Xiaomi 14 Ultra Review: Serious Photographers Should Take Notice

The Xiaomi 14 Ultra is the clearest indicator yet that Xiaomi wants to be the best in mobile photography, even if some parts of the world don’t know it. Anecdotal as it may be, people react with surprise at the images they see captured by the phone when I show them.

The company even made a photography kit (again) that advances the concept further. Perhaps unsurprisingly, the 14 Ultra is more camera than phone. After shooting with it for weeks, it’s hard to argue its merits, save for one particular aspect.

Design and Build

I went over a lot of the design details in a previous hands-on. Still, the gist is that there’s a familiar large camera module in the rear housing a LYT-900 Type 1.0 image sensor for the main camera and Leica Summilux lenses for the entire array. Not to mention the f/1.63 and f/4.0 variable aperture.

Close-up of a smartphone's black rear camera module branded by leica, featuring four lenses arranged symmetrically, with a flash and sensor visible.

The phone itself is premium in its overall design, sporting a beautifully vibrant 6.7-inch AMOLED (3,200 by 1,440) display that is tantalizingly close to going fully flat, plus a nice textured faux leather back.

Xiaomi picked an excellent time to bring this to the world beyond China, showcasing that it knows how to make a phone that looks good. It’s also evident that point-and-shoot cameras influence the general look, at least in how its frame accommodates the separately sold Photography Kit that gives it a grip and tactile camera controls.

It’s also a premium phone in its own right by the sheer presence of the Snapdragon 8 Gen 3 chipset, better graphics performance, and large battery inside. IP68 protection is back to help keep it safe from the elements as much as possible. As with the previous Xiaomi 13 Ultra, the base model starts at 12GB of RAM and 256GB of storage, though you can also choose to go higher with 16GB and 512GB. A 1TB variant is a Chinese exclusive.

A hand holding a smartphone capturing a live basketball game, displayed on the screen with players in action and cheerleaders on the court.

Note that the global version differs from the Chinese variant in a few ways, but one thing that aligns them both is neither supports eSIMs. You get a dual-SIM tray in the global variant, so you need physical cards to connect to a carrier.

Camera Features

This is the first of Xiaomi’s Ultra phones to use Sony’s LYT-900 Type 1.0 sensor for the main 50-megapixel camera (23mm equivalent). There are two telephoto lenses, a 50-megapixel with 3.2x optical zoom (75mm equivalent) at f/1.8 and a 50-megapixel periscope lens with 5x optical zoom (120mm equivalent) or 10x hybrid zoom (240mm equivalent), and you can shoot in macro with both as well. That also goes for the 50-megapixel ultra-wide camera (12mm equivalent) with 122-degree field of view, which doubles as a macro shooter down to five centimeters distance. These secondary cameras use Sony IMX858 1/2.51-inch sensors, continuing Xiaomi’s design choice from the previous model. Xiaomi also returns the 32-megapixel (22mm equivalent) front camera with f/2.0 aperture.

All the rear cameras have Summilux lenses, a notable change for the whole array because they are generally faster than Leica’s other Summicron lenses. This fits in well with the variable aperture at work with the main lens. The main lens is also made with an eight-piece element and better image stabilization, which, in theory, should help capture moving subjects.

A hand holding a smartphone with a large black and red camera module labeled "leica" on the back, displayed against an outdoor blurred background.
The Xiaomi 14 Ultra with the optional Photography Kit accessory attached

The $225 Photography Kit also gets its own upgrades with an exposure dial and dedicated video recording button to add to the shutter button and zoom lever. Plus, the interchangeable lens ring has different attachments, including one that lets you screw in a 67mm filter. I tested out the Kit with a 67mm Moment ND filter (2-5 stops) to understand how far the 14 Ultra can go when equipped this way.

The Kit has its own setting in the phone once you attach it, letting you choose to shoot in burst, change the zoom lever to adjust aperture instead, or have the dial change a range of settings, like shutter, ISO, white balance, focus, bokeh — basically all the settings you’d associate with Pro mode. Even the video button can do other things that aren’t entirely focused on video. The grip has its own battery to top up your phone, though I would be wary of leaving it there when you’re not shooting because it will drain itself charging the phone.

Software Features

As always, Xiaomi’s partnership with Leica is the foundation of the whole camera experience. Leica Authentic and Vibrant return as the two main shooting profiles, both available in various modes, like Photo, Pro, Portrait, Night, and Fastshot. Leica’s filters also figure prominently in the interface for almost every mode the phone offers, along with a long train of film simulations and other presets available.

Xiaomi is also quietly expanding its editing suite, but my favorite feature is the ability to apply any of Leica’s filters to images after you’ve shot them. The AI-assisted editing features aren’t quite where Google’s are yet, though the gap is closing with how granular many of the controls are. On the AI side, removing people and objects is very hit-or-miss, and lighting conditions appear to be a big reason why. They work better for images in brighter light, whereas they struggle to remove people at all in low-light settings.

A hand holds a smartphone with its camera app open, capturing a night scene of a city with illuminated buildings and blurred lights in the background.

