The Perfect Phone for Casual Bird Lover – Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra One Month Later

April 9, 2021
English | 喜欢就买
photography | review | tech | birds
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It’s been more than a month since I’ve been using Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra, and I’m still constantly shocked at how good the 10x zoom is. In short it’s the best phone money can buy for almost all people. But I’m also surprised at the lack of reviews and appreciation for the zoom lens I’ve seen on youtube. So this review will focus on the zoom capability from a bird lover’s perspective. I’ve already done a full review, if you read Chinese click here check it out.

The 10x zoom, or zoom ability in general, is the most underrated feature for this phone, in my opinion. Back when you could only have two lens on a phone, I agreed that most people and I would prefer an ultra wide angle lens than a 2~3x zoom. Thus there’s a popular opinion of “Zoom lens are useless””Zoom lens are just gimmicks” among tech Youtubers. But this argument is so 2018. Nowadays all flagships have 3 or more lens, and the Zoom capability on some of them unlock you for a LOT more shot that you can never imagine.

Compared to Oneplus and many other companies’ approach of shameless wasting space and money on making the 4th lens a monochrome or shitty 2MP micro simply to pretend they have a higher end camera array, I prefer Samsung’s approach much more. A high quality 3x zoom, not only for zooming but also for that more close-to-human-eye perspective, plus a 10x zoom with killer stabilization, for wildlife, buildings, reading assist in distance, this is a casual bird lover’s dream.

It sounds less impressive thank it actually looks. This review is full of video and picture comparison, so connect to your wifi and let’s get started.

First, look at this shot. With naked eye or any other smartphone’s 2~3 times zoom, I wouldn’t even be able to tell it’s a Turkey Vulture (without zooming in this close to see the colors, my newbie casual bird lover’s default guess when I saw large predator bird is Red-tailed hawk) . Let alone have good enough stabilization to catch such shot.

And you’ll be more impressed by looking at actually how far the vulture is and how fast it moves:video

Speaking of stabilization, let’s look at another 10x zoom handheld video of this Pelican. Notice that it’s soaring fast. I doubt most of amateur photographers with a $2000+ 400mm DSLR lens + $1000 camera can capture this in motion smoothly, handheld. video

And take a look at this a still shot of this elegant Great Blue Heron. I personally don’t own any telescope DSLR lens, but I doubt in handheld they can beat the stabilization of this without spending couple of minutes stabilizing in post then export. Meanwhile with a S21 Ultra, I’ll just point and shot, then spend 30s post it on Instagram. video

And it’s easier to appreciate the zoom capability when you see how’s it like in 1x:

Here’s a backyard scene of a wren singing on my neighbor’s tree: video

The wren was pretty loud so not sure if directional audio enhancement was also applied

And, of course you’re gonna suffer some quality loss compared to a DSLR. But as a casual bird lover, I’m willing to trade the quality loss which may not even be that visible after social platform’s compression, for the convenience of carrying it everyday, anywhere, without carrying my 5kg 400m and Sony A7r and tripod to achieve similar shot.

The shot you can get with a “real” camera definitely is worth it, for the pros. But as a casual bird lover and average consumer, do I really need to argue about whether I want

  • The convenience of point and shoot
  • No lost opportunities at daily scene
  • At least 20 times lighter and 10 times smaller to carry around when hiking
  • At least $3000 cheaper (you already need a phone, vs camera + lens)
  • Ease of posting to social network

From this:

Compared to this:

Source: Interview with Megh Roy Choudhury

I mean, let the pros do their job. Or, if you’re already a pro, you don’t need me rambling about the pros and cons of a camera and phones. You can certainly have both. This can as well be a daily scene cheat for you.

Let alone, some of the daily scene may not worth your trouble or simply wait for you to setup the gear, but still is pretty funny to watch and share. Take a look at this failed pigeon courtship at some random park. video

Or this backyard warbler I run across through the window. It was there in a windy day for 10 seconds and gone. I don’t think any other phone or camera would have be able to capture this scene. video

1x where I took the warbler video. Notice there’s also a window screen between me and the tree. 1x where I took the warbler video. Notice there’s also a window screen between me and the tree.

Or, these random cute birds and squirrel I came across at random parks:

And when is the last time you’ve seen pulling out a 400m to capture a common crow calling? video

And if you think this looks like a scene that any phone can take, think again. Below is the 1x photo at where I took the shot. I heard the calling at my study room and shot the video through the window. Would you get out close to get the same shot for just a common crow? And would the crow see you coming still stand there casually and keep calling? It’s such little moment where you’re not buying a specific camera or phone for that makes such capability so valuable and useful.

Speaking of capturing random but beautiful scene, look at this snail shot. Any other phone wouldn’t have the macro capability or quality, and probably fewer people would change their 400mm to a macro then change it back at a bird viewing park just for a little common snail.

Yes, S21 Ultra have both excellent zoom and macro capability, which makes it such a versatile and unique experience that no other phone or camera can beat. video

I also appreciate the high quality 3x lens that unlock me to take that 50mm equivalent closer to human eye’s perspective. Look at the following pictures which I took at same distance of this Lego Land Rover Defender. Ignore the filter and just look at the perspective. Second photo is shot on 1x which has pretty similar focal length as any other main camera on a phone. Probably not that much difference from average consumer but any amateur photographer with a preference between ~50mm and ~24mm for different subjects would appreciate the options.

Any previous phone I use that has a 2x or 3x zoom lens sacrifice a lot of quality or stabilization, not this one. Now I don’t need to think about the trade off of perspective and quality. Since the 3x lens have pretty decent quality I can simply choose based on subject’s best perspective.

With all that said, if you’re an Android user and want the best overall phone and most versatile phone camera period, this is the winner by a long shot. If you’re an iPhone user but open to switch, or just want that daily bird shot so bad, this is worth considering.

Disclaimer: I didn’t and probably won’t receive any sort of benefits from Samsung. I hate my last Samsung phone (S8). All the opinions are my own.

If you’re convinced, here’s my affiliate link, it won’t affect your price but Amazon will pay a small kickback to me. Price may change.

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Migrated Comments

Comment by Cf on 2021-07-18 07:37:20 -0700 #

It’s a first real test that I appreciated. Very useful and clear. Really good job. Thanks a lot.


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