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Ultimate Leica vs. Hasselblad phone camera test has a decisive winner

Leica and Hasselblad are the two big-name camera brands making a huge impact on smartphones. Leica, having recently split from its successful relationship with Huawei, has now partnered with Xiaomi, while Hasselblad works closely with both OnePlus and Oppo. There are other camera brand partnerships in the smartphone world, such as Zeiss and Vivo, but none have the same level of global brand awareness.

Which pairing is creating the best camera? To find out, we tested the new Xiaomi 12S Ultra with its Leica-tuned camera alongside the Hasselblad-tuned OnePlus 10 Pro.

The phones and cameras

Released at the end of March, the OnePlus 10 Pro is the brand’s second phone with Hasselblad’s tuning after the OnePlus 9 Pro. We’ve seen how Hasselblad has changed OnePlus’ cameras already, and also know its influence extends only to the software and not the hardware.

The main camera is a 48-megapixel Sony IMX789 sensor with an f/1.8 aperture and optical image stabilization (OIS), and it’s joined by a 50MP wide-angle camera and an 8MP telephoto camera for a 3.3x optical zoom. On the front is a 32MP fixed focus selfie camera. Hasselblad’s Camera for Mobile tuning and various custom Hasselblad filters, along with the unusual XPan Mode, are among the camera makers’s contributions.

Most people will be less familiar with the Xiaomi 12S Ultra as it’s not available outside China. Xiaomi and Leica announced their partnership in May and subsequently released the Xiaomi 12S series together in July, with the 12S Ultra as the flagship. How deeply the two collaborate isn’t really known, but the phones are described as being “co-engineered by Leica,” suggesting it may be as extensive as the partnership Leica had with Huawei, which went beyond just software.

The OnePlus 10 Pro and the Xiaomi 12S Ultra screens.
Andy Boxall/Digital Trends

The Xiaomi 12S Ultra has three cameras on the back. A 1-inch, 50MP Sony IMX989 camera with an f/1.9 aperture and OIS is up first, with a 48MP wide-angle camera and a 48MP telephoto camera with OIS and electronic image stabilization (EIS) for a 5x optical zoom completing the array.

Leica’s involvement is obvious as you’re given the choice of taking photos in either Leica Vibrant or Leica Authentic mode, where the brand tunes the performance to give its trademark look to photos. OnePlus and Hasselblad do something similar with a selection of three “Master” modes — Radiance, Serenity, and Emerald — that are designed to replicate the look of photos taken by Hasselblad’s top ambassadors.

The processors

The Xiaomi 12S Ultra's camera module.
Andy Boxall/Digital Trends

Before we get into the photos, there’s another difference between the two phones that can change the camera’s performance, and that’s the processor. The OnePlus 10 Pro has the Qualcomm Snapdragon 8 Gen 1, while the Xiaomi 12S Ultra has the updated Snapdragon 8+ Gen 1. Ahead of testing the two phones, I spoke to Qualcomm’s vice president of product management, Judd Heape, about Snapdragon Sight and the changes between the 8 Gen 1 and 8+ Gen 1.

“The most important thing in a mobile camera are the sensors and optics, the ISP and its features, and then the tuning. All three have to work together to give a really good camera experience,” Heape told me, before revealing that the ISP is the same in both the processors used here and explaining more about Snapdragon Sight.

The OnePlus 10 Pro's camera module.
Andy Boxall/Digital Trends

“Snapdragon Sight is an overarching delivery from Qualcomm, which includes the ISP and sometimes the tuning, where we help tune the camera to get the best image quality, and also features you may not think come from Qualcomm like electronic image stabilization, noise reduction, or lowlight video. We offer the hardware, the tuning, and the software features on top,” Heape said.

It’s worth remembering when looking at the photos below, it’s not just that OnePlus and Xiaomi that have worked on the cameras — it’s Leica, Hasselblad, and Qualcomm too. All have different degrees of involvement, but all have influenced the end result. These are flagship phones, represent the best of what’s available, and have high-profile collaborations behind them. Winning will be a big deal.

With all that explained, on to the photos. Unless otherwise stated, all the photos were taken in automatic mode. All were examined on a color-calibrated monitor and then resized for friendlier online viewing.

