Dec 31 2012

Review: Xiaomi Mi-2 Camera

The Xiaomi Mi-2 has pretty amazing camera specifications. The main camera has an 8 megapixel sensor and 27 mm wide-angle optics with a large 2.0 aperture. Its speed is unparalleled: 8 frames per second. The video camera can record full-HD 1080p at 30 fps and “HD Ready” 720p resolution at a staggering 90 fps. Only professional equipment has had similar speeds – until now. Even the secondary camera has a large 2 megapixel sensor.

This is a part of a larger Xiaomi MI-2 Review.

The Primary Camera

For the photo size you can choose 8M, 6M, 5M, 3M, HD1080 (1920×1080), 2M, HD720 (1280×720), 0.8M, SVGA (800×600) and VGA (640×480). Aspect ratio 4:3 is in 8M, 5M, 3M, 2M, 0.8M, SVGA and VGA. Aspect ratio 16:9 is in 6M, HD1080 and HD720. I personally would like to have a combination of ~3M and 16:9 but there is no such an option available. 6M is too large for my needs so I have been shooting with HD1080 that yields roughly 2.07 megapixel photos. That resolution is good for up to A4/US Letter prints but not larger. Keep that in mind when choosing the resolution.

One thing missing is the presets. I would like to have a few scene selections like low-light and macro. There are no presets available so you need to tweak the camera settings yourself according to the lighting conditions. This requires at least some knowledge of photography. The ultimate option would be the ability to make the adjustments and saving the settings and giving them a name. Maybe some day.

Auto Mode

Outdoors Cloudy

Low-light with flash

Outdoors Low-Light, Lantern

Indoors Good Ligthing

Outdoors, Extreme Low-Light

Outdoors Cloudy

Outdoors Cloudy

Indoors Fair Light

Outdoors Low-Light

These photos have been taken with out-of-the-box settings. This time a year it is mostly dark and cloudy in Finland, so most of the test scenes are dark and cloudy as well. What I noticed first is the relatively large amount of noise with the default settings. Take a look at the lantern photo for example. Even with fair light, the noise is noticeable. Another thing I immediately noticed is the 27 mm wide-angle lens. Take a look at the photo taken in the woods at daylight. Wow, that is amazingly wide angle!

Panorama Mode

Portrait Panorama Mode (135°)

Landscape Panorama Mode (180°)

The panorama mode works both in portrait and landscape. Unlike in Samsung phones, it does not guide you by giving moving brackets where you should move your phone to. There is no shutter sound either so you don’t know when does it take photos. This also means you can’t speed skip the in-betweens and slow it down when it is about to take a new photo. When it has finished taking photos it takes a noticeable long time to calculate the final panorama. There are also clear faults in the geometrical shapes as you can see in the photo below.

Landscape Panorama Mode (180°)

HDR Mode

The HDR mode comes with Android 4.2. However it is built-in in Mi-2 and for example Samsung Galaxy SIII. I had previously purchased a third-party HDR app, HDR Camera+, so I wanted to take it to a comparison with a now built-in HDR shooting mode of the Mi-2. The photos below have the same scene shot first with the normal camera mode, then with the built-in HDR mode and lastly with the HDR Camera+ app.

Default Camera

Built-In HDR

HDR Camera+

Default Camera

Built-In HDR

HDR Camera+

Default Camera

Built-In HDR

HDR Camera+

Default Camera

Built-In HDR

HDR Camera+

Default Camera

Built-In HDR

HDR Camera+

Default Camera

Built-In HDR

HDR Camera+

Default Camera

Built-in HDR

HDR Camera+

Default Camera

Built-In HDR

HDR Camera+

Default Camera

Built-In HDR

HDR Camera+

Default Camera

Built-In HDR

HDR Camera+

In my opinion the built-in HDR mode yields the best results in almost all of the above test scenes, but you’ll be the judge. Like in the panorama mode, it does not give any indication when it shoots the photos but unlike in the panorama mode, it is blazing fast taking the three (?) photos. The shooting time does not differ significantly from a regular photo.

ISO Setting

I was disappointed with the large amount of noise with the default settings. I wanted to try different ISO settings and how they would affect the noise.

ISO 100

ISO 400

ISO 800

ISO 1600

ISO 3200

In my opinion ISO 200 gives the crispest results and yet enough light so that the photos won’t be too dark.

Macro

There is no macro preset to be selected but you may focus on a close object and get the blurry background anyway. In my tests the closest distance to the object to be sharp was 5 cm.

Outdoors Macro

Indoors Macro

Outdoors Macro

Outdoors Macro

Indoors Macro

Indoors Macro

The large 2.0 aperture means you will get a bokeh usually associated with DSL cameras.

