With a limited launch in mainland China today, a look at the new smartphones from Xiaomi leave little doubt what the smartphone is all about. A third of the back of the smartphone is dominated by a dome that covers a number of cameras with one of the largest sensors we’ve seen in a smartphone yet: a 1-inch sensor covered with Leica glass.
Many people – especially men – will tell you that size doesn’t matter. In the case of image sensors, that’s just not the case; the glass for lenses can only do so much and there is no such thing as perfect glass. Bigger sensors means higher resolution, yes, but it also means the sensors have room for larger individual pixels. This helps with both the cooling of the sensor and much better low-light performance.
The entire 12S series of smartphones features various imaging systems jointly developed by Xiaomi and Leica. I know I recently joked about Leica and laughed at Hasselblad for the smartphone integration, but in this case it actually makes some sense. By using lenses designed by Leica (with the prestigious Leica Summicron brand no less), the phone may be able to get the most out of its sensors.
The range of cameras available on the various cameras includes some quite advanced lens designs that are rarely seen on smartphones; Can’t wait to get my hands on one and see if it works as well in the real world as it looks on paper.
The company claims that its lens designs dramatically improve the photo quality that the camera can deliver in general. The alphabet soup in the press release makes it sound like the smartphone has reinvented the wheel and makes some pretty juicy promises:
Xiaomi 12S Ultra primary camera adopts 8P aspherical lens, to deal with common photography problems such as flare, ghosting and chromatic aberration, Xiaomi 12S Ultra camera module also adds anti-reflection lens coating, lens edge ink coating, cyclic olefin copolymer material and infrared light filter with spin coating technology . Together, these features provide a clearer overall image that is consistent across the entire lens.
In addition to the advanced optical design, the Xiaomi 12S series “co-designed with Leica” also uses Leica imaging profiles, inheriting Leica’s age-old image aesthetic and reproducing the tone and aesthetics of Leica using advanced algorithms. For the end user, this means access to two photographic styles: the “Leica Authentic Look” and “Leica Vibrant Look”, both of which give the photographer greater creative freedom.
For those of us who have read one or two press releases about photography, the first paragraph above can be summarized as “We put technology in this camera that was pretty common on compact cameras in 2005 or so” and the second can be summarized as ” . .. and we’ve made some filters that have been around in Hipstamatic since 2009 but these look a bit like Leica cameras, ignoring of course that the ‘Leica look’ relies heavily on the films you put in the legendary cameras of the camera giant stops.
sleight of hand aside, the cameras themselves look impressive, and it’s quite an achievement to put Sony’s IMX989 1-inch sensors into smartphones, both from a technical standpoint and as a dedication to photography from the smartphone maker.
To use a corollary: Have you ever heard of the A-10 fighter plane? Usually referred to as the warthogwas essentially a ridiculously large machine gun they fired depleted uranium bullets and built a plane around it to blow up tanks. That is the image that this smartphone conjures up in me; this is not the kind of optic that you put in a phone at the last minute because the people at the product thought it was a good idea.
The sensors, combined with high-quality glass, promise exceptional low-light photography capabilities. Combine that with some clever computational photography skills and a 10-bit RAW format, and you do indeed start talking about some really advanced camera technology. These phones could very well be the final nail in the low-end compact camera category that’s been on the doorstep for so long.
Wild, for the photography enthusiasts, is that we are talking about an SLR-challenging resolution of 50.3 megapixels and a 23mm equivalent wide-angle lens. This is, to my knowledge, the most advanced set of lens/sensor combinations of any smartphone on the market. Of course, megapixels aren’t everything.
The rest of the smartphone looks good on paper too: fast 67W charging, a large 4,860 mAh battery and smart battery management should keep you going for a while. The phone is powered by the all-new Snapdragon® 8+ Gen 1 mobile platform. The Xiaomi 12S Ultra even comes equipped with a cooling pump that uses a capillary network to circulate coolant and prevent overheating and a 6.73-inch AMOLED color display.
The phones are currently only available in mainland China, with the Xiaomi 12S Ultra starting at around $900, the Xiaomi 12S Pro starting at around $700 and the Xiaomi 12S starting at $600. No word on if or when these will make it beyond the country’s borders. to fetch.