We took the main photo flagship of the Chinese brand with us on a trip to evaluate it in real use cases.

Xiaomi Mi 11 Ultra is one of the most interesting smartphones of 2021. On paper, this is a real uncompromising uber flagship with many advantages. However, the main emphasis in it is on the cameras, which is easy to understand already by the huge photo module at the back. This amount is a fee for equipping top-end sensors.

Camera Specifications

  • Wide Angle: Samsung GN2 50MP 1/1. 12″, f/2.0 aperture, 1.4µm pixels, Dual Pixel PDAF, Laser AF, OIS.
  • Ultra wide angle: Sony IMX586 with 48MP 1/2 resolution. 0″, f/2.2 aperture, 128° angle, 0.8µm pixels, PDAF.
  • Telephoto: Sony IMX586 at 48 MP, size 1/2. 0″, f/4.1 aperture, 0.8 µm pixels, PDAF, ×5 optical zoom, OIS.

Xiaomi deliberately sacrificed the convenience and ease of use of the device in favor of shooting capabilities. This approach was once used by Nokia in the Lumia 1020, which received a large 41-megapixel sensor. Then this bet played out — the smartphone became one of the leaders in terms of the volume of photos in 2013-2014. Now, with the Mi 11 Ultra, things are not so straightforward.

We have studied in detail the capabilities of the main camera of the Xiaomi flagship and are ready to tell you how good it is.

Shooting with the main camera

The main 50 MP sensor has a 1/1, 12 inch vidicon size. It is one of the largest sensors in smartphones and is theoretically guaranteed to capture a lot of light.

Photo: Victor Podvolotsky / Lifehacker

During the day, outdoors or indoors with good lighting, everything is fine — the camera does a great job. And this, of course, is not surprising — in simple conditions today, middle-class people also decently shoot.

With automatic settings, the Mi 11 Ultra takes photos at 12.5 MP, but you can also activate the full 50 MP. Such shooting requires a little more time for post-processing, so it is not very convenient to use it on the go. Such images weigh 30-50 MB versus the standard 5-15 MB.

Photo: Victor Podvolotsky / Lifehacker

At night and in conditions of minimal lighting, you can achieve good quality, but often the photo still «floats». The post-processing system greedily clings to lamps and lanterns, making the frame overly lit, which noticeably affects the details. This becomes clear only with a detailed study of the picture on the display of a smartphone or on a large screen — an unpleasant surprise.

Photo: Victor Podvolotsky / Lifehacker

The manual «Night» mode allows you to unscrew the backlight even more, making the picture completely unnatural. Although someone may like this embellishment of reality.

Wide angle shooting

A 48 MP «Wide» lens, supplemented by a phase focus, shoots at an angle of 128°. And he’s really good.

Photo: Victor Podvolotsky / Lifehacker

In the camera app settings, there is an option to correct wide-angle distortion, which is useful when shooting landscapes. It flattens the horizon line and prevents objects in the frame from stretching. In terms of quality, these shots are slightly inferior to photos from the main camera, but still look very good.

A night mode for wide-angle shooting is also available, but it’s not easy to get a good photo with it. It is better to trust the automatic mode, although it does not guarantee the absence of marriage.

Zoom functions

The increase in Xiaomi Mi 11 Ultra is commendable. In sunny weather, you can look very far with it.

By default, the shooting application allows you to choose one of four zoom modes:

  • ×2 — this appears to be a crop from a 50MP shoot;
  • ×5 — full optical zoom;
  • ×10 — high-quality hybrid zoom;
  • ×120 is an almost useless software zoom that can only be useful during the day and with a tripod.

If desired, you can use the manual zoom using the slider, but the image quality in this case will be lower than with fixed values.

In night mode, only the x5 optical zoom is available, but it’s also not easy to get a good photo with it. When gluing frames, artifacts or «ghost lines» of objects sometimes appear, as if one picture is not very accurately superimposed on another. And that’s not to mention the «noise» of the image.

macro photography

For macro shooting, Mi 11 Ultra uses a wide-angle camera and a special «Macro» mode, which is activated in the camera settings. Although he is here, rather «for show».

Photo: Victor Podvolotsky / Lifehacker

Despite having focus in this module, images are sometimes very blurry around the edges. If you need to shoot something small, it’s much easier and more efficient to take a picture with the optical zoom.

portrait photography

With portraits and in general with shooting people, the Xiaomi Mi 11 Ultra is also not going smoothly. The picture often turns yellow, and the background is not evenly blurred. But you should understand that the smartphone does not have a camera for measuring depth of field, so you will have to rely only on the software part.

Photo: Victor Podvolotsky / Lifehacker

What is notable is that when shooting with the main camera in portrait mode, the second screen cannot be activated. It can only work as a viewfinder in normal shooting mode, and there is already minimal blur, as in the photo below.

Photo: Victor Podvolotsky / Lifehacker

Advanced Features

Xiaomi Mi 11 Ultra has a «Pro» mode that offers manual settings, highlighting areas of focus, exposure check and shooting in RAW (DNG format). The latter will allow you to extrude the frame in a desktop photo editor such as Lightroom or Photoshop. But in all the time I tested the cameras, I only wanted to use them a couple of times when the smartphone underexposed the frames to the backlight.

There is also a popular moon shot mode. It is called «Supermoon» and allows you to photograph a celestial body even without high magnification, as devices from other brands do.

The problem is that only the Moon itself always remains in the frame, and everything else is artificially darkened — this is how the algorithms work. Therefore, it will not be possible to photograph a satellite, for example, against the background of a night city.

There is also much more available in the Camera app: many different video recording modes, panoramic and slow motion, movie effects. But all this is available in other Xiaomi smartphones, so we will not dwell on them in detail.

What is the result

As a result, Xiaomi Mi 11 Ultra pleasantly surprises with wide-angle shooting and excellent magnification up to ×10. That’s probably all.

With photography «on the machine», things are generally not bad, but there is absolutely no «wow effect». The smartphone inherits all the same diseases as most low-cost flagships. But it is necessary to evaluate the Mi 11 Ultra accurately taking into account the current price, which at the time of this review exceeds 100,000 rubles for the global version.

Such a price tag and a huge block of cameras by modern standards initially caused inflated expectations. From such a «monster» you expect perfect photos from your hands — on the go, at night, at dusk, in a dimly lit room, and so on. But, unfortunately, with really cool sensors, the Mi 11 Ultra does not shoot perfectly. It doesn’t make sure that just one or even two shots per scene will be enough.

We would be happy to chalk it up to software flaws, which will be fixed soon. But the smartphone was released almost half a year ago, so I do not want to recommend it with a margin for the future, especially when there is a much more affordable and balanced Xiaomi Mi 11. You need a little more — there is Mi 11 Pro with the same 50-megapixel main sensor that and Mi 11 Ultra, but so far the Pro model can only be purchased in a modification for the Chinese market.
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