The Mi 11 Ultra's ultimate cameraphone status in the Xiaomi lineup warranted comparison to the ultimate cameraphones Samsung has to offer. We mixed things up a bit for our own sanity's sake and set boundaries for our shootout.
We shot the Mi versus the Galaxy S21 Ultra for the main and ultrawide cameras since it's the latest and greatest phone Samsung has to offer. For zooming in, we mostly compared the Mi against the Galaxy Note20 Ultra since they do have the same nominal 5x zoom capability, but we did sneak in a quick 10x-20x shootout with the S21 Ultra as well.
In the main camera images, there are notable differences between the Mi and the Galaxy. On a global scale, the Mi 11 Ultra's tendency to underexpose is easy to spot - it's about a stop darker than the Galaxy's more accurate (and more pleasing) result.
Colors are generally subjective, but neither phone will leave you wanting for pop, and the two are relatively close in their rendition.
On a pixel level, we'd say we prefer the Mi 11 Ultra's more natural results with foliage. The cleaner, better-defined straight lines and ever so slight edges in fine detail strengthen its case as well. Noise is missing in both phones' results.
The gap in resolved detail widens on the ultrawide cameras, where the Mi has a more clear-cut advantage. That's both in absolute detail in and in the quality of its rendition - the twigs are finer, and there aren't such sharpening halos as on the Galaxy.
The Mi's underexposure is gone on this module, and the two phones offer a similar level of scene brightness.
The Mi's greatest flaw here is its inability to completely correct the barrel distortion, and in shots with straight lines along the edges, you'd be getting that bulging look. The Galaxy is nearly perfect in its distortion correction. Then again, the Mi does offer notably wider coverage.
Switching over to the Note20 Ultra for a head-to-head at 5x zoom, we see a much better sharpness and detail in Xiaomi's photos and better contrast - there's generally more bite in the Mi's images. Dynamic range is comparable, which is a testament to the Note's smaller sensor and/or processing.
We did entertain the idea for a 10x comparison against the S21 Ultra. After all, the Samsung has a much smaller sensor than the Mi for its 5x telephoto, and it's a 10MP one at that. Meanwhile, the Mi's 48MP Quad Bayer could be able to pull off some demosaicking trickery and deliver comparable images to the Galaxy.
And indeed, at 10x we'd still give the nod to the Galaxy, the Mi is about there in terms of detail. At 20x, it's essentially a toss-up. So while the Xiaomi doesn't technically have a 10x camera, it's capable of getting 10x-equivalent images as if it had one.
In low-light, the Mi's basic Photo mode (with the auto Night mode disabled) returns images with notably different tonal development than the Galaxy's. The Mi exposes brighter giving us better shadow detail, but the highlights get obliterated in the process. The Galaxy's even darker exposures preserve highlights better but look a little grim.
The S21 Ultra doesn't have the issues with the warm street lights that plague the Mi and delivers more accurate color in these particular conditions.
Night mode essentially equalizes things between the two, and images have similar dynamic range and resolved detail. The Mi's less than stellar handling of certain lights persists.
Looking at the ultra wides, the Galaxy retains an advantage in Photo mode in terms of Dynamic range. Detail is comparable, while the Galaxy shots are slightly noisier.
In Night mode, there's hardly anything to split the two phones' ultrawides.
Reaching for the Galaxy Note20 Ultra for the zoom comparison, the Mi 11 Ultra has the upper hand in Photo mode, particularly in darker and contrasty scenes. You can count on a higher level of detail out of the Xiaomi, and that's especially true for the darker areas.
The Xiaomi maintains that advantage in Night mode as well, producing sharper and more detailed photos.