Video recording is a big deal on the Galaxy Note20 Ultra with an array of resolutions and frame rates supported and an enhanced Pro video mode to top things off.
The star of the show, 8K recording, was introduced on the S20 series and is supported on the Note20 Ultra as well, still in 24fps only. 4K and 1080p capture is available on all cameras at 30fps, while the main cam adds 60fps recording in both resolutions.
Switch into Pro video mode, and that will add 24fps modes for both resolutions for that cinematic look. Continuing the cinematic theme, 21:9 aspect for 8K, 4K and 1080p joins the list of options. But there's more - you also get 1080p at 120fps, non-slow-mo, real-life speed, for dizzying action videos to enjoy on that 120Hz screen. Realistically, the only other major source of 120fps clips would be gameplay videos off the internet.
You can record zoomed-in footage at 2x, which comes off the main camera. You get 4K30 there, as well as 4K60, and 1080p in both frame rates. Going into 5x zoom and beyond, it's the actual telephoto camera that takes over the 30fps modes in both 4K and 1080p.
As on the S20 Ultra, 60fps is also available if you switch to 5x first and then change the resolution and frame rate, but the zoom trees disappear if you change settings first. Seeing how the 5x 60fps footage is, again, actually captured by the main cam and it's best not to look at it, Samsung is effectively trying to prevent you from doing zoomed-in 60fps by little weird UI methods.
The ultra wide-angle camera, having a field-of-view you can't replicate with the main unit, has the 60fps properly grayed out in the menu.
Stabilization is available in all modes, except 1080p at 120fps. That includes 8K24 and 4K60, which is nice. You can also disable it if you wish, which is also nice as some makers don't let you do that.
The Note20 Ultra gets the Super steady implementation from the S20 Ultra with both zoom levels being captured on the ultra wide cam. The alternative - wide mode on the ultra wide angle cam, less wide mode on the main cam - is available on the S20s, the Note10s, and the S10s. It appears that the 108MP module is the common denominator in the Ultras and we're speculating something along the lines of insufficient readout speed on the big sensor.
The selfie camera itself is plenty capable - it does 4K and 1080p, 60fps and 30fps, with autofocus, and stabilization in all modes.
You have an option to record HDR10+ video, which you can then view on compatible devices (all flagship Galaxies since the S10s, for example) or upload to YouTube. Additionally, you can set the Ultra to use the space-saving h.265 codec as opposed to the default h.264. 8K is encoded in h.265 regardless.
8K footage, just like on the S20 Ultra, comes in at 80Mbps or some 600MB per minute. The crop too is familiar - about 1.5x, so that the phone can directly use the center 7680x4320px portion of the sensor. Zooming in to a pixel level, we can see more detail resolved than in 4K clips, that much is true. The large file size and relatively cumbersome to work with h.265 codec, plus the fact that 8K TVs are few and far between (because of, you know, their price tags), still makes this mode look more like a novelty than a really useful feature. That's not say we don't value the push for improvement, it's just we don't think 8K is ready yet.
4K is more our cup of tea. 4K30 (38Mbps) and 4K60 (70Mbps) clips are virtually indistinguishable in quality - save for the added smoothness of the 60fps mode, of course. The extra bit of warmth and saturation on top of the rear world colors that we saw in stills is here and we like that. Dynamic range is nice and wide without going into 'flat' territory. Detail levels are high, though we're not strictly fans of the grittiness and heavy handed sharpening of random textures. As usual, noise is barely seen.
Indeed, most of the above holds true for 1080p30 (14Mbps) and 1080p60 (21Mbps), with the exception that sharpening isn't quite as obtrusive here - even better then.
The ultra wide cam will deliver a minor bump in saturation while dynamic range remains wide. 4K is not super sharp on a pixel level, and there is some noise here for a change, while in 1080p the sharpness is good, and noise has been processed out.
The digitally zoomed in 2x magnification looks perfectly usable in 4K until you look up close when you can clearly see it's been upscaled. 1080p at this zoom level is, on the other hand, very good.
Still in digital zoom territory, at 4x magnification 4K is properly bad. 1080p, while hardly likeable, could pass as usable.
At 5x zoom, the tele cam kicks in to save the day. 4K is sharp and detailed, perhaps a notch below ideal, while 1080p is downright excellent. At 10x zoom, 4K is usable though not spectacular to look at from up close, while 1080p holds up well.
