This story is part of Samsung Event, CNET's collection of news, tips and advice around Samsung's most popular products.
Samsung's Note 20 and Note 20 Ultra are stuffed with awesome tech that puts these phones squarely in the elite category alongside the Galaxy S20 Plus and iPhone 12 Pro. With 5G connectivity, huge screens and the S-Pen stylus, both phones are well-equipped for office life. But how useful are they for photographers?
We took the Galaxy Note 20 Ultra out and about to get a closer look at its camera features.
Note 20 Ultra main camera
The triple camera setup is pretty standard -- there's a standard view, a super-wide angle view and a telephoto lens to zoom in on distant objects.
Images from the standard camera look great, with plenty of detail and a great balance of exposure between the bright and dark areas. Colors can look a bit over saturated on occasion -- something we've found to be the case on most recent Samsung phones.
Note 20 Ultra's huge resolution
While both phones have a triple-camera setup on the back, the Note 20 Ultra's has the superior specs. The biggest upgrade is in the resolution of the main camera, which tops out at 108 megapixels on the Ultra for improved zoom, which I'll come to shortly. The regular Note's main camera has a 12-megapixel resolution.
Shooting at full 108-megapixels on the Note 20 Ultra produces huge 12,000x9,000-pixel image files -- roughly 26MB instead of around 3-4MB 4,000x3,000-pixel images in the normal mode. It allows you to crop in much further to your image, but in my experience so far, there's not a huge amount of actual image detail, even at such a high resolution.
This is an image taken in the normal resolution, rotated to fit more easily in this article.
At 100% crop, it's clear to see that you can get much closer into your images when using the 108-megapixel mode, but the details are very soft and fuzzy. The standard mode may not have the same resolution, but it seems to produce sharper images. My advice would be to leave it in the regular shooting mode.
Both phones use optical image stabilization on their main camera lenses which should help keep still images looking nice and sharp while hopefully minimizing camera shake when shooting video.
Note 20 zoom lenses
The Note 20 Ultra's telephoto zoom lens has a 12-megapixel optical zoom that provides a 5x level of zoom. The standard Note 20's telephoto has a 64-megapixel zoom lens for a 3x hybrid (optical and digital cropping) zoom.
At 5X zoom, images are still packed with detail to the point where I'd doubt you'd know they weren't taken with the regular lens and even at 10x zoom there's still a satisfying clarity to the shots.
That's not the end of the story though as the Ultra can use the huge resolution of its main sensor to offer zoom levels all the way up to 50x. It's not quite at the same level Samsung achieved with the Galaxy S20 Ultra, which used a "folded" 48-megapixel lens to achieve a whopping 100x zoom. That said, we weren't impressed with the quality of images taken at 100x zoom on the S20 Ultra, and even the 50x zoom on the Ultra doesn't produce particularly attractive images.
The overall shape of this oil rig is clear enough -- there's no question about what it is at least -- but the details are so mushy that it looks more like an impressionist painting than a digital image.
It's much the same story here with this image of a cormorant. It's just about possible to tell what the bird is, but beyond that this image is so poor quality that I'd never want to use it for anything.
The Note 20 and Note 20 Ultra are on an even footing with their super wide angle lenses, with the same 12-megapixel lens found on both. On paper, that's the same ultra-wide lens found on the S20 Ultra, so it's no surprise that performance is similar.
The Note 20 Ultra's wide-angle lens can capture vibrant, sharp images, with little degradation of the image towards the edges of the frame. I love playing with this shooting view as you can capture so much of the scene in front of you, leading to some really interesting compositions.
Both phones can shoot video in a whopping 8K resolution at 24 frames per second, easily outstripping the 4K resolution available on most other high-end phones right now. But it's not just about resolution. Samsung has equipped the Notes with pro video options for taking manual control over settings. They also have the ability to shoot in a 21:9 aspect ratio, which gives a more cinematic, widescreen look to your footage.
The optical image stabilization found on the main cameras of both phones should help keep your footage nice and smooth, although whether you can use the stabilization when shooting at full 8K resolution isn't yet clear, but we're in the process of testing 8K video on the Ultra and will update this piece with our findings just as soon as possible.
Note 20 night mode
Like the S20 Ultra, both Notes have night modes to capture bright images in low-light scenarios by taking multiple images over a few seconds and merging those exposures to maximise the available light, while minimizing image noise.
We're yet to thoroughly test the Note 20 Ultra's night mode, but out initial tests are promising. This image looking into a long, extremely dimly-lit tunnel has lots of clearly-visible detail and it doesn't look like image noise is much of a problem. The S20 Ultra impressed us with its night modes, but with most flagships -- including the iPhone 11 Pro and OnePlus 8 Pro -- packing amazing night shooting skills, the Note 20 has a lot of competition.
Note 20 selfie cameras
It's an equal playing field here as both the Note 20 and Note 20 Ultra pack 12-megapixel front-facing cameras. They're single lenses, much like the single lens found on the front of the S20 Ultra. It might have been nice to see a wider-angle camera to let you squeeze more of your friends into a group shot, but given the Note is the more business and productivity-focused range in Samsung's lineup, it's perhaps not surprising that adding more selfie options isn't high on the priority list.