back to article Xiaomi reveals bonkers phone with bolted-on Leica lens that will make you look like a dork

Chinese smartphone darling has shown off a phone with a full camera lens bolted to its back – which looks very dorky, but thankfully is only a concept device. The point of this concept version of Xiaomi's 12S Ultra smartphone is to imagine a smartphone capable of competing with a professional-grade camera by offering the …

  1. PhilipN Silver badge

    Doesn't work

    Believe "they" still sell little zoom lenses to attach to the back of selected mobile phones.

    Tried one once for about 10 seconds. The point being that [caps on] you cannot hold the phone steady enough! [caps off]

    1. Little Mouse

      Re: Doesn't work

      In this case though, the lens is bonkers large, which might actually help.

      As any photography fule kno - with "proper" cameras you hold the lens, not the body.

      1. Anonymous Coward

        Re: Doesn't work

        Have you ever tried to shoot using a single hand? There's a reason why most camera since the Canon T-90 developed a "grip" which previously was sold as an accessory on "high-speed" motors (back then it meant mostly 5fps...) - for better handling of the camera itself.

        Sure, something you can't do with longer, heavier lenses, but doable with shorter/lighter ones.

    2. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Doesn't work

      > you cannot hold the phone steady

      It's the fucking lens you're supposed to hold.

      1. Little Mouse

        Re: Doesn't work

        But you definitely wouldn't want to (or be able to) hold onto those little clip-on lenses that the OP is referring to, so the downvotes seem a bit harsh.

      2. PhilipN Silver badge

        Re: Doesn't work

        Try thinking about what I actually wrote for, oh, maybe a nanosecond.

  2. anonymous boring coward Silver badge

    The sensor will be unused almost all the time, and the glass in front of it won’t stay clean enough for good photos with the very expensive lens.

    I predict a fail.

    1. DJO Silver badge

      If only someone had invented a thin cap with a lens mount that can be attached to a camera body to protect the insides when no lens was mounted.

      Oh wait, they did.

  3. David 132 Silver badge

    El Reg, I am disappointed.

    I am most disappointed that the site that coined the word "phablet" didn't take the obvious step here. Tch. Standards are slipping.

    Surely, this is either a phamera or a chone.

    Either way, phunny phrasing phail. I shall cancel my subscription forthwith, etc. etc.

    1. Spoobistle

      "Snappy Blower" the obvious name. Fill in your own suitably NSFW explanations!

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: "The one with the big hooter, makes a great shooter"

        [Sexism/Misogyny/Revert to 1970's - On]

        Maybe something more sexy, 'The Kardashian', "The one with the big hooter, makes a great shooter". It might be 2022, but she's always looking for sponsorship deals, as is the life of the influencer. Thirsty, much.

        [Sexism/Misogyny/Revert to 1970's - Off]

        It all seemed much tamer in the EeePC days, there, just lying on the beach, using her laptop, without a care in the world.

  4. Sampler

    Ultra 12S

    Is probably the best smartphone camera I've used, after a few years of Samsung (Note 8 & 20 Ultra), the leica branding felt a bit gimmicky but really seems to have paid off for the colour science on the filters and the 1 inch sensor makes pictures I'd want to actually look at on my desktop, rather than just being ok on a phone.

    I mean, I'm still going to use my A7iii (and it's pre-ordered replacement, A7RV) when I want to do any photography, but, the quality of phone snaps is improving nicely and may even be useable down the line.

    (que all those who are using them already downvoting and how I just don't understand how good iphones are...)

    This idea won't go far though, the phone is already overbalanced with it's giant camera bump on the back, but I guess this explains the giant circle more, as it'd be in about the right shape for a mount.

  5. pavel.petrman

    Well done on the title

    Instantly reminds me of this piece of top journalism.

    I am grateful to The Register for bringing this delightful memory around on Friday - the day on which one needs such reminders more than on other days.

  6. Peter Mount

    Samsung 10 years ago?

    Sort of reminds me of my old Samsung Galaxy Camera from 2012 - which was an android 3G phone with a big lens attached to the front.

    I've still got it, although it's a tad slow and under-specced compared to today's offerings.

