In this Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra vs Huawei P40 Pro Plus camera shootout, we pit two ultra-premium powerhouses in photography against each other. Let’s see how much of an upgrade is on offer if you get a suggested retail price of $1,199!

When it comes to photography, Samsung’s latest Galaxy S21, and S21 Plus are unchanged from last year’s Galaxy S20. However, that doesn’t mean the company won’t have anything exciting to offer the more advanced shutterbugs in 2021.

The Galaxy S21 Ultra – Samsung’s ultra-premium flagship this year – comes with four rear cameras, a laser autofocus system and up to 10x optical zoom. The phone also has an updated 108MP main sensor that promises to fix some of the issues of last year’s Galaxy S20 Ultra. It is advanced mobile photography hardware that aims to challenge the best camera phones.

The Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra has a special camera with 10x optical zoom, i.e. it takes great close-ups without noticeable loss of quality. Most smartphones available to date offered a 2x, 3x, or sometimes 5x optical zoom, but were also satisfied with a digital zoom, which noticeably affects the quality.

However, there is one other high-profile phone with a 10x zoom: The Huawei P40 Pro Plus. Announced in March 2020, it became available around June last year, meaning it pre-dates the Galaxy S21 Ultra by quite some time. It’s a very high bar against which to assess the S21 Ultra’s ability, and that’s exactly what we’re going to do here.

Let’s see how the Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra compares to the Huawei P40 Pro Plus, at 10x optical zoom levels.

Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra vs Huawei P40 Pro Plus: Camera specs

Samsung Galaxy S21 UltraHuawei P40 Pro Plus
Main sensor108MP resolution
1/1.33″ sensor
f/1.8 aperture
PDAF, OIS
26mm focal length
50MP resolution
1/1.28″ sensor (RYYB)
f/1.9 aperture
omnidirectional PDAF, OIS
23mm focal length
Wide-angle lens12MP resolution
1/2.55″ sensor
f/2.2 aperture
dual pixel PDAF
13mm focal length
40MP resolution
1/1.54″ sensor
f/1.8 aperture
PDAF
18mm focal length
Zoom lens 110MP resolution
1/3.24″ sensor
f/2.4 aperture
dual pixel PDAF, OIS
70mm focal length
3x telephoto zoom
8MP resolution
RYYB sensor
f/2.4 aperture
PDAF, OIS
80mm focal length
3x telephoto zoom
Zoom lens 210MP resolution
1/3.24″ sensor
f/4.9 aperture
dual pixel PDAF, OIS
240mm focal length
10x periscope zoom
8MP resolution
f/4.4 aperture
PDAF, OIS
240mm focal length
10x optical zoom
Other lensLaser autofocus systemTime-of-flight 3D laser depth sensor

The Cameras And The Test

The Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra has one of the most advanced camera systems on any phone you can buy today. It’s headlined by a 108-megapixel main camera and joined by a pair of 10MP telephoto cameras — one for 3x and the other for 10x — plus a 12MP ultra-wide camera. The Huawei P40 Pro Plus has a 50MP main camera, a 40MP wide-angle camera, and a pair of 8MP telephoto cameras, again for 3x and 10x duties.

Photos were taken back-to-back with both phones, and simply by pressing the shutter button. We didn’t adjust focus, use manual mode, or activate any additional features outside of what’s provided by default — just like most people use their phones. Photos were transferred to a computer and examined on a calibrated monitor.

For a more in-depth look at the phone overall, you can read our recent review of the Galaxy S21 Ultra here, and get a better understanding of how the camera has improved over previous top Samsung phones in our in-depth examination here. We went into detail about the Huawei P40 Pro Plus here, and the technically very similar P40 Pro here.

