Rita El Khoury / Android Authority
There are many great camera phones nowadays and any modern smartphone will often get you a good photo that’s miles ahead of anything we were able to achieve a few years ago. But add a moving subject there — say a jumping child or a fussy pet — and you’re likely to run into some problems.
Samsung phones are famous for missing the mark on more than one occasion in these situations, so I was curious to know how the Galaxy S24 Ultra would perform. Did Samsung fix its notorious shutter lag and motion blur when snapping photos of moving subjects, or did it rest on its laurels, knowing it doesn’t have any real competition for its S Pen-touting flagship?
Since I can’t (and won’t) share pics of kids, I went for the next best test subject: cats. I tried my Galaxy S24 Ultra and my Google Pixel 8 Pro — the most reliable camera I’ve used — on two adorable furry friends. Here are my findings.
Since I was shooting with both phones at the very same instant, the pics aren’t 100% aligned. I was holding each phone with one hand, right next to each other, so there’s a lot of overlap between them, but one captures more of the scene towards the right and the other to the left. I kept alternating the phones between left and right (my dominant hand) to avoid giving one phone an advantage over the other.
The Galaxy S24 Ultra’s camera is good when your pet is still
Let’s start with the positives first. As long as the fluffy mischief-makers were staying still, the Galaxy S24 Ultra’s camera did very well. I can nitpick the details for hours on end (the colors of the S24 Ultra are more vibrant, but there’s some extra sharpening and the Pixel’s photos look a bit more natural), but most of that is irrelevant in everyday use. Would I be happy with any of these photos? Yes. Case closed.
… but not so great when it moves, even a little bit
Everything changed when the two kittens started moving. Just a fraction of a movement and the Galaxy S24 Ultra rendered a blurry pic. The sad part is that I would think, “Oh, I snapped that right on time,” only for me to notice that the image wasn’t as good as I’d hoped. I tried it with the regular lens, the 5x tele lens, and the 3x portrait lens, and it happened with all of them.
When motion is detected, the Pixel camera cuts its shutter speed in half, but the Galaxy S24 Ultra doesn’t.
I was curious to know if shutter speed was to blame and, sure enough, in most cases, the Pixel was twice as fast as the Galaxy. You can see the shutter speeds of every photo below between parentheses. Compared to similar photos taken a second earlier with an immobile cat, Samsung doesn’t seem to be changing its shutter speed when motion is detected, whereas the Pixel cuts its shutter speed by half to adapt. By not going for a faster snap, Samsung captures more motion when the subject is moving, hence the blur.
This, along with the Pixel series’ Face Unblur (which now works for pets too), makes the Pixel a superior camera experience for those who like snapping pics of people, pets, and kids. In comparison, the unreliability of Samsung’s camera is staggering. How can the leading Android brand in the world offer such an abysmal camera experience for the people and animals we love the most is beyond me.
I wouldn’t get a Samsung phone if I cared a lot about pet and people photography.
For scientific purposes, I’ll be testing manual capture on the S24 Ultra in the future, to see if a faster capture will fix the blur issue (it should), but let’s be realistic: No one will ever think of manually setting their shutter speed on their phone. Especially not when taking pics of subjects in motion, which is the very situation where you need to be as quick as possible with your snapping. The only time it makes sense to set it manually is if you were doing a proper photo shoot session with your kid or pet and you know you’ll keep the same speed for a while. Otherwise, that’s impossible for spur-of-the-moment snaps.
3x tele portraits are fantastic, most of the time
Besides the shutter blur, I was quite curious about the benefit of a proper portrait lens. The Galaxy S24 Ultra boasts two telephoto lenses — the big 5x 50MP and the smaller 3x 10MP. It’s the first time I have a phone with two optical zoom options, and since I think the main camera on phones is too wide these days and I often zoom to 2x/3x in my photos, I wanted to see how useful the standalone 3x lens would be.
The answer is: Very. Portrait shots taken with the 3x lens are great. Check the beauty shots below.
From literally the same distance, this is what you get when you use the S24 Ultra’s portrait mode on the 3x tele lens compared to the 2x cropped (from the main 1x lens) portrait pic of the Pixel 8 Pro. Samsung’s 3x lens lets you get closer to the subject without losing any detail in cropping, and most importantly, it offers the focal length (and distortion) of a proper tele lens.
One issue I did come across, though, is with Samsung failing to properly identify the subject of the portrait and blurring the cat’s face while keeping its body and back in focus. You’ll have to click on the samples below to properly spot the difference.
In some tougher portraits, Samsung chose to take focus away from the cat’s face.
Sure, I can manually change the focus point and fix the photo, but not everyone will know they can do that. More importantly, it takes time to fix these photos. Samsung should improve its detection to focus on the most important part of the portrait.
Overall, I think the results leave me quite mitigated. When the Galaxy S24 Ultra’s camera works properly for living subjects, it’s great. It takes captivating snaps that are perfect for social media and viewing on your phone’s display. Plus, personally, my ideal photos would have the soft focus of the Pixel 8 Pro’s shots with a color profile somewhere in the middle between the Pixel’s very natural and muted colors and Samsung’s more saturated and vivid colors.
An unreliable camera is the worst camera.
But I’m worried about those scenarios where the S24 Ultra fails. I wouldn’t want this as my only camera when taking photos of pets and people because I can’t always expect them to stand still. And because I definitely do want to snap candid mid-motion photos of my husband doing silly facial expressions, my friend’s dog smiling, or my neighbor’s cat showing its teeth. If 20-30% of those photos turn out blurry, that’d be disheartening, and that’s my issue with the S24 Ultra. An unreliable camera is the worst camera.
What do you think of the Samsung Galaxy S24 Ultra’s performance with pets and moving subjects? Let me know in the poll and the comments below.
Is the Galaxy S24 Ultra a good camera for pets and moving subjects?