Xiaomi 13 Ultra, the pinnacle of mobile imaging

Xiaomi 13 Ultra top mobile imaging

【PhoneAuto Review】To this day, I still remember the excitement I felt when I pressed the confirmation button on my Nokia 3650 and took my first photo. Despite its effective pixel count of only 300,000 and a pitiful photo resolution of 640×480 pixels, the purpose of taking a photo is to turn a “moment” into “eternity”, and it achieved that, didn’t it? Nowadays, “smartphones rivaling DSLRs” is no longer a joke, and mobile imaging and computational photography are being accepted by more professional users. In 2023, we witnessed the release of many flagship cameras, and the appearance of the Xiaomi 13 Ultra is not only the pinnacle of current mobile imaging, but also a milestone representative work.

Starting with the Xiaomi 10 series, the Ultra version has a more distinct feature and product positioning, which is more personalized than the “flagship large cup”, and the priority of imaging experience is also ranked first. The Xiaomi 12S Ultra can be considered a success, and the Xiaomi 13 Ultra naturally has a lot of pressure. When I got my hands on the Xiaomi 13 Ultra, I seemed to understand why it could “endure” until two weeks before the launch before it began to be officially promoted. Its product power completely exceeded my expectations. The following is the story of the Xiaomi 13 Ultra and me.

Because this article is a bit long, it is recommended that you make a cup of tea or coffee and savor it slowly.

The strongest mobile imaging lineup, bar none

As the second Ultra model that Xiaomi and Leica have collaborated on, the improvement of Xiaomi 13 Ultra’s imaging capability is very obvious. Setting aside the parameters, let’s talk about the two points I like most about it – street shooting mode and professional imaging suite.

As a long-standing camera brand, Leica lenses are named not only according to their focal length, but also according to their aperture values. During Leica’s official promotion of the collaboration with Xiaomi on Weibo, it was mentioned that this time it will bring “the most perfect Summicron lens in the mobile imaging field to date”. Leica will name lenses with an aperture value of 2 as Summicron. The first-generation Summicron 35mm f2 lens, also known as the “eight-element jade”, is regarded as a classic among classics by countless players, and 35mm is also one of the most commonly used focal lengths in humanistic photography.

The first generation Summicron 35mm f2 “eight-element glass”

On Xiaomi 13 Ultra, double-click the volume down button or press and hold the physical shutter button (mentioned later) to quickly activate the street shooting mode. You can also find it in the “more” of the camera mode. The two quick entry methods mentioned earlier can be completed in 0.8 seconds and will take a photo at the same time as the startup. The purpose of this setting is actually to prevent users from missing a good photo due to incorrect operating procedures.

Autofocus in street shooting mode

In street shooting mode, the focal length of the lens is freely adjustable between 23mm-46mm, which is 1x to 2x zoom. Personally, I prefer to set it at 35mm. As mentioned earlier, the 35mm lens is a hanging head for many cameras and a powerful tool for street shooting. In addition to the focal length selection, street shooting mode also has an autofocus mode and three fixed focus distances for users to choose from. Autofocus is easy to understand, and fixed focus distances are designed to reduce the focusing process and allow users to get a good photo by pressing the shutter button. These three focus distances are about 0.6 meters, about 1.2 meters, and about 5 meters.

There will be a scale at the bottom of the three fixed focus distances.

Under the three fixed focus distances, Xiaomi 13 Ultra will automatically switch to f/4.0 aperture for shooting. This is done to maximize the focal plane and make the object being photographed match the focal length as much as possible, thus increasing the success rate of the photos. Street shooting mode is the most commonly used function during the time I tested it, because it is really convenient to activate and it retains the parameter settings of the previous street shooting mode every time it is started. For users who like to “scan the streets” with a camera, you cannot miss this feature.

Street shooting mode 35mm equivalent focal length sample

Street shooting mode 35mm equivalent focal length sample

Once upon a time, the physical shutter button was one of the flagship features of imaging, but due to the pursuit of slim body and internal structural design, the shutter button on the center frame has disappeared for a long time. Perhaps only Sony is still insisting on it now. Xiaomi 13 Ultra’s professional imaging kit makes up for this regret, which includes a dedicated protective case, a camera grip, a lens cap, and a 67mm lens adapter.

Xiaomi professional imaging kit

Xiaomi 13 Ultra complete set

Not only me, but also my colleagues in the editing department expressed their love for this shooting grip. It not only makes the phone look more like a Leica camera when held horizontally, but also significantly improves the grip. With a two-stage physical shutter, it is hard to imagine that what you are holding in your hand is a smartphone. A zoom lever is also set on the outside of the shutter, making the focal length switching more like a camera. When using this combination, I find it hard to describe my feelings accurately with precise words. I believe that you, who love photography, can understand me.

