Xiaomi 12S Ultra camera samples: The closest phone to a DSLR ever takes on Android and iPhone

This article may contain personal views and opinion from the author.
Xiaomi 12S Ultra camera samples: The closest phone to a DSLR ever takes on Android and iPhone
The 1-inch sensor smartphone camera dream… We've been so close, yet so far away from it for a while now.

In fact, phones like the Panasonic Lumix CM1, Sharp Aquos R6 & R7, and, of course, Sony's Xperia Pro-I do feature 1-inch camera sensors. However, the different implementations come with a variety of different compromises:

  • The 2014 Panasonic Lumix DMC-CM1 looked more like a compact camera rather than a phone, and it was far from well optimized to take great pictures
  • The Sharp Aquos R6 and R7 have only one camera on the back and lack any of the industry-leading computational photography that's needed to take full advantage of the advanced hardware
  • The Xperia Pro-I captures just the middle 12MP of the 1-inch sensor that Sony's managed to fit into the phone, meaning it effectively matches Samsung's Galaxy S21 Ultra for usable sensor area/size - 1/1.33-inch

If we look past the hardware implementations, the other common thing between the above-mentioned phones is that none of them comes from a mainstream phone brand. The ancient Lumix CM1 was quite literally made by a company that makes cameras; the Sharp Aquos R7 will be sold only in its home country of Japan, and Sony's "Pro" devices come with complicated camera UI, and head-spinning prices, which make even Apple and Samsung's flagships appear reasonably priced.

But it seems like we're finally witnessing "the right" implementation of a 1-inch camera sensor on a phone, and we've got Xiaomi to thank for it! Let's dive in!

Xiaomi 12S Ultra: "The closest phone camera to a DSLR ever"

A few weeks ago, reputable tipster Ice Universe wrote in a short tweet that the Xiaomi 12 Ultra will be "the closest to a DSLR phone camera ever". As a tech enthusiast and smartphone photography fan, I was actually excited, which doesn't happen often.

Despite the existence of the Xiaomi 12 and Xiaomi 12 Pro, Xiaomi hasn't released an ultra premium flagship phone since March 2021, when the excellent Xiaomi Mi 11 Ultra broke cover. So, it was clear that the company was taking its time and preparing something special.

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Well, now we're officially a few days away from the official unveiling of the Xiaomi 12S series, and the one leading the pack - the Xiaomi 12S Ultra might just blow your socks off with a full-blown 1-inch camera sensor, specifically made for Xiaomi's Ultra flagship. As the wise men said... "Now we're talking".

Xiaomi 12S Ultra: Teaming up with Sony and Leica for the biggest camera collaboration in smartphone history

Xiaomi 12S Ultra: True Leica collaboration

You might've already heard that Xiaomi made a new friend (read: partner) - Leica. That's after the German camera hardware maker, and Huawei parted ways a few months ago. Of course, this comes as no surprise as there are a ton of flashy collaborations of the same kind in the smartphone world. Sony, Nokia, and Vivo partner with Zeiss; OnePlus collaborates with Hasselblad, and it's probably a matter of time until we see more of those "strategic partnerships" get born.

But this time, it seems like it will be different! According to Twitter user Kartikey Singh, the Xiaomi 12S Ultra will be equipped with Leica's pro-level SUMMICRON optical lens. We expect double-sided 8P, ultra-low-reflection coating on all rear cameras of the 12S Ultra - not just the primary one. In practical terms, this should result in reflectivity as low as 0.2% and light transmittance as high as 93%, meaning we should expect super-clear photos regardless of the lighting condition.

Xiaomi 12S Ultra: The $15M Sony partnership

When it comes to the star of the show, the 1-inch Sony IMX 989, this one wasn't only specifically made for the Xiaomi 12S Ultra but co-developed by Xiaomi and Sony.

It's important to note that words like "collaboration" and "co-development" can be vague and thrown around lightly in the smartphone world. However, this time around, reports say that Xiaomi has participated in the actual development of the IMX 989 by having a say on the parameters of the camera. Furthermore, as per reports, the cost of the development for the 1-inch IMX 989 is $15M and was split between Xiaomi and Sony.

In practical terms, Xiaomi promises that compared to the iPhone 13 Pro Max's main camera sensor, the IMX 989 has 172% more photosensitive area and is 32.5% faster in taking pictures. It is also said to have 101% more photosensitive capacity and 11% faster startup speed.

Numbers like these won't be a surprise since, unlike the Sony Xperia Pro-I, which also technically features a 1-inch sensor, the Xiaomi 12S Ultra is expected to make use of the entire sensor area of the IMX 989, which combined with Leica's custom-made lenses might leave the competition in the dust.

