

Quai de Seine, rising sun – Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra, Zoom x10, 240 mm, f/4.9, 1/546s, 50 ISO
Rouen – Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra, Zoom x3, 72 mm, f/2.4, 1/33s, 400 ISO
It’s overflowing, it’s overflowing! – Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra, 3x zoom, 72mm, f/2.4, 1/634s, ISO 50

The color and contrast reproduction is very good. Similarly, the level of detail is correct, even if it remains less good than with the main lens. In addition, the device artificially over-emphasizes details when the light decreases. Finally, we got some blurry photos, due to a rather slow shutter speed (1/50s). The fault is a small 1/3.24 inch sensor. Fortunately, this module makes up for it with its very fast AF, again.

Rue de la Villette – Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra, Zoom x3, 72mm, f/2.4, 1/100s, ISO 80
After the rain – Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra, 3x zoom, 72mm, f/2.4, 1/380s, ISO 50

To go even further, the Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra offers its 240 mm telephoto lens, offering a x10 zoom. Its presence is particularly relevant: it thus makes it possible to capture the most distant subjects, to play on perspectives and to produce images hitherto reserved for telephoto lenses for SLRs or hybrids.

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Snowy Rail Tangle – Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra, 10x Zoom, 240mm, f/4.9, 1/466s, ISO 50

However, this goal delivers…mixed results. Yes, the images are correctly exposed, and are quite pleasing to the eye. Unfortunately, the level of detail is behind the other lenses. To compensate, the device accentuates the micro-contrasts quite strongly – while applying a very pronounced smoothing to combat digital noise.

Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra, 10x zoom, 240mm, f/4.9, 1/50s, ISO 200

Result: the images lack naturalness and suffer from quality below our expectations. In fact, this telephoto lens is much worse than the x10 “periscopic” zoom of the Huawei P40 Pro+, the only competing model to offer such a long focal length.

Worse, we got several blurred photos, due to a rather slow shutter speed (1/33s, 1/50s) and sometimes lagging autofocus.< /p>
On paper, this photo should have been sharp. But due to rather slow AF and too slow an auto shutter speed, this photo is simply… missed. Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra, 10x zoom, 240mm, f/4.9, 1/50s, ISO 100

Finally, a word about the Space Zoom feature. By relying on the 108 Mpx of the main sensor, the Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra offers a digital zoom x100. Something to play the paparazzi – on paper at least. Because in the field, the level of detail drops very quickly.

Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra, Space Zoom x22, 240mm, f/4.9, 1/445s, ISO 50

With a x30 zoom, the images become difficult to use. With a x100 zoom, the images become frankly indigestible. But over time, Samsung is increasing the quality of the images obtained with this mode… which, in the future, could raise serious questions about the respect for the privacy of others.< /p>

Note, however, the arrival of a small subtlety, called “Zoom Lock”. By applying a 20x zoom (or beyond), the device strongly stabilizes the camera, in order to compensate as much as possible for the vibrations associated with the use of a very long focal length. A small frame appears to better compose your photo. However, it can be difficult to adjust the frame of the photo, the stabilization coming to “fight” against cropping the photo.

Despite our efforts, we were unable to frame this photo better, due to the stabilization of “Space Zoom”, which can be very restrictive for light movements. Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra, Space Zoom x100, 240mm, f/4.9, 1/501s, ISO 50

The Portrait mode, meanwhile, allows you to obtain interesting results. By default, this mode applies a x2 zoom. It is however possible to frame in wide-angle; in all cases, the main sensor is used. In fact, the images are beautiful, but the clipping is sometimes approximate. Similarly, the blur effect sometimes lacks subtlety – but remains adaptable within the application. Overall, the images are well made, even if the camera delivers a rendering that is sometimes a bit too flattering.

Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra, Portrait mode, 24mm, f/1.8, 1/172s, ISO 50

Note, however, that the Galaxy S21 Ultra allows you to use Portrait mode in low light. As a result, well-made night shots… but a rather long exposure time, which can sometimes lead to some blurry photos.

Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra, Portrait mode, 24mm, f/1.8, 1/33s, ISO500

The front camera, on the other hand, offers interesting results. Based on a 40 million pixel sensor (coupled with a 26mm equivalent lens opening at f/2.2), it allows you to capture eye-pleasing selfies rich in detail.

Like other manufacturers, Samsung also offers Stage Lighting Modes. They come to perform a partial desaturation, or try to imitate the rendering of photos “à la Harcourt”. We like it… or not.

Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra, scene light mode, 24mm, f/1.8, 1/140s, ISO 50

The S21 Ultra also allows you to use Portrait mode with objects… but only to a limited extent. Quite often, the camera struggles to identify the main subject, and operates a sometimes risky clipping. On this point, the iPhone 12 Pro Max does a little better.

Napoleon Bridge, early morning – Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra, Portrait mode, 24mm, f/1.8, 1/153s, ISO 50

Samsung makes up for it (to some extent) with its Food mode. But beyond your usual food porn photos, this mode is interesting for taking pictures of small objects. On the screen, an adjustable frame allows you to identify the area to be highlighted. The rest of the scene is blurred, allowing you to properly isolate the subject from its background.

My mom’s apple pie: delicious! Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra, Food mode, 24mm, f/1.8, 1/40s, ISO 320

Despite everything, we regret that the Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra does not have a dedicated macro mode. Admittedly, the device allows you to recreate background blur (to a certain extent), but we would have liked to take advantage of this feature more easily.

To beech or not to beech, that is the question – Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra, 24mm, f/1.8, 1/242s, ISO 50

Let’s also talk about Samsung’s much-vaunted 108MP photo capture. Images captured in this mode are 12000 x 9000 pixels, and weigh approximately 35 MB. As in “normal” mode, the images are very well exposed. By zooming in, you can appreciate a particularly high level of detail.

Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra, 108MP Mode, 24mm, f/1.8, 1/1164s, ISO 50

A small button allows you to create a new photo from a portion of the original image. However, this method – which simply comes to cropping in the image – highlights the drop in image quality… and the result is ultimately somewhat indigestible.

108MP mode, cropped image

The Galaxy S21 Ultra also features a mode called “Single Take”. Its use is childish: the device captures continuously (from 5 to 15 s). After a few moments of reflection, Samsung’s algorithms give you the most interesting photos, a short video and a small boomerang-style clip. Not essential, some would say, but fun in the moment.

Finally, let’s mention the presence of a “Pro” photo mode. The latter should make it possible to regain control of the shooting parameters. You can thus capture photos in RAW (DNG format). Files weigh around 24 MB in this mode. By the way, note that it is impossible to capture images of 108 Mpx in RAW.

In the field, there is a certain decrease in quality when shooting in RAW. The images are thus more noisy, have less sharpness, and are more subject to chromatic aberrations. The HDR system being deactivated, the exposure is also quite different.

The Pro mode obviously allows you to adjust the ISO sensitivity, the shutter speed (up to 2 minutes of exposure time), the aperture (virtual), the exposure, the autofocus, the balance of whites, exposure measurement… but also contrasts, high and low lights, color saturation or even the tint of the photos. Easy to learn, this interface can be interesting.

Subway Speed ​​– Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra, Pro Mode, 24mm, f/1.8, 1s, ISO 400

Finally, the Pro mode allows you to manually adjust the focus distance. And, surprisingly, the minimum focusing distance is very short (approximately 4 cm in manual mode), which makes it possible to capture very interesting images. Note that a focus peaking function is present, and allows you to perform the MAP, the sharp areas being “highlighted” in green.

Let there be light – Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra, Pro Mode, 24mm, f/1.8, 1/216s, ISO 50

Find below a selection of daytime photos captured with the Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra:

< p class="tiled-gallery-caption"> 10x zoom 240mm, f/4.9, 1/475s, ISO 50

Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra , the king of the night?

For several years, smartphone manufacturers have been competing in ingenuity to improve the quality of night photos. This discipline has thus become an excellent way to distinguish between the different models on the market.

