Update: Our Samsung Galaxy Note 20 Ultra camera test continues with 50 photo samples. Have photo requests? Let us know on Twitter below.

Easily the best part of testing the new Samsung Galaxy Note 20 Ultra has been using its four cameras, specifically trying the phone’s enhanced zoom capabilities.

I tested Samsung’s 5x optical and 50x digital zoom around New York City to see how the camera did on iconic landmarks: the Manhattan skyline, the Statue of Liberty, the Brooklyn Bridge, and the Empire State Building to name a few.

The Note 20 Ultra zoom is incredible in the 50-plus camera samples I captured. No, its 12MP telephoto camera doesn’t have the seemingly epic 100x ‘Space Zoom’ spec of the Samsung Galaxy S20 Ultra 48MP telephoto, but that six-month-old phone’s 50x to 100x photos are rather unusable anyway. I didn’t really miss it in my testing.

In fact, Samsung has improved its telephoto camera in the Note 20 in other ways: it has an aperture of f/3 (wider than the f/3.5 on the S20 Ultra) to let in more light, and 1 micron-sized pixels (up to 0.8 microns), making individual pixels larger.

I walked away with some stunning 5x optically zoomed-in shots of the Empire State Building, while Samsung’s ultrawide camera told a completely different story of the streets New York City’s world-famous skyscraper.

The Note 20 Ultra camera is versatile. Whether or not it’s ‘the best’ will be something I’ll save for the full review. In the meantime, here are more than 50 photo samples, demonstrating how Samsung’s camera can go from 0.5x to 50x and still amaze.

Samsung Galaxy Note 20 camera testing breakdown

  • 0.5x ultrawide: captured more of what was in front of me
  • 1x regular camera: the main, regular or normal camera. Technically called a ‘wide’ camera but incredibly confusing to the average phone user, so refer to it as ‘regular’.
  • 2x zoom: a Samsung’s camera UI preset. Important because this is the optical zoom limit of other phones like the iPhone 11 Pro Max.
  • 4x zoom: rarely used, but another zoomed-in Samsung camera UI preset
  • 5x optical zoom: the dedicated telephoto camera
  • 10x zoom: the digital zoom limit of other many phone cameras, including the iPhone, so you’ll see this quite a bit.
  • 20x zoom: used occasionally to see just how good a photo can still look before reaching the ultimate digital zoom level
  • 50x zoom: the digital zoom limit of the Samsung Galaxy Note 20 Ultra

Samsung Galaxy Note 20 Ultra camera: Brooklyn Bridge

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Samsung Galaxy Note 20 Ultra camera roll

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Note 20 Ultra 0.5x ultrawide

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Note 20 Ultra 1x regular camera

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Note 20 Ultra 5x telephoto

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Note 20 Ultra 10x telephoto

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Note 20 Ultra 20x telephoto

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Note 20 Ultra 50x telephoto

The Note 20 and Note 20 Ultra has three rear cameras, but seven zoom presents (as explained above).

Here, I started with the 0.5x ultrawide and 1x regular wide camera, which capture not only the Brooklyn Bridge but the ferries in the area.

Samsung’s 5x telephoto optical zoom zeroes in one of the bridge’s two suspension towers with no noticeable distortion. In fact, the 10x hybrid zoom looks really good on a Note 20 Ultra 6.9-inch screen all the way up to a 13-inch laptop

The 10x hybrid zoom isn’t marketed like the 5x optical zoom, but I found it important to test when we stack this camera against the iPhone 11 Pro Max (and eventually the iPhone 12) camera in our full review. 

The 20x zoom present in the camera UI starts to show the image breaking up, and the 50x digital zoom punches in on the American flag at atop the towers. It’s still a clearer photo than the maximum digital zoom of other smartphone cameras, and people remained amazed when I showed them – even if I wouldn’t post that one to Instagram.

Samsung Galaxy Note 20 Ultra: Statue of Liberty

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Just how close can you zoom into the Statue of Liberty without the image breaking? The answer is 10x if you’re on Governor’s Island. The 10x photo turned out really well – even better than the 5x optically zoomed photo (that caught some haze).

The fact that most phone cameras go up to a 10x digital zoom and look terrible, and the Note 20 Ultra appears Instagram usable gives you a sense of what we’re working with here. Note: I accidentally took this in the 16:9 setting when switching between modes, so it could potentially be even better at the default 4:3.

