While this may be the largest image sensor ever fitted in a smartphone, it's surely not the first. A quick nod to the Sony Xperia Pro-i which also came with a one-inch sensor but only utilised the middle portion of the sensor, which was only effective up to 12MP, resulting in some really great video outputs in our experience but it may appeal more to camera enthusiasts as opposed to your average consumer.
It goes without saying that Xiaomi really did go all-out with this camera construction, with an all-new Sony IMX989 sensor purposefully built for the Xiaomi 12S Ultra which takes up almost half of the entire surface on the back of the phone. Weighing approx. 225g, even when holding it in our hands, it does feel top heavy and might take time getting used to Consisting of a 50MP wide, a 48MP periscope, and a 48MP Ultra-wide, you might think the camera in the middle would be the one-inch sensor. Well, it's not. It's the one above the ultra-wide camera which houses the one-inch sensor 50MP camera.
Photo outputs are quite simply astonishing with a natural depth of field at an aperture f/1.9. We would even say it beats the Samsung Galaxy S22 Ultra in the way it manages light flares thanks to Leica lenses while also allowing more light in with that big sensor. Sharpness is also very well retained at night with the 48MP periscope – while daylight settings in the main camera is nothing short of amazing and truly has the best natural look when it comes to estimating depth. The fall-off from subjects are so soft it's as if there's actual layers of glass elements in front of the sensor like you would get on a DSLR or mirrorless camera. It's the way the image starts off blurring from the bottom – to middle of the frame and falls back to that background bokeh.. All done without any software portrait mode type deal, just a big sensor, good coated lenses and fast aperture. A holy trinity achievement in capturing great exposure in either day or night, while still getting high dynamic range. But it's also worth mentioning that a big collaborator to this level of quality is Leica and their colour science. In contribution with Sony and Leica in developing this camera, there's also a toggle for either Leica Vibrant or Leica Authentic which brings a slight adjustment in contrast and even a bit of vignette. Video performance also takes advantage of that big sensor topping at 8K at 24fps, showing more depth of field as it does in photos. But it may suffer more in lower light yet still manages exposures correctly in most situations. Daylight conditions are impressive in 8K and 4K, but shows some colour shifts when switched between the wide-angle or telephoto lens.
Another impressive feature is AI Subtitles, which dictates speech in real-time. While this may not exactly be completely accurate and even limited to only English or Mandarin, it's still a feat on its own — being able to recognise different voices and display sentences in real-time. Perhaps this could be even more useful if Xiaomi were to integrate this with Google Translate, which has decades of translation data and could possibly integrate this sort of technology to the world of filmmaking/broadcasting that still largely uses the conventional way of translation.
Although the overall build of these cameras is impressive, inconsistent outputs for different focal lengths may be the biggest fault and may have a lot to do with software bugs which could use a little more attention to detail in optimising future builds of this stature. While the 12S Ultra may be a camera-focused phone, it still rocks all the flagship internals such as a Snapdragon 8+ Gen 1 & Adreno 730 with 12GB of RAM and 256GB / 512GB of storage, a 120Hz LTPO AMOLED 6.73" Dolby Vision, HDR 10+ display, capable of producing over 1 billion colours and even has 1500 nits peak brightness, decently loud Harmon Kardon stereo speakers, all wrapped up in this Xiaomi 12 Pro-like frame with a heavier feel, as well as a leather type texture on the back that justifies it just a little more as a top-tier flagship. Battery life comes with a decent 4,860mAh, and should last you the whole day and even supports up to 67W fast charging that would get you back to 100% in 40 minutes. If you're looking out for this phone in Malaysia or Singapore, you might be disappointed as the 12S Ultra will only be sold in China which explains the very non-existent Google Mobile Services in this phone as well.
Somehow, it seems that Xiaomi never intended for this phone to get as much attention as it did. After all, mincing words around to the media explaining how this phone is in limited stock kinda shows how they might be saving the 12S Ultra to make a stronger comeback in its next iteration before being made available to other parts of the world. Inevitably, if calculated innovation drives a technology company’s growth, then there's no doubt they're on the right track with ultra phones like these. It feels as though they plan to go head-to-head with the likes of Samsung and their Galaxy Ultra phones in the years to come. It should be a sight to see for all tech enthusiasts in 2023 and we can't wait. Till then, this 12S Ultra unorthodoxically has easily stolen the crown for best cameras from the Galaxy S22 in our opinion. But then again, the season of smartphones has just begun. So fasten your seatbelts, cause we're in for a ride.
Written by Fitri Aiyub