Xiaomi Mi 11 Ultra vs Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra: Camera Comparison

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Xiaomi's meteoric rise has put it just behind Samsung and Apple as the world's third largest phone maker, and with its new Mi 11 Ultra flagship the company wants to prove that it can make a phone that is on par with the very best.

But can the Xiaomi Mi 11 Ultra beat the venerable Galaxy S21 Ultra in the camera game?

Well, that's exactly what we are about to find out as we've captured a ton of photos and videos on both phones to see if Xiaomi has finally done it.

Camera Specs:

Specs don't win a camera war, but a quick look reveals some interesting details: first is that both have a wider than usual main cameras with a 24mm lens, great for landscape shots, and both sport optical image stabilization that helps to get cleaner shots in lower light. Another interesting detail is that the Xiaomi has the widest ultra-wide camera that we have EVER seen on a phone with a field of view of 12mm, which is crazy. However, the Galaxy has the advantage when it comes to zooming: while the Xiaomi has a single 5X zoom camera, the Galaxy has two zoom cameras, one at 3X and then also a 10X zoom lens, which results in cleaner shots from a longer distance.

What really matters is the quality of the images these sensors produce, so here are some photos:

Main Camera Quality

When it comes to main camera quality, it is the difference in colors that really stands out: the Xiaomi consistently captures bleaker looking shots, while the Galaxy tends to capture brighter and more cheerful photos, with more vibrant colors.

That is something you notice on all of the photos, but it really stands out in the photos of the sunset towards the end, the picture from the Galaxy has a much wider dynamic range and a 'wow' look, while the Xiaomi cannot quite capture the same richness of colors in the photo.

Sometimes, however, the Galaxy takes the idea of vibrant and rich colors a bit to the extreme and can look a bit fake. Notice the pink clouds in the above photo, which just look unreal.

And finally, here is another shot which examplifies the difference in the rendition of colros on the two phones: the Galaxy with a more cheerful, brighter look versus bleaker, dull colors on the Xiaomi.

Tap the image gallery below to see even more photos from these two:

Portrait Mode Test

Next up, we are testing the portrait mode where the phones use software to blur the background while leaving the subject in sharp focus. Here is how this effect looks on these two:

Both phones can capture good looking portraits, with the same difference in the vibrancy of the photos carrying over from the main camera to portraits, and as you can see in the above example neither is perfect in separating your subject from the background entirely.

What the Xiaomi is missing is the ability to capture a 1X and 3X zoom portrait, which the Galaxy has.

Ultra Wide Camera Quality

Just having a 12mm lens on the Xiaomi results in these vastly wider photos that look really impressive, but going that wide also means a few more issues with distortions. Notice how the photo from the Xiaomi is warped at the edges, while the lines appear straight on the picture from the Galaxy. The difference in sharpness is also very obvious: the Galaxy appears a bit artificially oversharpened, a look that some may like, but that is not "technically" perfect, while the Xiaomi appears a bit on the soft side.

But just having such an incredibly wide camera on the Xiaomi gives you these incredible perspectives that are worth the slight drop in quality and a bit of an issue with distortions in our view. Just take a look at these photos, it's the special qualities of a 12mm lens that give them an advantage over the ultra-wide camera on the Galaxy. Still, if you prefer to get more vibrant and punchy colors, once again it is the Galaxy that has that look.


Zoom Quality

With periscope cameras on board, you can zoom far and away with both phones and still get excellent quality. Just don't fall for that "120X zoom" on the Xiaomi and "100X" zoom on the Galaxy! The reality is that anything above 30X zoom is barely usable on both phones.

Here are a few zoom shots to illustrate the difference in zoom quality at different distances:

Low Light

Finally, in low light the Xiaomi tends to capture long exposure shots almost always, while the Galaxy is quicker and often can make do with a quick shot that doesn't have that overly brightened "night mode look".

In the above photo, you also notice that the Galaxy tends to capture a bit more in terms of detail and it has a slightly better controlled dynamic range, while the brighter parts of the photo on the Xiaomi appear a bit overblown.

Here are a few more shots captured using Auto settings in low light on both phones:

Front Camera Quality

While the Xiaomi Mi 11 Ultra comes with this cool tiny screen built inside its camera bump, it also has a front camera that you will have to use if you just want to quickly snap a picture or if you go on a video call. Here is how it compares against the front camera on the Galaxy, which is one of the best in the industry.

While Xiaomi seems to have put a lot of work in its main cameras, the front camera seems neglected and images come out washed out and lacking in detail compared to the Galaxy.

In low light, the selfie camera on the Galaxy is once again superior to the Xiaomi with more detail and richer colors.


So... has the Xiaomi Mi 11 Ultra managed to beat the Galaxy S21 Ultra and become the new camera king in the Android space?

Well, not quite.

While we came away impressed with the ultra-wide camera on the Xiaomi, and we loved the zoom quality in most shots, we found that photos consistently come out with bleaker, colder tonalities that are not that appealing and detail is a bit on the soft side, plus Xiaomi seems to have completely forgotten it has a front camera that people will also use for selfies and video calls.

The Galaxy, on the other hand, consistently captured more appealing photos that looked sharper, but most importantly with beautiful, rich colors that you instantly like. Add to that the versatility of its zoom cameras and a better performance in video, and it's still our go-to camera phone of the year. Yes, it has a bit of an issue with oversharpening and its tendency to give you vibrant photos sometimes results in photos that look a bit fake, but most of the time, you just get great results with the Galaxy.

After all, that is our opinion and it's up to you to take a look at the photos and decide which one you like better. We're looking forward to hearing your thoughts in the comments below!

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