Smartphone capturing mountain landscape through camera app.

I recently acquired the Xiaomi 14 Ultra after navigating some challenging delivery conditions. I conducted extensive research to determine the best phone of the year, and I hesitated for a long time between the iPhone 15 Pro Max, the Samsung 24 Ultra, the Google Pixel 8, and the Xiaomi 14 Ultra. As my main focus is photography, I opted for the Xiaomi 14 Ultra, as all YouTubers, reviews, and video comparisons hailed it as the absolute best camera of 2024. But does it live up to the hype? This is what we will cover in this article.

Disclaimer: This review is entirely impartial. As my second review ever, I assure you that I receive no commission for my opinions. These reflections are purely my own, based on my experiences as a photographer and as someone who consciously avoids mobile phone addiction.

Camera System Overview

The standout feature of the Xiaomi 14 Ultra is its advanced camera setup. Developed in collaboration with Leica, it represents the pinnacle of camera phone technology. The versatile 12-120mm system includes a 1-inch sensor and a variable aperture ranging from f/1.63 to f/4.0, catering to serious photographers. The device can record 8K video, 4K HDR, and LOG formats, and supports a native Photography Kit, which includes a camera-like grip and advanced tools. This makes the Xiaomi 14 Ultra the best camera phone available for photographers in the West, despite some minor flaws.

  • Focal Lengths: Six different focal lengths across four lenses, ranging from 12mm to 240mm.
  • Resolution: All lenses offer 50 megapixels, ensuring high-quality images.

Ultra-Wide Camera (12mm)

  • Uses: Ideal for architectural shots, perspective shots, and dynamic point-of-view shots.
  • Features:
  • Native low distortion lens design eliminates barrel distortion.
  • Suitable for street photography to capture wide, dynamic scenes.

Main Camera (1-inch LYT 900 Sensor)

  • Capabilities:
  • Excellent for portrait photography and wide shots.
  • Balances light across subjects effectively, providing great head separation.
  • Exceptional in low light conditions due to the large sensor.
  • Performance:
  • Produces images that are almost indistinguishable from those taken with a traditional camera.
  • Provides natural-looking photos with excellent detail.

3.2x Telephoto Lens (75mm)

Unique Feature:

  • Floating telephoto lens allows close-up macro shots at a telephoto length with a focusing distance of up to 10 cm.

Advantages:

  • f/1.8 aperture for low light conditions.
  • Natural bokeh effect.
  • High detail in macro shots.

Telephoto Zoom (120mm to 240mm)

Features:

  • Macro capability even at high zoom levels, focusing up to 30 cm.
  • 5x optical zoom (120mm) and up to 10x zoom (240mm) using in-sensor zoom.
  • f/2.5 aperture, suitable for low light photography.
    Performance:
  • Provides incredible detail in zoomed-in shots.
  • Maintains quality even at higher zoom levels.

Fast Shot Mode

Functionality:

  • Double tapping the volume down button activates the camera and takes a photo in 0.8 seconds.
    Uses:
  • Ideal for capturing spontaneous moments, making it perfect for street photography.

Leica Collaboration

Color Profiles:

  • Authentic Leica colors enhance the street photography experience.
  • Allows capturing stunning photos without the need for extensive editing.

Selfie Camera

  • Sensor: 32MP

Performance:

  • Provides natural depth of field
  • Colors and exposure control not as refined as rear cameras
  • Tends to overexpose in some situations

Key Points

  • Wide Range of Focal Lengths: From 12mm to 240mm.
  • High Resolution: 50MP across all lenses.
  • Low Light Performance: Excellent in various lighting conditions.
  • Macro Capabilities: Available even at telephoto lengths.
  • Fast Shot Mode: Quick and efficient for capturing moments.

The Xiaomi 14 Ultra excels in street photography, offering professional-level control and quality in a smartphone form factor.

