In July, Xiaomi unveiled the 12S Ultra, its newest Leica-branded flagship smartphone headlined by a 50.3MP Type 1 (13.1 x 9.8mm) sensor in the massive triple-camera array on the rear of the device. I’ve spent the past few weeks shooting with the 12S Ultra and have rounded up a collection of images into the above sample gallery for you to peruse through and download.
Xiaomi isn’t the first smartphone company to put a Type 1 sensor inside a smartphone. However, it very much feels as though it’s getting far more from the sensor than the likes of Sony’s Xperia Pro-I, which only uses a cropped section of the Type 1 sensor inside.
The 12s Ultra outputs fantastic JPEGs from all three of its camera modules. The ultrawide is a bit soft on the edges, as you’d expect, and the resolution on both the ultrawide and 5x telephoto module leaves something to be desired. But the Type 1 sensor and the 23mm equiv. lens in front is undoubtedly the best camera module I’ve seen in a smartphone.
|Surprisingly, the Type 1 sensor is behind the lens on the left side. The lens in the middle is for the 13mm equiv. ultrawide camera module and the lens on the bottom is for the 120mm equiv. telephoto module.
When shooting JPEGs, you have the option to use one of two Leica color profiles: Leica Authentic and Leica Vibrant. As the names suggest, Leica Authentic produces clean images with a subtle amount of saturation and contrast. Leica Vibrant is more punchy, offering much more contrast and a significant amount of saturation.
As you’ll see in the gallery above, I stuck mostly to Leica Natural, as I found the colors more pleasing than Leica Vibrant more often than not. There were, however, some scenes where Leica Vibrant really did make the picture pop.
Despite the Type 1 sensor being 50.3MP, you’ll end up with a 12.5MP (4096 x 3072px) image, due to the 4-in-1 pixel sub-sampling. This is par for the course for the smartphone world, but there’s also a dedicated high-resolution mode that will capture a 50MP image (for all three modules, not just the Type 1 sensor).
The 12S Ultra is also a bit of an anomaly because it’s one of the first smartphones I’ve used where shooting Raw might actually make more sense if you don't mind the extra processing involved. Due to the size of smartphone sensors and the advancements made with image processing pipelines in smartphones, it’s not often shooting Raw will actually yield better results than the multi-shot JPEGs nearly every modern smartphone composites and outputs as a final image.
That’s not so much the case with the 12S Ultra, however. The Raw images captured with the Type 1 sensor hold a good bit of information in both the highlights and shadows. Whereas other smartphones I’ve used with smaller sensors tend to show a lot of noise in the shadows or clipped highlights when adjusting the Raw image, the DNG files from the 12S Ultra proved to be extremely flexible in both Lightroom and Capture One (although I personally feel as though Capture One was able to better extract both the highlights and shadows from the Raw files).
|Left: The Raw photo straight out of camera, as processed by Capture One 22. Right: The image after adding some contrast and dropping the exposure slightly.
Considering the size of the camera array on the back, I would’ve liked to see a dedicated 2x camera module with a 50mm equiv. focal length, similar to the one Vivo’s X80 Pro offers. Going from a 23mm equiv. focal length on the wide module to a 120mm equiv. focal length on the telephoto module is a bit jarring. I would've also liked to see more color rendering consistency across the three camera modules. When jumping between the modules, the colors and white balance of the image changes quite drastically, but that tends to be more an issue for video, where you might be switching between camera modules as you zoom in and out of a shot.
These minor gripes aside, the only issue I have with the Xiaomi 12S Ultra is that it isn’t available outside of China. At least not in an official capacity. Sure, you can pick one up for around $1200 from third-party retailers and on auction sites, but you won't get it working reliably with any cellular service providers outside of China.
Recent rumors suggest the 12S Ultra’s successor could see an international version. But that remains to be seen for now and until an international version is released, the 12S Ultra is effectively useless as a phone outside of much of Asia. And that’s an utter shame, because it’s the first smartphone I could see truly replacing any need to carry around a dedicated camera on a daily basis.