Xiaomi 12S Ultra camera samples and the rest of the camera system: Leica real camera


And here's an early look at what the 1-inch sensor of the Xiaomi 12S Ultra might be capable of. As you might be able to see, the Xiaomi-made samples have plenty of natural bokeh without the need for Portrait Mode and great detail even in challenging scenes, which is typical for big camera sensors, like the ones featured in compact cameras.

Apart from photos, the 1-inch IMX 989 should make the Xiaomi 12S Ultra a very competitive video taker, too, as it will be able to gather a lot of light and benefit from the same natural subject separation that's present in photos. Remember - we're talking real bokeh. No Portrait or Cinematic Mode, which are software-based.

The rest of the camera hardware on the Xiaomi 12S Ultra should be equally as impressive...

As of now, we don't know exactly what to expect, but the rumors are pointing towards a uniform multi-camera system with big, high-res sensors. The Xiaomi Mi 11 Ultra featured a massive 1/2.0, 48MP 5x zoom lemns and another 1/2.0, 48MP ultra-wide-angle shooter, so Xiaomi takes all of the cameras on its ultra flagships very seriously. It's been rumored that the 12S Ultra might bring two zoom lenses, but we'll have to wait and see…

Xiaomi 12S Ultra will be a very impressive Android flagship phone too - it's not just cameras...

Of course, the camera hardware will be the star of the show here, but the Xiaomi 12S Ultra is expected to bring a ton of other special hardware features, which should make it one of the best phones on the market. We expect:

  • The official debut of the new Qualcomm Snapdragon 8 Gen 1+ chip; a stellar display; a big battery; and super-fast charging
  • Environmentally-friendly, stain-resistant, and anti-aging vegan leather design which will make the Xiaomi 12S Ultra lighter than the Mi 11 Ultra and S22 Ultra
  • A brand new, Xiaomi-developed custom Surge G1 chip for better battery performance
  • A novel heat dissipation system with a "biomimetic design", similar to that of plant leaves, which opens a high-speed directional channel for the conduction of cold liquid, and the thermal conductivity is 100% higher than that of traditional smartphone cooling (VC)
  • New self-developed memory storage technology that can effectively avoid long-term performance degradation

In other words, we might be looking at the phone of the year here... Who knows!

Xiaomi 12S Ultra paves the way as 1-inch mobile camera sensors are finally going mainstream, but it might have one problem…

Xiaomi 12S, 12S Pro, and 12S Ultra availability

Now, one very important thing that I haven't touched upon is availability... It is indeed a touchy subject for Chinese phone-makers. Of course, the Xiaomi 12S Ultra isn't the only phone in the company's lineup, despite the fact that this is the one that will steal all the headlines.

The Xiaomi 12S and Xiaomi 12S Pro will be the successors to Xiaomi's current flagships - the Xiaomi 12 and 12 Pro, and they are almost certainly expected to come to the global scene. But unfortunately, we still don't know if the China-based Xiaomi will allow the rest of the world to get a taste of the impressive Xiaomi 12S Ultra. We still don't know if this one will be globally released.

If the Mi 11 Ultra is anything to go by, the messages are mixed... Xiaomi's 2021 Ultra flagship was released in Europe and the UK, but supplies was scarce, and the phone eventually went missing, leaving European and British customers with only one alternative - to order directly from China, which is actually way less hassle-free of a process than you might think. Nonetheless, we have our fingers crossed that Xiaomi will make what's shaping up to be one of the best phones of 2022 available globally.

Xiaomi and Sony will let other phone-makers use the IMX 989 for a commission

Either way, to end on a properly positive note, Xiaomi is becoming the new innovator in the smartphone world. The company has essentially taken on Huawei's old role and delivers notable hardware upgrades year over year without paying much attention to the competition's safer bets, and the Xiaomi 12S Ultra's camera system will be the proof of that.

What's interesting is that, apparently, Xiaomi and Sony have decided to let other phone-makers use the co-developed IMX 989 sensor in their phones for a commission (that's to go towards both Sony and Xiaomi), so the monstrous 1-inch camera won't remain exclusive to the Xiaomi 12S Ultra, which is great news for the rest of the smartphone world!

According to the trustworthy Honor & Huawei tipster, Teme, the first phone to gain the new IMX 989 after Xiaomi should be Honor's Magic 5 Ultimate. The 1-inch IMX 989 is expected to "become a star sensor and will be widely used in (more) ultra-flagship products, as per another top leakster, Ice Universe. He also makes it clear that Samsung is working on its own "gimmick 200MP camera", and won't be taking advantage of the IMX 989.

See you on July 4 when the Xiaomi 12S, 12S Pro, and 12S Ultra will take the stage!

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