Continuous Shooting

Xiaomi Mi-2 can shoot 8 frames per second in the continuous shooting mode. This is really blazing fast when compared to for example DSLR cameras that normally shoot 3-4 frames per second. Continuous shooting is achieved by long-pressing the shutter button which in my opinion is far from optimal. When you press and hold the shutter button, the phone will wait for about a second and then starts shooting in burst. Now, if you try to capture an event that is not triggered by you, it becomes really tedious since you have to begin holding the button before the event occurs. In addition, the photo burst last only 20 frames so you just cannot hold it pressed well before and let it shoot until you have captured the interesting bits. That being said, if the event happens only once, there is a great possibility that you would miss it – unfortunately.

Continuous Shooting, Default Settings

In this photo sequence I asked my daughters to jump concurrently. The default settings yield really bad motion blur which I tried to improve tweaking the settings.

ISO Setting

Continuous Shooting, ISO Auto

Continuous Shooting, ISO 100

Continuous Shooting, ISO 200

Continuous Shooting, ISO 1600

Continuous Shooting, ISO 3200

Fiddling with the ISO setting could make the moving object shaprper – at least in theory. Larger ISO values mean “faster film” so selecting ISO 1600 should give sharper photos but more grain when compared to for example ISO 200. As you see from the sample photos, this is exactly the case. However, notice the odd vertical dark bars in ISO 3200 so I would avoid using too large ISO setting. The bars can be even seen with the ISO 1600, although much lighter.

Exposure

Continuous Shooting, Exposure -1

Continuous Shooting, Exposure -2

According to basic principles in photography, the faster the shutter speed is, the sharper any moving object will be. However, there needs to be more light in the environment, otherwise the photo will be darker. In Mi-2 the shutter speed can be controlled via “Exposure” setting. It has nine different levels to choose from. Less exposure means faster shutter speed.

Based on my sample photos, changing ISO setting matters more than exposure level. After all, the Mi-2 is not a professional camera and given its small lens diameter, you will always get a compromise in the resulting photos.

Secondary Camera

Xiaomi Mi-2 Secondary Camera

The front-facing secondary camera can be used in video calls or taking self-portraits. The 2.0 megapixel camera features face detection but has no autofocus so it cannot take macro photos.

Video

Normal video footage can be shot 1080p@30fps, 720p@30fps, 720p@60fps, 720p@90fps, 480p@30fps, 480p@60fps, 480p@90fps. 30 frames per second is the normal speed so if you shoot with 60fps you can slow the video down to half speed without distracting the motion so that it still runs smoothly.

Standard Video

The first video was shot standing still and moving the camera 180°. It shows some snowflakes and a winter forest and the details are pretty good.

I filmed the second footage while walking in the woods and holding the Mi-2 in my hand. Some of the details suffer because the camera is moving fast and shakes in my hand. The detail loss is clearly seen in the dense woods.

The third video was shot during night time and it has challenging lighting. I drove my car near a site of New Year’s festivities. I sat in my car and attached my Xiaomi Mi-2 to the car mount. The video is filmed through the windshield. The artifacts seen in the video are not in the original, they are caused by Vimeo video processing. The original video quality is in my opinion excellent.

Timelapse

The camera has different settings for timelapse: 2x, 4x, 10x, 50x, 100x and 250x, meaning that for example an event that would normally take 60 minutes, would be viewed in 6 minutes when filmed with 10x setting.

The first timelapse video features settings 4x, 10x, 50x, 100x and 250x. I attached the phone to my car dashboard stand. I had to film in portrait position because otherwise I would have not been able to capture the road.

The second timelapse video was filming about 1.5 hours of my fireplace. Using 50x setting the resulting video takes about 1 min 15 seconds to view. The video was shot with a car stand mounted on a hard cover book that was on a stool. Because of the extreme heat, I had to zoom it in and set the stool further away from the fireplace.

High-Speed

If you know me or you have been following my blog, you also know that basketball is very dear to me. So what could be a better way to demonstrate Xiaomi Mi-2 ability to shoot high-speed HD video, than a jam session with my Reebok XL 52″ Shatter Guard basket. Take a look at the video first and I will comment it in detail below. (For the recording test I used MIUI ROM version MIUI-JLB16.0)

I have included one indoors shot (01:04) to show you how crucial a good lighting is to the sharpness of the motion. I filmed the shot in our basketball court that in my opinion has decent fluorescent lighting but as you can see, any fast movement becomes blurry.

