Spotting the International Space Station with the Galaxy S20 Ultra



Juan Garzon/CNET

The Samsung Galaxy S20 Ultra‘s telephoto camera is capable of 100x zoom, a feature the company dubs “Space Zoom.” So I found out when and where the International Space Station was going to pass by my apartment and tried to find it — space, meet zoom. I also pitted Space Zoom against the iPhone 11 Pro‘s zoom to see how superior, if at all, the S20 Ultra’s camera is to the iPhone’s.

Watch the full experiment here:

The results are complicated. I witnessed a few great flybys, but actually capturing the station with a phone proved to be difficult. Even with a $2,000 tripod, the shutter delay made it nearly impossible to capture something flying across the sky at the ISS’s speed. And when I did capture the thing in 10x and 30x, it looked like an abstract expressionist painting. Or just a blob… depending on how you look at it. You can look it at here, not exactly a photo, but as seen through my phone’s screen capture.

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The Space Station as seen through Space Zoom. Might as well be X-Files.


Nic Henry/CNET

But the Galaxy S20 Ultra crushed the iPhone 11 Pro in our daytime zoom test. Focusing on the gold-plated New York Life building, which is approximately four miles away from my rooftop, it was able to capture a significant amount of detail. The iPhone 11 Pro’s camera maxes out at 10x digital zoom, and while that photo in itself turned out OK, I cropped in on the image to roughly match the framing of the Samsung’s 100x photo. And that’s where it really wasn’t even close. 

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The iPhone doesn’t claim to have 100x zoom, but this is my approximation. 


Nic Henry/CNET

Now, none of these 100x photos could really be used for anything other than a fun party trick. That being said, my party trick was trying to photograph the International Space Station, and I had a lot fun doing it. So, I’m going to say the Space Zoom gimmick is working on me, at least for now.

In case you missed it, watch the video above for all the details. 

And you can spot the station yourself with NASA’s instructions here.



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