Stabilization on the Note20 Ultra is very dependable too. Shooting on the main cam, even in 8K, you can count it will stay planted on your subject if you're not moving, it will iron out walking nicely, and it won't hint for focus, ruining the impression of steadiness, like we saw on the S20 Ultra. Pans, too, are handled without abrupt transitions from stationary state to motion and the other way around. For the most part, that is - 1080p at 60fps in particular was a bit temperamental in these transitional moments.
Footage from the ultra wide angle cam is even smoother - the already excellent algorithms are aided here by the shorter focal length, inherently less prone to shake. True, this one doesn't have OIS, unlike the main module, but aren't we at a stage when EIS is all you really need?
Super steady mode (only in 1080p) in its wider form is perhaps a bit steadier, but with the already excellent results from regular stabilized ultra wide clips we're hardly seeing the point. The zoomed-in mode makes for softer videos, too soft to be likable regardless of how steady they may be. Not to mention at this level you're looking at a tighter field of view than out of the main cam.
At 5x zoom level, you'd better have a tripod. The phone will help out a lot, but it's still a long focal length to reliably stabilize. It gets even worse at 10x when the shaking will also cause the phone to start hunting for focus, further messing up the image. The tripod-mounted 10x clips have no focusing issues.
Pro video mode's new addition is the ability to control the zoom speed, in theory letting you do slow and smooth transitions or dramatic pulls. In practice, the slower speeds result in this visibly stepped zoom action - tiny steps, but steps nonetheless. Additionally, with no access to the tele cam in Pro video, anything further than about 2x looks bad. Having said that, you probably wouldn't want the abrupt switch from main cam to tele at the 4.9x-to-5.0x transition. But then, the inability to access the tele camera or the ultra wide angle one in Pro video mode is limiting in its own right, slow zoom aside.
1080p clips shot at 120fps can only really be appreciated on a high refresh rate screen - which, conveniently, the Note has, of course. They have a very... unusual look with a certain dizzying effect to them. We find this mode best suited to hand-held capture with dynamic motion, both of the camera and of the subject in front of it. Our sample below has nothing of that, but then YouTube only goes as high as 60fps anyway, so we're showing it here just for you to judge the quality of the footage, not so much the content. To our eyes, in such good lighting conditions, there's not much of a difference between 120fps and 30fps clips. In dimmer settings you will be able to see deterioration as the phone cranks up the ISO to be able to get fast enough shutter speed in order to fit 120 frames in one second. A minor crop can be observed in 120fps mode too, so minor as to be largely inconsequential.
Selfie videos were excellent on the S20 Ultra, but now even more so on the Note - nicely detailed, with wide dynamic range even in backlit situations (though with some loss of contrast) and skin tones that we like more in videos than we did in stills.
The Galaxy Note20 Ultra enhances the S20 Ultra performance in selfie video recording by adding stabilization in the 60fps modes - previously only 4K30 and 1080p 30fps had EIS. Mind you, a selfie stick becomes almost mandatory when stabilization is enabled, as the relatively narrow field of view will only barely let you fit your head when shooting with the phone at arm's length.
When the Galaxy S20 Ultra came out, we were stunned to see the video quality it was capable of in low light, particularly in comparison with the next best phone Samsung had at the time, the Galaxy Note10+. The Galaxy Note20 Ultra we have here now remains an excellent choice for low-light video capture.
8K is already quite mushy at dusk and really bad at night, let's get that out of the way and not look back.
4K out of the main cam remains good-looking as dusk falls, and usable at night - given some light to work with of course.
Night hyperlapse is not new on the Note20 Ultra - the S20 family introduced it and it was later brought to the Note10 and S10 with software updates. What it does is take Night mode shots with exposures long enough to produce light trails, and uses these images as frames for a video. You need stable support and time - a minute of shooting gives you a second of video. Regardless of lack of novelty, it is a personal favorite mode for at least one reviewer here so you get sample.
We focused a little effort on a head-to-head between the teles of the two Ultras. The smaller sensor in the Note20 Ultra already proved to be a bit of a downgrade for stills in some scenarios, so we wanted to see how video performance is affected. Color us surprised - the Note20 Ultra's periscope actually outperforms the S20 Ultra at both 5x and 10x zoom level at dusk, though we wouldn't really like to have to show someone the 10x footage from either phone.
At night, the Note is mostly on par with the S, though things are looking pretty bad at this stage. The point is, for recording video of distant subjects in low light, the Note20 Ultra is as good or better than the S20 Ultra.
Here are the complete videos if you are so inclined.
And now a glimpse of how the Galaxy Note20 Ultra compares to rivals in our Video compare tool. Head over there for the complete picture.