The whole AI element is arguably more substantial in less conspicuous ways. It plays a role in stabilizing an image captured with hybrid zoom and showing HDR in real-time rather than rendering it after releasing the shutter.

Xiaomi focused a lot on video through its new Movie mode, which puts far more control in your hands over how to capture footage, whether you shoot in LOG or not. There isn’t as much that’s entirely new on the photography side, and I didn’t get to truly test out the AI-assisted “Master Portrait” feature Xiaomi introduced at Mobile World Congress in February 2024 that can create photorealistic images of you (or someone else) when the AI has at least 20 images to build from. However, I suspect this may only be the beginning of what the company has in mind for an AI presence in image capture and editing.

Image Quality

Main Camera

Put good hardware and software together, and you should have an excellent phone camera. That’s a good way to sum up what the 14 Ultra can do, even more so when you explore the myriad of settings and options to find the best combinations for you or your scenario. The variable aperture also applies in more than just Pro mode, letting you utilize it in others, like Photo and Fastshot, or you can choose to leave it in auto if you can’t be bothered.

Naturally, Leica’s presence makes taking photos with this phone feel different. Leica Authentic retains the classic look that eschews the overprocessed and relentlessly filtered stuff seen on social media. Even Leica Vibrant doesn’t take things too far, leading to images that surprise in a good way — at least to those who aren’t used to seeing them or know Leica’s style. People I showed photos to routinely commented on the “artsy” or “like a real camera” look they produced. With excellent tonal and color detail, this phone produces consistently good photos with broad appeal.

A blurred image of a streetcar in motion at night, captured from a low angle with vivid streaks of light and illuminated traffic signals overhead.

Dynamic range is solid, though there is one bugaboo Xiaomi will have to resolve going forward: direct light sources. Exposed light bulbs — even from a reasonable distance — are perhaps the most apparent case, and in photos with both bright sources of light and dark shadows, the phone sometimes struggled to find the ideal balance. It was either wash out the lights entirely or, with exposure adjustments, render the shadows too dark to ward off noise when brightening them later. I find Vivo does a better job handling bright light and lighting reflections, as evidenced by my experience with the Vivo X100 Pro.

A panoramic view of toronto showcasing the cn tower amid surrounding skyscrapers under a clear blue sky.

It’s the one thing blighting an otherwise outstanding camera. The 14 Ultra is versatile in ways that don’t always reveal themselves in other phones, including those more familiar to users in North America. In some respects, particularly with action and low-light images, it finds ways to capture exciting photos. Of course, the person using the camera always matters, but seeing novices have fun trying this phone’s camera indicates that the onboard features pique interest.

A dimly lit bar with ambient red lighting, featuring a bartender behind the bar and a customer seated at the counter. shelves stocked with various bottles line the back wall.

Ultra-wide and Telephoto Lenses

The other cameras supplement the main one in effective ways, and I give particular praise to the periscope telephoto lens. Despite using a familiar sensor, the software computation is not the same, so I believe results can often speak for themselves more positively this time. I also found these zoomed photos easier to edit in Lightroom afterward. Moreover, like the main camera, the telephoto cameras stay in line with tone and color, maintaining continuity in the wider array that doesn’t make photos look all that different.

In bringing back macro to both the telephoto lenses and the ultra-wide, Xiaomi corrected a mistake made in the previous phone, where it left that role only to the main camera. Like the previous 13 Ultra, hybrid zoom has a cliff where quality takes a dramatic fall after about 10-20x zoom. Admittedly, there’s a slight improvement, but it is too marginal to pay much attention to. You can go up to 120x if you want to, though I suspect you’ll rarely do so after looking at the results.

A vibrant neon sign lights up the facade of fillmores hotel at night, advertising a comedy event featuring "the worst lap dance ever" with "that one guy no one ever had on his lap.

The ultra-wide has a very wide field of view and is prone to quality degradation along the edges, but otherwise, it produces excellent shots. It maintains solid output in low-light conditions while preserving tone and color in brighter ones.

Portrait Mode

The Portrait mode, generally speaking, looks very much the same as before. Xiaomi’s Master Lens System continues to channel Leica’s own sense of style and optics through the familiar four bokeh shooting modes: Black and white 35mm, Swirly bokeh 50mm, Portrait 75mm, and Soft focus 90mm. Remember that the 35mm and 50mm equivalents use the main camera sensor. In contrast, the 75mm and 90mm equivalents use the telephoto lenses, which could skew results given the disparity in sensor size. While Leica’s branding isn’t visible in this mode, the results should clarify that by way of the consistent look you come away with.

A cozy dining scene with a lit candle and two glasses of champagne on a table, with soft, blurred lights visible through a window in the background.

Xiaomi prefers to stick with the virtual aperture for this mode rather than at least introduce the variable one as an elective choice for the 35mm and 50mm selections. You can always adjust the bokeh after you’ve taken the photo, but I would’ve liked to see some additional ingenuity from Xiaomi here.