67mm universal adapter

Physical shutter with zoom lever

Similarly, the handle combined with the lens cap makes the Xiaomi 13 Ultra look like a Leica hunting version. In addition to the lens cap, this 67mm diameter adapter significantly increases the playability of Xiaomi 13 Ultra. ND light reduction lens, CPL polarizing lens or UV lens can all be perfectly adapted, providing more possibilities for users’ image creation. Some people may say, “Who would use a phone and make it so complicated? I use a camera.” Well, you definitely underestimate the fun of “playing with photography”. After all, after this set is matched, the effect it can bring and the price are far more tempting than a Leica camera.

Four cameras with super strong color consistency + the most complete focal length

Speaking of Leica, what most people are impressed by is its unique tone, color, and texture. Chinese users also like to collectively refer to it as “German flavor”. The Xiaomi 13 Ultra also offers two styles: vivid and classic Leica, and I believe you are very familiar with these two styles as well.

What’s special is that the Xiaomi 13 Ultra has added a “custom photography style”. In professional mode, users can manually adjust the tone, color (which is divided into warm and cool tones and cyan tone), and texture of the three color style options according to the shooting theme, giving users greater creative freedom. And all of these adjustments are under the Leica color system, so there will be no deviation.

Default color

Xiaomi officially said that this is the latest function that Xiaomi has obtained from Leica, because each option and each scale need to be certified by Leica before it can be presented to users. I believe that with greater freedom in adjustment, professional users can use the Xiaomi 13 Ultra to create more stylish works. In addition, the Xiaomi 13 Ultra also supports 14-bit RAW format photo shooting, allowing users to have more space for post-production.

Custom color

Under this set of photos, you can see that if the tone is set to +30 and the warm and cool tones are set to +8, the entire color of the photo will be more intense, and the visual experience will have a significant difference. In different color environments, through these style customizations, users can completely complete the parameter settings in the early stage and output a photo that meets their preferences.

Sample photo at ultra-wide angle

In the current market, multi-camera systems are one of the standard configurations for intelligent mobile terminals. Even smartphones priced at a thousand yuan have popularized ultra-wide-angle lenses. However, whether it is a thousand-yuan phone or an imaging flagship, the problem facing every manufacturer is the same—the styles of imaging adjustment for sensors with different focal lengths are difficult to achieve consistency. This can be clearly perceived by users when switching between lenses with different focal lengths, with the colors in the viewfinder showing obvious “jumping”, which is fatal for demanding professional users.

Sample photo at wide angle

The solution provided by the Xiaomi 13 Ultra is to use the IMX989 combined with three IMX858 sensors. The IMX858 is currently the only sensor that supports the MCSS multi-camera synchronous system, which provides support for color consistency on the hardware side. Additionally, the IMX989 and IMX858 are highly synchronized in many technical applications. For example, they are currently the only two sensors that support Low noise mode and both support DOL-HDR technology. The IMX858 also supports 100% full-pixel PDAF.

The color consistency of the four cameras is strong

We won’t delve into the technical details, but the final result is that no matter which focal length you press the shutter at, the Xiaomi 13 Ultra will give you the same color scheme. This seems to be only comparable with the iPhone at present. In this set of photos, you can see that except for the slight color difference due to the presence of too many other objects at the ultra-wide angle, the tree leaves taken at the other native focal lengths are all the same shade of green. If you are relatively close to the subject, the colors at the ultra-wide and wide focal lengths will not be offset either.

The texture of water is well preserved.

Xiaomi specifically mentioned two terms – digital flavor and optical flavor. The concept of Xiaomi 13 Ultra is to solve optical problems with optics and minimize the use of computational photography. In my opinion, all mobile imaging cannot do without computational photography. What Xiaomi wants to convey is that the Xiaomi 13 Ultra’s shots will maximize the restoration of the object itself, and the image will also avoid excessive sharpening, making it look like the original.

The texture of the tree trunk is very natural.

Take this big tree for example, the trunk already has many traces of age and injuries. Under the lens of Xiaomi 13 Ultra, these grooves are very natural and real, without excessive sharpening, resulting in a texture that looks like it was carved by a knife.

