The Mi 11 Ultra's main camera got us some of the best 12MP images we've seen. Detail is excellently defined, both in straight lines and random textures, with very competent and natural processing - very 'photographic', and less 'smartphone' if that makes sense. Noise is, meanwhile, virtually non-existent.
Colors are vivid, particularly in outdoor and nature scenes, without going to extremes. Even opting for the AI-enhanced mode will only get you a measured bump in saturation.
Perhaps one area we're not entirely in agreement with the Ultra is exposure. We'd say that 1/2 to 2/3 of a stop brighter would look better in virtually all scenes we shot. And the images certainly have the reserve in highlight dynamic range to accommodate that - dynamic range itself is great.
While the actual telephoto camera stands at 5x zoom, the main unit can give you very respectable 2x zoom shots. There's pronounced color fringing around contrasting edges, and detail isn't as fine as in 1x shots, but these are certainly miles better than what you'd get out of a Note20 Ultra or an S21 Ultra at 2x.
The periscope 5x zoom camera takes wonderful photos, too. In broad daylight, it captures excellent detail and has nice micro contrast. It's not as clean as the main camera, and there are fine specs of luminance noise if you look up close, but these are mostly negligible.
Dynamic range is possibly the best you can expect on a zoom camera, and exposure was more on-point with this one than what we saw on the main unit. Colors are a good match for the primary unit's reproduction as well.
Moving on to the ultrawide, we're once again seeing class-leading performance. Detail is abundant, sharpening is restrained, noise is nowhere to be found. Dynamic range is once again excellent, and exposure is accurate, no complaints here.
If we have to name one 'issue' that would be the fact that even after the software correction is applied, images do retain a noticeable amount of barrel distortion and have a bulge to the edges - straight lines won't be straight with this one. That's probably an inevitable consequence of having one of the widest lenses on a smartphone coupled with a large sensor.
The ultrawide's autofocusing capability lets you focus on nearby objects to place them in context and exaggerate perspective. It can't really focus all that close to justify the 'macro' mode, so if extreme close-ups are your thing, the Mi 11 Ultra can't quite deliver.
With all three cameras having Quad Bayer/Tetrapixel sensors, the 50MP mode works on all of them - only the main cam takes 50MP images, the other two are at 48MP, but it's close enough.
We're used to expecting a significant hike in noise when shooting in the full-res modes, but that's not the case with the Mi 11 Ultra - there's barely an increase here on the main camera. There is some softness and a decrease in contrast, however. A marginal improvement in resolved detail can be observed in the right subjects - check out the floodlights in the first sample below, but it's hardly a difference that can justify the 3x file size.
All of that pretty much holds true for the telephoto and the ultra-wide cameras as well.
The Xiaomi Mi 11 Ultra has a toggle in settings, called 'Enhance image quality' that enables an auto Night mode of sorts in Photo mode. The toggle is on by default. Predictably, this tends to produce photos that are closer to ones taken in Night mode than regular Photo mode ones.
These have wide dynamic range and well-preserved highlights, though similarly to daylight shots from the main camera, they do look underexposed to our eyes, and the shadows could use a boost. Certain types of street lights can result in a particularly inaccurate orange rendition of immediate areas, but those aside, white balance and color reproduction are on point. There's a lot of fine detail resolved, and noise is kept minimal.
Here are the same scenes captured in Photo mode with the auto enhancement disabled. You'll note a much narrower dynamic range, particularly evident in the clipped highlights.
And here's another set of photos of the same scenes, these shot in the dedicated Night mode. These are, to our eyes, the same as the first batch.
The plain Photo mode shots have other issues besides the limited dynamic range, most notably a general softness and lack of detail in the darker areas. Night mode, whether auto or forced, resolves these and would be our preferred way of shooting.
With that quick comparison as a preamble, we went out to shoot some more, keeping the auto enhancement off for Photo mode, to better see the difference between the regular shot and the Night mode shot.
Here are the same scenes shot in Night mode.
We didn't get that auto nigh mode pop-up on the other two cameras, so we're assuming that it's only available on the main camera. The Photo mode samples from the ultrawide corroborate that as they have visibly different processing and more clipped highlights than Night mode shots.
Even so, the Photo mode shots are possibly the best ultrawide low-light shots we've gotten so far. They are detailed, noise is well controlled, and colors are spot on, with less of that orange cast we saw on the main cam in certain situations.
Night mode addresses the dynamic range issues and gives us much better developed tonal extremes and pulls out a lot of detail from the shadows. There's some of that notorious Night mode sharpening, but even that is handled with restraint.
2x zoom at night is a doable, but the results are so-so. Even though it's sourced from the main camera, this zoom level doesn't get Night mode - not auto, not forced and, dynamic range is pretty narrow. The shadows do have some reserves, so you could push them post-shot, but the highlights are beyond salvation. On the positive side, sharpness and detail are actually quite good.
At 5x zoom, the Mi 11 Ultra is without competition in shooting low-light scenes. It will get you excellently detailed photos bringing intricate column capitals closer like no other. Noise is kept reasonably low in the process. Dynamic range isn't quite as impressive, and point light sources will get clipped, but expecting anything more than that would be unrealistic.
It's Night mode's job to help with that and help it does. You'll be looking at improved development in both shadows and highlights, as well as a reduction in noise.
Once you're done with the real-world samples, head over to our Photo compare tool to see how the Xiaomi Mi 11 Ultra stacks up against the competition.
Portrait mode on the Mi 11 Ultra is handled by the main camera at a single magnification that we eyeballed to be around 1.4x zoom, or 33-35mm. Detail remains great despite the cropping action and dynamic range is nice and wide. Subject isolation is excellent, and while the default level at a simulated f/3.2 aperture is conservative, we found f/2.0 to be a sweet spot for our tastes, delivering convincing results.
The 20MP Tetrapixel selfie cam takes photos in its nominal resolution, as opposed to 4-to-1 binned images. So, while it will take decently detailed photos, they won't be as detailed as the number suggests. Colors and dynamic range are very good though.
Realistically, with the ability to frame photos using the rear display, the selfie camera should be relegated to video calls only.
Subject isolation in selfie portrait mode is okay, but there can be a halo of sharpness around the subject, particularly where clothes meet the background.
Now, if only we could frame rear-camera selfies in Portrait mode using the rear display but we can't. You can use this one to frame only regular type of selfies - not such with artificially defocused background.
The thing is, though - with the rear camera setup you can enjoy selfies with a naturally defocused background.
The big sensor does have pretty shallow depth of field and makes for a pretty nice natural blur. As far as defocused backgrounds out of smartphone cameras go, this is as much as you can have, and we like it. The inherent light gathering capabilities of the rear camera also mean that it fares well in lower light as well. The one issue is that you might cause unwanted shake when squeezing the phone to press the volume button - we did get the occasional blurry shot.
The ultrawide does offer immense coverage when it comes to selfies - almost too much, if your surroundings aren't all that picture-perfect. It's also not quite as good in dimmer conditions.
What it's properly great at, however, is goofy framing and weird perspectives. It's not that you couldn't get these with another smartphone's rear camera, but it's this one that gives you the display to get the framing right.