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5 of the best Galaxy S20 camera features and how to use them

From Space Zoom to Smart Take, there are plenty of new camera features in Samsung's latest phones.

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The S20's camera setup has some fancy new tricks. 

Angela Lang/CNET

Samsung isn't messing around with the Galaxy S20 phone's cameras. From larger sensors and 30x (even 100x!) zoom to the ability to record 8K video, Samsung has made its cameras a priority among the Galaxy S20's many features and tricks. There's even a fancy new Single Take photography mode that takes all the guesswork out of when to take a picture or record a video. 

CNET has been using all three Galaxy S20 models for a few weeks now, putting them through their paces and testing all of Samsung's new camera claims. The company focussed on improving the camera as a way to encourage upgrades and, perhaps, convince iPhone ($699 at Apple) owners to make the switch. (Our Galaxy S20 Ultra versus iPhone 11 Pro camera shootout might convince them.)

Whether you already own a new Galaxy S20 or are just curious about Samsung's new bag of tricks, here's how the new cameras help up the game -- and how to make the most of each key feature. 

Now playing: Watch this: Galaxy S20 Ultra's high-octane camera has the wow factor
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Serious camera zoom from 10x to 30x to 100x

All three S20 models have a feature that Samsung calls Space Zoom. It's a fancy name for the S20's impressive hybrid optic zoom. The Galaxy S20 and S20 Plus can zoom up to 30x, while the Ultra can go up to 100x. 

Use the different levels by opening the camera app and either using two fingers to pinch-to-zoom in the viewfinder or tapping on one of the buttons to switch between cameras. Different zoom levels will show up next to the shutter button, making it easy to pick how close you want the camera to get to your subject. 

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A 30x or 100x zoom is no joke. 

Screenshot by Jason Cipriani/CNET

Any zoom level over 20x will show a viewfinder in the top corner of your phone's display, making it easier to tell exactly what part of the scene the camera is zoomed in on. 

In my testing, going over 10x is when you'll begin to see the overall quality diminish. That's because the camera is only using digital zoom and not the hybrid optical setup used at 10x. The more aggressive zoom levels are handy for taking photos at a concert (or your kid's play) when you have a seat that's far away from the stage. In a pinch, you can even use it to read a sign a couple of blocks down the road. 

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You can easily spot your Single Take collections thanks to a small icon. 

Screenshots by Jason Cipriani/CNET

Use Single Take to capture everything

Single Take is a new shooting mode in the camera app, and I can see myself using this to capture random moments with my kids so I don't have to think about whether to take a photo, record a video or mess around with any camera settings. I simply need to open the camera, switch to Single Take and press the shutter button. 

With Single Take selected, the camera app will use AI to examine what's going on in the scene and grab up to 10 photos and four videos. 

When it's done, your phone will automatically apply effects to the videos like fast forward, reverse or creating a loop. Photos can have a live focus effect, a filter or a smart crop applied to them. 

Open the Gallery to view a Smart Take, which has a small dot inside a circle in the bottom corner of its thumbnail. Once you open it, you'll see all the videos and photos that were created. 

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That camera bump, though. 

Angela Lang/CNET

Quickly record a video

Another new feature comes in handy for those times when you want to take a photo of a pet or your kids, but something funny or adorable starts to happen and you want to quickly capture a video instead. Instead of tapping and swiping to switch camera modes, get in the habit of long-pressing the shutter button. 

Doing so will instantly begin recording, and save you the time it takes to switch from photo to video mode, so you don't miss the moment. 

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Press and slide the shutter button to the edge of the screen to capture a burst photo or GIF. 

Screenshots by Jason Cipriani/CNET

Capture burst photos or create a GIF

Holding the shutter button used to take several photos -- or burst shots -- that you could sort through to find the best shot. With that functionality now being used to capture video (by default), there's a new trick to capturing burst photos. 

Instead of long-pressing on the shutter button, press and drag the shutter button to the edge of your screen. It took me a few tries to get the hang of it, but once I did, I now have confidence in quickly taking a photo, video or burst photo without having to give it much thought. 

Bonus tip: In the Camera's settings you can change the behavior from taking a burst photo to creating an animated GIF, if that's what you'd prefer. 

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The S20's selfie camera has a new trick, too. 

Angela Lang/CNET

The selfie camera is smart

Using the selfie camera to take a group photo is convenient, but trying to cram everyone together can be frustrating. Thankfully, the S20's front-facing camera is smarter now.  When using the front-facing camera to take a selfie, there are two zoom buttons near the shutter button. The button with two trees will zoom out, allowing more people to fit into the frame. 

However, there's an option in the Camera's settings that will automatically zoom out whenever the phone detects more than one face. Open the Settings in the camera app (tap on the gear icon) and turn on Smart selfie angle. Now all you need to do is open the front camera and the phone will take care of the rest. 

There's a lot more to Samsung's latest phones than the cameras. Make sure to check out our favorite Galaxy S20 tips and tricks, as well as our suggestions for improving battery life. If you're still on the fence about whether to upgrade, maybe our Galaxy S20 Ultra review will help.