Time Regained – Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra, Night Mode, 10x Zoom, 240mm, f/4.9, 1.7s, 160s

With this Galaxy S21 Ultra, Samsung puts its 108 Mpx sensor in the balance. Its “nonacell” system groups 9 pixels into 1. The photosites thus measure 2.6 µm, and must therefore be able to capture more light. What about the field?

In fact, the Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra is a good student in this area. With the main sensor, you can easily (and quickly) get good quality photos without night mode activated. The images are perfectly exposed, and the level of detail remains correct. Nevertheless, we got blurry images several times. And this, despite the stabilization of the various objectives…

However, the Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra reveals its full potential after activating Night mode. Moreover, it is a pity that the device does not offer to automatically switch to this mode when it detects a night scene.

Red – Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra, 10x zoom, 240mm, f/4.9, 1.4s, ISO 3200
E finita la comedia – Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra, Zoom x3, 72 mm, f/2.2, 1/33s, 1000 ISO
Pyramid illuminated but museum closed – Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra, 13mm, f/1.8, 1/13s, ISO 1600
10x zoom, Night mode disabled

Clearly, the “classic” photo mode is reserved for images taken “on the spot”, which require great responsiveness. On the other hand, if you can afford the luxury of waiting a few seconds, we recommend that you opt for the dedicated Night mode, much more qualitative.

Paris, postcard – Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra, Zoom x3, 72 mm, f/2.4, 1/4s, 2000 ISO

Present in Samsung since the Galaxy S10 – and analogous to the “night shot” mode of the Google Pixel -, Night mode is based on capturing a large number of photos at speeds of more or less slow shutter.

Tribute to Hector Guimard – Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra, Night Mode, 24mm, f/1.8, 1/17s, ISO 640

Thus, the exposure time can go from 2 to 7 seconds, depending on the brightness of the scene and the lens used. The goal: to generate better exposed shots, with a higher level of detail and less digital noise. This Night mode is available with the 4 lenses of the Galaxy S21 Ultra – and fortunately.

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Overflowing Blue Hour – Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra, Night Mode, 24mm, f/1.8, 1/13s, ISO 1250

In the field, images captured in this mode are generally very good. The shots are impeccably exposed. Without trying to excessively flatter the retina, the images are very natural, with a beautiful reproduction of the colors of the scene. Also, the digital noise is fairly low. Finally, the autofocus is quite fast… but does a little less well than the competition.

Beginning of blue hour and Seine in flood – Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra, Night Mode, 24 mm, f/1.8, 1/33s, ISO 640

Unsurprisingly, the digital zoom at night degrades image quality very quickly – despite the 108 Mpx of the main sensor. To compensate for the loss of detail, the lens applies ultra-pronounced smoothing Result: images with a… questionable rendering.

As this scene was very dimly lit, the camera had a lot of trouble rendering it correctly, despite using Night Mode. Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra, Night Mode, 24mm, f/1.8, 1/8s, ISO 1250

For their part, the images captured with the ultra wide-angle are a bit disappointing. Yes, the exposure and color reproduction are very nice. Nevertheless, there is a clear drop in the level of detail – which is particularly true at the edges of the image. Likewise, the level of detail smoothing is quite pronounced. From this point of view, the S21 Ultra observes the same behavior as some competing models – iPhone 12 Pro Max in mind.

Night Distortions – Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra, 13mm, f/2.2, 1/25s, ISO 1000

The Galaxy S21 Ultra makes up for it with its x3 zoom. With the Night mode, the device is able to capture beautiful images. The restitution of details is correct – while remaining lower than that of the main sensor, alas. Fortunately, the exposure, the colors border on perfection.

City of Light – Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra, Zoom x3, 72 mm, f/2.4, 1/4s, 1600 ISO

However, there is a noticeable difference in the exposure time required. With the x3 zoom, the camera will require an exposure time of about 5 seconds, when only 2 seconds are needed with the main sensor or the UGA. Fortunately, the algorithms designed by Samsung are very efficient, and avoid any motion blur – despite a few hiccups.