Zoom stabilization

The two camera apps are similar in their approach and are equally as fast as each other, but there are some differences when you start to use the zoom. I find the Samsung camera app’s method of selecting and adjusting the zoom level simpler and more accurate than the Huawei system, which doesn’t always instantly recognize my selection, and then isn’t as intuitive to rectify if it goes to the wrong zoom level. This means moments can easily be missed.

samsung galaxy s21 ultra vs huawei p40 pro plus 10x zoom shootout app

samsung galaxy s21 ultra vs huawei p40 pro plus 10x zoom shootout app

  • 1. Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra’s camera app
  • 2. Huawei P40 Pro Plus camera app

Once you’ve zoomed in, the stabilization in the viewfinder is far better on the Galaxy S21 Ultra than on the P40 Pro Plus. There’s much less wobble, and it’s much easier to keep your subject centered on the S21 Ultra, making the zoom more useful. This is true beyond 10x too, right the way up to 100x. It’s also better at focusing and maintaining that focus too. Samsung’s combination of optical and electronic stabilization, along with plenty of A.I. smarts, shows how it has really moved the software side of zoom shots along since the P40 Pro Plus’s introduction.

Park bench

Let’s start out with a standard photo taken at 1x to get an idea of how both cameras perform normally. Samsung has toned down its previously notorious saturation levels on the S21 Ultra, but when sat next to the P40 Pro Plus’s natural color palette, its happiness to still give blues and greens a boost is still obvious.

samsung galaxy s21 ultra vs huawei p40 pro plus 10x zoom shootout park bench

samsung galaxy s21 ultra vs huawei p40 pro plus 10x zoom shootout park bench

  • 1. Galaxy S21 Ultra
  • 2. P40 Pro Plus

The fluffier, more prominent clouds show the S21 Ultra’s HDR at work, and it emphasizes the shadows in the foreground compared to the P40 Pro Plus’s shot, where more detail is exposed. The P40 Pro Plus definitely captured the cool, wintery tones of the day. The ambient temperature was far lower and the grass less lush than the S21 Ultra’s photo suggests.

We won’t pick a winner here, and instead use it to illustrate what you can expect from the cameras in general.

Pigeons on the roof

Here’s our first 10x optical zoom shot. Taken around midday with the sun approaching its highest point, this (like all our shots here) was taken hand-held. The P40 Pro Plus’s deep blue sky is the most obvious difference between the two, which affects the detail level on the roof. The P40 Pro Plus underexposes and creates more shadow, while the S21 Ultra shows more detail in the pigeon’s plumage. The pigeon’s feet are more detailed in the P40 Pro Plus’s photo though.

samsung galaxy s21 ultra vs huawei p40 pro plus 10x zoom shootout pigeons

samsung galaxy s21 ultra vs huawei p40 pro plus 10x zoom shootout pigeons

  • 1. Galaxy S21 Ultra
  • 2. P40 Pro Plus

Zoom into each photo and there is evidence of edge enhancement in both photos, with some blurring around the pigeons in the S21 Ultra’s picture, and an artificial-looking edge in the P40 Pro Plus shot. Neither are particularly great looking, but the lighter tones and greater emphasis on the pigeons make the S21 Ultra the winner here.

Winner: Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra

Seagull

Taken from the same position as the photo of the pigeons, this shot better demonstrates the P40 Pro Plus’s ability and repeats some of the differences seen in the standard photo. The roof itself has more detail and better exposure in the P40 Pro Plus’s photo, while the gull itself looks almost identical in both photos.

samsung galaxy s21 ultra vs huawei p40 pro plus 10x zoom shootout seagull

samsung galaxy s21 ultra vs huawei p40 pro plus 10x zoom shootout seagull

  • 1. Galaxy S21 Ultra
  • 2. P40 Pro Plus

The fact you can make out the detail in the gull’s eye in each photo, plus that it has something in its mouth, is very impressive given it was on a roof at least 25 feet high. This is a draw for me.

Winner: Draw

Sheep

Which do you prefer? Weathered, rather grubby looking sheep, or whiter, less-weather beaten sheep? I suspect if these two photos were shown to the sheep, they would choose the Galaxy S21 Ultra’s photo, where it looks like they’re at least moderately clean.

samsung galaxy s21 ultra vs huawei p40 pro plus 10x zoom shootout sheep

samsung galaxy s21 ultra vs huawei p40 pro plus 10x zoom shootout sheep

  • 1. Galaxy S21 Ultra
  • 2. P40 Pro Plus

The P40 Pro Plus’s underexposure casts too much shadow and does something odd with the texture of the wool on the sheep that is furthest away. The blue marking is also clear in the S21 Ultra’s photo, but barely in the P40 Pro Plus’s shot.