Leica vs. Hasselblad main camera

I’ll start off by saying this is one of the hardest-to-judge camera comparisons I’ve done. Unlike the one between the iPhone 13 Pro and iPhone 14 Pro, where the differences are minimal, here it’s obvious the two cameras take very different photos, with very different interpretations of the scene. Selecting a winner is a hard task, and there will be some photos where you may disagree with my choice.

Our first photo is a beach scene in difficult weather conditions. It was cloudy and rainy, with little chance for the sun to come through on the day this was taken. The two phones expose the scene in entirely different ways, with the OnePlus 10 Pro brightening the image to reveal more detail, while the darker, smoother Xiaomi 12S Ultra is more realistic, with better white balance and an accurate portrayal of the conditions.

The second photo moves on to a sunny day, and the OnePlus phone decides saturation is the order of the day, amping up the color of the blue sky and the green grass. The Xiaomi phone doesn’t do this, giving a natural look to the grass and sky, plus the tree on the right of the photo is far more realistically colored. The roof on the left of the photo is shrouded in shadow and lacks detail, though.

Our third photo shows the incredible depth of field possible with the Xiaomi 12S Ultra’s massive sensor, and how it can affect your photos. The OnePlus 10 Pro keeps the cake in sharp focus, blurring the coffee and the background. Colors, white balance, tone, and shadows are very attractive. The Xiaomi 12S Ultra focuses on the spoon and the coffee, then begins to blur out everything else. You have to get used to the way the 12S Ultra takes photos to get the best from it, but the tone and look of the photo are beautiful.

We’ll close with a fourth photo, which helps cement our winner. The OnePlus 10 Pro captures the image very well, with bright colors and plenty of detail — but the Xiaomi 12S Ultra introduces so much depth, along with a wonderful atmosphere, to the same scene. It changes the ambiance and makes it the photo I’d want to share. It made me want to experiment more with the Xiaomi phone, and that’s an important aspect of any camera. It helped give the Xiaomi 12S Ultra the win here.

Winner: Xiaomi 12S Ultra

Leica vs. Hasselblad wide-angle camera

The Xiaomi 12S Ultra’s camera has a wider 128-degree field of view compared to the OnePlus 10 Pro’s standard wide-angle camera view, but it can’t replicate the special 150-degree field of view mode found on the OnePlus phone. All the photos here use the standard wide-angle mode. We’ll start with a wide-angle version of the beach photo above.

The cameras are quite consistent, with similar differences between them showing up again. The Xiaomi 12S Ultra has better white balance and a cool tone, while the OnePlus 10 Pro’s photo is warmer. You have to zoom in to see the differences. Xiaomi’s photo has more detail and definition, with less blur and no obvious edge enhancement, which is visible in the OnePlus’s photo.

The next photo shows where the OnePlus is still keen to oversaturate photos compared to the natural, subdued tones in Xiaomi’s picture. This time, the cloudy sky is better balanced in the 10 Pro’s photo, and the blue tint in the 12S Ultra’s photo is distracting. But again, Xiaomi’s photo has more definition, and the details are clearer throughout.

Finally, on a sunnier day, the OnePlus 10 Pro takes a startling photo filled with color, but at the expense of realistic shadows. The Xiaomi 12S Ultra gets the shadow right and tones down the color, but it’s not quite as eye-catching as the OnePlus’s image. However, this doesn’t hide the fact the OnePlus’ photo has more noise and less detail. Xiaomi’s wide-angle camera is definitely superior to the OnePlus’s wide-angle camera.

Winner: Xiaomi 12S Ultra

Leica vs. Hasselblad telephoto zoom

The Xiaomi 12S Ultra can zoom in further than the OnePlus 10 Pro, but for this test, we used the standard zoom mode in the camera app, rather than trying to match them up. This way, we can assess the photos fairly. The first photo of the clock shows how different the two zoom modes look.

There’s so much detail in Xiaomi’s photo. Zoom in further, and there’s barely any pixelation, and detail remains crisp and sharp. This isn’t the case with the OnePlus 10 Pro’s photo, where detail is obscured as the camera struggles to get the balance right. Take a look at the sharp, defined Roman numerals on the clock face in the 12S Ultra’s photo, then compare them with the undefined numerals in the OnePlus 10 Pro’s photo.

