Samsung Galaxy S21 / S21+ Evaluation: Familiar Territory

Samsung prefers to maintain its greatest digital camera options for its high flagships, and that’s why the Galaxy S21+ and Galaxy S21 have extra in widespread with one another than the Galaxy S21 Ultra.

Whereas they’re the much less feature-laden siblings to Samsung’s premium Extremely, these two telephones are arguably the extra well-liked selections due to their respective costs. Collectively, they maintain the identical digital camera array between them, placing extra of an emphasis on dimension as the important thing distinction.

A lot of Samsung’s software program computation, and just about all of the capturing modes, apply to those two, so it’s greater than doable to get good photographs with them. The one catch is that you simply do must discover ways to take advantage of out of what’s already there.

Design and Construct

Yearly or two, Samsung learns a lesson in design and rectifies it with one thing simpler on the eyes. The shiny backs of earlier telephones at all times made for good product photographs till they had been stuffed with fingerprints and smudges, ruining the in any other case shiny façade.

That’s now not the case as a result of the Galaxy S21+ and S21 use a matte again that maintains a pleasant sheen, albeit with none main gloss. The ensuing end will not be solely nicer to have a look at, but additionally simpler to grip. Then there may be the digital camera array, which is properly positioned right into a two-tone structure that feels much less like a digital camera bump and extra like a correct extension of the telephone’s design.

The 2 telephones are significantly totally different in bodily dimension, with the Galaxy S21+ sporting a 6.7-inch Dynamic AMOLED, whereas the smaller S21 has a 6.2-inch Dynamic AMOLED. They complement in any other case placing designs, making them each feel and appear premium, even when they aren’t on the high of Samsung’s present lineup. The corporate did compromise in a single key side and that was to scale back display screen decision to 2400 x 1080. This was the default in final 12 months’s Galaxy S20+ and S20, which additionally provided 3040 x 1440 as an improve choice. This time, that improve isn’t provided however these newer fashions have an adaptive 120Hz refresh price that makes for smoother scrolling and swiping all through.

Each gadgets run on the identical Snapdragon 888 processor because the S21 Extremely (although there may be an Exynos variant in different markets), and with the 8GB of RAM and 128GB of inside storage, they mix for very environment friendly efficiency. You simply lose out on the microSD card slot, forcing you to look to the cloud for storage growth, particularly in case you plan to take a number of photographs and video.

Digital camera Options

Samsung didn’t change a lot up right here on the surface. These two telephones use the very same picture sensors and lenses their predecessors did a 12 months in the past. It’s the 12MP Sony IMX555, adopted by the 64MP GW2 telephoto lens. The one distinction lies within the 12MP ultra-wide Sony IMX563, which is totally different from the earlier fashions’ providing. For these wanting selfies, it’s the identical 10MP front-facing digital camera utilizing the IMX374 occurring two years now. 

The familiarity would possibly appear to be a step again, however Samsung thinks its superior software program pushes the entire array ahead. It’s robust to make that argument, although, particularly when those self same software program options will inevitably make their technique to the earlier fashions too (and already have).

Software program Options

To maintain according to different modifications Samsung made to its software program working on its One UI 3.1 platform as an overlay on high of Android 11, the digital camera app is according to the opposite S21 fashions, save for the few extras the Extremely is supplied with. For starters, it primarily renamed Reside Focus and Reside Focus Video into Portrait and Portrait Video mode, respectively. AR Doodle strikes into the principle record, whereas Bixby Imaginative and prescient will get relegated to the sidelines. The crimson dots subsequent to them point out these are newer modes to those telephones.

The primary menu structure sticks to the standard choices, however you may at all times customise that and add what you need by simply holding on a variety and dragging it to the principle bar beneath. You can too rearrange the choices to get the structure you need.

By now, these have develop into a well-known set for any Samsung person. Professional mode offers you guide management with each the usual and ultra-wide lenses. Night time mode is again for low-light pictures, and so are particular ones, like Meals, Single Take and Director’s View. Extra on these in a bit.

Professional Mode

Samsung performs up a few of these greater than others and speaks particularly extremely of the Scene Optimizer it gives in its major Photograph mode that makes use of synthetic intelligence (AI) to gauge a scene and alter composition to go well with it for the very best photograph. As at all times, nonetheless, the outcomes differ, so it’s not at all times one thing you may belief.

Picture High quality

Important digital camera

Once more, for the sake of congruency, there are parallels between these two telephones and their Extremely sibling. The obvious from the beginning is the decreased saturation. Samsung leans extra closely on HDR to raised interpret a scene, which results in extra color-corrected output. The very best half is that it doesn’t matter if Scene Optimizer is on or not as a result of Samsung’s software program treats colours fairly constantly. It additionally dialed again the pores and skin smoothening from the previous.

The photograph above is an efficient instance of that. There’s a touch of sundown with a myriad of tones and colours, none of which come out wanting exaggerated. Samsung does generally tend to generally overexpose after first tapping to focus, however a slight tick downward on the publicity slider can mitigate that shortly.

Neither of those has the 108MP giant sensor the Extremely has, so there isn’t a technique to shoot a picture that giant and crop into it afterward. That additionally means evening and low-light photographs gained’t be nearly as good as a result of a 12MP shot pulls in additional gentle by way of bigger micron pixels in that very same sensor. These two telephones are hamstrung that method, forcing you to improvise extra on what you seize in these conditions.


It’s nice to have an ultra-wide lens on any telephone, and it may be one of many extra artistic choices due to the way it can warp perspective while you get above or beneath a topic. Then there’s the pure profit of compacting extra into one body with out bodily shifting again. The one caveat is that the identical points from final 12 months apply, which is a few fringing on the edges, and the heavier ‘lean’ on topics nearer to the body’s edges.

