Samsung packed in plenty of camera firepower in their latest flagship smartphone Galaxy Note20 Ultra, and I had the privilege to loan one and review the camera's performance. The Note20 Ultra comes with 3 camera modules: ultra wide angle, main wide and telephoto camera. Being a photographer myself I am genuinely curious to find out about the camera performance and I have been using the Note20 Ultra for more than 2 weeks, and I even brought it with me home to Kuching, Borneo for a one week vacation. Here is the video version of my review (click). 

Important Disclaimer: The Samsung Galaxy Note20 Ultra was on loan solely for review purposes from Samsung Malaysia and has been returned to them at the time this article is published. I am not affiliated with Samsung in any way, this is not a sponsored post, and Samsung did not ask me to do this review. I am testing the camera capabilities of the Note20 Ultra because I wanted to see how far a flagship smartphone camera has come. I am only discussing the camera performance of the Note20 Ultra. I will not be reviewing the video recording capability, as I am not a videographer and there are other more qualified reviewers to talk about the video aspect. I will also skip the selfie camera because, guys, we don't need the selfie camera. I believe smartphones should just get rid of the selfie camera, the world will be a better place without it. 

I am reviewing the Note20 Ultra from a photographer's perspective - many tech/gadget reviewers just gave a quick glance when it comes to camera performance in their smartphone reviews. Also, I have not see a professional photographer's review of the Note20 Ultra. 

The Samsung Note20 Ultra has 3 camera modules:
- 108MP 1/1.33 inch image sensor
- 26mm F1.8 OIS
- 12MP
- 13mm F2.2 with 120 degrees Field of view equivalent
- 120mm F3 Periscope Lens, OIS

Those who have followed me since the earlier days will remember that I have an Olympus PEN E-PL1 and I still keep it till today. I have not used E-PL1 often, not when I got it 10 years ago, and I have probably not used the camera for more than 5 years. I thought it would be fun to take a look at the original PEN Lite camera, the first one considering now in 2020, there is already a 10th iteration - E-PL10 released. Therefore, I brought the Olympus PEN E-PL1 for a few shutter therapy sessions and see how I feel about the camera after the Micro Four Thirds system has evolved so much over the years. 

Video version of this article here (click), for those who prefer to watch. 

The Olympus PEN E-PL1 was released in 2010, as the first budget friendly Micro Four Thirds mirrorless camera from Olympus, following the E-P1 and E-P2 which were positioned as the top, premium products. I did not need this camera, and I was already actively shooting with Olympus DSLRs at the time, I had both the E-520 and E-5, both I used for some paid shoots as well as my own shutter therapy. However, I was curious with what Olympus was doing, and I thought the mirrorless system had a lot of potential and I knew mirrorless would be the future. I bought the E-PL1 because I wanted to see how well a mirrorless camera can perform, while at the same time, DSLR was dominating that era. 

E-PL1 was quite a basic camera, with no built in electronic viewfinder, but has an attachment for external module (to be purchased separately). The E-PL1 used a 12MP image sensor, which was the best Olympus had at the time, the same image sensor shared with top of the line DSLRs E-5 and E-30. The E-PL1 was a stripped down version of E-P1 and E-P2, with less features, plastic build instead of metal and the camera had no control command dials, just buttons. The screen has quite a low resolution, and this was perhaps my biggest complain. The handling of the camera was not great, but good enough for a small and light camera, and the E-PL1 was indeed very compact during its time - a good alternative for me to have if I did not want to carry out bulkier DSLRs with me for my street photography. 

I recently brought the E-PL1 out for some street shooting. I was immediately reminded of why I did not use the camera as often as I should. The main reason - AF. The contrast detect AF was just not ready for a serious camera. The fact that Olympus aimed their PEN line cameras especially the earlier versions toward casual, lifestyle users instead of professional or serious photographers was obvious. The AF alone made the camera quite a challenge to use particularly in street photography environment. The AF hunts for about half a second or more before locking focus, which was sufficient to cause misses of critical moments that you need the camera to respond instantaneously. A lot of people still think that mirrorless cameras lag behind DSLRs when it comes to AF and I can clearly see where this misconception came from. The earlier days of mirrorless cameras did not exactly inspire confidence for the mirrorless camp, at the very same time DSLR's phase detect AF was miles ahead in terms of speed and accuracy. It took Olympus a few more years to speed the AF up and finally surpass what DSLRs can do in their E-M5 and E-M1 cameras. 

Obviously, I have missed a lot of shots using the E-PL1 on the streets, and that was okay really. I can see how enthusiasts and serious camera users would be totally disappointed with E-PL1, or any other Olympus mirrorless cameras in the earlier days. 

My other complain was the almost useless LCD screen. I think Olympus used a higher resolution LCD screen for the higher PEN models eg E-P1 and E-P2, and the E-PL1 had the inferior screen. The experience shooting with the LCD screen was not pleasant. It was not easy to check for critically accurate focus, and having unreliable AF to begin with, this made things even more challenging. Visibility was quite poor under bright sun too. I guess that just points to the necessity of an EVF, and subsequently most mirrorless cameras in the future have built in EVF. 

The 12MP image sensor is dated, and it shows in the images that I have shot. The 12MP image sensor was so far behind anything that Olympus currently has in their latest camera models. The dynamic range was extremely limited - I can easily get overblown skies even if I only overexpose by about 2 stops, and that is not enough in many situations. The RAW files did not have much headroom to work with, I could not recover much details both from the shadows or highlight regions. I am perfectly fine with the 12MP resolution, I thought that was plenty even for today, and yes the E-PL1 did produce really sharp and pleasing looking images with abundant details, contrast and very true to life looking colors. The kit lens 14-42mm (first generation) was good, delivering satisfactory results, and perhaps the less demanding 12MP sensor did not show much of the lens flaws. Of course things fell apart quickly in low light situation, even at ISO800, the images are quite bad already with severe loss of details and noise creeping in. 

It was indeed interesting to see how far Olympus has improved - take a look at the OM-D E-M5, that camera surpassed everything the earlier Micro Four Thirds cameras like E-P1/E-P2 by a huge margin. The newer 16MP image sensor not only packs in more resolution but it delivers much better dynamic range, high ISO performance and the RAW files were respectably good in recovering details. Furthermore, the AF has improved drastically, some photographers even compared the speed against Canon 1DX and claimed the E-M5 to be on par (single-AF only). Then Olympus included a built in EVF, 5-Axis IS, weather-sealing, magnesium alloy body, twin dials controls just like a DSLR, a tilt screen and touch screen operation (Olympus was the first to implement this) and it seemed like Olympus saw the future and brought the future to us. 

Do not get me wrong, I did get some good shots from the E-PL1 even shooting in 2020, and the camera is not half bad. It can still perform and deliver good results, but it is also difficult to recommend anyone to get this camera now. If you still have the E-PL1, and you are not doing anything serious with your photography, it can still be a capable tool and get you fantastic results, no question about that. However, if you are looking for a budget Olympus camera and you don't need the greatest and latest, the older cameras can be a good alternative. I would not suggest looking this far back into the era of E-P1/E-P2/E-PL1, if you can, start with the OM-D first generation cameras. Either E-M5, E-M1 and E-M10 from first generation, any of these would be superior and you get a lot more out of the camera, even if you have to pay a little bit more. The difference between the older 12MP image sensor (E-P1/E-P2/E-PL1) vs 16MP image sensor from E-M1/E-M5 is just too great. You also have to consider handling, EVF, as well as AF reliability! I really see no reason going that far back. 

Do you have an E-PL1 yourself, or have you owned one before? Do share your experience and thoughts!

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