Just how much more detailed Xiaomi’s zoom photos are becomes clear in the second image, which shows small posters attached to the side of a cabin. Yes, the 12S Ultra’s photo is zoomed in further, but when you enhance it again, the text is sharp throughout, while the OnePlus 10 Pro’s photo is blurred and low quality. The 12S Ultra’s shot stays readable the more you zoom in. It’s very impressive.

Winner: Xiaomi 12S Ultra

Leica vs. Hasselblad night mode

Only one photo is required here, as it does a great job of showing exactly how much better the Xiaomi 12S Ultra is in low light. It was taken late in the evening with streetlights, traffic, and lighting from stores all providing plenty of ambient light. While it was dark, it wasn’t pitch black. It means both phones have a great chance to take a decent photo.

Colors, texture, sharpness, and the overall tone are all vastly superior in the Xiaomi photo, with the text on the monument being an obvious difference when you zoom in, The OnePlus photo lacks definition throughout, and even the license plate on the red Smart car in the right of the image is much more defined in the 12S Ultra’s photo. Every lowlight image taken by the Xiaomi phone improved over those taken by the OnePlus 10 Pro, giving it a comprehensive win here.

Winner: Xiaomi 12S Ultra

Leica vs. Hasselblad portrait mode

Both the OnePlus 10 Pro and the Xiaomi 12S Ultra’s portrait modes are good, with decent edge recognition and depth of field. The photo of the duck shows where the faults with each lie. But first it’s worth mentioning how difficult it is to capture the duck properly, given the shape of the feathers and the complicated background. It’s an impressive effort for both.

The Xiaomi 12S Ultra doesn’t follow the duck’s body as accurately as the OnePlus 10 Pro, missing sections of its head and tail. It also fails to separate one of the ducks in the background, while the OnePlus 10 Pro recognizes the ducks are not connected. It also blurs the foliage more effectively, giving a better overall effect.

But it’s not the end of the story, as throughout the images taken in portrait mode, the OnePlus 10 Pro and Xiaomi 12S Ultra traded blows. The image above shows where the Leica camera improved over the OnePlus’ image, as Xiaomi’s edge recognition is more accurate. Both cameras can be very effective, but sometimes rather disappointing too.

Winner: Draw

Leica vs. Hasselblad selfie camera

Like all the examples here, the selfie camera used the automatic settings, so these are examples of exactly how a photo will look if you switch the camera around and just press the shutter release. The Xiaomi 12S Ultra adds a beauty effect automatically, while the OnePlus phone does not. Unfortunately, my skin is not as smooth and clean as Xiaomi’s photo makes it out to be, and my face isn’t quite that shape either.

The OnePlus 10 Pro gets the win here, as the photograph looks more like me in real life. If you expect me to look exactly like the guy in the second photo, then prepare for disappointment should we ever meet. The portrait effect is passable in both, but neither gets the background in the lens of my glasses right. Yes, it’s possible to turn the beauty effect off when taking a selfie with the Xiaomi 12S Ultra, but I shouldn’t have to do that.

Winner: OnePlus 10 Pro

Leica gets a demanding, confident win

The Xiaomi 12S Ultra with its Leica camera and Snapdragon 8+ Gen 1 took four wins, while the OnePlus 10 Pro with its Hasselblad-tuned camera and Snapdragon 8 Gen 1 only managed a single win. It was a draw in one category, giving the Xiaomi 12S Ultra a commanding overall win. It perhaps shouldn’t come as a surprise, given how much more experienced Leica is working with a smartphone brand than Hasselblad is.

The OnePlus 10 Pro’s camera is decent, but it simply can’t keep up with that mighty 1-inch sensor inside the Xiaomi 12S Ultra. What’s more, there’s so much more potential in the Xiaomi phone than the OnePlus. Using them both for this comparison made me feel I’d only just started to find out the Xiaomi phone’s strengths, but at the same time, I didn’t think the OnePlus 10 Pro had much more to give.

What a shame Xiaomi has not released the 12S Ultra internationally. It is available as an import (although my sample phone does not come with all Google services on board, which is something to consider if you do buy one), and it can be found for about the same price as the OnePlus 10 Pro. If you want to experiment with one of the most exciting, capable, and impressive camera phones we’ve tried in a while, it really could be worth the effort.

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