Winner: Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra

Distant buildings

These photos are hard to differentiate until you get really close. On the road sign, there is a small circular sign attached to it, which says Speed Watch. It’s considerably more readable in the P40 Pro Plus’s photo, while the S21 Ultra blurs the words a lot more.

samsung galaxy s21 ultra vs huawei p40 pro plus 10x zoom shootout buildings

samsung galaxy s21 ultra vs huawei p40 pro plus 10x zoom shootout buildings

  • 1. Galaxy S21 Ultra
  • 2. P40 Pro Plus

This detail extends to the fence behind in the P40 Pro Plus’s picture, and although it’s generally softer than the S21 Ultra’s photo, the P40 Pro Plus has more emotion in it, due in part to capturing the sun’s rays in the top left of the picture. It’s a close call, but the P40 Pro Plus’s photo takes the win.

Winner: Huawei P40 Pro Plus

Pond and bench

The Galaxy S21 Ultra’s excellent HDR works hard to make this photo especially attractive, keeping detail and color in the trees, while maintaining balance in the grass and sky without going overboard. The P40 Pro Plus’s shot is a little too washed out, and although it’s a cold scene, the S21 UItra’s balance retains that atmosphere but doesn’t make the scene too dull.

samsung galaxy s21 ultra vs huawei p40 pro plus 10x zoom shootout pond

samsung galaxy s21 ultra vs huawei p40 pro plus 10x zoom shootout pond

  • 1. Galaxy S21 Ultra
  • 2. P40 Pro Plus

Interestingly, Samsung’s HDR and saturation works better here in a 10x shot than in the similar, standard shot above. I’d want to edit the P40 Pro Plus’s photo before sharing, but would be happy to post the S21 Ultra’s picture straight away. An important distinction that sees it win here.

Winner: Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra

Ducks

The first of two photos where there is a clear winner immediately. The Galaxy S21 Ultra shows two beautifully lit ducks, where the P40 Pro Plus also shows two ducks, but shrouded in detail-obliterating shadow.

samsung galaxy s21 ultra vs huawei p40 pro plus 10x zoom shootout ducks

samsung galaxy s21 ultra vs huawei p40 pro plus 10x zoom shootout ducks

  • 1. Galaxy S21 Ultra
  • 2. P40 Pro Plus

It’s genuinely surprising how differently these two photos have come out, despite being taken immediately after each other. The Galaxy S21 Ultra obviously wins here.

Winner: Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra

Snowy lamppost

Huawei’s superior white balance gives it the win here. Shot looking down out of a window at the snow-covered lamppost top, the S21 Ultra’s photo is too blue compared to the stark whites in the P40 Pro Plus’s picture. The snow was relatively fresh, which is clear in the P40 Pro Plus’s picture, but it looks much more frozen and older in the S21 Ultra’s.

samsung galaxy s21 ultra vs huawei p40 pro plus 10x zoom shootout lamppost

samsung galaxy s21 ultra vs huawei p40 pro plus 10x zoom shootout lamppost

  • 1. Galaxy S21 Ultra
  • 2. P40 Pro Plus

Yes, the shadows are better balanced in the S21 Ultra’s photo, but this wasn’t taken in low light, like the overall tone of the photo suggests. My eyes are instantly drawn to the P40 Pro Plus’s photo.

Winner: Huawei P40 Pro Plus

Snowy roof

This photo is very interesting because it reverses the trend seen in the lamppost shot above. Starker white snow is seen from Galaxy S21 Ultra rather than the P40 Pro Plus this time. However, the P40 Pro Plus has still taken the superior photo when you look closely.

samsung galaxy s21 ultra vs huawei p40 pro plus 10x zoom shootout snow roof

samsung galaxy s21 ultra vs huawei p40 pro plus 10x zoom shootout snow roof

  • 1. Galaxy S21 Ultra
  • 2. P40 Pro Plus

It has done a far better job of distinguishing between the heavy snowflakes and the background than the S21 Ultra. Look at the old TV aerial on the chimney, and at the trees behind. The P40 Pro Plus keeps them neatly in focus and sharp, while detail is blurred and pixelated in the S21 Ultra’s photo. A quick edit would improve the white balance in the P40 Pro Plus’s photo, and really let the details show.