Its Master Portrait feature figures to be a more prominent fixture in this mode going forward based on how enthusiastic the company is when talking about it. You can get to it by tapping on Leica Portrait in the top right corner to switch to Master and see what you get.

A train passing through a series of large, white beams structured in parallel rows, creating an architectural pattern, with a glimpse of tracks visible beneath.

Pro and 50MP

Both of these modes are real gems. It’s already great that you can take RAW photos at full resolution, but software processing is also better in the 50MP mode. I often shot in that mode at times when I wasn’t too close nor too far, thus letting me take a shot with the main sensor rather than go to one of the telephotos. These 50-megapixel images are fun to edit in Lightroom, too.

With such a litany of manual controls in Pro mode, along with the ability to shoot 50-megapixel JPEGs using those controls, there is a lot to work with. More than anything ever seen in a device from the likes of Apple, Samsung, and Google. They include Parameter Presets, where you can set composition and save it as a preset to get to any time. After saving them as zip files, you can even import them from other devices, so you don’t lose them if you’re unfortunate enough to lose your phone. Custom photographic styles were previously introduced in Xiaomi’s 13T series, and they’re back again to adjust tone and saturation.

Night view of a city street with a vintage, illuminated turret-style building at the center, flanked by modern high-rises. empty streets and traffic lights emphasize the quiet, urban setting.

There are a couple of limitations to point out. While you can snap images in 14-bit RAW (Ultra RAW), doing so removes the custom styles. Additionally, you can’t choose between Leica Authentic or Vibrant when shooting in RAW (it must be Vibrant). Xiaomi has yet to explain why it applies the brakes here, but the only theory I can come up with is that RAW images are already closer to what Authentic looks like. I don’t know, and I’m still waiting to hear from Xiaomi on why it chose this route.

A close-up photo of a billiards table with a red number 3 ball near the pocket and a blurry white ball in the background, implying motion towards the red ball.

Video Features

My review focused on still images, but Xiaomi took significant strides on the video side, producing better footage on the 14 Ultra than its predecessors. The sensor is a big reason why, though the lenses also play a role by reducing reflections and flare. You can do 8K at 24fps or 30fps and 4K at 24, 30, 60, and 120fps on all four rear cameras. Pro mode has a video section that applies the same granular controls to recording content. Move to Movie or Director mode, and you can take things even further.

Director mode gives you complete control over composing a scene, right down to HDR and 10-bit LOG with Rec 2020 color gamut. There’s even an option to loop in other Xiaomi phones for multiple angles or tether the phone to a video camera and use it as a monitor. LUTs and filters give you some creative license on the mood you want to capture while filming.

Entering a Class All Its Own

It would be one thing if Xiaomi handled its phone cameras as gimmicky eye candy, but that’s not how the 14 Ultra comes across. The “wow” factor is not because it produces over-the-top imagery; it captures photos in authentic ways. I’ve made a point of showing pictures (as I do with all phones I test) to others to gauge reactions, and this phone received some of the strongest yet. “My iPhone can’t do that,” was perhaps the most common refrain I heard, along with the always inquisitive, “This phone shot that?”

Black and white photo of a tall building with a textured facade, featuring multiple fire escapes and small windows, under a clear sky.

It’s perhaps a testament to Leica that images can conjure up these types of reactions. In an era where still images are so widely accessible, a phone’s ability to provoke thought and appreciation for its natural photography is a welcome sight. Once I pulled out the Photography Kit, it only clarified to others how serious the device is about taking photos.

The only challenge is Xiaomi’s unfamiliarity in markets like North America. Many of those I spoke with were oblivious to the brand, much less how much it’s moved the needle forward in mobile photography. If the 14 Ultra is to start changing that in some way, it needs to be more readily available, carrier support or not.

Are There Alternatives?

I mentioned it earlier, but the Vivo X100 Pro certainly stands out as a tough competitor for its long list of options and ability to capture quality shots. Like Xiaomi, Vivo presents a wide range of creative ways to compose and take photos, all helped by software processing and hardware influenced by its collaboration with Zeiss. The Honor Magic6 Pro also vies for the crown as an excellent performer. Equipped with plenty of options and good hardware, it’s not a phone to be taken lightly.

A basketball player in a green and white jersey, number 6, shooting a basketball towards the hoop during a game in an indoor court with spectators. other players are watching and waiting in various colorful jerseys.

On North American shores, the Samsung Galaxy S24 Ultra and Google Pixel 8 Pro come the closest to reaching the 14 Ultra’s levels. The OnePlus 12 is closer now than the brand has ever been to competing with the best. For Apple users, the choice only comes down to the iPhone 15 Pro and Pro Max. If you like what Xiaomi can do, but not necessarily the cost of the Ultra, the regular Xiaomi 14 has a lot to work with.

Should You Buy It?

Yes, it’s definitely worth it for the photography alone. It’s expensive, starting at about $1,600 after converting from Euros, but it is available from online retailers who will ship to Canada and the U.S. For those in the U.K., you can get it directly from Amazon.

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