Xiaomi is leapfrogging further into the mobile camera business with the new 12S Ultra Concept Edition that comes with a lens mount. Essentially, the Xiaomi 12S Ultra Concept Edition allows you to attach a separate full-size lens for almost DSLR-level photography. As the name gives it away, this is a concept phone, which means it is not ready to be commercially available yet, but it surely shows Xiaomi’s efforts into turning its flagship phones into something that blurs the lines between smartphones and digital cameras.
The new Xiaomi 12S Ultra Concept Edition is an improvement over the regular 12S Ultra, which the company launched earlier this year. Xiaomi, according to GSMArena, was working on two projects on the same line — to make its phones camera-centric. One turned out to be the regular Xiaomi 12S Ultra, which comes with a 1-inch sensor for probably the best mobile photography, while the 12S Ultra Concept Edition is the second one: a hybrid between a smartphone and a mirrorless camera.
How it works
Xiaomi’s 12S Ultra Concept Edition can mount a full-size Leica M-series lens to give you a setup that you usually see on digital cameras — and it’s slightly different from how smartphone cameras work. Xiaomi has been working with Leica for a long time, so the fruits of their partnership are intended to take the company forward into offering “professional camera” phones. Even the camera app on the Xiaomi 12S Ultra Concept Edition has been revamped to include tools, such as focus peaking, zebra lines, and a histogram that would let users fully utilise the mount lens’s capabilities. There is support for 10-bit RAW photos, as well.
But how will a mountable lens change your photography experience? According to Xiaomi, the full-size lens will allow you to turn the phone into a semi-professional camera, if not a full-fledged one, to offer benefits such as “authentic depth of field”. The company says this will be a true depth of field and not the software-based blurring that you see in photos taken using the portrait mode of the camera app. Google Pixel phones are the best example to demonstrate this trickery, helped by the company’s amazing computational photography.
The Xiaomi 12S Ultra Concept Edition requires an adapter for the mount, making the phone bulky and unwieldy — the top part of it will get heavier than the bottom part. So, it is not feasible to use the lens all the time, which is why the phone has its own in-built 1-inch sensor (23mm lens) that lets you shoot photos and videos like a regular phone. There is also an ultrawide camera with a 13mm lens that does not require any extra hardware. Obviously, the quality of photos shot using integrated cameras will be slightly inferior.
What makes the Xiaomi 12S Ultra Concept Editio different from earlier versions of accessory-powered phone cameras is the mirrorless design. A few smartphones that previously tried offering better photography capabilities with the use of accessories (MotoMod for Moto Z, for example) came with a flawed design wherein the light had to pass through several layers of lenses and glasses. This setup impacted the photo quality as the photos lacked proper light and ended up being softer than required. Xiaomi’s concept phone uses a detachable Leica lens that allows the light to directly fall on the phone’s sensor — the same mechanism as a mirrorless camera. There is, however, a protective glass on the phone’s sensor to protect it from dust and water.
While all of the features of this concept sound enticing, Xiaomi, unfortunately, has no plans to sell the phone, at least not anytime soon. It is also possible that the Xiaomi 12S Ultra Concept Edition may forever remain just a concept.
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