At Mobile World Congress 2023, the Xiaomi booth was absolutely stacked with innovative tech. We saw the release of the Xiaomi 13 and the Xiaomi 13 Pro, got a first look at the Xiaomi Wireless AR Glass Discovery Edition, and even a live demonstration of their robotic pet, CyberDog.
But one thing that really caught my eye was the Xiaomi 12S Ultra Concept. This handset made headlines late last year when images began circulating online. It took the Xiaomi 12S Ultra handset, with a redesigned camera module which allowed users to mount professional lenses. The result is equal parts phone and camera, and entirely bonkers to look at – but is it any good?
The short answer is yes. It's very good. Portrait shots with a shallow depth of field were stunning – even in the hands of an amateur like me.
The lens attaches over the camera mount, where a one-inch sensor sits to capture as much light as possible. It does away with the traditional lenses found on smartphone cameras to allow light to pass directly onto the sensor via the lens mounted to it.
It's certainly not without its foibles. For starters, it is heavy. Of course, that's no surprise to any seasoned photographers – lenses are full of glass and that comes with weight. However, when it's attached to a phone that is so lightweight, it does leave it feeling a little unbalanced.
In use, I also found it a little clumsy. Focus and aperture selection on the lens itself make it a little easier, but all of the other settings have to be adjusted on screen. Whether you like that or not, it's certainly more challenging with a few pounds of glass on the other side tempting gravity.
But hey, what does that really matter if you can capture stunning images with your smartphone? In this case, I really do think that the benefits outweigh the drawbacks. Images are just fantastic to look at, with heaps of detail and beautiful colours. The Leica magic that is so fabled really shines through here.
Of course, at this stage it's just a concept, but make no mistake – it's a concept that works. I'd like to see improvements made to the weight distribution and handling before it reaches a commercial market, but those are tweaks rather than redesigns.
If they can manage it, DLSR manufacturers need to be very concerned. Of course, professional photographers might still want a dedicated unit that gets them the best possible image. But if you can get 98% of the image quality on a phone like this, I'd bet a large swathe of users would make the switch. It would be a no-brainer for hobbyists and amateur photographers.