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Article updated on April 6, 2024 at 5:00 AM PDT

Xiaomi 14 Ultra Review: The Best Camera Phone I've Ever Used

I'm a professional photographer and this phone has blown me away.

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Andrew Lanxon
Our expert, award-winning staff selects the products we cover and rigorously researches and tests our top picks. If you buy through our links, we may get a commission. Reviews ethics statement
Andrew Lanxon Editor At Large, Lead Photographer, Europe
Andrew is CNET's go-to guy for product coverage and lead photographer for Europe. When not testing the latest phones, he can normally be found with his camera in hand, behind his drums or eating his stash of home-cooked food. Sometimes all at once.
Expertise Smartphones | Photography | iOS | Android | Gaming | Outdoor pursuits Credentials
  • Shortlisted for British Photography Awards 2022, Commended in Landscape Photographer of the Year 2022
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8.4/ 10
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Xiaomi 14 Ultra

Pros

  • Astonishingly good camera system
  • Unique camera grip transforms it into a compact camera
  • Lightning fast performance
  • Great, vibrant display

Cons

  • Very expensive; camera grip is a pricey extra
  • Battery life is only OK
  • Software support period could be longer

The 14 Ultra is Xiaomi's brand-new flagship Android phone, and while it comes with a suite of top tech like a blistering Qualcomm chip and glorious display, it also has an awesome camera setup that's capable of taking some of the best images I've ever seen from a phone. 

Image of two hands holding a phone
Andrew Lanxon/CNET

That's perhaps no surprise given the massive image sensor stuffed inside, along with a wide, variable aperture and Leica-engineered optics. Together with the handy Photography Kit, which includes a grip with shutter controls, I've loved using the 14 Ultra simply as a compact camera.

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But it's still good as a phone, too, with stellar performance from the Snapdragon 8 Gen 3 chip, a glorious display and good enough battery life. And you'd be right to expect good performance, as the Xiaomi 14 Ultra costs £1,299. Add on the £179 photography kit and that comes to the princely sum of £1,478. Xiaomi doesn't officially sell its phones in the US, but that base UK price converts to $1,640. 

The Xiaomi 14 Ultra

The Xiaomi 14 Ultra without its photography kit case.

Andrew Lanxon/CNET

That's a fair step up over the $1,420 it will cost you to put the same 512GB capacity Samsung Galaxy S24 Ultra in your pocket. Most people will probably get on better with Samsung's phone or even looking towards the much more affordable Pixel 8 Pro.

But the photographers among you who want to always carry a truly superb camera setup, without the hassle of actually having to pack a dedicated camera, the Xiaomi 14 Ultra is well worth splashing out on. I've taken better photos on this than I have on any other iPhone or Android phone, and using it with the grip makes it feel just like a regular compact camera. 

Watch this: Xiaomi 14 Ultra Review: The Best Camera Phone I've Ever Used

A massive image sensor for amazing photos

The main camera is the hero of the bunch, packing an image sensor which is physically much larger (1/0.98-inch) than the sensors you'll find in almost any other phone, including the iPhone 15 Pro Max (1/1.28-inch) or Samsung Galaxy S24 Ultra (1/1.33-inch). A larger image sensor can gather more information, resulting in better looking shots and a wider dynamic range. 

That big sensor has been paired with a variable aperture lens that can open wide to f/1.6 or stop down to f/4. Xiaomi partnered with legendary camera maker Leica, which lent some of its expertise to the 14 Ultra's lens elements too, all of which make this phone capable of taking beautiful, pin-sharp images. 

A photo from the Xiaomi 14 Ultra

A straight-out-of-camera JPEG image taken using the high contrast Leica black-and-white mode. I love the depth of the shadows here. 

Andrew Lanxon/CNET
A photo from the Xiaomi 14 Ultra

Another great example of the phone's prowess in black and white. Again, this is an untouched JPEG file. 