Looking at this photo of a night scene intersection, Xiaomi 13 Ultra did not excessively raise the ISO to ensure shutter speed, and restrained it at ISO1600. The sky is still black, and there is no particularly strong noise. The streetlights, car lights, and signs all have a bright dazzling feeling, and this restoration is very accurate. Due to the shutter speed, there is also a ghosting effect when vehicles and people move, so the style of the entire photo becomes very intense.

The highlights in the night scene are not suppressed, I don’t know if it’s deliberate or an oversight.

As mentioned earlier, Xiaomi 13 Ultra has a total of four lenses, providing four native focal lengths of 12mm (equivalent focal length, 0.5x), 23mm (1x), 75mm (3.2x), and 120mm (5x), and through cropping, also provides two lossless optical focal lengths of 46mm and 240mm. Photos with a resolution of 12.5 million pixels can be output in all six focal lengths.

Default five quick focus distance options

Lens bag design that I personally like

After opening the camera, you can see five quick selection focus distances of 0.5x, 1x, 2x, 3.2x, and 5x. This can meet the needs of most users for as many usage scenarios as possible. Xiaomi also specifically mentioned the design of the one-inch wide-angle end lens group, which has eight non-spherical mirrors. Generally, if an ASPH label is found on a camera lens, it means that non-spherical mirrors have been used.

Ultra wide-angle sample

At the ultra wide-angle end, Xiaomi 13 Ultra also uses seven non-spherical mirrors to avoid barrel distortion in optical design as much as possible, and with algorithm optimization, the distortion control of the entire picture is quite good. In this sample taken with the ultra wide-angle lens, the top of the building is a straight line, which not only enhances the tension of the picture, but also creates a “serious” feeling.

3.2x optical zoom sample

As for some parameter content, all four lenses of Xiaomi 13 Ultra are named Summicron, so their aperture values are around 2. Among them, the aperture value of the ultra wide-angle lens is 1.8, the aperture value of the wide-angle lens is 1.9, as mentioned earlier, it supports switching to f/4.0, the aperture value of the telephoto lens is 1.8, and the aperture value of the periscope telephoto lens is 3.0.

The image quality under 5x optical zoom is still excellent

The available focal lengths of 12mm-240mm also mean that the Xiaomi 13 Ultra gives users a lot of creative freedom. During my time using the Xiaomi 13 Ultra, the thing I worried about the least was framing and composition. As long as it was a scene I could see, the Xiaomi 13 Ultra could handle it without any loss of image quality. For example, with this girl’s silhouette, she was actually quite far away from the bench where I was sitting. But at a focal length of 120mm, the whole scene and perspective became very comfortable.

5x optical zoom sample

Additionally, with cosplay like this Kamen Rider (I think…), if I wanted to take a picture without looking like I was photo-bombing, I could use the 75mm-240mm focal lengths to capture high-quality images without being noticed, even when I’m far away.

10x lossless zoom allows you to shoot without disturbing subjects

If you find the discussion of tone and color too “mysterious,” let’s talk about something practical. I believe many of you are already familiar with the one-inch IMX989 sensor that is used in many flagship cameras. However, you may have doubts about the IMX858, which is only 1/2.51 inches in size. In addition to the multi-camera synchronization system mentioned earlier, which ensures color consistency, the internal stacking and balance of various experiences within the camera body are also important reasons. Moreover, Sony now has a strange logic: if the sensor size is above 1/2.3 inches, it will be calculated according to the 16mm diagonal standard, while if it is below, it will be calculated according to the 18mm diagonal standard. With the addition of the four-in-one pixel and the large aperture of f/1.8, the absolute quality of the IMX858 is not inferior to that of a medium-sized sensor. Even the weakest-looking telephoto lens is still better than the combination of ov64b+f/3.5 aperture.

5x optical zoom image quality comparison

From this set of comparison pictures, we can see that whether it is shooting in the native focal length of 120mm or the cropped focal length of 240mm, the overall image quality, resolution, and visual impression remain unchanged. The Xiaomi 13 Ultra is definitely one of the few smartphones that can shoot freely with a 240mm focal length.

10x lossless zoom image quality comparison

The Xiaomi 13 Ultra mentioned the full focal length night scene in the early warm-up stage, because Xiaomi has provided night owl algorithms for all its focal lengths. Xiaomi officials also made a special statement in the introduction of the night scene part, that the Xiaomi 13 Ultra will keep the bright parts bright and the dark parts dark in its algorithm strategy. This should be a new consensus reached by most manufacturers in the field of mobile imaging.

