Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra 5G review

GSMArena Team, 25 January 2021.

Selfie camera

The Galaxy S21 Ultra borrows the selfie camera from the S20 Ultra - a 40MP Quad-Bayer shooter with autofocus. It saves 10MP images, but you can opt for 40MP, too.

Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra review

Samsung's bizarre handling of zoom levels for selfies will stay with us for at least one more generation, apparently. See, there are two zoom modes - native 25mm equiv. resulting in a 10MP photo and zoomed 32mm equiv. saving a cropped 5MP photo. The selfie camera always defaults to a cropped-in view instead of starting with whatever zoom setting was last used. And why would it go back to the crop if you're switching between Photo and Portrait modes, even though you've specifically zoomed out? It's beyond irritating!

The selfie photos are among the best we've seen from a smartphone, so that's quite the silver lining. The resolved detail is plenty, the dynamic range is great, the colors are spot-on, everything looks good and not over the board.

Selfies, 10MP or 5MP - f/2.2, ISO 80, 1/100s - Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra review Selfies, 10MP or 5MP - f/2.2, ISO 125, 1/100s - Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra review Selfies, 10MP or 5MP - f/2.2, ISO 50, 1/153s - Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra review Selfies, 10MP or 5MP - f/2.2, ISO 50, 1/2128s - Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra review
Selfies, 10MP or 5MP - f/2.2, ISO 50, 1/1072s - Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra review Selfies, 10MP or 5MP - f/2.2, ISO 50, 1/1600s - Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra review Selfies, 10MP or 5MP - f/2.2, ISO 64, 1/100s - Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra review
Selfies, 10MP or 5MP

You can shoot in full 40MP resolution, and the high-res photos turned out incredibly detailed. If you like to capture even more detail, this is one of the rare occasions where we would highly recommend the high-resolution option.

Selfies, 40MP - f/2.2, ISO 50, 1/2312s - Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra review Selfies, 40MP - f/2.2, ISO 50, 1/1084s - Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra review Selfies, 40MP - f/2.2, ISO 50, 1/1604s - Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra review Selfies, 40MP - f/2.2, ISO 64, 1/100s - Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra review
Selfies, 40MP

We also liked the portrait selfies - the algorithm does an impressive job separating the subject and convincingly blurring the background.

Selfie portraits, 10MP - f/2.2, ISO 80, 1/100s - Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra review Selfie portraits, 10MP - f/2.2, ISO 125, 1/100s - Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra review Selfie portraits, 10MP - f/2.2, ISO 50, 1/143s - Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra review
Selfie portraits, 10MP

Video recording and quality

The Galaxy S21 Ultra supports 4K video capturing at 60fps across all five cameras, selfie included. Additionally, you can also shoot 8K@24fps clips with the primary cam, even if the chipset is theoretically capable of 8K@30fps.

Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra review

The default codec for videos is h.264, but you can switch to the more efficient h.265 in the app menu. 8K is encoded using h.265 regardless of that setting. HDR10+ capture is also possible, a format you can then display on the phone itself, but also on a wide selection of compatible TVs.

Audio is always captured stereo with 256Kbps.

Pro video mode opens up some more frame rate possibilities - 4K and 1080p at 24fps for that cinematic look, as well as 1080p at 120fps, the non-slow-mo variety. Naturally, this mode allows for a lot more creative control and lets you tweak image parameters and monitor and adjust mic gain and direction of pick up.

The 8K footage has a bitrate of 80Mbps, and it's not good at all. In fact, we still think of this option as overkill and a PR stunt, but hey, it's there. The 8K videos coming out of the Galaxy S21 Ultra are barely usable in full res as they suffer from compression artifacts, plus they are awfully soft.

The 4K videos shot at 30fps (38Mbps bitrate) are very good across all five cameras - main, ultrawide, tele 3x, tele 10x, and selfie. Even if they are not the sharpest we've seen from a flagship, they offer good enough resolved detail and excel in everything else - contrast, colors, dynamic range, noise suppression.

The advertised 4K@60fps options are disappointing, though. The 60fps clips are captured with a very high bitrate - 70Mbps - nearly double the 30fps, yet they offer half as much detail and look rather soft. We've put the 60fps in a playlist to avoid chaos on this page.

You can enable electronic stabilization on all snappers, if needed, and it works on top of the optical one. It works great, and it's been probably a few years since we last saw an EIS option that wasn't up to par.

Finally, closing this camera section off, here is the Galaxy S21 Ultra 5G in our video comparison database.

Video Compare Tool Video Compare Tool Video Compare Tool
2160p: Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra 5G against the S20 Ultra 5G and the iPhone 12 Pro Max in our Video compare tool

Reader comments

  • Ak

No for that you have to spend $300 to buy a Galaxy watch :D

  • Jac

So no heart rate reader, no Sp02 reader... ?

  • Jac

So no heart rate reader, no Sp02 reader... ?