Andrew Lanxon/CNET

I took the camera around London and Edinburgh in a variety of conditions, and I have been genuinely blown away by the photos I was able to take. I shot most of my images using the phone's pro mode, which allows for raw image capture. I have it set to shoot both raw and JPEGs, and I use the Leica high contrast black-and-white filter for a punchy monochrome look. 

A photo from the Xiaomi 14 Ultra

The original black-and-white version of this image looks lovely.

Andrew Lanxon/CNET
A photo from the Xiaomi 14 Ultra

But I also really like the color version, and by shooting in raw I've been able to keep both versions. 

Andrew Lanxon/CNET

By shooting both JPEG and raw, I can capture the original black-and-white JPEG and still have the raw file, which can be turned back to color if I want to as raw files retain that color information. But I've actually been really pleased with JPEGs straight out of camera, especially when using the high-contrast monochrome mode. Personally, it's black-and-white imagery where I think this camera excels. 

Watch this: Xiaomi 14 Ultra Review: The Best Camera Phone I've Ever Used
A photo from the Xiaomi 14 Ultra

Shot in raw, I love the exposure and color toning I've been able to achieve in Lightroom with this image.

Andrew Lanxon/CNET
A photo from the Xiaomi 14 Ultra

St. Paul's Cathedral in London from a little further away this time. I've been able to tone this image in exactly the same way I would do with images from my usual camera.

Andrew Lanxon/CNET

The DNG raw files allow for deeper editing in apps like Adobe Lightroom and again, and I am blown away by the depth of editing possible on the 14 Ultra's image files. The huge dynamic range gives me latitude to tone down highlights and rescue shadows, and that allowed me to edit these phone images in exactly the same way I would with images from my regular camera.

Below are two images of a roller skater. The first one is straight out of camera and underexposed. But as you can see in the second one, I was able to edit the photo and bring up a lot of detail while still maintaining a good exposure in the bright sky.

A photo from the Xiaomi 14 Ultra

This image I shot on the street was underexposed.

Andrew Lanxon/CNET
A photo from the Xiaomi 14 Ultra

Here's the same image after edits.

Andrew Lanxon/CNET

Here are two versions of a shot of people queuing at a food stall. The original image had some really overexposed highlights that I've again been able to rescue in post to create this great looking final shot with beautiful shadows.

A photo from the Xiaomi 14 Ultra

This image of a food stall came out too bright (notice the sign).

Andrew Lanxon/CNET
A photo from the Xiaomi 14 Ultra

Here's the same image after edits.

Andrew Lanxon/CNET

The same thing happened in this shot. I assumed the original image would be irreparably blown out in the highlights. But the 14 Ultra's file actually gave me plenty of room to bring the shot back to exactly where I wanted it. 

A photo from the Xiaomi 14 Ultra

This is the original image straight out of camera. The sky in the top right corner is nearly solid white.

Andrew Lanxon/CNET
A photo from the Xiaomi 14 Ultra

Here's the same image after edits.

Andrew Lanxon/CNET

To make it even more of a fully fledged camera, Xiaomi sells what it calls the Photography Kit. It comes with a case, a 67mm mount for attaching professional photo filters and a grip that lets you hold it exactly like a compact camera. The grip has a shutter button on top that lets you half-press to focus and fully press to take your image -- again, just like a regular camera. It also has a small battery inside to help keep you shooting longer. 

The Xiaomi 14 Ultra

With the case and grip attached, the phone becomes a compact camera.

Andrew Lanxon/CNET

I loved using the camera grip when I was out and about in London as it's a much more natural way of shooting. It even makes the phone look just like a camera, and there's something about that which allows me to engage with my photography more than I would if I was just holding up a phone and tapping on the screen. The photography kit is a must-buy if you're getting this phone for its image-taking prowess. 

A photo from the Xiaomi 14 Ultra

At 3.2x zoom, this shot retains plenty of detail.

Andrew Lanxon/CNET
A photo from the Xiaomi 14 Ultra

And things still look great with the 5x optical zoom lens.

Andrew Lanxon/CNET
A photo from the Xiaomi 14 Ultra

Even when digitally zooming further to 10x, the shot is still pin sharp.

