Ultra-Wide-Angles: Wide, or Macro?

Ultra-wide-angles have become extremely popular in recent years and are a must-have for any smartphone as it opens up new capturing experiences in scenarios that previously just weren’t possible. The key points here is the viewing angle that the camera module achieves as well as the resolution of the sensor. Processing is also very important of course and that’s probably where we’ll see most differences from the various vendors.

Also, maybe unbeknownst to many, ultra-wide-angle can also serve as excellent macro unit as long as the manufacturer actually employs an auto-focus mechanism on the optics of the module; unfortunately, a lot of ultra-wide-angles are fixed focus.

Click for full image
[ iPhone 11 Pro ] - [ iPhone SE ]
[ Galaxy S20U(S) ]
[ Galaxy S20+(E) ]
[ OnePlus 8 ] - [ OnePlus 8 Pro ]
[ V60 ] - [ Mi 10 Pro ]
[ P40 Pro ]
[ Reno3 Pro 5G ] - [ Reno3 Pro ]
[ X-T30 ]

The widest ultra-wides are employed by Apple and Samsung which both have around 120° field-of-view, corresponding to an about 13-14mm equivalent focal length, while the remaining phones range from 15-18mm.

A lot of the phones do adequate jobs in terms of exposure, but my two favourites are the S20+ and the OnePlus 8 Pro, both which achieve a better dynamic range and HDR handling of the shadows.

It’s weird to see the processing differences to the S20 Ultra here as it’s the same camera module but on a different chipset, the Exynos S20+ is better in the HDR.

In practice at the default resolutions the Mate 30 Pro and P40 Pro have the best sharpness but that’s just because it’s a bigger sensor that also has to cover a smaller 3:2 aspect ratio field of view. Huawei doesn’t make it easy to use the 40MP mode of these sensors so it’s a hassle to switch to them, it’s a practically unusable feature in every-day photography.

The OnePlus 8 Pro is the only other phone with a high resolution ultra-wide-angle. The 48MP picture certainly gives a lot more detail than the default 12MP, but it loses out a bit in dynamic range. The optics here really can’t keep up with the sensor as we see quite a lot of chromatic aberrations throughout the scene, but frankly that’s to be expected at this focal range and FoV.

Click for full image
[ iPhone 11 Pro ] - [ iPhone SE ] - [ Pixel 4 ]
[ Galaxy S20U(S) ] - [ Galaxy S20+(E) ]
[ OnePlus 8 ] - [ OnePlus 8 Pro ]
[ V60 ] - [ Mi 10 Pro ]
[ Mate 30 Pro ] - [ P40 Pro ]
[ Reno3 Pro 5G ] - [ Reno3 Pro ]
[ X-T30 ]

This next scene is a bit harder with dynamic range as we’re having bright sun-lit elements as well as dark elements in the shadows. It’s the OnePlus 8 Pro which provides the best exposure and natural look. In the 48MP mode I think the 8Pro actually does even bit better as it doesn’t flatten out the highlights as much on the building. The regular OP8 loses out in depth in the highlights and mid-tones and look flatter.

In this regard, the S20+ does better than the S20 Ultra and the iPhone 11 Pro as well, although the white building façade is blown out. The iPhone tries to compensate for this but ends up looking flat.

The V60 and Mi 10 Pro sensors here are also probably near their limits as they opted to blow out the white façade in order to keep more dynamic range in the rest of the image – a good choice as it’s still a good overall picture.

Huawei’s processing on the P40 Pro seem tamer than on the Mate 30 Pro so while it looks natural, it could have been a bit brighter in the exposure.

Just quickly switching over to the main high-resolution shots we again see the squiggles in the bridge barrier alongside rainbow Moiré in a lot of the phones. This time around it’s also slightly prevalent on the Mi 10 Pro and Reno3 Pro with Samsung sensors so it seems those sensors aren’t completely immune to it.

Click for full image
[ iPhone 11 Pro ] - [ iPhone SE ] - [ Pixel 4 ]
[ Galaxy S20U(S) ] - [ Galaxy S20+(E) ]
[ OnePlus 8 ] - [ OnePlus 8 Pro ]
[ V60 ] - [ Mi 10 Pro ]
[ Mate 30 Pro ] - [ P40 Pro ]
[ Reno3 Pro 5G ] - [ Reno3 Pro ] - [ X-T30 ]

Macro photography isn’t normally something we test out in our reviews but it’s something I just wanted to quickly go over in this piece. Macro means that you have a high reproduction factor of an object across the camera’s sensor; a real macro camera generally is considered that an object of a certain physical size actually covers the same size across the sensor. You can achieve this in two ways, you either have long focal range to zoom in onto the object, or you move the camera closer to the object in which case the focus mechanism needs to be able to actually focus that close.

