The main camera on the Galaxy S20 definitely holds its own in low-light conditions. Dynamic range is great, sources of light are rarely blown out. The detail is plenty and noise is well contained. Plus, the S20 exhibits admirable consistency between shots.
The S20 does also features a dedicated Night mode. It definitely works as intended, brightening the shadows and making the exposure more even. The photos are also much cleaner due to the improved noise reduction.
It should be noted, though, that if the phone decides the scene isn't dark enough, then even while in the dedicated Night mode, it will automatically choose to simply skip the extra steps and processing. Conversely, if you leave the coinciding toggle in the settings menu enabled, the S20 will decide when to automatically trigger night mode too.
You can tell when Night mode is enabled from a little moon icon that shows up in the upper right corner of the camera UI. Alongside that, the S20 actually puts an estimate of how long its long-exposure HDR capture process will take. That is all controlled dynamically and in our testing, the S20 did a pretty good job of managing its exposure times. You should know that a photo can take anywhere from as little as 3 seconds to as much as 15 seconds. So, prepare to keep as still as possible, if you really want to capture that perfect low-light moment.
Here are some night shots from the Note10 and the S20 Ultra for comparison.
The Galaxy S20 low-light photos are indistinguishable from those by the S20 Ultra regardless whether Night mode is engaged or not.
Compared to the Galaxy Note 10, the S20 gets you better detail, slightly less noise, and slightly more saturated colors - obviously the benefit of the newer sensor. These changes, however, are only visible when you are inspecting the photos at 100% magnification. Otherwise, they would probably look the same to you on the phone's screen because the overall rendering of the scene is similar.
Ultrawide shots from the S20 actually come out looking rather nice. If you really look more closely, you will definitely find that the photos are soft, with somewhat low contrast and not very saturated colors.
The Night mode improves these shots to a varying extent depending on the scene but its effect is always noticeable. You get sharper images with more saturated colors. Taking the time to shoot with the Night mode on this camera will definitely be worth it.
And here are a few ultrawide camera samples from the Galaxy Note10 and the S20 ultra, for comparison.
Compared to the Galaxy Note 10, the ultra-wide camera on the S20 is miles ahead. The low-light images have a substantially higher level of detail both with and without Night mode. However, it’s worth noting that the color rendition and dynamic range are pretty much on par between the two.
Just as with the low-light photos by their respective main cameras, the ultra-wide photos by the S20 Ultra and the S20 are completely identical which is less surprising here as the two cameras are identical hardware-wise.
Moving on to the interesting 64MP camera, you can definitely use it in low-light conditions as well. Unfortunately, its PDAF falls woefully short of the Samsung Dual Pixel tech in the main snapper. Both in terms of speed and actual accuracy. Of course, if you are shooting scenery, this won't really be a problem, but for anything else, be sure to take plenty of shots and pay close attention to focus.
Unfortunately, you can't enable Night mode on the 64MP camera. That is to say, not without also adding zoom on top. Kind of an odd omission, but not a major loss. Speaking of zoom, you can definitely do that in low-light. In fact, Samsung isn't even limiting you automatically. If you don't forcefully enable Night mode, you can go all the way to 30x zoom.
It should really come as no surprise that you wouldn't want to zoom that far. Unless, of course, you are curious to see what the algorithm will come up with and draw for you, based on the contents of the viewfinder.
Night mode zoom is clearly deliberately and justifiably capped at 10x. You can definitely expect some long capture times when using this particular settings configuration. Then again, depending on the situation, I could be worth it.
Finally, a few zoom low-light shots from the Galaxy Note10 and the S20 Ultra for some extra comparison.
The Note 10's 2x zoom camera delivers slightly more fine detail than the 2x lossless zoom on the S20 (especially in the shadows). However, the S20's photos have less noise and more contrast. The Note 10 has a slight upper hand in sharpness when you turn on Night mode but otherwise, the two cameras are a tie here.
Things don't look so bright when we compare to the Galaxy S20 Ultra. The S20 4x zoom is a noisy mess compared to the S20 Ultra, which really shines at this native zoom level.