Big-sensor cameras are a white whale for smartphone imaging engineers. Even the most capable smartphone cameras use relatively small sensors, and efforts to bring larger sensors into the mobile form factor have been impractical, niche, or never really materialized. Xiaomi appears to be the latest company to attempt to capture the elusive concept with its upcoming 12S Ultra flagship.
According to a post posted on Weibo android authorization, the phone will include a 1-inch-type sensor 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 size sensor as Sony’s $1300 Cyber-shot RX100 VII which is more or less the ultimate, last-boss form of a compact camera.
That’s a big deal because no one has really been able to conquer a 1-inch smartphone camera, including Sony: its Xperia Pro-i includes a sensor of that size, but only uses a portion of it. . The bigger sensor, bigger pixels, and bigger optics will provide significant image quality advantages over smaller, traditional smartphone cameras, especially in low light.
Xiaomi isn’t stopping at the sensor, either: The company even called on Leica to collaborate, though it’s far from Leica’s first smartphone camera project. To put it bluntly, the association of traditional camera manufacturers with smartphone OEMs has resulted in nothing more than badges on cameras and a lot of marketing bluster. In this case, at least, Xiaomi is putting in the effort — and the money — into co-developing the new hardware. Xiaomi CEO Lei Jun says that Xiaomi and Sony have split the $15 million cost of developing the new sensor.
Unfortunately, the 12S Ultra is unlikely to 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 take long for the phone to be fully unveiled: Xiaomi says it will unveil the 12S Ultra to the world on July 4th at 7PM China Standard Time.