Classicism – Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra, Night Mode, Zoom x3, 72 mm, f/2.4, 1/4s, 1250 ISO

Finally, the “periscopic” x10 zoom makes it possible to obtain interesting results with the Night mode… but the shots are significantly behind compared to the other objectives. The reliefs and details seem erased – the fault of a very pronounced smoothing. Finally, there is a pronounced blooming phenomenon, the highlights forming spots in the image. In question, a very small sensor… and very low light optics (f/4.9), which forces the device to apply a very pronounced smoothing to avoid the appearance of digital noise at all costs.

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Lights – Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra, Night Mode, 10x Zoom, 240mm, f/4.9, 1/4s, ISO 3200

Last but not least, a word on the Space Zoom x100, which allows you to capture quite interesting photos of the Moon… despite a very pronounced smoothing. However, the performance remains impressive for a smartphone!

In the end, we will salute the performance of the Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra for capturing night images (Night mode activated). Thanks to its 4 optics which make it ultra-versatile, the device makes it easy to capture beautiful night photos. Despite everything, the performance of the “secondary” sensors remains inferior to that of the main sensor, which we regret. >

Find below a selection of photos captured with the Night mode of the Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra:

8K video at 24 fps and 4K at 60 fps: the Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra, video master?

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In video, the Galaxy S21 stands out from the competition by opening up the possibility of filming in… 8K, no less – but in 24 fps only. Fortunately, the device can capture video in 4K at 60 fps, regardless of the lens used.

In practice, the images are perfectly exposed. The levels of detail, the restitution of colors and contrasts are identical to the photo part. They are therefore very good, but we find this slight tendency to want to flatter the retina of the user. Is that a bad thing though? Not necessarily.

Once in the field, the device again shows remarkable versatility, allowing you to capture images that would probably be difficult to capture with a more conventional smartphone.< /p>

Despite everything, we regret the impossibility of switching from one sensor to another during the video. If you start filming with the main sensor, it’s impossible to switch to ultra wide-angle, for example. Likewise, if you want to zoom in, the camera uses digital zoom – which degrades image quality very quickly.

On the stabilization side, the S21 Ultra is very correct with the main lens and the UGA… but a little less with the x3 zoom, where vibrations tend to be fairly present. The situation becomes much more complicated with the x10 zoom. Freehand, said vibrations are very marked and the result can become quite indigestible if you have had too much coffee!

Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra 4K 60 fps review

Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra 4K 60fps review
Watch this video on YouTube

The device also offers a “Super Steady” mode, also known as “Action Cam mode”. In this case, the device must succeed in eliminating all the jerky movements, in order to obtain impeccably smooth videos. In fact, this mode is interesting… even if it does not manage to eliminate all the tremors (on a staircase for example). Moreover, this mode is only available with wide-angle and ultra-wide-angle lenses, and only in Full HD.

Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra Super Steady review

Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra Super Steady review
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Finally, a word on the “infamous” 8K mode of the Galaxy S21 Ultra. The latter takes advantage of the 108 Mpx sensor of the device and must, according to Samsung, offer results worthy of the cinema. Beyond marketing, this mode offers interesting results. Again, the images are perfectly exposed, and the level of detail is very good. However, a significant crop is applied, to allow the stabilization to do its job. More annoying, the effect of rolling shutter is particularly marked.

Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra 8K review

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Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra 8K review
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Finally, a button allows you to create an 8 MP photo from the video. The quality of the images is correct, but the level of detail is a little behind.

8MP photo from 8K video

The Galaxy S21 Ultra can also capture slow motion footage at 120 fps in 1080p – but not at 240 fps, which is quite surprising. The images captured in this mode are of good quality, but become quite dark as soon as the light runs out.

Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra 120 fps review

Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra 120 fps review
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Another slow motion mode is available, this time at 960 fps (at 720p). Enough to produce extremely pronounced slowdowns. But this mode is quite difficult to master. The device only allows you to film for 4 seconds (for 33 seconds of video): you will therefore have to aim well so as not to miss the action of your subject. And forget the interior scenes, the images are extremely dark – and of poor quality.

Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra 960 fps review

Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra 960 fps review
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As in the photo, the Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra also offers a “Pro” video mode. The latter allows you to regain control of the ISO sensitivity, the white balance as well as the shutter speed… but without allowing to go below 1/30s (when you are filming in 30 fps), which is a shame . D

Besides, we would have liked to see a digital ND filter function. We will console ourselves with the possibility of manually adjusting the focus, helped in this by focus peaking (as in the photo). In the end, this Pro mode, without being as complete as the Video Pro mode of the Xperia 1 II, is much more pleasant to use.

Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra Pro Mode 4K 60p Review

Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra Mode Pro 4K 60p review
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Finally, let’s mention the Director’s View mode. Its principle is simple: allow you to film at the same time with the front camera and one of the lenses (wide-angle, ultra-wide-angle or x3 zoom). Small thumbnails allow you to view what the different rear cameras perceive. This feature may be of interest to some vloggers; however, we regret that it is not possible to film with all the sensors at the same time.

Performance and interface

The Galaxy S21 are based on the same technical basis, and use the Exynos 2100 chip. This chip represents a major evolution for Samsung. Engraved in 5 nm, it aims to offer superior performance, while preserving autonomy. Most importantly, it’s the first to skip Samsung’s “Mongoose” CPU cores, and rely on Cortex ARM cores.

The result is a net gain in performance – and a much less pronounced gap between the Exynos version (for Europe) and the version equipped with a Snapdragon chip (for the United States). According to Samsung, this chip must be able to manage up to 6 cameras, and must support the capture of images up to… 200 Mpx.

This chip is backed up by 8, 12 or even 16 GB (!) of RAM, depending on the version. At the maneuver, we find Android 11 (latest version of the Google OS), as well as the OneUI 3.2 interface from Samsung. On a daily basis, the Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra is remarkably fluid. Even when opening a large number of applications, no slowdown is to be reported.

On the storage side, the memory goes up to 512 GB. Nevertheless, Samsung has decided to omit the micro SD reader. A shame for the brand that helped popularize this type of storage. This point could put off some buyers – especially those who already have many files (photos, videos, music, etc.) on a micro SD card and who would like to transfer them to their new smartphone in the blink of an eye.

The interface made by Samsung, called OneUI, is very pleasant to use. Rich in colors and visual effects, it offers a very large number of options to personalize your smartphone. We particularly appreciate theside strip, which takes advantage of the curved screen of the S21 Ultra. It provides access to the most used applications, and provides shortcuts to some very practical functions (screenshot, for example) or to your favorite contacts

(Samsung also integrates its own applications and services. Samsung Health for monitoring physical activity, Samsung Notes… but also the Game Launcher, which brings together all your games, gives statistics on your gaming sessions and suggests new games to discover).

As such, note that the Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra is an excellent portable game console. To put it to the test, we installed a selection of particularly resource-intensive games – and pushed the settings to the max. As a result, the device gets away with it without flinching.

Similarly, the heating of the device is very limited. Normally, the temperature is around 27°. After an intensive play session, we recorded a temperature of 32°, which remains reasonable.

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Also mention Samsung DeX (Desktop Experience). Prefiguring (perhaps) the future of computing, this mode makes it possible to have a complete workstation anywhere. To do this, simply connect your phone to an HDMI cable connected to a screen (via an adapter). In practice, this system is quite impressive. Browsing the web, writing articles, browsing our photos – and, of course, answering calls and sending messages: all this can be done with disconcerting simplicity – especially since the system is able to manage a keyboard and a mouse in Bluetooth. In theory, some apps are not optimized for a large screen in horizontal format. But in practice, most apps work without a hitch. A real success… even if the Samsung ecosystem cannot yet compete with macOS or Windows.

Finally, the Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra must benefit from system updates for 3 years. Which is already very good, in itself… but it remains inferior to what Apple offers – which has the advantage of controlling both the hardware and software part.

Audio quality: the Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra, a smartphone for music lovers

Like any high-end smartphone, the Galaxy S21 Ultra aims to deliver excellent sound quality in all circumstances. In fact, the results are very good.