Winner: Huawei P40 Pro Plus

Spider

How about beyond 10x? I spotted this spider on a window sill, and while a 10x optical zoom got close, it wasn’t particularly obvious that the spider was the focus of the shot, so I took the photo at 30x. This means it’s no longer an optical zoom, so quality will diminish. Neither are going to win any awards, and although the spider did decide to move while I was changing phones, it’s considerably more recognizable as a spider in the Galaxy S21 Ultra’s photo. You can also see some of the web, which is not anywhere near as visible in the P40 Pro Plus’s photo.

samsung galaxy s21 ultra vs huawei p40 pro plus 10x zoom shootout spider 30x

samsung galaxy s21 ultra vs huawei p40 pro plus 10x zoom shootout spider 30x

  • 1. Galaxy S21 Ultra
  • 2. P40 Pro Plus

What’s also notable here is the differences felt by the user while taking the photo. The S21 Ultra kept the viewfinder almost completely steady throughout, making it easier to hold the spider in the frame. The P40 Pro Plus was unsteady. I could see the amount of movement my hands introduced into the shot, and this even seemed to translate into a blurrier photo.

Winner: Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra

Moon shots and night zooms

We won’t be scoring these, as none of the photos are ones we’d want to share anywhere, however they do show some further differences between the two cameras.

samsung galaxy s21 ultra vs huawei p40 pro plus 10x zoom shootout moon

samsung galaxy s21 ultra vs huawei p40 pro plus 10x zoom shootout moon

  • 1. Galaxy S21 Ultra
  • 2. P40 Pro Plus

The photos of the moon were taken handheld at 100x in the late afternoon on a very clear day, and therefore did not need a long exposure time. The S21 Ultra introduces a lot of noise, where the P40 Pro Plus smooths the sky and the moon’s surface out.

samsung galaxy s21 ultra vs huawei p40 pro plus 10x zoom shootout night

samsung galaxy s21 ultra vs huawei p40 pro plus 10x zoom shootout night

  • 1. Galaxy S21 Ultra
  • 2. P40 Pro Plus

The second photo was taken at night with only a street light for illumination, and the Galaxy S21 Ultra made better use of the light available, allowing it to focus and for the text on the sign to be readable.

Conclusion

Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra

$1,000 FROM AMAZON

The Galaxy S21 Ultra took five wins while the P40 Pro Plus took three, and there was a single draw, making the Galaxy S21 Ultra the winner in our test. However, it was an incredibly close battle and probably highlights how much the associated software has improved over the past months, rather than the hardware itself. Samsung has made major strides forward in making mega-zoom features more usable and shifting even greater zoom levels beyond just being a gimmick.

Both took several decisive wins though, with the S21 Ultra’s photo of the ducks being vastly superior to the P40 Pro Plus’s, and the Huawei phone’s massively more detailed snowy rooftop photo. I’ll usually take detail overbalance every time, because editing can often fix balance problems, but can’t introduce more detail. However, the S21 Ultra’s photos are often more instantly shareable than those from the Huawei phone.

No conversation about these two phones is complete without addressing the operating system. The Huawei P40 Pro Plus uses Android but does not have Google services installed, leaving you to use the Huawei App Gallery, or other less official stores and methods, to obtain the apps you want. The Galaxy S21 Ultra uses Google Play and is therefore more suited to those who are less technically-inclined.

If we’re to recommend a phone to buy here, it’s the Galaxy S21 Ultra. Not only did it win our test, but it also took the more instantly shareable photos and has accessible and fun camera features like Single Take. It’s a sensible choice for most people. That said, if you’re not Google-dependent and can find it for a good price, the P40 Pro Plus still has masses to offer.