It could be argued that focusing much of a company’s R&D, marketing efforts, and presentation time on one aspect of a piece of technology is a bit much. In the case of smartphones, which are supposed to be good at multiple things and serve as a stand-in for a number of separate devices (calculators, flashlights, music players, handheld consoles, etc.), this heatmap is concentrated in the top half of phones or , in other words, the camera area. The simple answer to why phone makers focus so much on the camera in flagship phones really is that simple: Phone cameras and their features are easy to market, and we live in the golden age of social media to snap. and sharing photos and videos of us and everything around us is part of life.
However, in this heated race to create the best smartphone camera for social media content, one phone maker is trying to play by its own rules, and that’s Xiaomi. The latest example of the Chinese company’s attempt to recover the phone’s real camera and make it cool again (like it was a decade ago), is called Xiaomi 13 Ultra.
Recently unveiled in China, the latest Ultra flagship is expected to hit the global market soon. Here’s a first look at what this super premium Android flagship might be capable of. Please note that we still need to test the Xiaomi 13 Ultra for ourselves, so take these first impressions with a grain of salt. Our review will come soon.
That said, the Xiaomi 13 Ultra might be the best camera phone of the year! Could be.
Xiaomi 13 Ultra: iPhone 14 Pro and Galaxy S23 Ultra make a mistake in photography and Xiaomi is not afraid to call out Apple and Samsung
Xiaomi claims that the 13 Ultra is a camera phone, not a phone with a camera, and I can agree! The company’s collaboration with German camera maker Leica has reached a new peak point that Leica’s former partner Huawei failed to reach. Leica’s style and experience in the world of photography are now written all over the Xiaomi 13 Ultra, proving that cross-collaborations can be truly fruitful and make a difference. It’s not just marketing.
After witnessing the long announcement of the Xiaomi 13 Ultra (expected, at least 80% of camera talk), I can tell you that Xiaomi is banking on two things here:
- The company fully embraces its partnership with German camera maker Leica and now designs its flagship Ultra with Leica cameras in mind, inside and out
- Xiaomi is now a self-proclaimed global ambassador of authentic photography and is not afraid to openly and verbally call out the likes of Apple out to turn photos into images (and it’s awesome)
As for the first point, with the Xiaomi 13 Ultra the Chinese brand has made a phone that is the camera first and then everything else (that said, everything else about the device is also quite remarkable). The vegan leather finish, gentle slope at the upper back, and very little subtle curves in the bezel seem to make this (large) phone much easier to take photos and videos with. It is a combination of aesthetic and functional design that draws its inspiration from Leica compact cameras.
Leica DNA is written all over the Xiaomi 13 Ultra, making it finally clear that the once superficial partnerships with camera makers are now real. While he worked with Huawei to create some of the best camera phones of 2017-2020, Leica’s influence is now substantially stronger.
Interestingly, despite having four large camera sensors on the back and a 5000mAh battery, the Xiaomi 13 Ultra is no bigger or heavier than a Galaxy S23 Ultra or an iPhone 14 Pro Max.
The 13 Ultra looks, feels and even works like a real camera thanks to a Nokia-inspired accessory that promises to change the way you take photos
But the camera feel of the Xiaomi 13 Ultra doesn’t just come down to vegan leather and curves. Your phone now comes with an additional accessory designed to take your photo-taking experience to the next level. That’s if you’re ready to pay $100 to buy it.
Reminiscent of the camera grip of the Nokia 1020 (from 2013), Xiaomi’s version of the same accessory exudes a more refined and professional look. As well as offering a much better grip for extended photo sessions, it also adds a physical shutter button which (wait for it) you can half-press to lock focus and fully press to take the shot! I’ve been asking for a Sony-like shutter key on all phones for years, and this is the closest we’ve come, so thank you, Xiaomi! Next year, move the button to the actual phone, please.
The elaborate case/handle combination is full of pleasant surprises as it also uses a physical zoom lever, assigned according to the focal lengths of the Xiaomi 13 Ultras’ four rear cameras: 0.5x (12mm), 1x (26mm) , 2x (48mm), 3.2x (75mm), 5x (120mm), 10x (240mm). You can jump between optical focal lengths or hold your finger to zoom seamlessly. Xiaomi is truly bringing the real camera feel back to modern phones and this shouldn’t be underestimated.
Many would say: why bother with a camera grip that would make what is already a thick and heavy phone even bulkier, and that’s a valid point. However, if you’re buying a phone like the Xiaomi 13 Ultra that blatantly talks about that camera, you probably bought it for that very reason! In other words, both the phone and this accessory are made for people who want to bridge the gap between a phone and a camera.
Xiaomi 13 Pro becomes the latest and greatest weapon in Xiaomi’s war against Apple and Samsung’s artificial-looking photos
As the first photo examples and my own experience demonstrate, Apple and Samsung phones actually overprocess photos and create unnatural textures and details that aren’t really there (this is what we call oversharpening). It’s one of my biggest complaints about the Galaxy and iPhone, and I’d be lying to you if I said I wasn’t thrilled to see Xiaomi point this out.
The new Pro mode of Xiaomi 13 Ultras makes it easy to take professional photos even for ordinary people
While it takes some practice (if you’re not a photographer), Xiaomi’s revamped Pro mode would allow regular smartphone users and enthusiasts to easily snap those moody, dark, bright, vibrant, vintage ( or whatever your style is) with little to no effort.
The brilliant news for those who don’t want to fiddle with any settings is that Xiaomi’s Leica Authentic and Leica Vibrant modes are still in the camera’s main menu. Unlike iPhone and Galaxy, which practically force users to accept their opinion on what a photo should look like, Xiaomi lets you choose: get an Instagram-ready shot with Leica Vibrant or get a toned down, pro-level photo with Leica Authentic. Is a feature like that too much to ask, Samsung and Apple?
The Xiaomi 13 Ultra has the potential to (finally) end the reign of the iPhone 14 Pro in the video department (unless you’re into 4K selfie videos)
Before concluding, I would suggest the smartphone camera enthusiasts among you to also pay attention to the video performance of the Xiaomi 13 Ultra! I actually can’t believe I’m saying this, because Xiaomi didn’t even discuss video performance when unveiling the 13 Ultra, but judging by the first samples I’ve seen (screenshots attached above), this phone could be the main contender to snag the corona video that iPhones have been wearing for over a decade now! And it would be absolutely monumental for Xiaomi and Android. If it works.
One thing is certain, the video quality of the Xiaomi 13 Ultras is leaps and bounds compared to what was offered by the Xiaomi 12S Ultra just a year ago. We were talking about generational leaps in the areas of exposure, detail, stabilization, etc. So beware, Apple and Samsung!
Unsurprisingly, the Xiaomi 13 Ultras’ selfie camera is still unable to record 4K video, which is a real shame. Similar to the rear camera video, the selfie video quality has also improved, but Xiaomi simply refuses to add 4K support for unknown reasons.
Xiaomi and Leica are basically showing Apple and Samsung how to make a real camera phone, and I just hope the market leaders notice! That would be good news for everyone because if you are looking to make a camera phone, the Xiaomi 13 Ultra is a camera phone worth copying.