Dim light sample at the wide-angle end

Night scene sample under the 75mm lens

The benchmark of mobile phone products seems to always be changing. In the past, we often saw manufacturers spending a lot of space introducing video capabilities. Obviously, the trend of photography has been stronger in recent years. However, the Xiaomi 13 Ultra has also made significant improvements for video. First of all, all four native focal lengths of the Xiaomi 13 Ultra support 8K video recording. Secondly, in the video recording interface, professional movie camera UI options will be provided to users, and it can be used with the Xiaomi Pad 6 Pro to achieve the function of a monitoring screen, and it supports connection with up to 4 Xiaomi 13 Ultra and pads.

Professional video recording UI

Another user pain point has been improved on the Xiaomi 13 Ultra. Under the premise of balancing picture quality and frame rate, 4K60FPS is the choice for most users when recording videos. However, due to the pressure on the SoC and storage chips, many models may experience frame drops or forced shutdowns during recording. As the first mass-produced model equipped with the ring liquid cooling technology, the Xiaomi 13 Ultra’s cooling performance has been greatly improved.

It can be linked with the Xiaomi Pad 6 Pro as a monitor for four camera angles.

The Xiaomi ring liquid cooling can achieve the effect of “gas-liquid separation”, allowing the cooling system to achieve three times the performance of traditional VC within 0.35 millimeters, with a cooling capacity of over 10W. Therefore, the Xiaomi 13 Ultra can achieve full-frame and non-overheating recording during 4K60 recording.

The brightest 2K OLED smartphone screen

For an imaging flagship, the priority of screen experience is second only to imaging experience. Only a screen with outstanding quality can perfectly display photos. The Xiaomi 13 Ultra uses a 2K OLED screen jointly developed by Xiaomi and Huaxing Optoelectronics. It has a size of 6.7 inches and a resolution of 3200*1440 pixels, reaching 522PPI.

It uses the latest C7 luminescent material, with a maximum brightness of 1300 nits and a peak brightness of 2600 nits, which is 100 nits higher than the recently released imaging flagship of its competitors. In addition, it supports 12-bit color depth and 120Hz LTPO variable refresh rate. It uses DC dimming in high brightness conditions and 1920Hz PWM high-frequency dimming in low brightness conditions. It has no shortcomings in experience, energy saving, and eye protection.

Although it is not from Samsung, the screen specifications are already top-of-the-line.

The display effect of this screen is still very impressive to me. There are no regrets from the parameters, technical support to the actual experience, especially the peak brightness of 2600 nits. Even under strong sunlight outdoors, not only can the screen display be seen clearly, but the color performance is also not affected. Xiaomi 13 Ultra has also specially calibrated the color based on the CIE2015 color space. On devices that also support the CIE2015 color space, it can maintain a high level of color consistency. The Xiaomi Tablet 6 Pro and Xiaomi TV Master 86-inch, which were introduced in this press conference, also support the CIE2015 color space.

Regarding the topic of color consistency, there is another small surprise that must be mentioned. Xiaomi has customized a professional image printing service for Xiaomi 13 Ultra, and the supplier of this service is the top-notch printing industry company, Artron. In order to achieve the effect of “what you see is what you get,” Xiaomi and Artron jointly customized and developed a set of TrueSpectrum spectrum-level color mapping solutions, which can achieve consistent color printing of photos seen on the Xiaomi 13 Ultra screen.

New Unibody metal frame + second-generation nanometer skin

In the first two months, the appearance design of Xiaomi 13 Ultra was exposed, and at the time, the leaked design seemed to be too extravagant. However, after seeing the real machine, two conclusions were drawn – the leaked design of Xiaomi 13 Ultra was correct, but not entirely correct.

Curved lens area transition

This is mainly because the Xiaomi 13 Ultra has indeed canceled the stepped design on the Xiaomi 12S Ultra. Although the entire Deco area is raised, it is integrated with the entire back cover, and the part with a height difference in the middle adopts a curved transition. The reason why it is not entirely correct is that the transition from the Deco area of ​​the Xiaomi 13 Ultra to the lower part is not as abrupt as in the exposed picture, and the actual visual effect is acceptable.

The Xiaomi 13 Ultra offers black, white, and olive green, and the naming is still restrained. These three colors all use a matte leather material, which, in my opinion, is based on the curved elements and weight considerations of the body. White is a new color added this time, and these three colors can all find their own shadows on Leica cameras. And because it uses the new generation of technology, nano-pores, the anti-fouling ability of white is not a concern.

The second generation of nano-pores technology increases antibacterial ability.

