The 200 megapixel camera of the Xiaomi 12T Pro is exaggerated

The 200 megapixel camera of the Xiaomi 12T Pro is exaggerated

The Xiaomi 12T Pro is one of the first smartphones with a 200-megapixel camera. Unless you’re doing wall-sized gallery prints, that’s about 150 megapixels too much. I took the 12T Pro to the wide space of Seattle central Library to put each of those pixels to work. Many gigs later, I’m here to tell you that you’re not missing out on much with your 12 or 50 megapixel smartphone camera.

Why would anyone want a 200 megapixel camera in the first place? There are two things you can do with a very high resolution image. First, you can make a high-quality 40 x 60-inch print. I highly doubt any of you are doing that, so the second option is more relevant: trimming.

Screenshot of an image of a yellow escalator in various image formats.

ProCut analyzes your photo and suggests alternative crops.

Screenshot of an image taken from the top of an atrium looking down in multiple image ratio formats.

With so much resolution to play with, you can easily change a landscape photo to a portrait orientation and have plenty of pixels left over.

With 200 million pixels at your disposal, you can do some pretty aggressive cropping and still maintain plenty of resolution. This is the feature that Xiaomi is leaning on with a tool called ProCut, which analyzes your 200-megapixel images and suggests alternative crops in the phone’s image gallery app.

Here’s the rub, though: this is still a relatively small sensor with a small lens, and when you view a 200-megapixel image at full size, the shortcomings are obvious. Sure, you can see things that are barely visible when you adjust the image to whatever screen size you’re using. But details look like blurry watercolors, and even a 12-megapixel crop viewed on a small screen doesn’t look quite right: too much noise. Y noise reduction smoothing, which is an ugly combo.

Even a less aggressive 12-megapixel crop (right) of a full 200-megapixel image (left) shows a fair amount of noise and smoothed out detail. Both have been resized for web viewing.

And since you’re using all available pixels, you won’t get the benefit of pixel binning either. In standard 12-megapixel mode, the camera aggregates data from multiple pixels to improve image quality in low light. You can’t do that when you’re using each pixel individually. Not surprisingly, dynamic range in high-res mode is also limited, as the camera doesn’t seem to use HDR in the same way it does in regular shots. You end up with very dark shadow detail areas. I’m not a fan of going crazy with HDR, but in moderation, it’s a useful thing. The 12T Pro’s standard shooting mode does a good job of applying HDR with a light hand, and generally takes good photos: colors are vivid without looking cartoony, albeit with a slight tendency to overexpose.

Don’t expect to get amazing portraits with its 200 megapixel images

Xiaomi’s idea with the 200MP mode seems to be that you can shoot now and crop as you like later. It doesn’t always work. if you enter through Really aggressive crops, you’re dealing with a lot of noise and fuzzy details. On the other hand, if you’re just cropping to a different aspect ratio, like converting a landscape photo to portrait, 200 megapixels is overkill to begin with, and the resulting image file is still huge. I took one of Xiaomi’s cropping suggestions, which she turned a 200-megapixel landscape photo of my cat into a 100-megapixel portrait photo of my cat. I don’t need that kind of stuff to chew up my phone’s storage space.

If you really want to see the pixels, here’s a full 200-megapixel image (resized for web viewing) and a 100 percent crop. It’s a bit of watercolor.

In any case, the ethos of “shoot now, compose later” feels counter to the way I take pictures on a phone. I prefer to see the image on the screen as I want. Being there, in the moment, in the space that I am photographing is a big part of the joy I get from photography. I want to choose what is or isn’t in my shot and whether it’s a landscape or portrait oriented photo, and outsourcing those things to AI doesn’t seem like fun.

Xiaomi too promotes ProCut as a good tool for photographing people, but don’t expect to get amazing portraits with your 200-megapixel images. Because the lens and sensor are so small, you’ll get much of your background in focus rather than blurred like a large, dedicated portrait lens would. You also can’t use the camera’s portrait mode effect after the fact with ProCut. One of the reasons Apple and Google’s 2x crop modes are so effective is that you can use them in portrait mode while taking the picture. Taking subjects out of a wide-angle shot and turning them into individual portraits won’t look the same.

The more I look at my 200-megapixel images, the more I’m convinced that 50-megapixels is the sweet spot for high-resolution photography, at least with the technology we have now. Xiaomi might agree. The 50-megapixel mode is the default setting in the Ultra HD section of the camera app, where the high-resolution modes live. It packs four pixels and offers ample room for drastic cropping, but with better noise control and sharper detail than the 200-megapixel mode. It’s the mode I’d still use if I were going to continue shooting with the 12T Pro. For now, 200 megapixels is just a little more than I need.

Photograph by Allison Johnson/The Verge

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