As impressive as smartphone cameras are these days, even the best camera phones face some major limitations. One is lens selection, as there’s a limit to how many different ones you can reasonably equip a phone with, and the other is the quality of those lenses, which is limited based on their necessarily small size. But Xiaomi has just shown a phone that solves both of these problems.
The company took to weibo (opens in new tab) – a Chinese social network – to reveal a modified version of the Xiaomi 12S Ultra (which already includes a one-inch sensor) on which you can mount a Leica M-series lens. The post included a video that was uploaded to YouTube by XDA developers (opens in new tab)so you can watch it below.
An inch is impressively large for a smartphone camera sensor, but as with any smartphone that touts photography as a key selling point, the bottleneck becomes the smartphone-sized lenses used. While the standard Xiaomi 12S Ultra’s 50MP Sony IMX989 is styled like any other smartphone camera, this newly unveiled Xiaomi 12S Ultra concept doesn’t have a lens over the sensor – or at least not until you plug one in.
To keep the sensor as clean as possible when a lens isn’t installed, the company opted for a sapphire crystal cover, which should repel scratches well; dust between the lens elements and the sensor looks like it would still be a lingering challenge, however.
Since you can connect and swap Leica’s M-series lenses, you’re not limited to just one lens, so you can take advantage of that powerful one-inch sensor across multiple lenses (assuming you invest in a variety).
And these Leica lenses are designed for proper mirrorless and rangefinder cameras, so they’re much larger and more capable than the lenses you’d normally find on a smartphone. If one were permanently attached to this Xiaomi phone, it would be impractical, but you can simply remove it when not in use, to keep the phone’s conventional form factor intact.
For now, this is just a concept phone, so there’s no guarantee it will be on sale, but it’s not impossible to imagine that one day we’ll see this or something similar sold.
Analysis: A Niche but Exciting Idea
A phone like this Xiaomi 12S Ultra concept will likely never go mainstream as it will only appeal to people who already own or want a proper camera and are not satisfied with the quality or appearance of conventional smartphone photos, but for those few it could be a revelation.
There’s a saying that the best camera is the one you have with you, and since we all carry our phones with us everywhere, that makes them the best – or at least the most useful – even if they’re not the highest quality. .
Carrying a DSLR or mirrorless system is, for most of us, something we’d only do when we’re actively planning to take pictures while we’re away, and even then, it’s an extra thing to carry around, which can be a hassle.
Thus, Xiaomi’s 12S Ultra concept can offer the quality of a proper camera without the need to carry a separate snapper. Of course, you’ll still need to bring at least one lens with you, but there’s less weight and size than in an entire dedicated camera system.
Plus, there’s a wide range of Leica M-series lenses out there, so there are already plenty of compatible options, and for those who already own a few, this Xiaomi concept might be even more tempting. So there is no doubt that this would be one of the best camera phones and best Xiaomi phones on the market if it ever comes out.