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    Testing this 108MP camera makes me wish the Samsung Galaxy S11 DOESN'T have one

    This article may contain personal views and opinion from the author.
    Testing this 108MP camera makes me wish the Samsung Galaxy S11 DOESN'T have one
    Samsung's recently announced 108MP camera sensor is a curious piece of tech – not only for the sheer number of megapixels that it packs, but also because a version of it might end up in the Samsung Galaxy S11 next year. But on top of that, it serves as a reminder that megapixels aren't all that matters in a camera and that more isn't always better.

    The Xiaomi Mi Note 10 is the first phone in the world to use the aforementioned 108MP camera sensor. It is also the phone I've been using for about a week now. There are many things to like about it, including the great battery life and the unbelievably low price, but sadly, it's hard for me to put its 108MP camera on the list.

    More megapixels, more problems


    Let us step back for a moment and answer a fundamental question: what camera do most people need on their phone? The answer, in my opinion: a camera that is fast, reliable, and takes good photos and videos in a variety of conditions with minimum effort on the user's side. Does the 108MP camera on the Xiaomi Mi Note 10 meet the criteria?

    Let's get speed and reliability out of the way first. Sadly, this is one of the slower cameras I've tested in a while. If I haven't used the camera for some time, it literally takes several seconds to launch. Taking photos in the default 27MP mode is a reasonably quick process, but switching between photo and video modes takes longer than it should. The bottleneck in the Mi Note 10's case could be the mid-range Snapdragon 730G that it's powered by, but I can't imagine the chipset being the only culprit when the phone is overall very fast and responsive.

    Okay, okay. But those 108MP photos look outstanding, don't they?


    As I hinted above, the 108MP camera on the Xiaomi Mi Note 10 merges data from four pixels into one and produces 27MP pictures by default. You can take 108MP pictures if you wish as there's a dedicated 108MP mode in the camera app. However, taking a 108MP picture makes the camera app unresponsive for several seconds as it processes the image and you lose features like HDR, not to mention that the output file varies between 10 and 20MB in size.

    The good news is that in many cases, the images do look fine – not as fine as the record-breaking number of megapixels would suggest, but fine nonetheless. In fact, I took a few pictures with the Mi Note 10, the iPhone 11 and the Samsung Galaxy Note 10, and the ones out of the 108MP camera did look more detailed. Shocker, I know. Here's a photo that I took at the office:



    And now here's what that photo looks like from up close. Even the crop From the Mi Note 10 in the collage came from a 27MP image, it's clear to see that it is more detailed.



    At night, the situation is no different. The photo from the Xiaomi Mi Note 10 is more detailed compared to those from its rivals, although you may have to zoom in on the crops collage to see the difference. Again, below is a 27MP photo shot with the Mi Note 10 along with crops for comparison against top smartphones.


    And since I'm sure you're curious to see a full-resolution 108MP photo, here's one along with crops from photos shot with the Galaxy Note 10 and the iPhone 11. Photos from those two phones have been scaled up to match the one from the Mi Note 10 in size. The 108MP image might take a while to load.


    Click below if you want to see more samples from the Xiaomi Mi Note 10, including 108MP full-resolution samples straight out of the camera.


    A bigger sensor is not always a better sensor


    The 108MP image sensor is physically very large (for a smartphone camera) so it takes in a lot of light and captures more detail. But a larger sensor requires a larger optical system, and the one on the Mi Note 10 doesn't seem to be particularly great. The size of the sensor combined with a fixed wide aperture creates a shallow depth of field. On one hand, this creates noticeably more background blur (bokeh) in the photos which may serve an artistic purpose. But on the other, images taken at a close distance tend to look... pretty awful, frankly speaking, and that blur isn't particularly pleasing to the eye.


    The two images above were taken at a distance of about 20 centimeters (~7.9 inches) away from the mug with the focus set on the robot. Notice how the handle of the mug is already out of focus in the photo from the Mi Note 10 while it is still somewhat sharp in the iPhone's picture. 

    What does all that mean for the Galaxy S11 camera?


    According to rumors, the Samsung Galaxy S11 and Galaxy S11+ will both come with a 108MP camera, supposedly based on the second generation of the sensor in the Xiaomi Mi Note 10. But after testing the Mi Note 10 for a week, I'm starting to think that a 108MP camera creates more problems than it solves. It doesn't only make the camera slower and physically thicker because of the larger optics (half an inch/13mm, in the Mi Note 10's case), but the benefits of the extra resolution are only slight and hard to appreciate.

    Can Samsung pair its 108MP sensor with better optics? I'm sure it can. Will the camera be faster when coupled with the new Snapdragon 865 chip? That's highly likely. But will the image quality and the entire camera experience be improved in a significant way by the new sensor? Honestly, I'm kind of skeptical for now. I hope Samsung proves me wrong next year.