Most smartphones today have either one or the other option with their cameras, usually with their telephoto module or the ultra-wide-angle. There are also some cheaper phones out there with dedicated macro module but generally they’re all useless in terms of quality.

These shots of these caterpillars aren’t really apples-to-apples comparisons but rather just a showcase of the best-effort in terms of getting as close as possible to the subjects.

The default shot here is actually from the Reno3 Pro. Both phones have auto-focus UWA modules so you’re really able to hold up the phone extremely close to the subject and still have it in focus. This gives a quite great result in terms of magnification.

A lot of the phones with 2x modules weren’t really able to focus as close so that’s why generally I skipped those pictures are they’re just not useable, and you’re better off trying to focus with the main module.

It’s the higher magnification telephoto modules which do the best and that includes the S20 Ultra, the P40 Pro and the Mi 10 Pro, although none of them are quite as sharp as the Reno3’s UWA at the focal plane.

Click for full image
[ iPhone 11 Pro ] - [ iPhone SE ] - [ Pixel 4 ]
[ Galaxy S20U(S) ] - [ Galaxy S20+(E) ]
[ OnePlus 8 ] - [ OnePlus 8 Pro ]
[ V60 ] - [ Mi 10 Pro ]
[ Mate 30 Pro ] - [ P40 Pro ]
[ Reno3 Pro 5G ] - [ Reno3 Pro ] - [ X-T30 ]

Sometimes you can’t actually get as close to the subject. Although the Reno3 phones have excellent macro shots of the centre of the flower I actually have to get as close to it that it bends one of the petals, which just doesn’t look as good for the shot.

The iPhone’s 2x telephoto actually does a real good job here in getting a good composition. The other phones have to sit back a bit further to focus properly. Oddly enough I got better shots with the regular OnePlus 8 rather than the 8 Pro here.

The S20 Ultra appears to get great magnification at the 4x zoom level but under closer inspection this is actually misleading as the phone actually took this with the main camera rather than the telephoto module, resulting in a blurry magnified shot.

The P40 Pro has the best real magnification amongst all the phones. I guess the narrow aperture of this module also helps it not have a quite as thin focal plane, I had to stop down to f/14 on the Fuji to get something that was similar.

Overall Ultra-Wide-Angle

In general, the first step to having a good ultra-wide-angle is actually having one, so the Pixel 4 eliminates itself from the competition here. The second step is considering the field of view of the UWA. Apple and Samsung have the widest views amongst all other vendors out there and this regard I do find them to be the most “fun” with their cameras.

Quality-wise, things vary quite a bit depending on what the processing ends up deciding to do. I found the S20 phones probably the most consistent on what they’re doing and they handle dynamic range the best in terms of the different scenarios whereas some of the other phones might end up producing flatter images, even when sometimes they aren’t quite as sharp. The OnePlus 8 Pro’s camera certainly is the sharpest amongst the UWA’s, and sometimes it even produces the best exposures, but it’s far less consistent.

LG, Xiaomi’s UWA’s are a bit hit and miss. They can be excellent, but sometimes the exposures and tones are more off than others.

Huawei’s modules are also technically great, but their reduced field-of-view take away a bit of the experience of an ultra-wide. In general, you can’t go too wrong with either Apple, Samsung or the OnePlus 8 Pro in terms of fun ultra-wide photography.

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  • Tams80 - Saturday, June 20, 2020 - link

    Part of that is just physics and dark-skinned people just being unlucky in that how we record images sometimes just doesn't work well with them. Now, we can control lighting to correct for this and the fact that your trainer lengthily talked about it suggests that the BBC at least are not institutionally racist in that regard.

    It was and still is a bit of a joke with some of my friends who are black that they are 'invisible' in some dark photos. And we never seriously blamed the camera makers, as it was just in situations where we couldn't really control the lighting. And hey, at least dark-skinned people don't turn into lobsters in the sun.
  • Cailin - Friday, June 19, 2020 - link

    Yeah this is such a huge issue with phone camera reviews in general.

    A while back I bought Huawei on ATs recommendation for camera quality. What I realised almost straight away was that the old pixel 2 was vastly superior in capturing usable images of my family in all conditions.

    I then tried a galaxy S10, same thing. Sold it within a month as pixel 2 took way better shots of my kids and friends.