First, note the absence of the 3.5 mm jack, which requires you to connect a jack adapter – USB-C, unfortunately not supplied. Once our headphones are plugged in (a Sony MDR-V6 monitoring headphones), the sound is accurate and detailed. Nevertheless, it is slightly behind compared to the Sony Xperia 1 II, which remains the reference in terms of sound reproduction for a smartphone.

In Bluetooth, the device is compatible with the APT-X standard for high quality output with compatible headphones. Again, the sound quality is very good… but could have been even better.

A word about the speakers: these were designed in partnership with AKG Audio – which Samsung acquired in 2016. The sound reproduction is very correct, and quite round. We are light years away from the metallic rendering of certain old models. Nevertheless, to our taste, the iPhone 12 Pro Max manages to do even better, with a sound richer, fuller… more pleasant. In addition, the speaker located at the top of the device is a little less powerful than the one at the bottom, which can cause a (very) slight imbalance.

Fortunately, the Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra makes up for it in terms of simply impeccable audio quality in calls. Even in noisy environments – or with weak reception – our correspondents always heard us perfectly. Finally, note that the terminal can accept 2 SIM cards. Ideal for those who want to juggle between professional and personal lines without multiplying the telephones.

Note that the French version of the Galaxy S21 Ultra includes headphones – made mandatory by law.

What autonomy for the Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra?

With its 5000 mAh battery, the Galaxy S21 Ultra should logically offer unparalleled autonomy. Fortunately, theory and practice come together. Processor engraved in 5 nm, “adaptive” screen frequency (between 11 and 120 Hz depending on the use of the device): the choices made by Samsung are paying off, and the smartphone is very balanced in its energy consumption.

In “mixed” use (photo, video, games, Internet browsing, social networks, etc.), the Galaxy S21 Ultra is able to last for 1 day and a half. If your usage is more moderate, you can spend a whole weekend without having to recharge your device.

Unfortunately, Samsung has decided to no longer include a charger in the box of its Galaxy S21 – for ecological reasons, according to the South Korean giant. In addition, we deplore the absence of the 45W ultra-fast charge of the Galaxy S20. Instead, the S21 has to make do with 25W fast charging. In practice, the device takes about 1h10 to be fully charged. It’s already good… but some Chinese manufacturers allow themselves to do much better. However, we appreciate the presence of reversible wireless charging, which is always practical for restoring color to a connected watch or wireless headphones.

Who is the Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra intended for?

With its giant screen of 6.8 inches, the Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra is clearly not intended for lovers of compact smartphones!

As such, we find it unfortunate that Samsung no longer offers high-end compact models – like the Galaxy S10e, released in 2019. Coupler high performance (especially in photo) and small size, that would undoubtedly appeal to a good number of consumers…

With its 4 photo sensors, the Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra is rarely versatile. With its focal range ranging from 13 to 240 mm, it allows you to capture a multitude of subjects, both in photo and video. In fact, the S21 Ultra is an ally of choice, both when traveling and on a daily basis.

With its screen of excellent craftsmanship and its large reserve of power, the S21 Ultra is able to endure the most intensive use, and will not shy away from the task. Likewise, its large screen size makes it a perfect companion for watching photos, videos, movies, series, games, etc.

The Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra faces the competition

Due to its (very) high-end positioning, the Galaxy S21 Ultra competes head-on with the flagships of other manufacturers.

Thus, it is impossible to talk about a Samsung model without mentioning Apple, its great arch-rival. Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra vs iPhone 12 Pro Max: the fight of the titans! Both models are certainly not lacking in strengths. Thus, the iPhone has a triple photo module of excellent quality. As such, note that the main sensor is stabilized on 5 axes, in order to deliver ultra-stable videos in all circumstances.

Of course, its x2.5 zoom (65 mm equivalent) pales in comparison to the x3 and x10 zooms of the Galaxy S21 Ultra. Admittedly, the iPhone screen continues to incorporate a (large) notch. But beyond these few points, the iPhone 12 Pro Max is an excellent smartphone, which will accompany you in the city as well as on the stage without weakening. Therefore, the choice between Apple and Samsung will undoubtedly be made according to your tastes… and the ecosystem.