    Related phones

    Galaxy S11
    • Display 6.7"
    • Camera 108 MP
    • Processor Qualcomm Snapdragon 865, Octa-core
    • Storage 256 GB
    • Battery 4300 mAh
    Mi Note 10
    • Display 6.5" 1080 x 2340 pixels
    • Camera / 32 MP front
    • Processor Qualcomm Snapdragon 730G, Octa-core, 2200 MHz
    • Storage 128 GB
    • Battery 5260 mAh

    FEATURED VIDEO

    39 Comments

    1. mikedemoda

    Posts: 129; Member since: Mar 19, 2010

    that iPhone reign just won't let up

    23. sgodsell

    Posts: 7605; Member since: Mar 16, 2013

    In your mind. Now as far as the new S11 using that 108 mp camera. It is also going to be packing a flagship SD 865 which is rated to work with 200 mp cameras. Plus it has a new AI or machine learning processor that is rated at 15 trillion operations per second. The iPhone 11 is rated at 5 trillion operations per second. So as far as speed is concerned the new SD 865 should definitely be noticable. Not to mention it will also be using Samsung's new LPDDR5 RAM, which is much faster than LPDDR4 RAM. Not even Apple is using any DDR5 RAM. Now as far as using 108 mp or even higher mp. It's here to stay, and it only going to get higher. Especially when you take zooming into account. As it stands today there is two separate cameras on iPhones or most other smartphones. One regular view, and one 2x zoom. If you have a camera that has 4 times the number of pixels, then that is automatically a 2x zoom. So now you don't need a separate camera anymore to get a 2x zoom image. So it will be great to see 200 mp or even higher like 400 mp. The 1 camera that can do a regular view and an awesome 4x zoom image as well, using only one camera. It's the future, and it's here to stay.

    31. QuantumRazer

    Posts: 193; Member since: Apr 27, 2019

    As if Samsung will be able to fully utilise all those great hardware features.. Anyway, hopefully this time around Samsung's phone camera will actually turn out to be decent. Note 10's camera was disappointing as hell in still image quality and produced a photo that literally looks like it has gone through sharpening and noise reduction filter set to 100 in Photoshop, I wish they will opt for more mature software processing on S11.

    33. Tizo101

    Posts: 634; Member since: Jun 05, 2015

    Jokes... Note 10 is even better than iPhones, iPhones are not special anymore

    41. sgodsell

    Posts: 7605; Member since: Mar 16, 2013

    You do know that Samsung makes the the RAM and storage used on most smartphones these days. So the SD 865 can even support up to 200 mp camera images in one go. Something that even Apples A13 can only dream about. So Samsung will be able to capture, and use images from that large 108 mp sensor. Including capturing 8k video at 30 fps.

    40. Ahsan

    Posts: 42; Member since: Jun 09, 2011

    This should be the article not the one PA published.

    2. User123456789

    Posts: 1242; Member since: Feb 22, 2019

    There is one reliable guy on twitter (he posted before IFA that sony was not going to call the device xperia 2) , said people should be ready to be disappointed with this camera. He said it wont outperform the current Galaxy s10. There are more issues: 1) isocell is always weaker than exmor counterpart. The 48MP shows that, also the units of glaxy S/Note that use exmor take better photos. But there wont be 108MP exmor. 2) high MP allows you to record 6K , which this sensor is capable of (it cant do 8K), but 4K gets worse. And more rolling shutter during videos. Why do you guys think Samsung, Apple, Sony, LG and Google did not wanted the 48MP 1/2" sensors? Well, they dont see reason to use .....

    24. sgodsell

    Posts: 7605; Member since: Mar 16, 2013

    This sensor can do 8k, look at the specs again. Not to mention the rumors said it's going to be one of the first 8k cameras on a smartphone. 8k is around 34 mp.

    28. QuantumRazer

    Posts: 193; Member since: Apr 27, 2019

    I bet it will be more like 6k video upscaled to 8k because the sensor does not have enough pixels to record the video in such high resolution. Remember, 8k requires 33MP at 16:9, whereas Samsung's 108MP Tetracell sensor can only provide 20.4MP at the same ratio when pixel binned.

    32. QuantumRazer

    Posts: 193; Member since: Apr 27, 2019

    1) A theory that has never been proven on a cell phone sensor. Proof or utterly bogus claim. 2) I agree with you on the resolution part, but as for the rolling shutter, it's very unlikely it will be an issue due to the inclusion of DRAM. >>Samsung, Apple, Sony, LG and Google did not wanted the 48MP 1/2" sensors? Apple: Even if they did use one, they wouldn't offer users to shoot in 48MP mode anyway so there wouldn't have been much point of using a Quad Bayer sensor anyway. LG: LG no longer cares about mobile photography as they used to, my guess is that they went for the cheapest camera sensor available for them. Google: Google's aim is to prove the world that a small sensor can take wonderful photos with the aid of great software processing, so of course they chose to go with a small 12MP sensor. Samsung, Sony: Samsung obviously wanted to create the huge hype for this new 108MP sensor, therefore they kept using the 12MP sensor for S10 and Note 10. Sony is just being Sony and intentionally making their phone camera as crappy as possible.. no surprise.