  7. GlenP Silver badge

    I'm just sending my Nokia 1020 to the recycling, although I haven't used it for several years. It was a genuine and usable attempt to combine a camera and smartphone, and clipped in to the camera holder performed well. Sadly it was ultimately let down by being Windows Phone 8 and the lack of an up-to-date ecosystem (even Microsoft's own apps were several versions behind the iOS & Android versions).

  8. bofh1961

    There's an issue with device lifetime

    A smartphone is almost always out of support in 5 years or less whereas a Leica lens will last forever. If it did go into production and was successful enough then the phone might be superseded by a compatible model but I can't see many prospective buyers taking a gamble on that so I see it as unlikely to happen. I doubt it'll go into production anyway.

    1. DJO Silver badge

      Re: There's an issue with device lifetime

      ...I can't see many prospective buyers taking a gamble...

      Unless they already owned a Leica camera and a bunch of lenses.

      Not me - I wish - Perhaps one with a Nikon mount :-)

    2. david 12 Silver badge

      Re: There's an issue with device lifetime

      It's a standard lens. If the smart phone is disposable, it doesn't matter: the lens (which you already own) works with a standard camera body.

      The interesting point is that this is being proposed by a smart-phone maker, not a camera body maker. It's easy to imagine a camera body with built in Android. And then, if you've ever owned a 'smart TV', it's easy to remember what a bad idea that was, and how it became obsolete on the same time-line as a smart phone.

      So perhaps the people who make expensive camera bodies are behind the times, or perhaps they've looked at the idea of including Android, and already decided that it is a bad idea.

  9. Neil Barnes Silver badge

    The ergonomic nightmare of mobile phone photography

    Has some interesting side effects... I recently watched a tourist having great difficulty with a large heavy through-the-lens camera because she insisted on holding it at arms length and trying to compose her image on a fold out screen, rather than just putting the thing to her eye as it was designed...

    1. JohnG

      Re: The ergonomic nightmare of mobile phone photography

      This sort of combined camera/phone shares some problems with mirrorless DSLRs: The view screens of mirrorless DSLRs and phone cameras are subject to glare and reflections from ambient light, which is not the case with the eyepieces of conventional SLRs and DSLRs. Additionally, eyepieces of normal SLRs and DSLRs often have a focussing elements to facilitate compensation for problems like myopia (which is something I hadn't considered when I bought a mirrorless DSLR).

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: The ergonomic nightmare of mobile phone photography

        I think all the big names have stopped making DSLRs now*. Some mirrorless cameras do have an electronic viewfinder, but many don't, and you rely on looking at the screen on the back.

        (*Pentax still make them - I own one and love it to bits. But even I admit Pentax's sales figures are a rounding error compared to Canon's.)

        1. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          Re: The ergonomic nightmare of mobile phone photography

          There are still a few DSLR models available - Canon still have some models available, for example - but all the new models are mirrorless - it costs less to make a mirroless camera - less mechanical, moving elements, and without a mirror box in the middle lens designs become simpler.

          Which doesn't mean viewfinderless - all medium/high end models have EVFs.

          Shooting with arms close to the body helps a lot to keep the camera steadier - for simple "mechanical" reasons, especially when using heavy cameras and heavy lenses. I found much easier composition in the viewfinder too, less distractions, and the image looks "bigger".

          I find the external LCD moslty useful with my tilt & shift lenses - which require a tripod 95% of the time, and require magnifying the image for careful focusing.

          Still, physical controls are the best when you have to track a subject while changing some shooting parameters - unless you let an AI do everything for you - but that takes away lot of the fun, and you have to hope it takes the right guess. For example I may change from a short shutter speed to freeze movements to a longer one for panning - without losing sight of the subject to look for some on-screen control hard to set...

  10. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward


    > Xiaomi needs a bit of positive attention

    …final paragraphs telling you why you shouldn't buy Chinese final products (as opposed to goods made in China and sold by Western brands; hello Apple). So predictable.

    If you'd rather have a *good* reason not to buy Xiaomi try this: you need to "register" with your phone number / email address in order to receive an unlock code to gain root.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: If you'd rather have a *good* reason not to buy Xiaomi

      Nothing wrong with good old fashioned xenophobia!

    2. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Cue…

      Better than Huawei which didn't let you gain root at all, at least.

