Tuesday, November 28, 2023

$41,000 gets you the phone and DSLR mash-up of your dreams


Every smartphone maker these days is competing in the increasingly intense camera megapixel race, but there are a few like Xiaomi and Sony that are bumping the sensor size for more meaningful image quality gains. Xiaomi hit the target with its 12S Ultra flagship, a phone that comes fitted with a 1-inch camera sensor. Now it’s debuted a sibling with even more outrageous camera capabilities — but you’ll pay quite a bit for the privilege. 

Xiaomi has today detailed the 12S Ultra Concept, which looks almost identical to the flagship version that is currently on the shelves. However, the Concept version comes equipped with not one, but two 1-inch camera sensors.

Phone📱? Camera📷? BOTH! What would you classify this as? #Xiaomi12SUltraConcept pic.twitter.com/uzJVzifou4

— Agatha Tang (@aggasaurus) November 2, 2022

To fit those sensors inside the phone. Xiaomi had to sacrifice the periscope-style telephoto zoom camera. The second sensor that Xiaomi fitted inside the 12S Ultra concept looks just like a dedicated camera’s sensor assembly. 

The company’s engineers got rid of the lens assembly in front of the 1-inch sensor, and instead covered the whole set at the top with a huge piece of sapphire glass to protect it from scratches and dust. Xiaomi claims that despite the heavy modifications, the Concept model still retains its IP68-certified resistance against the elements. 

Right above the center-mounted 1-inch sensor is a metallic ring that relies on a twist-and-click system to fit Leica’s M-series camera lenses. Xiaomi’s official presentation video shared on video shows the phone attached to a variety of Leica’s professional M-series lens kits.

The idea here is the secondary 1-inch camera sensor with its own lens assembly will deliver great results when using the device as a regular phone. However, when you need those granular photography controls and advanced portrait effects, just mount a Leica lens and you’re good to go. 

The Xiaomi 12S Ultra is a stunning specimen of smartphone engineering and gives a glimpse of the future ahead. On a side note, also an infuriating revelation that engineers can fit a whole 1-inch camera array inside a phone’s chassis, yet, brands have removed essentials like a microSD card and headphone jack. 

Rants aside, the 12S Ultra Concept would have cost around $41,000 to make, which is unprecedented for a phone. Even Caviar doesn’t charge as much for its over-the-top luxury-decked custom iPhones. 

Xiaomi reportedly made only a few units of the 12S Ultra Concept, and aside from giving a brief hands-on time to a few lucky souls, it has no intention of making these available for sale. 

In the meanwhile, if you want to get a taste of the other side of camera innovation, Xiaomi has just launched the 12T Pro, a phone that offers a 200-megapixel primary camera and costs $750. There’s no Leica collaboration on this phone, though online whispers indicate the Xiaomi 13 Pro will be the next global Xiaomi phone with Leica’s expertise involved.  

That said, if you’ve got your mind set on experiencing the whole fuss around 1-inch camera sensors, the Xiaomi 12S Ultra can be yours for around the same price as an iPhone 14 Pro, but with a lot more features in tow. The Sony Xperia Pro-I is the only other mainstream option, but it costs an eye-watering $1,800 in the U.S. 

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