Image Quality Analysis

Daylight Photography

  • Main Camera: Exceptional dynamic range, crisp details, accurate colors
  • Ultra-Wide: Minimal distortion; colors and dynamic range closely match the main sensor
  • Telephoto: Impressive clarity up to 10x zoom, slight noise beyond 10x

Low-Light Performance

  • Main Camera: Noise reduction is effective without sacrificing detail, natural color rendition
  • Ultra-Wide: Slightly noisier than the main camera, but still impressive
  • Telephoto: Noticeable noise at higher zoom levels, but night mode helps retain detail

Dynamic Range & HDR

  • HDR Mode: Handles challenging lighting well, particularly with backlit subjects
  • Dynamic Range: Broad range, with deep shadows and bright highlights captured effectively

Color Accuracy & White Balance

  • Leica Authentic: Warmer tones, reminiscent of classic film
  • Leica Vibrant: More saturated but not overly so; ideal for social media
  • White Balance: Consistent across lenses, a bit warm outdoors but fixable in post-processing

Noise Reduction & Sharpness

  • Main Camera: Balanced noise reduction that maintains sharpness
  • Telephoto: Slight softness at extreme zoom due to digital enhancement
  • Ultra-Wide: Sharper than many competitors, even at the edges

Video Capabilities

8K & 4K Video Recording

  • 8K: 24fps recording, best suited for well-lit scenes
  • 4K: Offers up to 60fps with excellent stabilization

Stabilization Techniques (OIS, EIS)

  • OIS: Optical image stabilization on main and telephoto lenses
  • EIS: Electronic image stabilization smooths out handheld jitters

Slow-Motion & Time-Lapse

  • Slow-Mo: 1080p at up to 960fps, perfect for dramatic sports shots
  • Time-Lapse: Customizable intervals, handles transitions smoothly

Audio Quality

  • Stereo Recording: Clear separation of left and right channels
  • Noise Reduction: Effective at minimizing ambient noise

Camera App Features

User Interface & Controls

  • Layout: Intuitive, with easy access to major modes
  • Quick Access: Customizable shortcuts for frequently used features

Pro Mode & Manual Controls

  • Settings: Full control over ISO, shutter speed, white balance, focus
  • Histogram: Built-in for exposure assessment

AI Scene Recognition

  • Scene Detection: Recognizes and optimizes settings for landscapes, portraits, and more
  • Effectiveness: Generally accurate, though occasionally over-saturates colors

Editing Tools & Filters

  • Filters: Leica Authentic and Vibrant, plus a range of artistic effects
  • Basic Editing: Crop, rotate, adjust exposure, and more directly within the app

Photography Experience

Ergonomics & Handling

  • Weight: Slightly heavy but manageable due to balanced distribution
  • Grip: Textured back ensures a secure hold, even one-handed

Shooting Speed & Shutter Lag

  • Speed: Quick to focus and capture, minimal shutter lag
  • Burst Mode: Captures up to 30fps for action shots

Battery Life During Photography Sessions

  • Battery Capacity: 5000mAh
  • Usage: Lasts through a full day of mixed photography and video shooting

Customization Options

  • Button Remapping: Customize volume buttons for zoom or shutter
  • Modes: Add specific camera modes to the quick access menu

Performance

Specifications

  • 16GB of RAM and 512GB of storage (I even get the 1TO storage only available in China ! )
  • Qualcomm Snapdragon 8 Gen 3 processor
  • RAM extension up to 24GB using storage
  • Bright, vibrant, and sharp 6.73-inch display

What I love in the Xiaomi 14 Ultra

The Shallow Depth of field

I was thoroughly impressed by the natural bokeh this camera delivers, all without the need for artificial intelligence. This remarkable effect is thanks to its larger sensor size. Witnessing these results, I feel confident enough to sell my 100mm macro lens and rely solely on this camera. While I still prefer my 70-200mm lens for portraits, this camera continues to produce outstanding quality.