If you are already equipped with Apple hardware (iPad, Mac…), the iPhone is the most logical choice. (All of your devices communicate seamlessly, and transferring information (or answering a call or text) with either device is blissfully simple.)

In terms of the software catalog, iOS and Android are on an equal footing. However, some apps remain exclusive to the App Store. Thus, applications specific to photo and video such as Luma Fusion, Filmic Pro or Halide (among others) remain reserved to iOS.

Finally, note that the Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra and the iPhone 12 Pro Max adopt a similar price (for the “basic” version). The latter is available from €1259 with 128 GB of memory.

As a photo and video machine, the Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra competes with the very good Huawei Mate 40 Pro, launched in the fall of 2020. The latter offers an extremely provided. In the photo, it has a triple dorsal module, centered around a main module of 50 Mpx, accompanied by an ultra wide-angle (18 mm) and a 5x zoom (125mm). Offered at €1199, it suffers from American sanctions and unfortunately ignores Google services.

Let’s also mention the Sony Xperia 1 II. Also equipped with a very beautiful OLED screen (6.5 inches), its finishes are exemplary and its audio output will satisfy the most demanding audiophiles. In photos, it takes advantage of a triple 12MP sensor and offers a “Pro” interface for photo and video, inspired by Sony Alpha hybrids. Despite a few oversights (exit night mode, for example), the Xperia 1 II is an interesting option. It is available for €999 – thanks to an immediate discount of €200 valid until 31/03/2021.

Lastly, let’s mention Google’s Pixel 5. Its philosophy is radically different from that of Samsung: only 2 photo sensors, no optical zoom… but a profusion of algorithms to optimize the shot and deliver shots of very good quality in all circumstances. In addition, its compact size and light weight will certainly appeal to those who prefer “small” models. Finally, we really appreciate its floor price. Available at €629, it quite simply offers one of the best value for money on the market.

The ultimate of smartphones

At the end of this test, the Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra leaves us with a very positive overall impression. The South Korean giant gives us an extremely mastered copy. The Galaxy S21 Ultra is an excellent photophone, and is very pleasant to use on a daily basis. Some users might find it too big or too heavy: as such, it’s a shame that Samsung (and other manufacturers) no longer offer compact premium models.

In photos, the device is capable of delivering great shots, day and night (especially when the appropriate mode is activated). With its focal range ranging from 13 to 240 mm, its quadruple module offers rare versatility.

However, we regret a certain drop in quality with the x10 zoom (240 mm). Similarly, the video stabilization of the 2 telephoto lenses is below our expectations.

In the end, we make the same wishful thinking as during our test of the iPhone 12 Pro Max: in a perfect world, manufacturers would use identical sensors for all lenses , in order to obtain a perfect harmony between ultra wide-angle, wide-angle and telephoto(s).

While waiting for the realization of this sweet dream, the Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra is undoubtedly an excellent smartphone, which will be able to accompany you faithfully, in life as on the stage.

The Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra is available for €1259 (128GB storage / 12GB RAM), €1309< /span> (256 GB / 12 GB) or €1439 (512 GB / 16 GB).

Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra test: the photo quartet that does not disappoint

Design

9

Ergonomics and handling

8.6

Features

8.8

Image quality

8.5

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Highlights

Great screen

Very high level of performance

Exemplary level of finish

Very good grip

Versatility of the 4 lenses (from 13 to 240 mm)

General quality of daytime photos

Photo quality with dedicated Night mode

Fingerprint reader fast

Compatible with Galaxy Note S-Pen

Very good autonomy

Weaknesses

10x zoom (240 mm) set back

Fuzzy, daytime photos mme de nuit

Recessed video stabilization for x3 and x10 zoom

No real macro mode

“Action Cam” video mode not available with x3 and x10 zoom and only in Full HD ( no 4K)

Average quality of night photos with “secondary” lenses (except with dedicated Night mode)

< p class="lets-review-block__procon lets-review-block__con">No Micro SD slot

No 3.5mm jack

A bit heavy (229 g)

Not charger provided!

8.7

out of 10

Where to buy

Fnac


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