Another year, another top-end Galaxy S series phone. This has been the case for the past decade, and in 2021, Samsung released the S21 series: (S21, S21+, and the S21 Ultra).

I have the middle child here, the S21+, and unlike other Plus models before, Samsung made weird choices about its camera system, which I’ll talk about them in the hardware section.

Specs S21S21 PlusS21 Ultra
BodyPlastic back
GG Victus front
GG Victus front and backGG Victus front and back
Weight171g202g229g
ScreenFlat
6.2″ FHD+ Dynamic AMOLED
2400 x 1080 pixels
120 Hz
Flat
6.7″ FHD+ Dynamic AMOLED
2400 x 1080 pixels
120 Hz
Curved
6.8″ QHD+ Dynamic AMOLED
3200 x 1440 pixels
120 Hz
ChipExynos 2100Exynos 2100Exynos 2100
RAM8 GB8 GB12/16 GB
Internal128/256 GB
No SD card support
128/256 GB
No SD card support
128/256/512 GB
No SD card support
Fingerprint readerUltrasonic In-Display readerUltrasonic In-Display readerUltrasonic In-Display reader
Main CameraTriple
12 MP wide angle with OIS
12 MP ultra-wide
64 MP telephoto with OIS
Triple
12 MP wide angle with OIS
12 MP ultra-wide
64 MP telephoto with OIS
Quad
108 MP wide-angle with OIS
12 MP ultra-wide
10 MP telephoto, OIS, 3x optical zoom
10 MP telephoto, OIS, 10x optical zoom
Selfie10 MP10 MP40 MP
Radios5G
Bluetooth 5.2
Wi-Fi 6
5G
Bluetooth 5.2
Wi-Fi 6
5G
Bluetooth 5.2
Wi-Fi 6
Headphone socket NoNoNo
AudioStereo with dual-speakers Stereo with dual-speakers Stereo with dual-speakers
Battery4000 mAh4800 mAh5000 mAh
IP certificationIP68 IP68 IP68
SoftwareAndroid 11
OneUI 3.1
Android 11
OneUI 3.1
Android 11
OneUI 3.1
ColoursPhantom Violet
Phantom Gray
Phantom White
Phantom Pink
Phantom Violet
Phantom Gray
Phantom White
Phantom Gray
Phantom White
Price128 GB version - KES 100,000
256 GB version - KES 106,000
KES 125000256 GB version - KES 154,000
512 GB version - KES 170,000

The camera hardware

The Samsung Galaxy S21+ has top-end camera hardware. The selfie camera is the same 10MP f/2.2 ,1/3.24” sensor that we first saw with the S10 series.


The primary camera is where the fun is. The main camera consists of a large 1/1.76” sensor with 12MP resolution, a wide 26mm f/1.8 lens, and optical image stabilization. The ultra-wide-angle camera has a surprisingly large 1/2.55 inch sensor with a 12MP resolution and an ultrawide 13mm f/2.2 lens.

The telephoto camera is technically not a telephoto camera in my books, and it was a weird choice by Samsung. It has a bigger sensor than the primary camera (1/1.72”), but it has 64 megapixels and only a 29mm f/2.0 lens. This effectively makes it a 1.1x optical zoom telephoto. I have beef with this telephoto camera since it defaults to 3x digital zoom when you launch it, which looks terrible at first glance. I’ll talk more about its performance in the photo section.

I say Samsung made weird choices in this camera section because it seems like they wanted the S21+ to feel inferior to the Ultra and have 8K video capture. That is why the ‘telephoto’ camera field of view is close to the main camera. It is also used to record 8K video since the main camera doesn’t have enough megapixels to record 8K video.

Despite the decision with the telephoto camera, the hardware is solid as I expected.

Photo characteristics

The photos coming from the Galaxy S21+ are what I expected from it: Classic Samsung. Very vibrant, brighter than they need to, and oversharpened.

This may sound bad, but I totally get Samsung. People love such photos. I can give this phone to a random person on the street, and they would love the images coming from the camera. They look so good. I have a theory Samsung has worked with focus groups to gauge what kind of photo characteristics people like. It is probably why Samsung phones ended up in a blind camera challenge in a MKBHD video.

The camera software is also quite interesting. There are so many modes: Panorama, Single Take, Night, Portrait, Photo, Pro Photo, Food, AR Doodle Video, Pro Video, Portrait Video Director’s View, Slow Motion, Super Slow-Mo, and Hyperlapse. I only used photo, portrait, night, and video in my testing, and they have interesting photo taking capabilities

In photo mode, the S21 flexes its dynamic range so well. When you shoot objects against windows, the processing on the Exynos 2100 that powers this phone somehow manages to recover the blown highlights (bright areas) of the window. This is not the case when you switch to Pro Mode where this processing doesn’t happen.

In my experience, the default photo is great to shoot pictures without thinking about its eventual outcome. I’m not a fan of the aggressive way Samsung likes to brighten every photo and the vivid colors but it works to their advantage. I’m a fan of the quaint pro mode which takes better photos in my opinion even if you leave the settings on auto.

The ultra wide angle camera is really good and wide and Samsung is very competitive in this area, but it suffers a bit at night thanks to the small aperture lens.

Don’t use the telephoto camera. Please. The 3x digital zoom imposed is very noticeable and it feels like a waste.

The selfie camera has the same characteristics as the primary camera system and for the S21 series, Samsung added “Natural” color tone but still looks meh in my opinion.

Speaking of video, the S21 shoots up to 8K on the ‘telephoto’ camera. However, I’d recommend you to stick to the 4K 30fps option which looks the best on the main camera sensor. The 4K 30fps video from the selfie camera is also pretty good too.

Finally, we have nighttime photos. I wouldn’t say I like Samsung’s implementation here. The images are way too over-sharpened and brighter than they should be. Thankfully, the process of taking night photos is borrowed from the iPhone, and it is quite easy. A quick tip: Reduce the brightness of the photos in the photo editor after taking a nighttime photo for best results.


Samples (this section will be supplemented with more photos as we work on them):

Conclusion

This is a phone camera system that will appease the masses and annoy a photographer. Since the majority are not the latter, they will love the output from this phone.  It can take really pleasing photos in normal and ultra-wide modes, and the nighttime photos are adequate but not class-leading.


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Kenn Abuya is a friend of technology, with bias in enterprise and mobile tech. Share your thoughts, tips and hate mail at [email protected]