Andrew Lanxon/CNET

You'll also find 3.2x and 5x optical zoom lenses, both of which have 50-megapixel sensors and both of which can take great-looking images packed with detail. The ultrawide -- again, 50 megapixels -- does a similarly good job.

A photo from the Xiaomi 14 Ultra

The ultrawide lens has done a solid job in this difficult scene, maintaining all of the shadow detail and only slightly blowing out the extremely bright sky. 

Andrew Lanxon/CNET
A photo from the Xiaomi 14 Ultra

This black-and-white image from the ultrawide camera has a lovely moodiness to it. 

Andrew Lanxon/CNET

The phone is great at night too, as that big sensor and wide aperture allow it to capture plenty of detail in low light. But for proper night photos I actually prefer to take manual control and step down the aperture to around f/3 to achieve gorgeous star bursts on points of light in the scene, which isn't something I've ever been able to achieve on a phone before. 

A photo from the Xiaomi 14 Ultra

Taken in pro mode, I've been able to stop the aperture down, resulting in the gorgeous starbursts around the lights on this building. This is a straight out of camera JPEG image, and I think it looks awesome.

Andrew Lanxon/CNET
A photo from the Xiaomi 14 Ultra

This straight-out-of-camera JPEG taken at night looks great, with excellent color and low noise levels.

Andrew Lanxon/CNET
A photo from the Xiaomi 14 Ultra

I've never been able to achieve these starbursts with a phone camera before.

Andrew Lanxon/CNET

Again, shooting in high-contrast black and white works really well at night, though I've also found I can push the raw DNG files (that were also taken at night) hard to achieve the exact look I want. 

A photo from the Xiaomi 14 Ultra

The unedited raw version of this shot already looks pretty good.

Andrew Lanxon/CNET
A photo from the Xiaomi 14 Ultra

But the DNG raw file contains so much information that it allowed me to push the edit further, brightening up the scene and adjusting the colors and toning to create a shot that I'd normally only expect to get from my dedicated camera.

Andrew Lanxon/CNET

It's fair to say that I am suitably impressed with the photography prowess of the Xiaomi 14 Ultra and I can comfortably say that it is the best camera phone I have ever used. 

So what about the rest of the phone? 

Well, it ticks all of the boxes you should hope for from a top-end flagship phone in 2024. The Qualcomm Snapdragon 8 Gen 3 processor delivered excellent benchmark scores and makes the phone a breeze in everyday use. Navigation around the Android 14 interface is swift and playing demanding games like Asphalt 9 or Genshin Impact on max settings is no problem at all. 

The 6.73-inch display is bright, vibrant and pin sharp, and the Android software is easy to use, although there are a variety of preinstalled apps from both Xiaomi itself and third parties like AliExpress that I find cluttered the place up. 

A photo from the Xiaomi 14 Ultra

Too much preinstalled stuff.

Andrew Lanxon/CNET

Battery life is one of the only places where the phone doesn't earn my praise. Don't get me wrong, it's fine. Like most phones, you'll be able to get pretty much a full day of mixed use between charges, but it's not top of the class in this regard. 

The other disappointment is the software support period, where Xiaomi has committed to four years of Android updates and an additional fifth year of security patches. That's not bad, but it falls behind the seven years both Google and Samsung are offering for their flagships.

Is this a phone you should buy?

Seen purely as a phone, the Xiaomi 14 Ultra is par for the course for a top-end Android phone, with excellent all-round performance and decent, if not great battery life. If all you want is a good Android phone you'd be better off looking toward the Pixel 8 line, which will get you a great Android experience for quite a lot less money.

But if photography is your thing, then the 14 Ultra is the Android phone to buy. Its images are exceptional, giving huge creative scope for photographers of all kinds to get the shots they want. It's finally a phone where I don't need to consider taking a proper camera with me on day trips or photo walks, I can just take the phone, knowing I'm still going to be able to capture beautiful images. 

