Home / NewTech / Galaxy Note 20 Ultra on a photography adventure: 5 things I loved and 2 things I didn’t love

Galaxy Note 20 Ultra on a photography adventure: 5 things I loved and 2 things I didn’t love


Andrew Hoyle / CNET

The Galaxy Note 20 Ultra The big screen, S Pen pen, 5G, and chic design might make this a great phone for high-flying business people, but what about a rough photography adventure on a remote island? To find out, I took it to the stunning Isle of Mull off the west coast of Scotland and found that the Note is more than just a business tool.


7;s what I liked.

The zoom

It goes without saying that the Note 20 can take cracking photos in its standard zoom mode. And it does – they’re bright and vibrant and full of detail. But it’s the zoom skills that I really loved on my trip. With the 5x optical zoom I can achieve completely different compositions in my pictures that are simply outside the range of the 2x zoom on the picture iPhone 11 Pro.


Taken from the ferry to Mull I was able to use 5x zoom to get a great shot of this lighthouse.

Andrew Hoyle / CNET

It’s great for landscape photography. Instead of just taking a wide-angle shot of everything in a scene, I was able to zoom in and focus on certain elements for a more intimate shot. The images themselves are also razor sharp and great for videos.

I filmed a video diary of my time in Mull explaining where I’ve gone and what I’m looking for in my landscape photography. Every footage in it was shot on the Note 20 (mostly in 4K resolution), and it was the zoom capabilities that took my footage to a more cinematic level than I might otherwise have gotten. What makes me …

Great stabilization

Enlarging a DSLR with a long lens usually means lots of shaky shots and usually requires a sturdy tripod. The Note 20’s improved optical image stabilization worked well, smoothing out any tremors in my hands, and was so smooth as I walked while filming that it looked like it was shot with a stabilizing gimbal.


Using the super wide angle lens, I was able to capture this dramatic shot of the Eas Fors waterfall plunging into the ocean.

Andrew Hoyle / CNET

It helps a lot when you zoom in and the tremors become even more noticeable. Here, however, the phone could capture objects in a scene and hold them in the frame. There were some scenes in my video where it was a little tricky – usually when there isn’t an obvious point to “hold on” to – but the footage was easily digitally stabilized in Adobe Premiere Pro.

Big display

The sheer size of the Note 20’s 6.9-inch display makes it great for taking photos and videos as it’s so easy to create your shots. It’s also bright, which means it was easy to see even under the brilliant sunshine I had for a few moments on my trip.


My ride for the trip: the Jeep Wrangler Rubicon with a TentBox pop-up tent on top. Great fun and a beautiful shot from the phone.

Andrew Hoyle / CNET

This is also a huge benefit when editing my images as it is much easier to change the sliders in Adobe Lightroom Mobile on a larger screen. I edited footage imported from both the phone itself and my Canon 5D MkIV, and I also recorded my 12.9-inch iPad Pro ($ 999 at Apple) For editing, it was easier for me to sit back with the Note 20.

It also made it a lot more enjoyable to watch downloaded Netflix shows while making my morning coffee on an MSR camping stove.

S Pen is an editing delight

It was also during editing that I really used the S Pen. Adjusting small sliders in Lightroom can be done more accurately with the fine tip of the pen than jogging with a finger. It’s also much easier to “paint” effects like selectively lightening or darkening parts of an image with the pen, much like I would do with my professional Wacom graphics tablet at home.


With the pen for more accuracy I was able to paint these old boats in more light to make them stand out from the scene.

Andrew Hoyle / CNET

The downside is that it’s tiny and if you don’t slide it back into the slot on the bottom of the phone it’s almost guaranteed to lose it. Once he managed to escape and fall on the side of the driver’s seat of the Jeep Wrangler I borrowed for the trip. I didn’t notice it at first and it took me some time to fish it out. From then on, I made sure it was fully clicked back on before I put the phone down.

Surprising durability

The glass back and the soft gold color of the phone make it look like a Poser phone. Something that looks luxurious when seated on the table in a nice cocktail bar, but doesn’t take much abuse. In fact, it’s a lot more sturdy than it looks. It took at least three falls to the ground – one of which was on a rocky path and neither the display nor the glass back was cracked.


The super wide-angle lens played a cork here and took a wonderful shot despite the mixed lighting conditions in this winter garden café.

Andrew Hoyle / CNET

The factory-installed screen protector is heavily marked by the abuse it has received. However, the display itself is perfect and a replacement protection would keep the phone looking like new. Its IP68 rating also meant it wasn’t a problem keeping the water out while taking pictures in the rain or getting soaked in water on a regular basis while taking a small boat trip to the tiny island of Staffa.

I’m amazed at how well this phone stood up to the demands of my island adventure, especially since it wasn’t even in a case, which it certainly would have been had I spent my own money on it.

And here is what I don’t like

Battery life

Using the phone to capture a lot of 4K video with maximum screen brightness is a huge drain on power. Still, I was surprised at how quickly the phone seemed to suck up the juice and required a charge from a portable power adapter in the afternoon, even though it was fully charged at 9 a.m. that same day.


Another success with the 5x zoom lens, which this time is used to create a pretty composition with the colorful houses in Tobermory harbor.

I always had to be more frugal when using it, keeping it in airplane mode to make sure the energy wasn’t unnecessarily wasted looking for the missing cellular signal (gauze is something like a black spot in terms of signaling).

Wind noise in the video

As this is a fairly exposed island in the Atlantic, it’s no surprise that the island can get very windy. I only recorded my video with the built-in mic and purposely didn’t use an external mic with a windshield to see how it worked. In extremely strong winds, I didn’t even try to record myself in front of the camera as every microphone would have failed.

But even when the wind seemed gentle, many of my clips still suffered from wind noise. As a result, I recorded most of the dialogue in my film at home as voice-over, with only a few of the less affected shots left. You can still hear wind noise in the movie, however, and it’s a shame some of the clips I had to be discarded entirely.

If you plan to use the Note 20 as a vlogging camera, invest in a microphone that plugs into the USB-C port.

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