In addition to good anti-fouling, wear-resistant and non-yellowing characteristics, the second-generation nano-pores technology also adds antibacterial agents, giving it 99.99% antibacterial ability. The entire Xiaomi 13 Ultra also supports IP68 dust and water resistance.

As you can see from the picture, the middle frame of the Xiaomi 13 Ultra extends to both sides of the back of the fuselage, looking like the entire body is wrapped up. In fact, this is because the Xiaomi 13 Ultra uses a newly designed Unibody metal frame. Xiaomi said that its inspiration comes from the Lecia M camera. Compared with the previous generation of traditional metal middle frames, the aluminum material is used 20% more, and therefore has a 4.4 times increase in anti-torsion ability. At the same time, because the exposed middle frame surface area increases, the antenna radiation area and efficiency are also enhanced, so it has better signal performance.

The middle frame extends to the back of the phone.

The dimensions of the Xiaomi 13 Ultra are 163.18*74.64*9.06 millimeters, and the weight of the phone is 227 grams, which is almost a “nanometer-level” change compared to the Xiaomi 12S Ultra. The thickness is even completely consistent. But to be honest, the Xiaomi 13 Ultra does look relatively thick and heavy at first glance, perhaps because the design of the middle frame makes the entire phone look more “sturdy”. However, even compared to other one-inch image flagship models, the size is almost the same, and the difference in weight is not that obvious. Perhaps because I have been using a folding screen for a long time, I hardly feel the weight when holding the Xiaomi 13 Ultra in my hand.

Adding 1TB storage, USB 3.2 is a highlight

As an image flagship, Xiaomi 13 Ultra’s peripheral configuration seems to be impeccable. The second-generation Qualcomm Snapdragon 8 mobile platform is essential, and I won’t list the details of Snapdragon 8 Gen 2. As a habit, I will run a test to show respect.

AnTuTu benchmark score is over 1.31 million.

To be honest, I don’t care whether the Xiaomi 13 Ultra’s benchmark score is 1.3 million or 1.35 million. What I care about is whether the average frame rate of Genshin Impact’s highest graphics quality can reach 59.9 FPS in a 30-minute test. With such hardware foundation and the support of the ring-shaped cold pump technology, if the performance of the Xiaomi 13 Ultra is outstanding, it is natural. If the data is not so perfect, I think it is a problem of performance tuning style. I believe that the target customer group of Xiaomi 13 Ultra will not care about these things.

Geekbench 6 Score

As for the storage combination, LPDDR5X and UFS 4.0 are definitely available. Xiaomi 13 Ultra offers three versions of 12GB RAM+256GB ROM, 16GB RAM+512GB ROM, and 16GB RAM+1TB ROM. Because there is a version with 1TB of storage, I think it is not excessive to call it an emperor version. In fact, this is not the most noteworthy feature. What is surprising is that Xiaomi 13 Ultra uses the USB 3.2 Gen1 specification this time, with a transmission bandwidth rate of 5Gbps, and also supports 4K resolution video output.

As for the battery part, Xiaomi 13 Ultra uses a 5000mAh capacity battery, which has a slight increase compared to the capacity of Xiaomi 12S Ultra. It adopts the combination of Xiaomi surging P2 intelligent fast charging chip + Xiaomi surging G1 battery management chip. The fast charging power has been upgraded from 67W to 90W from surging P1 to surging P2, and the wireless charging power is still 50W, and it also supports 10W wireless reverse charging.

Supports 90W wired fast charging

The official data shows that Xiaomi 13 Ultra requires 35 minutes to fully charge from 0% to 100% under 90W fast charging, while Xiaomi 12S Ultra takes 41 minutes to fully charge from 0% to 100% under 67W fast charging. The difference is not too big, and both are within an acceptable range. Xiaomi 13 Ultra also provides an extreme battery saver mode, which is automatically triggered when the battery level reaches 1%. In this mode, it can provide users with standby for 60 minutes or 15 minutes of calling/10 code scanning/50 screen light-ups, which can alleviate battery anxiety to a certain extent.

The strongest imaging flagship

In fact, there are many highlights on the Xiaomi 13 Ultra that haven’t been mentioned, such as dual 5GHz WiFi, four-network concurrency, memory freezing, and so on. However, I have already talked enough about the excellence of Xiaomi 13 Ultra. Moreover, based solely on its imaging experience, it is enough to conquer the potential consumer group of Xiaomi 13 Ultra.

My conclusion is only one sentence: Xiaomi 13 Ultra is currently the most powerful and comprehensive smartphone in terms of imaging capabilities, without a doubt.

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