      Still doesn't excuse Xiaomi: their phones are objectively some of the most poorly-built ones out there.

  11. AndrueC Silver badge

    You don't have to have the lens fixed to the camera. Many (many, many) moons ago I took this photograph during a visit to the Camargue. It was taken on an SLR (pre-digital days) using a zoom lens through my Dad's binoculars. I have no idea what the effective focal length was but I remember that although it was a bright summer day the exposure was a significant fraction of a second, some'at like a 10th of a second.

    Some flamingos.

    I won a prize for that at our club for technical innovation :)

    1. b0llchit Silver badge

      Many (many, many) moons ago...

      Even many, many, many more moons ago - in the pre camera age - I have witnessed the creation of paintings which took exposure times of months.

      A lot of those creations are now considered priced art and worth more than any smart phone camera additional lens system attachment.

      1. navidier

        Lenseless photography

        >Even many, many, many more moons ago - in the pre camera age - I have witnessed the creation of paintings which took exposure times of months.

        Like the Avon Bridge?

    2. Dave 126 Silver badge

      I like the flamingos! :)

      Similarly, I've tried holding my phone's camera to my binoculars, and like you get vignetting on the edges of the image - but have managed to get a pleasing photo of a heron on a lake. Herons are considerate creatures and often stand very still so that this photographer awkwardly align phone and binocular lens.

      Producing a similar result, I recently screwed a Nikon 3x Tele Converter lens (made for an early Nikon digital camera) onto a Lumix LX-5 (via the Lens adaptor tube and a 52-28mm step down ring). It can only be used at the camera's full zoom (3.5x) without excessive vignetting, so the images are roughly what you'd frame if you made a circle between your thumb and forefinger held at arm's length.

      It isn't the right tool for any job, but I'm enjoying the constraints!

  12. navarac Silver badge

    Just buy a f***ing camera.

  13. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    "1-inch image sensor"

    Which instantly makes lenses designed for full frame "sensors" (film or digital...) far less useful. Moreover these are full manual lenses that requires the user to set aperture and focus turning lens rings - so you need to hold the camera in a way allowing it properly.

    1. TheProf

      Re: "1-inch image sensor"

      Oh! Now you sucked all the fun out of it.

  14. steelpillow Silver badge

    Or maybe a camera with a smartphone.

    Well, it'll look cool on the artisan barista's coffee table, as it has a built-in stand. Just remember not to go poking the buttons on the corner of the screen, or it'll fall over.

    But seriously, if you think of it as a professional-grade camera with a smartphone implanted into the viewfinder, you are probably closer to the mark.

    I do agree that holding what looks like a cordless tin can to your ear, in a pose you have not been seen in since the age of seven, might earn you a few sniggering glances.

  15. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    looks very dorky every technological advancement (successful or not). Remember Ford T? I do.

  16. Stuart Castle Silver badge

    I have a DSLR at home. Don't really use it much, as I'm not really a photographer. We have it because one of my housemates decided he would like to try photography, and bought it. Even though it's old, it does produce decent photos, even on full auto.

    This device looks, to me, a little unwieldy. As do any phone/camera combos. A decently designed DSLR is designed to fit nicely into your hands, with your right hand controlling the camera, and the left making adjustments to the lens. It's a relatively comfortable way to work even for long periods, although for larger lenses, you need a tripod.

    Phones with external lenses are not comfortable, at least not to me. Yes, you can still adjust the lens with your left hand, but that makes it difficult to control the phone, because a phone generally requires one hand to hold it, and the other to touch the screen. Yes, most phones use one of the buttons on the side as a shutter release, but what if you want to adjust other settings? Admittedly, that last problem applies to DSLR menu systems as well.

    Note: I have nothing against phone cameras, or these combos (assuming they can be made to work well). I just find the DSLR more comfortable to use over long periods.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      It's a concept device that they had no intention of manufacturing anyway. It was never intended to be practical.

      It- and the claim they want to "imagine a smartphone capable of competing with a professional-grade camera"- are simply publicity stunts designed to associate Xiaomi's regular, bog-standard smartphones in the public's mind with the idea of "real" cameras and photography and sell *those* via the "halo effect".

      All, of course, without actually having to deliver on the implied (but never stated) suggestion that their crappy smartphones are as good as a real camera, because of course they aren't.