Image stabilization

When you hold the camera, you benefit from exceptional image stabilization, significantly enhancing the quality of handheld shots.

What should be improved

Software Updates

Xiaomi’s policy on updates is insufficient, with delays in rolling out new Android versions and HyperOS updates. Extending support duration and speeding up updates would greatly improve user satisfaction.

    What sets it appart from competition

    Dual Nativ Iso !!? 14 Stops of Dynamic Range!!

    Not only is the sensor large and is paired with a wide aperture lens, the sensor itself features dual native iso. I was genuinely shocked to this on the spec sheet, as this is proper full frame mirrorless camera sensor stuff. You’ll see dual native iso on premium cameras like the Panasonic S1H, Sony A7SIII, Canon EOS R5C etc. Dual native ISO greatly helps in achieving good dynamic range even at a higher ISO level, because you now have two base ISO levels, one will be your lower and the other will be higher – and at both these levels you’ll get the best dynamic range and noise performance when shooting videos.

    Xiaomi claims that with this technology they are able to achieve 14 stops of dynamic range – A bit much? 😛 Software tricks involved in this? I have only seen high end FF Sensors achieving this only at base ISO.

    Sony LYT-900 1 inch Sensor!

    Let’s start with the main sensor: the 1-inch Sony LYT-900 50MP sensor. Xiaomi has paired it with a lens that goes as wide as f/1.63. To put this in perspective, the Mi 14 Ultra is the closest camera device to the old Panasonic LX10 point-and-shoot camera. The Panasonic LX10 featured a 20MP 1-inch sensor paired with a 24-70mm lens that went as wide as f/1.4. After many years, it seems we finally have a phone that has come close to the Panasonic LX10’s sensor-lens combo at this size.

    Proper secondary sensors/lenses – Sony IMX 855

    Xiaomi is utilizing the high-quality Sony IMX 855 1/2.5 inch 50 MP sensor for its ultra-wide and dual telephoto lenses. The ultra-wide lens has a 12mm full-frame equivalent with an f/1.8 aperture.

    The 3.2x telephoto lens features a 75mm full-frame equivalent lens with the widest aperture in the flagship scene for a telephoto, which is f/1.8. It also includes OIS.

    Finally, the 5x telephoto lens is also impressive, boasting a 120mm full-frame equivalent lens with a remarkable f/2.5 aperture and OIS.

    This setup ensures that, apart from the main sensor, the other focal lengths maintain excellent image and video quality, providing incredible versatility.

    Innovative Lens Design

    Beyond the sensor, the lenses deserve praise as well. Each lens not only features a very wide maximum aperture but also has an extremely close minimum focusing distance, enabling you to capture stunning macro shots with all the lenses. We’ve seen the impressive 4.3x optical zoom macros from the Vivo X100 Pro, and the Mi 14 Ultra provides even more options!

    The main sensor lens also boasts a stepless aperture ranging from f/1.63 to f/4. This means that when shooting close-ups with the main sensor, you can control the depth of field by adjusting the aperture. The f/4 aperture is also ideal for landscapes, providing maximum sharpness from corner to corner.

    Video Specs!! 10 Bit LOG to DOLBY VISION HDR

    The main sensor is capable of shooting 10 Bit LOG in Rec.2020, taking advantage of dual native ISO and 14 stops of dynamic range. It also supports RAW Video (container not specified) and Dolby Vision HDR. For regular 8-bit video, it supports up to 4K120 and 8K30.

