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Finally, the best device for taking pictures of moving objects, Galaxy S23 Ultra


Is the Galaxy S23 Ultra finally better at taking photos of moving objects?

Every year, phone cameras get better and better. More detail, better zoom, wider dynamic range, higher resolution, smoother video, you name it, some companies have improved it. content. But only one company, so far, has been able to successfully claim the title of "Best Phone for Parents and Pet Owners" due to its ability to capture objects in motion and deliver crisp images.

I am referring, of course, to the Pixel series of phones whose cameras I regularly award with this prestigious award throughout the year (opens in a new tab) and year-end (opens in a new tab). While Samsung has been seriously impressing people with high-quality video capture and amazing "Space Zoom" on phones like the Galaxy S23 (Opens in a new tab).

So this begs the question: can the Galaxy S23 capture moving objects better than the Galaxy S22 can? Let's start with macro mode.

macro mode

Taking a macro photo of a wildflower or any other object in nature can be very challenging. These are subjects that often don't like to be static, especially on a windy day. Last year's Galaxy S22 Ultra was pretty bad at this task, often taking shots that were out of focus or overexposing the image and ruining any fine detail a macro shot might want to get.

It's winter and windy weather where I live now, so while there aren't any wildflowers to pick, there are plenty of subtleties left about evergreens and remnants of fall leaves that haven't left their summer resting places.

The three examples above highlight the massive improvements Samsung has made with the Galaxy S23 Ultra's macro mode. For this task, I used the auto mode on all three phones, just open the camera app, hold it close to the subject, and tap the shutter button. I didn't press the viewfinder to track something, just a simple point as someone might do on a normal day.

It should be noted that this is how much wind is blowing at any given time, which makes macro photography more challenging for these cameras:

Is the Galaxy S23 Ultra finally better at taking photos of moving objects?

The Galaxy S23 Ultra easily wins this competition, capturing more details, better dynamic range, and a more attractive color palette. Note that I didn't say a natural color palette, because this particular award goes to the Pixel 7 Pro. The Galaxy S22 Ultra ends up washing out every shot somewhat and has a very difficult time focusing on the first subject, in particular.

Also note how the Pixel 7 Pro's photo wasn't able to focus as closely or evenly as the Galaxy S23 Ultra. Samsung's Focus Optimizer—enabled by default and fully automatic—does a great job of focusing evenly on a subject. We saw this last year and it's even better this year.

Children and pets

My favorite camera test of any given review is the one where I take pictures of my son or pets and see which phone can take them most clearly. Any phone can take a good enough photo of a mountain scape or a plate of food, but what happens when the subject isn't well lit or doesn't stay still?

For this test, I held two phones and pressed the shutter buttons at the same time. One in the left hand and one in the right hand. The differences in shots are due to the subtle differences between thumb presses and the many background processing tasks that occur on any modern phone. In other words, when you hit that shutter button, the end result is an AI-assisted blend of several photos the camera took in a split second.

Let's compare the Galaxy S22 Ultra and Galaxy S23 Ultra first.

The first test is indoors with my son jumping off the couch. This one is fun because it tests motion in tricky lighting conditions. Yes, it's the middle of the day with the sun shining through a clear sky but it's still a challenge for the phone's sensor.

Looking at both, you can see that the Galaxy S22 Ultra and Galaxy S23 Ultra both did a poor job of capturing the moment. The exposure on both images is rather appalling, with the majority of both images being overexposed with many overexposed highlights. My son is also incredibly blurry in the photos from both phones, although I can see how you could argue that's fine since he's actually moving pretty quickly.

The Galaxy S22 Ultra and Galaxy S23 Ultra did a poor job of capturing the moment.

The second test was outdoors in bright sunlight. My son is jumping on his rope swing and I take a picture of him spinning around focusing on taking a picture of his face.

Again, we see that both shots are overexposed. I'm not sure why Samsung's camera software keeps doing this, but it's a persistent problem in all kinds of lighting conditions. The exposure on the S23 Ultra is definitely better than on the S22 Ultra, and the dynamic range is definitely improved.

Watch my son's face in both shots to see the biggest (and most important) difference between the scenes. The Galaxy S22 Ultra blew the moment right here while the S23 Ultra is at least salvageable.

Now, what about the Pixel 7 Pro? Will the motion capture champion remain in pictures?

While I hate to say it, as usual, there is no real competition here. Google's AI in the Pixel 7 Pro is very good and often outperforms its best competitors in tricky situations. Literally everything about the Pixel 7 Pro's image is better than the Galaxy S23 Ultra's. Exposure, motion blur, sharpness, fine detail, dynamic range. Everything.

When moving abroad, the situation is more complicated. Google's Pixel 7 Pro still wins the competition but not by a huge margin, especially when compared to how easily it beat the internal test. Google shot is better exposed and the dynamic range is much better. Both did a good job of capturing the face, though Samsung's shot was a bit overexposed due to the very bright, direct sunlight hitting his face.

If taking pictures of pets or kids is more important to you, you should still choose the Pixel 6 or Pixel 7 over any other phone on the market.

But Samsung has a little trick that often comes in handy when you're not sure you'll have time to take a shot back: burst mode. All phones support burst mode in some way, but Samsung is easy in terms of pressing and sliding the shutter button down, and holding it until the moment is over. This results in a quick series of shots that you can then sort through and choose a better moment. Does Samsung's Bacon Blast Save the Indoor Shot?

To prove a point here, I simply tapped the Pixel 7 Pro's shutter button. On the Galaxy S23 Ultra, I kept burst mode on all the time. Unfortunately for Samsung, this doesn't help things much, if at all.

One tap on the Pixel 7 Pro produces a crisp, clean image with great exposure. Meanwhile, a burst of 30+ photos on the Galaxy S23 Ultra doesn't produce better quality than a single click.

I was really hoping Samsung would improve on this particular shortcoming this year. Samsung phones have had this problem for a very long time and it doesn't look much better today than it ever did. In short, if taking pictures of pets or kids is more important to you, you should still choose the Pixel 6 or Pixel 7 over any other phone on the market.

But what if you set the Galaxy S23 Ultra's sensor to shoot at 200MP instead of the default 12.5MP?