With a tighter f/2.2 aperture, outcomes worsen the decrease the sunshine will get, however there’s room for creativity right here. You need to use it on numerous different modes, together with Night time, Professional, Panorama, and Hyperlapse. That is additionally the identical ultra-wide digital camera the Extremely makes use of, so there isn’t a tangible profit between any of the three fashions in that regard.

Telephoto and Hybrid Zoom

The 64MP telephoto lens is completely totally different than what Samsung geared up within the Extremely. These two telephones use the identical hybrid zoom their predecessors did final 12 months. That’s, taking a 1.1x optical zoom and mixing that with digital zoom to crop the picture and create the equal of a 3x zoom. By default, the telephoto lenses on these cameras have a 76-degree subject of view — solely marginally higher than the 79-degrees the usual lens has, no less than optically talking.

Motion photograph captured with Hybrid Zoom

That’s completely totally different than the Extremely, which really sports activities a correct optical zoom, and explains why outcomes aren’t the identical. Nonetheless, you might anticipate worse from such a setup, however as an alternative, Samsung’s software program helps fill in some gaps. At 3x, photographs aren’t unhealthy in any respect, particularly in optimum lighting. At 5x and 10x, the digital zoom is extra evident, and never at all times in a great way. The decrease the sunshine, the more severe it will get.

30x Zoom

Samsung markets this function as one thing to write down house about, but it surely actually shouldn’t.

It’s terrible, not only for any smart photographer, however actually for any beginner snapping pics on these telephones. Over 90% of it’s merely a digital zoom, and it actually falls off the proverbial cliff when in comparison with a 10x zoom. There’s far an excessive amount of texture within the shot, and chromatic aberration will creep up.

Professional Mode

I’ve lengthy thought of this mode to be the key weapon in Samsung’s digital camera arsenal. It gives set of instruments, and a number of the options that apply to the usual broad and ultra-wide lenses work with it too. For example, the Macro mode that pops up with the usual lens while you transfer about 10cm or 3-inches from a topic works the identical in Professional. While you wish to save in RAW, that is additionally the one mode that truly allows you to try this.

Taking a web page out of Google’s playbook, there are sliders to regulate highlights, shadows, distinction, saturation, and tint — all on high of the shutter velocity, ISO, white steadiness, focusing already there. The shutter velocity additionally drops down as little as 30 seconds, so you may attempt your hand at lengthy publicity pictures.

Night time Mode

I discussed earlier that the Galaxy S21+ and S21 use a smaller major sensor than the Extremely does, and the way it can have an effect on low-light photographs. Plain and easy, these two gained’t match the sort of nighttime output the Extremely manages. Not solely that, however there’s no actual technique to management the publicity, aside from to go from auto or max. If the scene comes out too gentle or too darkish, you might attempt Professional mode to see if you may get one thing higher that method. Plus, you may as well save in RAW for extra flexibility modifying in a while.

The excellent news is that Night time mode works with all three lenses, so you may no less than attempt all of them on the subject of capturing one thing in low-light. Night time mode’s benefit is that it emulates lengthy publicity pictures in a handheld method. If you happen to had been to do the identical in Professional mode, you would want a tripod or flat floor to keep away from any jitter that blurs the shot.

Video Options

You gained’t file something in 8K right here with both telephone, however that’s not a foul factor. It’s capturing in 4K at 24fps and 60fps that’s extra impactful, and pictures appears to be like good more often than not. Single Take acquired an improve that makes use of all three lenses to take as much as 15 totally different stills and video clips, together with boomerang, background music, and stylized variations of the identical clip.

Director’s View is a brand new function throughout the S21 lineup that permits you to entry all of the lenses simply from the identical interface to shortly change views — you recognize, like a director. You may swap it as much as cut up the front-facing digital camera with the usual broad rear lens, or have all of them energetic directly. It’s fascinating, but requires experimentation to see what you are able to do with it.

Professional Video is the extra fascinating one as a result of it applies the identical guide controls to video that Professional mode does for stills. Samsung added 24fps as a capturing choice, including a extra cinematic technique to shoot.

A Familiar Toolkit That (Principally) Delivers

Final 12 months, the Galaxy S20 Extremely felt mired in points and gimmicks that pulled it additional towards the options and efficiency of its different siblings. That’s not the case this 12 months, the place the S21 Ultra is noticeably better in numerous areas. Samsung didn’t come out with any surprises on both the S21 or S21+ and it’s arduous to say that they are going to shoot that a lot better than their S20 options. Granted, the telephones themselves do look higher, and the 120Hz refresh price is nice, however the cameras aren’t breaking new floor.

That stated, they do shoot properly sufficient, solely it’s value diving into the varied modes to get extra out of the cameras obtainable. Sticking to only Photograph mode and Scene Optimizer isn’t ok. For fast snaps, certain, however your greatest photographs will in all probability come from testing issues out elsewhere.

Are There Alternate options?

Aside from the earlier Galaxy S20 equivalents, which principally function the identical digital camera {hardware}, there are many different opponents. Google’s Pixel 5 and Pixel 4a are cheaper choices that won’t have as many lenses or modes however function a number of the greatest computational software program anyplace. The iPhone 12 can also be in the identical ballpark, with higher output than previous Apple gadgets.

Ought to You Purchase It?

Possibly, as long as your causes embrace the non-camera options (just like the improved design and display screen refresh price), if that is an improve, otherwise you’re new to Samsung gadgets and don’t wish to spring for Samsung’s costlier S21 Ultra. The cameras don’t provide you with something you may’t get on different Samsung telephones, however the mixture they every supply remains to be value consideration.

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