It’s a move that surprised few. Leica has started a long-term strategic cooperation in mobile imaging with Xiaomi, the world’s third-largest smartphone manufacturer. It is a matter of time given the restrictions imposed on Huawei on the global market over the past years that do not seem to be showing any signs of easing. Given Xiaomi’s track record of pushing mobile technological boundaries in their recent smartphone models, this partnership should give both Leica and Xiaomi a major boost in smartphone sales.
Xiaomi, the world’s leading consumer electronics and smart manufacturing company, needs an introduction. Since 2010, they have been building more than just smartphones. Their various Mi product lines covering all electronic and home markets have a massive following thanks to their clean design and honest prices. There is a fine line between value and cheap, yet Xiaomi has successfully transitioned into a strong brand that continues to deliver premium quality products without breaking the bank.
NXT has the great privilege to be the first media in Singapore to obtain a review unit of the Xiaomi 12S Ultra from Xiaomi Singapore. The Xiaomi 12S series is the first smartphone that is co-engineered with Leica, with the flagship “Ultra” variant spotting an elaborately huge round rear camera design, clearly inspired by the large lens element on professional cameras. Beneath this round glass contain three lenses, LED flash, and AF sensors. The silicone leather texture on the rear adds to the look and feel of this smartphone to a traditional camera.
Besides the premium camera specs, every component screams of being the best. IP68 waterproof and dustproof, 522 PPI display supporting Dolby Vision and HDR+, Snapdragon 8+ Gen 1 processor, 67W wired turbocharging to achieve full charge in 41 minutes, Dolby Atmos stereo speakers tuned by Harman Kardon. The MIUI feels organic and responsive with subtle levels of haptic responses that make you feel the phone is communicating to you gently. The effort is also put into livening the UI. For instance, the data storage level – indicated by liquid animation – reacts when tilting the phone. And when you remove an app icon from the home screen, it would burst into fireworks with the surrounding icons shaken by the aftershock.
Just like Samsung and Huawei, Xiaomi offers its own ecosystem of apps store, health tracking, smart hub connectivity, as well as a host of security features to keep the smartphone safe and secure. They would even support shutdown confirmation unlock to prevent the phone from being shut down without entering a passcode.
Of course, the star of the Xiaomi 12S Ultra is the camera system. Just like the phone UI, the camera operates elegantly and fluidly. As you zoom across the entire range, the camera view switches from one lens to the other seamlessly. The image stabilisation is efficient in keeping the video shots stable even at an extended zoom range.
The Leica influence is boldly evident with the choice of two Leica modes – authentic and vibrant. You can also easily apply professional-looking watermarks post-shot to elevate the images into expressions of premium art. For the untrained eye, the images do look like they are shot with a Leica camera.
To really bring out the best of the Xiaomi 12S Ultra camera, you should use the main wide camera which features a 1-inch sensor. This sensor provides the best details, dynamic range, and image depth. The ultra-wide angle performs rather well too with similar qualities and controlled lens distortion. Colours appear vibrant with exposure metering that is slightly higher.
The weakest performer is the telephoto lens with a small aperture of f/4,1, so indoor images shot from 5x onwards appear slightly under-exposed and lacking in dynamic range. But honestly, I find it hard to frame at the maximum 120x magnification, because it’s too cropped. And when I do use the maximum zoom, it’s more for bragging rather than practical uses. The output looks heavily digitised but is still useful for checking out distant objects.
Even though the zoom range above 30x might not really deliver the same quality, it provides a level of versatility to the entire imaging experience, such that there is no need to compromise due to the lack of zoom reach. Indeed, with other built-in creative effects like magic zoom, time freeze, as well as VLOG modes with on-screen guides, creating impressive video cuts with Huawei smartphones is a lot easier.
When Leica collaborated with Huawei previously, they improved their smartphones with outstanding imaging features. Now on the Xiaomi 12S series, Leica has done the same, elevating Xiaomi’s smartphone to a new level of quality and prestige. The Xiaomi 12S Ultra is only available in China. Currently, there are no plans for the 12S Ultra to be launched in Singapore.
The Xiaomi 12S Ultra’s current retail price of CNY 5999 (about SGD 1169) for the base model. For more Xiaomi products and click here.