    AI Mode

    The Xiaomi 14 ultra uses AI at a higher zoom for sharpness and magnification. It is one of the first devices to use AI to sharpen images at a higher zoom level

    The Macro Mode

     Basically, Super Macro uses the 75mm lens, so you’re actually shooting at 3.2x zoom. I love this because it means you don’t need to get as close to the subject as you would with Macro on most other phones. This is because most other devices use the ultrawide lens for macro shots. This again sets him apart from all competition

    Competitive Comparison

    iPhone 14 Pro Max

    Strengths

    • Industry-leading video stabilization
    • ProRAW format provides extensive editing flexibility
    • Seamless integration with the Apple ecosystem

    Weaknesses

    • Main camera sensor is smaller, limiting low-light performance
    • Telephoto lens limited to 3x optical zoom
    • No dedicated macro mode

    When comparing image quality between the Xiaomi and the iPhone 15, the Xiaomi 14 Ultra is significantly superior. The iPhone 15 frequently produces over-processed and overly saturated images, while the Xiaomi 14 Ultra delivers clearer and more natural results.

    Samsung Galaxy S24 Ultra

    Strengths

    • 10x periscope zoom lens offers superior long-range zoom
    • Versatile photo and video modes
    • 200MP main camera sensor allows extensive cropping

    Weaknesses

    • Ultra-wide lens has noticeable distortion
    • Default photo processing can be overly aggressive
    • Battery life under heavy camera use is shorter

    I can tell that xiaomi is ahead with the camera. Samsung is ahead with the UI. More consistent overall and more customization.

    The Samsung has absolutely no chance against the Xiaomi camera, I’m really shocked at how big the difference is.

    Google Pixel 8 Pro

    Strengths

    • Best-in-class computational photography
    • Superb low-light performance with Night Sight
    • Intuitive and simple camera app

    Weaknesses

    • Telephoto lens is only 5x optical zoom
    • Limited manual controls in the camera app
    • Video features less robust compared to competitors

    Debunking some myth

    Myth n°1: The battery life is only average

    In my experience, the battery lasts for 2.5 days. I don’t spend much time on social media, which probably helps. After a 1.5-hour photography session without using the grip, I still had 63% of the battery remaining.

    Myth n°2 : With the Xiaomi, the camera fogs up when it’s cold outside

    I’ve extensively used the Xiaomi in various conditions, including cold weather, and I’ve never encountered this issue.

    Myth n°3: The new Hyper OS is just a MIUI re-design and is plagued with numerous issues.

    Incorrect. I found HyperOS to be exceptionally smooth and highly customizable. Unlike the MIUI, the new HyperOS is not simply a redesign; it is an entirely separate, optimized version of Android with a new kernel. This results in a faster and more responsive experience, with a reduced OS footprint. Ultimately, what would you prefer—spending your time constantly adjusting settings or simply enjoying the convenience of taking photos?

    Myth 4: The Xiaomi 14 Ultra produces a cheap noise when you shake it

    This noise is actually produced by the image stabilization system. While it might generate less noise on other phones, this doesn’t necessarily indicate inferior quality. On the contrary, the louder noise suggests enhanced stabilization capabilities, leading to sharper images.

    Final Verdict

    Strengths

    • Main Camera: Exceptional clarity and dynamic range, especially in low light
    • Zoom Range: Dual telephoto lenses provide unmatched flexibility
    • Leica Filters: Authentic and Vibrant modes give distinct color profiles
    • Video Performance: 8K and 4K recording with effective stabilization

    Weaknesses

    • Weight: Heavier than competitors due to the camera system
    • AI Scene Recognition: Occasionally results in over-processed images
    • Price: Premium pricing may deter some users

    Who Should Buy It?

    • Photography Enthusiasts: Looking for exceptional image quality, especially in low light
    • Travel Photographers: Need versatile zoom ranges and macro capabilities
    • Video Creators: Want high-resolution recording with reliable stabilization

    There’s a phone for everyone. If you want productivity, ie. s-pen, get a samsung. If you want camera, get a xiaomi. If you want blue bubbles, get an apple

    Future Updates & Expectations

    • Software Improvements: Potential for better AI scene recognition and noise reduction
    • Accessories: Expect third-party lens kits and gimbals for added versatility
    • Next-Gen Sensors: Future Xiaomi models may push the boundaries of mobile photography even further