Pixel 7 Pro vs. Galaxy S22 Ultra: Which Camera Zoom Is Best?
Samsung's older S22 Ultra is still a great zoom camera. But is it better than the Pixel 7 Pro? We put them to the test.
Andrew LanxonEditor At Large, Lead Photographer, Europe
Andrew is CNET's go-to guy for product coverage and lead photographer for Europe. When not testing the latest phones, he can normally be found with his camera in hand, behind his drums or eating his stash of home-cooked food. Sometimes all at once.
The Samsung Galaxy S23 Ultra has arrived with updates to its camera setup and the powerful processor inside. But the S22 Ultra is still easy to get hold of and likely at a discount over the new model. And it's well worth considering as its multicamera setup is superb, especially when it comes to zoom shots. But it's not the only contender for the "Zoom King" crown.
And while its 5x zoom on paper doesn't put up a true fight against the S22 Ultra's 10x zoom, I've found the Pixel's zoom to be much more usable in everyday life
So how do these two high-performance phone camera systems compare, especially when it comes to zoom prowess? I took them both on a tour of Edinburgh to find out.
This first test was a surprise. There's a big difference between the two images taken above using the main cameras on each phone. The Pixel 7 Pro produced quite a cold-looking shot, while the S22 Ultra's snap looks warmer and brighter.
And the same is true in the pictures above, with the Galaxy S22's shot having a much more attractive color balance than the Pixel. It's especially noticeable on the side of the boat, with the white panels looking actually white in the S22's shot but looking much more blue or purple in the Pixel's shot.
Changing to the ultra-wide lens doesn't change the situation as you can see in the images above. While each phone captured a huge amount of the scene -- and both have excellent all-round exposure and detail -- the S22's warmer tones are preferable.
It's different again in the scene above though. The Pixel 7 Pro's shot has a beautiful color balance, with just as much natural warmth as the S22 Ultra. Also the Pixel 7 Pro's exposure is more natural, as it hasn't tried to artificially brighten the shadows as much as its rival. The S22 Ultra's shot has something of a fake 'HDR' look to it that I don't like as much.
So what about that zoom?
I used the on-screen set magnification levels on each phone for the first test above, which starts at 2x for Pixel 7 Pro and 3x for the S22 Ultra. It's no surprise then that the S22's shot looks a bit more 'zoomed in' but otherwise it's business as usual here; good exposure on both sides, with warmer tones seen on the S22 Ultra. Solid performance from both phones.
For the photos above, I set the Pixel 7 Pro's zoom to its maximum 5x optical level. The S22 doesn't have a 5x optical zoom lens, so instead I took it to 10x, where it's obviously achieved a closer-up view. Details are very similar across both images, although the Pixel's color balance has gone a bit on the yellowy side -- something I also found when I tested it against the iPhone 14 Pro.
Digitally zooming in further on the Pixel 7 Pro by pinching open on the camera screen, I was able to match the 10x zoom level of the Galaxy S22 Ultra in the picture above. The Pixel achieved a warmer color balance here and when viewed at full screen -- or just on the phone itself -- its 10x image is perfectly crisp. A closer look into the details however and it's obvious that extra zoom used by the Pixel reduced the quality, with the S22 Ultra's 10x optical lens producing a sharper, more detailed image.
In the images above I set the zoom to 30x on both phones, it's very clear that the Pixel 7 Pro's digital 'Super Res' zoom doesn't compete with the Galaxy S22 Ultra.
Check out the crops above on the same images. The extra sharpness and detail achieved by the S22 Ultra is particularly noticeable on the numbers on the clock face. While the Pixel 7 Pro's Super Res zoom helped it achieve a decent long zoom image overall -- and would certainly blow many of its rivals away -- it still falls behind Samsung's phone here.
Still at 30x, the difference between the zoom quality of both phones is obvious in the above images. The Galaxy S22 Ultra's shot, although a touch darker, is much more detailed than the Pixel 7 Pro's.
At 10x zoom on both phones, the Galaxy S22 Ultra's optical zoom lens has again achieved a sharper image overall than the Pixel 7 Pro's Super Res digital zoom. But the difference only becomes seriously noticeable when you look at the images on a large screen -- those of you who just want to see the images in your phone gallery and post a few to Instagram might not notice the difference to the same extent.
At 5x zoom things turn in the Pixel 7 Pro's favor. While it has a dedicated 5x optical zoom lens, the S22 Ultra doesn't, so instead has to crop into the image, likely using the 3x optical zoom with additional digital zoom to reach the specific 5x level. The addition of the digital zoom means the S22's image above isn't as sharp or detailed as the Pixel's, which delivered a superb image here.
And we can see a similar thing happening in these photos above. The Pixel 7 Pro's 2x zoom option requires digitally zooming in from the main lens, reducing its quality. The S22 Ultra's 3x zoom is optical however, requiring no digital zooming and therefore delivering a sharper, more detailed image, despite having a slightly longer zoom.
At 10x zoom, I actually prefer the overall look of the above Pixel 7 Pro's image with its slightly warmer tones. However the S22 Ultra's optical lens again means that its image is sharper and more detailed here.
Watch this: Pixel 7 Pro Review: Google's Best Phone Gets Better
Which phone camera is best?
In my testing I found both phones are capable of taking superb images in a variety of conditions. And while the S22 Ultra has sometimes delivered warmer-looking images in some scenarios, the Pixel's shots looked better in others, with it typically delivering more true-to-life colors and contrast. But the reality is that for everyday photography, either phone will be a superb creative tool to put in your pocket.
But there's no question that in terms of pure reach, the S22 Ultra remains the zoom king. Its 10x optical zoom lens means it can zoom you into amazing details and help you find unique compositions in your landscape without any loss in quality. But it's important to ask yourself how often you would use a 10x zoom over a 5x zoom.
Personally, I love the 5x zoom of the Pixel 7 Pro. It gives me more reach than the iPhone, opening up interesting creative compositions in my scenes. But, it's not zooming in so far as to make it difficult to shoot with. The 10x zoom on the S22 Ultra is certainly longer, but I would typically use it less often when out and about. The Pixel's 5x is a real sweet spot and its images at that zoom level are crystal clear. I've really enjoyed the shots I've gotten with it.
So while the S22 Ultra has to take the win here from a zoom perspective, the Pixel 7 Pro is my personal preference as an all-round photography tool.