Xiaomi 12S Ultra concept solves camera phone’s biggest problem

As impressive as smartphone cameras are these days, even the best camera phones face some major limitations. One is the choice of lenses, as there are limits to how many different lenses you can reasonably fit a phone with, and the other is the quality of those lenses, limited by their necessarily small size. But Xiaomi just showed off a phone that does both.

The company posted on the Chinese social network Weibo a modified version of the Mi 12S Ultra (which already includes a 1-inch sensor) on which you can mount a Leica M-series lens.

An inch is impressively large for a smartphone camera sensor, but like any smartphone with photography as a key selling point, the bottleneck is the smartphone-sized lens used. While the standard Mi 12S Ultra’s 50MP Sony IMX989 is styled like any other smartphone camera, this new Mi 12S Ultra concept has no lens on the sensor at all — or at least not until you install one.

To keep the sensor as clean as possible when the lens is not attached, the company has opted for a sapphire crystal cover that does a good job of preventing scratches; however, dust between the lens element and the sensor still seems to be a persistent challenge.

Since you can attach and swap Leica M-series lenses, you’re not limited to just one lens out there, so you can take advantage of the powerful one-inch sensor on a variety of lenses (assuming you’ve invested in multiple lenses).

These Leica lenses are designed for proper mirrorless and rangefinder cameras, so they are larger and more powerful than the lenses you usually find on smartphones. It would be impractical to have one permanently attached to this Xiaomi phone, but you can simply remove it when not in use to keep the phone’s traditional form factor intact.

Right now, this is just a concept phone, so there’s no guarantee it’ll go on sale, but it’s not hard to imagine that one day we’ll see this or something like it go on sale.

Analysis: A Niche But Exciting Idea

A phone like the Mi 12S Ultra will never go mainstream as it will only appeal to those who already have or want the right camera and are not satisfied with the quality or look of traditional smartphone photos, but for those few , which may be a revelation.

There’s a saying that the best cameras are the ones you carry with you, because we carry our phones everywhere, which makes them the best — or at least the most useful — even if they’re not of the highest quality.

For most of us, carrying a DSLR or mirrorless system with us is something we only do when we’re actively planning to go out and take pictures, and even then, carrying it around is an extra that can make people worry.


So Xiaomi’s 12S Ultra concept can deliver the quality of a proper camera without having to carry a separate snapper. Of course, you’ll still need to carry at least one lens with you, but there’s less weight and size compared to the entire dedicated camera system.

Also, with the wide variety of Leica M-series lenses, there are already a lot of compatible options, and for those who already own some, this Xiaomi concept might be even more enticing. So there is no doubt that if it does launch, it will be the best camera phone and one of the best Xiaomi phones.

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