Samsung Galaxy Note 20 Ultra: Statue of Liberty at sunset

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Samsung Galaxy Note 20 Ultra camera roll

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Note 20 Ultra 0.5x ultrawide

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Note 20 Ultra 1x regular camera

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Note 20 Ultra 5x zoom

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Note 20 Ultra 10x zoom

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Note 20 Ultra 20x optical zoom

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Note 20 Ultra 50x digital zoom

How does the same Statue of Liberty look when further away and when the sun is setting? It actually makes for a dramatic photo at the 5x zoom level and even the 20x zoom level with boats and jet skis in the foreground, while the silhouette of the torch-holding statue looms in the background.

Samsung Galaxy Note 20 Ultra: One World Trade Center

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Note 20 Ultra 0.5x ultrawide

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Note 20 Ultra 1x regular camera

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Note 20 Ultra 5x optical zoom

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Note 20 Ultra 4x zoom

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Note 20 Ultra 10x optical zoom

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Note 20 Ultra 20x zoom

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Note 20 Ultra 50x digital zoom

I almost every one of the Samsung Galaxy Note 20 Ultra camera’s zoom presets to capture One World Trade Center – from Brooklyn Bridge Park. Note: One WTC is on the West side of Manhattan, while Brooklyn is to Manhattan’s East.

Many people have asked me on Twitter to take photos in not-so-ideal conditions, so this one was done at sunset. It’s a great example of what you can expect when the lights are dimming (the mortal enemy of camera phones).

Samsung Galaxy Note 20 Ultra: Goose

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Note 20 Ultra 0.5x ultrawide

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Note 20 Ultra 1x regular camera

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Note 20 Ultra 5x opitcal zoom

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Note 20 Ultra 50x digital zoom

This… is a great photo set that shows what the Note 20 Ultra camera is capable of in good lighting conditions.

Manhattan’s Roosevelt Island is home to some lush NYC greenery – and, even more of a surprising, Canadian Geese. Who knew? I didn’t want – or have to – get too close to snap a photo of a Goose. The 50x capture shows the Goose with its mouth open and eye fully visible (maybe looking at me), along with some grass. The 50x capture actually turned out pretty good, though I’d probably use the 5x optical zoom of the Note 20 Ultra for an Instagram photo (if I were to post about Geese).

Note 20 Ultra camera: 1st Avenue

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Note 20 Ultra 0.5x ultrawide

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Note 20 Ultra 1x regular camera

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Note 20 Ultra 5x telephoto

Between traffic lights, I was able to snap three from-the-hip photos of a rather empty 1st Avenue in New York City: 0.5x ultrawide, 1x regular zoom, and 5x telephoto optical zoom. I didn’t have time to punch in to 50x digital zoom before traffic started up again.

Look at the bus to the right side in the 5x optical zoom. It’s pulling into the avenue and telling a very different story than the 0.5x and even 1x regular photo. You can barely see the bus and the people in the crosswalk in the first two photos.

Note 20 Ultra camera: see the Bagel Cafe?

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Note 20 Ultra 0.5x ultrawide

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Note 20 Ultra 1x regular camera

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Note 20 Ultra 5x telephoto

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Note 20 Ultra 10x telephoto

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Note 20 Ultra 50x telephoto

Starting with the 0.5x ultrawide camera, you get an overview of the New York City’s 1st Avenue from a rooftop. It’s a bit too wide in this scenario, as the roof takes up most of the bottom of this photo. But you can see more of the tops of the Upper East Side’s surrounding buildings, which is nice.

But do you see ‘The Bagel Cafe’ in either the 0.5x or 1x photo? It starts to come into focus at the 5x optical, 10x and 50x zoom levels. Going back to look at the ultrawide photo, it’s amazing that we can get so close to the Bagel Cafe signage at the 50x zoom level that we can’t get all of that signage into the frame.

Note 20 Ultra: Tug boat in the East River

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Note 20 Ultra 0.5x ultrawide

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Note 20 Ultra 1x regular camera

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Note 20 Ultra 5x optical zoom

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Note 20 Ultra 50x digital zoom

I took four photos of this small tug boast in the East River from New York’s Roosevelt Island. And then I took another four photos (below). With the 0.5x ultrawide camera, I captured the canopy of trees at the top and green grass at the bottom, with the Manhattan skyline in between. The tug boat becomes the subject in the 1x photo.

It’s the 5x optical zoom that offers the best look without breaking up the image. If you found the Roosevelt Island’s fence rather ugly in the first two Note 20 Ultra photos, this zooms past that distraction and focuses in on the boat. At the 50x level, you can fully see the deck of the boat and what’s happening onboard.

