This story is part of Samsung Event, CNET's collection of news, tips and advice around Samsung's most popular products.
The Samsung Galaxy S22 Ultra's appealing display and sneaky hidden S-Pen stylus is exciting, but as a professional photographer, it's the camera setup I'm most keen to dive into.
The S22 Ultra, launched at today's Unpacked event alongside the Galaxy S22, S22 Plus and Galaxy Tab S8, is already starting from a good place. Its predecessor, the S21 Ultra, had a superb camera, and much of it hardware carries over: The main camera still has a 108-megapixel resolution, the ultra-wide camera is 12-megapixels, there's a 10-megapixel lens offering 3x optical zoom and an additional 10-megapixel periscope lens offering 10x optical zoom. It's an almost identical setup to the S21 Ultra, but Samsung uses this as a foundation for changes that largely affect the software side.
Read more: The Galaxy S22 Ultra fails to excite this pro photographer. And that's a problem
The bad news is that if you were hoping for some photography revolution, like the rumored 200-megapixel sensor or continuous zoom, then you'll be disappointed. Let's dive into what has and hasn't changed.
Improved low light and AI
The main driving force behind Samsung's promised boosts in low-light photos is something called "pixel binning" in which multiple pixels combine to form a larger pixel that's capable of capturing more light. In the S22 Ultra's case, 9 individual pixels combine to create a single pixel in a process called "nona binning." But the image also uses details captured by the 108-megapixel camera to create a shot that's bright, vibrant and free of image noise, but still packed with detail. At least, that's the idea.
Samsung also says it's improved the AI processing of images, especially night shots, to further reduce image noise and improve the overall quality. Whether these software tweaks make a noticeable difference in night-mode shots remains to be seen, but the phone will have to work hard to compete with the night mode shots from the iPhone 13 Pro and Pixel 6 Pro.
Read more: Samsung's Galaxy S22 vs. iPhone 13 and Galaxy S22 vs. Pixel 6 Pro
Better portrait blur, now with added doggos
Portrait mode photos with artfully out-of-focus backgrounds aren't new, but they've been getting steadily better over the past few years, yielding more natural-looking results. Samsung reckons its most recent algorithm updates can pick out even a single strand of hair from its background, ensuring your subject stays entirely in focus, with a natural blurred background (called "bokeh") around them.
The phone will apparently be able to do this even with complicated backgrounds. Samsung showed one demo involving a girl standing in front of what looked like a fishing net, and the blurring around her looked spot-on.
But more excitingly still is that it apparently will work just as well with portrait photos of dogs and maybe other pets too. Whether it can really identify every hair around a poofy Pomeranian very much remains to be seen, but anything that encourages more photos of beautiful golden retrievers gets the seal of approval from me.
Improved video quality
Like its predecessor, the S22 Ultra can shoot videos at up to 8K resolution from its main rear camera and at 240 frames per second at full HD for cool slow-mo videos. And while we aren't getting any more great leaps in resolution, high speed or video zooming here, there are some "behind the scenes" tweaks Samsung has made to improve video quality generally.
The AI algorithms have apparently been boosted across the board, resulting in better HDR video footage, balancing those bright skies and those shadowy areas for a more even-looking shot overall. The AI also promises better auto focus and lower noise, particularly at night.
Videos can now be shot using an automatic, variable frame rate, which will change depending on conditions and could help reduce that annoying flicker you can get when shooting under artificial lighting. A higher frame rate can also help achieve smoother footage when filming fast-moving objects, such as cars whizzing past at a motor race.
The downside is that variable frame rates can be very difficult for video editing applications like Adobe Premiere to handle, so if you plan on shooting and editing your footage this might be a function to avoid.
Samsung's also added an auto-framing option for video, whereby the camera will automatically zoom in and out when you're filming people to capture everyone in the scene. It can detect up to 10 individual faces, and tapping on one person's face will allow the camera to automatically zoom in and track them in the scene.
I can't think of a lot of occasions where this function would be all that useful to me, but that might just be because I've not been around more than three people at once since the end of 2019.
Expert Raw for better pro shots
Samsung is introducing a dedicated pro photography app -- called Expert Raw -- which will allow for manual control over settings like shutter speed, ISO and white balance, while also allowing for capturing images in 16-bit DNG raw format. Raw images typically allow for much more control over editing in apps like Adobe Lightroom, while also capturing more details in bright highlights and dark shadows than JPEG images are usually able to. Exactly how this will differ from its existing "Pro" mode, which also gives control over those settings and lets you shoot in DNG raw, remains to be seen.
Samsung also mentioned in its briefing that Expert Raw will also allow for "high dynamic range pictures in multiframe raw format" -- potentially meaning it will be able to combine different exposures into one HDR image with better dynamic range, yet still produce a DNG raw file that offers the flexibility of raw editing. This sounds very much like computational raw photography and it's exactly what Apple did with the introduction of ProRaw on the iPhone 12 Pro.
However, it's not clear at the time of writing if this definitely is computational raw, or if it's just regular raw files that may allow you to pull back a bit more highlight detail. I've reached out to Samsung for clarification and will update this article when we hear more. If it is then that could be an exciting step forward for the phone's photographic capabilities, but it's baffling why this is only something you can apparently only do in a dedicated Expert Raw app that requires downloading from Samsung's Galaxy Store, rather than directly from the main camera, as you can do with the iPhone.
For more, check out how Samsung's new Galaxy phones compare, what to know about nightography and what the Galaxy S22 means for the Galaxy Note series. Looking to buy one of the new handsets? Take a look at CNET's guide to Galaxy S22 preorders.