More than megapixels: 108MP Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra vs. 20.2MP Canon 1DX II
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More than megapixels: 108MP Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra vs. 20.2MP Canon 1DX II

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Photographer and video producer Kevin Raposo wanted to test how Samsung’s new Galaxy S21 Ultra smartphone compares to a $6,000 professional DSLR camera. Specifically, Raposo wants to see how the 108MP image sensor in the S21 Ultra compares to the 20.2MP image sensor in his Canon 1DX Mark II DSLR. Can the 20MP full-frame Canon camera keep up with the latest flagship Samsung smartphone despite being seriously outgunned in the megapixels department?

In the video below, Raposo compares six different images, each captured by the Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra and the Canon 1DX II. He shot portraits and images in challenging to compare the cameras. The video shows a 100% crop from each camera, and you can guess which photo was captured by which device as you watch along. The correct answers are in the video description on YouTube and at the bottom of this article. As Raposo goes through each image, he discusses why image quality relies upon much more than megapixels. Image quality doesn’t just improve as you increase megapixels.

To ensure a good comparison, images are unedited or lightly edited. Of the Galaxy images, Raposo writes, ‘Galaxy S21 Ultra pictures are completely unedited, aside from light cropping. They were shot in .jpg format using the native camera software, using various modes (including ‘pro’ mode, night mode, and portrait mode).’ Raposo didn’t edit the S21 Ultra images because the .jpg files from the device are compressed and not very flexible for editing. He captured Canon 1DX II images in .cr2 raw format and performed light processing to match the Galaxy images’ colors.

Raposo’s comparison is designed to be a fun experiment, but it does bring to light that not all pixels are created equal. While the Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra produces larger images, the image sensor itself is about 12x smaller than the Canon 1DX II’s image sensor.

Can you tell which image is which? One was shot with a 20.2MP full-frame image sensor and the other was shot with a 108MP image sensor in the Galaxy S21 Ultra smartphone. Answers below.

For smartphone makers and dedicated camera manufacturers alike, megapixels have long been a major area of focus when marketing the latest products. As Jaron Schneider writes at PetaPixel, ‘[Megapixels] are blasted in company marketing may not fool a photography enthusiast but they do play a major role in the perception of what photography is and what kind of technology is available.’ For some, more megapixels means better image quality, but it is much more nuanced.

To my eyes, it’s fairly easy to tell the images apart, especially in low light situations. However, there’s no question that smartphone camera technology has progressed significantly in the last few years. While smartphones can’t match an interchangeable lens camera system’s overall quality and flexibility, a smartphone is nonetheless a highly capable photographic tool. There’s a lot more to good image quality than megapixels, but that doesn’t mean smartphones are all sizzle and no steak.

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