Xiaomi 14 Ultra Specs vs. Samsung Galaxy S24 Ultra, Xiaomi 14, Samsung Galaxy S24


Xiaomi 14 UltraSamsung Galaxy S24 UltraXiaomi 14Samsung Galaxy S24
Display size, tech, resolution, refresh rate 6.73-inch AMOLED; 3,200 x 1,440 pixels, 1-120Hz adaptive refresh rate6.8-inch AMOLED; 3,120 x 1,440 pixels; 1-120Hz adaptive refresh rate6.36-inch AMOLED; 2,670 x 1,200 pixels; 1-120Hz adaptive refresh rate6.2-inch AMOLED; 2,340 x 1,080 pixels; 1-120Hz adaptive refresh rate
Pixel density 522 ppi501 ppi460 ppi416 ppi
Dimensions (inches) 6.35 x 2.96 x 0.36 in.6.40 x 3.11 x 0.34 in.6.02 x 2.81 x 0.32 in.5.79 x 2.78 x 0.3 in.
Dimensions (millimeters) 161.4 x 75.3 x 9.2mm163 x 79 x 8.6mm152.8 x 71.5 x 8.2mm147 x 71 x 7.6mm
Weight (grams, ounces) 220g (7.8 oz.)233g (8.22 oz.) 193g (6.81 oz.)168g (5.93 oz.)
Mobile software Android 14Android 14Android 14Android 14
Camera 50-megapixel (wide), 50-megapixel (ultrawide), 50-megapixel (3.2x telephoto), 50-megapixel (5x telephoto)200-megapixel (wide), 12-megapixel (ultrawide), 10-megapixel (3x telephoto), 50-megapixel (5x telephoto)50-megapixel (wide), 50-megapixel (ultrawide), 50-megapixel (3.2x telephoto)50-megapixel (wide), 12-megapixel (ultrawide), 10-megapixel (3x telephoto)
Front-facing camera 32-megapixel12-megapixel32-megapixel12-megapixel
Video capture 8K8K8K8K
Processor Qualcomm Snapdragon 8 Gen 3Qualcomm Snapdragon 8 Gen 3Qualcomm Snapdragon 8 Gen 3Qualcomm Snapdragon 8 Gen 3
Storage and RAM 16GB + 512GB12GB RAM + 256GB, 512GB, 1TB12GB RAM + 256GB, 512GB8GB RAM + 128GB, 256GB
Expandable storage NoneNoneNoneNone
Battery 5,000 mAh5,000 mAh4,610 mAh 4,000 mAh
Fingerprint sensor Under displayUnder displayUnder displayUnder display
Connector USB-CUSB-CUSB-CUSB-C
Headphone jack NoneNoneNoneNone
Special features IP68 rating, 3,000 nits peak brightness, Xiaomi Shield Glass Front, 4 Generations of Android support, 90W wired charging, 80W wireless charging, Wi-Fi 7, Dolby Vision, HDR10+, HDR10, HLG, 16-bit Ultra raw photos, Titanium frame, 2,600-nit peak brightness; 7 years of OS and security updates; 5G (mmWave); IP68 water and dust resistance; wireless PowerShare to charge other devices; integrated S Pen; UWB for finding other devices; 45W wired charging (charger not included); Galaxy AI; Wi-Fi 7; Gorilla Glass Armor cover glassIP68 rating, 3,000 nits peak brightness, Gorilla Glass Victus, 4 Generations of Android support, 90W wired charging, 50W wireless charging, Wi-Fi 7, Dolby Vision, HDR10+, HDR10, HLG 2,600-nit peak brightness; 7 years of OS and security updates; 5G (mmWave); IP68 water and dust resistance; wireless PowerShare to charge other devices; 25W wired charging (charger not included); Galaxy AI; Wi-Fi 6E
US price starts at Converts to $1,646 (512GB)$1,300 (256GB)Converts to $1,076 (256GB)$800 (128GB)
UK price starts at £1,299 (512GB)£1,249 (256GB)£849 (256GB)£799 (128GB)
Australia price starts at Converts to AU$2,509 (512GB)AU$2,199 (256GB)Converts to $1,640 (256GB)AU$1,399 (256GB)

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