In low light, the S23 Ultra has an Auto Night Shot feature that automatically applies some level of extra processing - an auto Night mode of sorts. It won't kick in for all scenes, but when it does, a yellow crescent pop-up will inform you of it. Tapping that same crescent will make it turn white and it will disable the auto Night mode. The phone will remember in which state you left that setting for the next time you launch the camera - keep that in mind to avoid surprises.
Expectedly, the Ultra's main camera captures competent low-light photos. Colors are well preserved and the auto white balance didn't show issues with warm or mixed lighting. Detail is abundant and rendered nicely, noise is minimal.
The Auto is typically good enough to get you balanced exposures with well preserved highlights and good development in the shadows. For dimmer or more contrasty scenes, however, you'll want to ensure you're in the dedicated Night mode to get the most out of the darker areas. And there are some benefits to be had with point light sources too. Detail does get a bit more artificial-looking thanks to heavier sharpening, more or less a necessary Night mode evil.
Whether it's with Auto Night mode on or in the standalone Night mode, the S23 Ultra shows an improvement in captured detail comparing against last year's model - you just get better definition and less noise. There's little to separate the two when it comes to dynamic range or color.
The ultrawide camera's low-light performance isn't anything special, strictly speaking, but it's okay. Dynamic range is good in the Auto Night mode, tough you'd still be better off forcing the Night mode for more challenging scenes. Color is well preserved and we didn't encounter iffy white balance issues here either. On a pixel level, there's quite good detail in better-lit areas, though shadows and lower midtones can be overrun with noise.
It's remarkable how much of an improvement Night mode can bring to those, actually. These shots are notably cleaner and better detailed, with none of that excessive sharpening we mentioned above. Dynamic range gets a healthy boost too. Ultimately, you shouldn't trust the Auto when shooting on the ultrawide - do the extra step and go into Night mode.
Side by side, the ultrawide of the S23 Ultra and the S22 Ultra look comparably meh in Photo/Auto Night mode, each with its own flaws. But with the full-on Night mode action, the new model has the upper hand.
Moving on to some zoom action, the 3x telephoto is also best used with Night mode firmly engaged - the Auto shots can be pretty blotchy.
Night mode does make a ton of difference, however - it cleans up the noise and sharpens up the detail in the shadows. Highlights get a treatment too and dynamic range gets a boost, though the Night mode shots do tend to be a little darker overall.
We may not have spoken fondly of the Photo mode results of the 3x zoom on the S23 Ultra, but it's still a significant upgrade over the previous model's short zoom camera - both in Photo mode and in Night mode.
The 10x zoom is less dependable in the dark, Night mode or no Night mode. Some darker scenes will be outsourced to the 3x camera making for rather poor results. When there's some light to work with, the 10x tele does work on its own, but images still turn out rather noisy.
Night mode rectifies this to a great extent, though it can only save the scenes where there's enough light for the phone to actually use the 10x module - the 3x-sourced 10x shots remain pretty bad. The other ones clean up well, though, and you can have yourself some night-time shots of decently-lit architectural details.
The 10x camera on the S23 Ultra, as was the case with the 3x, may be using the same hardware as last year's model, but it still manages to show improved image quality overall.
Once you're done with the real world samples, head over to our Photo compare tool to see how the Samsung Galaxy S23 Ultra stacks up against the competition.