I am not quite convinced that it actually records 90 fps. In theory if you wanted to get normal speed playback, you should play 90 fps video three times as fast as it had been recorded, if you have 30 fps frame rate in your resulting video. I have used iMove ’11 for the editing and I tried to get the normal speed in some of the moves that I did in during the shooting. So I wanted to play it back as fast as it happened. However when I adjusted the speed to 300% it was too fast. I got about natural speed when using 200% which indicates that it actually records 50-60 fps! I used 25 fps in my end result video (common PAL fps) so playing 50 fps video twice as fast that it would normally flow would yield normal motion in 25 fps video. For the “hanging in the air” parts I used 25% playback giving, in theory, 22.5 fps (90 fps * 0.25). There should not be as noticeable jerk if the original video is indeed 90 fps. Even though the speed does not seem to be as fast as they promise, it still gives pretty darn good slow-motion that is unparalleled within the mobile phone realm as of writing.

You can compare the quality and the speed (“how slow can you go”) to my earlier video that I shot with my Sanyo Xacti VPC-SH1 camcorder (60 fps). There is noticeable motion blur with the camcorder as well but it was a cloudy day so the results are not totally comparable. You’ll be judge which one is better.

The Mi-2 takes sharp videos (if you remember to tap-focus) and it does not drop frames at all and you can shoot as long as you have memory space left on the device.

Overview

The camera optics are equivalent of Samsung Galaxy SIII and Nokia Lumia 920 and the picture quality is what you would expect from a modern high-end smartphone.

Pros: Wide-angle lens, large 2.0 aperture giving bokeh, timelapse, amazing “90fps” high-speed video, great built-in HDR

Cons: No image stabilization like in Nokia Lumia 920, no presets (sports, night time, etc.), artifacts in detailed video

22 Responses to “Review: Xiaomi Mi-2 Camera”

  • niucool Says:

    Excellent review, wish you could provide more review about stability, battery power, etc.

  • Ilkka Palmu Says:

    Ari, how did you get that phone? I have tried now 2 months to figure out how to buy this phone from Eourope (Finland (= ), without 3rd hand dealer, straight from the Xiaomi, but it seems pretty IMPOSSIBLE! I mean I do not expect that prise would be 1999 yuan for Finns, but I would like to get real thing, not some lousy duplicate.

  • Kwokwang Says:

    Great review for the camera!
    Very technical!

  • Mavamaarten Says:

    Weird. You mention as a con “No image stabilization like in Nokia Lumia 920″. I have never owned a Lumia 920, but I do know that the Xiaomi MI-2 does have video stabilization (I own the device and mine has stabilization).

    While in video camera mode, hit settings and on the bottom there is an option “Movie Solid”. It’s a bad translation for stabilization. It makes quite a difference if you’re holding the phone in your hand.

  • uto Says:

    Super review man !!!

  • Maarten Says:

    These bars in high-iso are nowhere to be seen on my pictures. I took a low-light picture last week at 3200, no problems. Maybe high-iso pics only pose a problem in well lit environments? Your high-iso shots are darker than the low-iso shots, which makes no sense, so something else is up. Maybe the problem is with the shutter speed, and not so much the iso.

    • arinium Says:

      Hi Maarten,

      I have noticed that it is a problem only with fluorescent light. Yesterday I was photographing a product under a fluorescent lamp in a grocery store and I had to drop the ISO down to 100 to dim down the dark bars that were really disturbing in the photos. You can still see the bars in the photo:

      Dark Bars Under Fluorescent Light
  • Michal Says:

    Excellent review. Great music used in movies :)
    Thank you!

    • arinium Says:

      Thank you for the comment. I am working on an addition to this including 90fps high-speed recording samples.

  • Harald Says:

    It’s the Xiaomi

  • Harald Says:

    It shows that more Megapixels do not always mean more quality. Xiaomi “only” 8 MP but better quality than 13 MP.

  • view Says:

    Fantastic publish. I’m checking out continuously your blog with this particular empowered! Extremely beneficial information and facts particularly the eventual point :) I manage similarly info a lot. I used to be in search of that particular info for a pretty long time. Thanks a lot as well as associated with good luck.

  • Qrious Says:

    Excellent review. I am obsessing with the camera quality and considering to buy ZTE Nubia Z5S (mini) or Xiaomi Mi2s. Zopo ZP998 is also in my list. Do you have a suggestion?

    • arinium Says:

      Hi Qrious,

      Thanks for the comment. I have been using my Xiaomi Mi2 for more than a year now. I have absolutely loved its camera. The ZTE Nubia Z5 mini I reviewed has a nice camera too but the ZTE camera software was a letdown. As a photographer, the MIUI camera software gives me way more options. I have no personal experience with any Zopo phones so I do not know how they compare. I can warmly recommend any high-end Xiaomi phone (not the Hongmi) for a photographer like me.

  • john Says:

    Hello, is there some way to save the settings of the camera? I couldnt find any.
    Thanks

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