Note 20 Ultra: Tug boat (zooming into the letters)

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Note 20 Ultra 0.5x ultrawide

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Note 20 Ultra 1x regular camera

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Note 20 Ultra 5x optical zoom

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Note 20 Ultra 50x digital zoom

I took another four photos of this tug boat sailing up the East River because I wanted to see how clearly I could make out the letters on the hull. Sure enough, I could read the name at the Note 20 Ultra’s 50x digital zoom level. The tires and waves, while a noisy, are also easily distinguishable.

Something to keep in mind: while I’m standing still, the subject (a tug boat) is steadily moving up the East River.  

Galaxy Note 20 Ultra: Empire State Building

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Note 20 Ultra 0.5x ultrawide

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Note 20 Ultra 1x regular camera

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Note 20 Ultra 5x opitcal zoom

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Note 20 Ultra 10x zoom

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Note 20 Ultra 50x digital zoom

At Brooklyn Bridge Park, a lot of people are waiting for the ferry to Manhattan. At the 0.5x ultrawide and 1x regular zoom levels, you can see the Brooklyn Bridge in the background, but can’t exactly make out the Empire State Building.

The Empire State Building becomes prominent in the 5x optical zoom, 10x digital zoom, and 50x digital zoom. With the sun starting to go down, the image at this level isn’t perfect, but it does tell a very different story than the photos with all of the people waiting in line.

Samsung Galaxy Note 20 Ultra camera: moving jet ski

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Note 20 Ultra 0.5x ultrawide

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Note 20 Ultra 1x regular camera

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Note 20 Ultra 5x opitcal zoom

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Note 20 Ultra 50x digital zoom

Capturing moving subjects, especially an hour before the sun sets, is difficult, but with a double tap of the power button to launch Samsung’s camera app, I was able to snap quick photos of jet skiers in the New York’s East River.

It wasn’t easy at the 50x zoom level because you’re getting so close. Luckily, the UI has a zoomed-out perspective with crosshairs in the top left corner at the 20x and 50x levels. I was able to a decent photo, though, again, likely not one I’d use for Instagram. It would have been clearer with more light. The 5x optical zoom, while usually better, is too far out, so you may find the 50x version better to show off.

Samsung Galaxy Note 20 Ultra camera: moving kayak – and missing it

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Note 20 Ultra 0.5x ultrawide

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Note 20 Ultra 1x regular camera

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Note 20 Ultra 5x opitcal zoom

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Note 20 Ultra 50x digital zoom (attempt #1)

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Note 20 Ultra 50x digital zoom (attempt #2)

Here’s one in which the Note 20 Ultra crosshairs didn’t help me get a 50x photo. I’m gliding along on the tram to Roosevelt Island, going West to East, and the kayaker is floating down the East River going South. 

The ultrawide and regular cameras didn’t turn out due to reflections, while the 50x photos (there are two photo samples included) missed their targets. This is where the 5x optical zoom camera sample acted as the Goldilocks of zoom levels.

Samsung Galaxy Note 20 Ultra: distant lighthouse

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Note 20 Ultra 0.5x ultrawide

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Note 20 Ultra 1x regular camera

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Note 20 Ultra 5x optical zoom

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Note 20 Ultra 10x zoom

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Note 20 Ultra 50x digital zoom

From Socrates Sculpture Park in Queens, I was able to capture the lighthouse on the northern tip of Roosevelt Island. The 5x zoom level is the best shot – complete with a boat zooming in front of the lighthouse – followed by the 10x zoom. The 50x zoom is fine as a reference photo, while the 0.5x and 1x zoom levels distract too much being so far away.

Samsung Galaxy Note 20 Ultra camera: moving tram

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Note 20 Ultra 0.5x ultrawide

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Note 20 Ultra 5x optical zoom

The tram that took me to Roosevelt Island was headed back to Manhattan and I was able to snap two quick photos: 1x no zoom and a 5x optical zoom.

The 5x optical capture is the keeper. You can make out the name “Roosevelt Island” on the tram despite it moving, and see a bit of the Queensboro Bridge as well as a tall building.

Want more Note 20 Ultra photos?

We’re continuing to test the Note 20 Ultra camera and taking requests. Just ask me on Twitter, as we continue to research whether or not this smartphone is worth it. When it comes to zoom levels, it’s shaping up to be the best.

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