    Most of us aren't content creators or taking photos of buildings every other day. We are taking photos of our kids, Christmas with family or our friends drunken antics. 80% of the shots we take are of humans.
  • Gigathome - Friday, June 19, 2020 - link

    I use my phone for virtual meetings and virtual rooms. Any benchmarking on mic, noise cancellation, video quality, video stabilization, anti blurring ?
  • c2j2 - Friday, June 19, 2020 - link

    Time to consider non-flagship cameras:


    When it comes to details, the P30 Pro is very aggressively blurring details (I think it's the JPEG compressor and some "enhanced" edge detection, as RAW looks better, but the macro cannot be used with RAW), often destroying the motive.
  • Psyside - Friday, June 19, 2020 - link

    Where are the 64MP mode of Samsung is gimmick/terrible trolls now?

    Stay in your caves.

    BTW gratz to Andrei, this article is SOMETHING ELSE! the alpha and omega in the smartphone/tech industry.
  • s.yu - Saturday, June 20, 2020 - link

    Not much has changed. 64MP is still genuinely unusable. At 50% mag (16MP) under optimal conditions, the LG and Samsung were somewhat better than the previous sample showed, regardless, the original conclusion stands, I repeat, 64MP is still genuinely unusable. BTW you were the clear troll before the release of this article.
  • Psyside - Monday, June 22, 2020 - link

    "Not much has changed. 64MP is still genuinely unusable. At 50% mag (16MP) under optimal conditions, the LG and Samsung were somewhat better than the previous sample showed, regardless, the original conclusion stands, I repeat, 64MP is still genuinely unusable. BTW you were the clear troll before the release of this article"

    Comment the pictures i posted, don't cherry pick what you answer.
  • s.yu - Monday, June 22, 2020 - link

    I didn't go though all the comments. I've seen the picture and, for the final time: 64MP IS STILL GENUINELY UNUSABLE. Just because the 24MP Fuji's unusable upscaled to 64MP or higher doesn't make 64MP quad bayer any more usable.
    Also, don't cherry pick what you screenclip, there are some places across the scene where the Fuji was notably better, where quad bayer interpolation was very apparent, and that made me suspect a focusing issue or a skewed focal plane. I also don't know the parameters of the Fuji shots, shooting any kit lens wide open will not paint an ILC in good light.
  • Psyside - Monday, June 22, 2020 - link

    1. The pic is vs 12MP of S20, not just vs Fuji. And it blows it away out of the water in the detail department.

    2. The pic has MORE details vs the Fuji, also and not just more, SIGNIFICANTLY more.

    3. Even if we count on the Fuji pic as anomaly, the difference in detail vs the 12MP shot of Samsung, and ANY other picture from the review is insane, when we talked before we talked about DETAILS/SHARPNESS not about dynamic range, low light performance, colors, contrast or anything else, we all know that 64MP will have less dynamic range, and other issue, but the point was, that you saying that 64MP is useless/gimmick, and you couldn't be more wrong, in bright daylight this new sensors are amazing, and the 64MP on the S20 is not quad bayer AFAIK, so next time when you claim BS, get ready to be corrected.
  • s.yu - Wednesday, June 24, 2020 - link

    1. LMFAO. Take your strawman somewhere else. I already said S20's 12MP pipeline is severely flawed, that the 64MP output with a straight downsample to 16MP would be sharper. That was last time.
    2. Generally more, but not always significant. There's great variance of the 64MP output even within a single scene. While the first scene could largely be attributed to focusing issues( clear because the LG focused near infinity while the Samsung focused near MFD), a lot of variation in other scenes don't resemble focusing issues. The output quality is unstable and unpredictable. In general, The LG's 64MP mode outperforms the Samsung in terms of detail.
    And again, if the Fuji was shot wide open with a kit lens, even a clear advantage really doesn't prove much.
    3. Judging from the characteristics of the artifacts of Samsung's 64MP output, I say it looks like quad bayer, e.g. 2nd sample right above the sewer duct, the waxiness of the bricks and the horizontal smearing that clearly result in *less* resolution than the 24MP Fuji, as evident by the patches of lichen being smeared by the Samsung while more individual patches are distinguishable from the Fuji output. I say output from Nokia 808, known bayer, wouldn't exhibit that sort of texture degradation.
    I said that I won't repeat myself, so I'll rephrase it for you: the 64MP mode of Samsung's S20 series has UNUSABLE TEXTURE at native resolution. It's usable at 16MP, probably even 24MP, NOT AT 64MP, therefore it's A GIMMICK, waste of storage space.

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