    3. saif2711

    Posts: 112; Member since: Feb 22, 2016

    It's a pure gimmick... I'll never want a photo to be of 10-20mb in size because the storage in my phone is well below 1tb mark.. It's a not a 4tb hdd ffs..Samsungg fools will defend that because their masters are releasing the same sensor in their flagships in 2020..

    16. Xavier1415

    Posts: 226; Member since: Feb 26, 2012

    hello you must be a iphone master welcome :)

    25. sgodsell

    Posts: 7605; Member since: Mar 16, 2013

    Umm, you do know Samsung S10 smartphones came with a minimum of 128 gb of expandable storage. The Notes came with a minimum of 256 gb of storage. Clearly your an iPhone person that must enjoy paying Apple a lot more for extra storage.

    26. L0n3n1nja

    Posts: 1588; Member since: Jul 12, 2016

    I already get photos over 20mb on my Note 9.

    4. User123456789

    Posts: 1242; Member since: Feb 22, 2019

    All I want os a sensor of this size, but with 20MP. No Quadbayer/Tetracell. Not fan of fake/image enhancement HDR. I want photo that looks like what I see with my eyes.

    8. Nick_T

    Posts: 187; Member since: May 27, 2011

    Fun fact: you see your nose all the time, but your brain filters it out.

    9. dnomadic

    Posts: 447; Member since: Feb 20, 2015

    Screw you man, Now My brain can't unsee my nose. Darn it to heck, I keep seeing a brown blur in my lower vision. Thanks a lot for your vision damaging facts. Cool Fact though.

    21. Kibzara

    Posts: 125; Member since: Feb 24, 2016

    "I want photo that looks like what I see with my eyes." that will never happen, cause your eyes are made of a living tissue and camera photos are made digitaly. they can enhance however they want, but no camera can replicate a human eye, so don't expect any camera to make images, even close to what our eyes see...

    29. QuantumRazer

    Posts: 193; Member since: Apr 27, 2019

    Who cares? Our brains and eyes use 'computational' videography techniques far more extensively than any cameras do, after all, such as combining views from two eyes while eliminating parallax errors, interpolating most of the stuffs you see with what you saw a few seconds ago, etc.

    5. meanestgenius

    Posts: 22565; Member since: May 28, 2014

    “The bottleneck in the Mi Note 10's case could be the mid-range Snapdragon 710G that it's powered by....” Nick, the Mi Note 10 uses the SD730G, not the SD710, like you mentioned in the article..... About the processing speed: More information to process = slower processing? That what it seems like to me, anyway.

    12. User123456789

    Posts: 1242; Member since: Feb 22, 2019

    Yes, you are right. 7xx series is probably as strong as 835. Or more. Impossible to process 27MP same time you process 12. Reason why nokia 9 is so slow.

    17. meanestgenius

    Posts: 22565; Member since: May 28, 2014

    Exactly. I own a Nokia 9 Pureview, and I absolutely love the end results of what can be done with all of the information captured, but it is slow to process that much information.

    6. Phullofphil

    Posts: 1833; Member since: Feb 10, 2009

    I Don’t really care that it’s 108 mega pixel. With exception to the picture with the tree and how much better the leaves look I can see no reasonable quality difference between all phones

    7. Erfanchavarzagh

    Posts: 3; Member since: Aug 16, 2019

    S11 will : 1.befaster because of fastest Processor 2.have different 108 megapixel sensor(better) 2.have changeable aperture.you will be able to adjust bokeh 3.the os and ui is better And more that I don't know It will be Samsung

    14. User123456789

    Posts: 1242; Member since: Feb 22, 2019

    Smartphones sensors are not able to do bokeh without software tricks. Tons of phones can adjust level of blur for bokeh. My old sony does it.

    27. L0n3n1nja

    Posts: 1588; Member since: Jul 12, 2016

    You clearly don't understand how depth of field produces bokeh. Even small camera sensors create bokeh in the right situations without software.

    30. QuantumRazer

    Posts: 193; Member since: Apr 27, 2019

    Samsung's flagships always have had dual aperture mechanism for the main camera since S9, so yes, it will be possible to reduce the amount of background blur if you close down the aperture.

    10. cmdacos

    Posts: 4340; Member since: Nov 01, 2016

    You're aiming Xiaomi's photo processing software is top tier?? Umm ok...

    15. User123456789

    Posts: 1242; Member since: Feb 22, 2019

    There is one point ... These images downscaled to 12MP, look better than iphone 11 pro.

    18. Tipsy.trex

    Posts: 22; Member since: May 17, 2016

    You just wrote an article worrying about camera performance, when the new Snapdragons that Samsung is going to use have tons of camera related improvements. Stop hiring Victors, PA.
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