Cameras with large sensors are a bit of a white whale for smartphone imaging engineers. Even the most capable smartphone cameras use relatively small sensors, and attempts to bring larger sensors to the mobile form factor have been impractical, niche, or never really materialized. Xiaomi seems to be the latest company to try to capture the elusive concept with its upcoming 12S Ultra flagship.
According to a post on Weibo spotted by android authority, the phone will feature a 1-inch-type sensor that was co-developed with Sony. That’s about 1.7 times more surface area than the 1/1.33-inch-type sensor in the main camera module of the Samsung Galaxy S22 Ultra. It’s also the same sensor found in Sony’s $1300 Cyber-shot RX100 VII, which is more or less the ultimate, boss form of the compact camera.
It’s a big deal, because no one has really been able to conquer the 1-inch smartphone camera, not even Sony: the Xperia Pro-I contains a sensor of that size, but only uses part of it. The larger sensor, larger pixels and larger optics would offer significant image quality advantages over smaller, traditional smartphone cameras, especially in low light.
Xiaomi doesn’t stop at the sensor either: the company enlisted Leica to collaborate as well, although it’s far from Leica’s first smartphone camera project. But to put it bluntly, traditional camera manufacturers’ partnerships with smartphone OEMs have resulted in little more than a badge on the camera and a lot of marketing boom. In this case, at least Xiaomi is making the effort – and the money – to co-develop new hardware. Xiaomi CEO Lei Jun says Xiaomi and Sony are sharing the $15 million cost of developing the new sensor.
Unfortunately, it is very unlikely that the 12S Ultra will ever be sold in the US as it is extremely difficult for Chinese brands to gain a foothold in this market. In any case, it won’t be long before the phone is fully unveiled: Xiaomi says it will present the 12S Ultra to the world on July 4 at 7 p.m. China Standard Time.