  17. JohnG

    To make this idea interesting, I think they would need to have things like a tripod mount, autofocus, aperture control and image stabilisation (and the battery pack to power all this) with the lens.

    Personally, I quite like Xiaomi phones - they offer good features and performance at a prices considerably lower than the big name brands. And there's the possibility of alternative firmware (e.g. lineageOS) for those concerned about spyware.

    1. Anonymous Coward

      It's a Leica M mount. Designed in 1954, IIRC - not supposed to be automated at all. There are tripod mounts for phones - but they may not be designed for a protruding lens heavier than the phone.

  18. Michael Strorm Silver badge

    The point of this concept version of Xiaomi's 12S Ultra smartphone is to imagine a smartphone capable of competing with a professional-grade camera as a publicity stunt designed to cement in the head of the public an assocation between their smartphone and "real" photography and the idea that it's just as good a a "real" camera (whether or not that's actually the case).

    Helped out by Leica, who these days seem more interested in milking their brand history and reputation for everything it's worth by renting it out to random manufacturers to slap on their smartphones.

  19. Dave 126 Silver badge

    Sony had a different take on the idea, just a lens and sensor that clip into the phone, the phone effectively serving as screen and storage.

    The highly reviewed QX-100 still commands a hight second hand price nearly a decade after its release.

  20. This post has been deleted by its author

  21. Lord Elpuss Silver badge

    "And while a thin phone with a large camera might make it look a bit flimsy, Xiaomi promised it does have a reinforced structure to support the protrusion."

    With big lenses you primarily support the lens, not (just) the camera. So the phone doesn't need a structure capable of supporting the entire lens, it just needs to support its OWN weight hanging off the end of it. Which shouldn't be more than about 200g, and therefore absolutely not a problem.

  22. xyz Silver badge

    As my mum would say...

    I can see the earpiece, but where's the mouthpiece?


    What Would Work

    What would work would be to create a handle that attaches to the lens mount so that what you hold is actually not the lens or the phone, but rather the mount that holds them together, preferably made of something like nickel plated tool steel. Sure that is expensive, but anyone buying a phone with the intent to use it with lenses that cost several thousand dollars would think it was worth every penny.

    So you make a plate with something that looks like a larger lens mount. The adapter attaches to this, and the adapter has the actual lens mount on it, with all the electronic pass-through's that are needed. The handle can also have things like a physical shutter button! An additional advantage of doing it this way is that you can reuse most of the design to make another device that uses some other lens mount. So you can make a Leica phone, a Nikon phone, a Cannon phone, and maybe even a phone that is designed to use cinema lenses. Sure they would be expensive, but the market is not the phone buyer, but the person that already has the lenses and wants a compact, quick and convenient way of getting professional grade content online.

    Honestly I am somewhat surprised that this does not already exist.

  24. Plest Silver badge

    Camera makes little difference, subject is king.

    I bought a £400 compact pocket camera just try out for street photography. Fast forward 4 years and I used that same £400 compact camera to shoot around 60% of the images in my first published photography book. Spend all the money you like on kit including daft kit like this, it won't make better pictures just simply better quality but still boring images. Interesting subjects and composition will always trump all other considerations, including quality.

    1. Lord Elpuss Silver badge

      Re: Camera makes little difference, subject is king.

      Skill and 'feeling' are essential in good photography, but the quality of your equipment is also important; and should reflect the branch of photography you're working in. For street photography you may be able to take some incredibly atmospheric photos with a minimum of equipment, right down to a FED or LOMO, or even a pinhole camera, but for most other branches the camera and lenses must be up to standard. A £400 street camera will simply not be able to perform acceptably in professional wedding, portrait, sports or studio work.

    2. Tim99 Silver badge

      Re: Camera makes little difference, subject is king.

      Many, many, years ago the professional who taught me basic photography asked me "What’s the best camera?" "A Pentax K1000?" I replied. They had just come out and we had bought a few… "No", he said, "It’s the one you have with you!" Which may be why almost everything, other than specialized work seems to be done on a mobile phone?

      1. Lord Elpuss Silver badge

        Re: Camera makes little difference, subject is king.

        "The best camera is the one you have with you" is a very old, and accurate, photography adage. Slightly different for pros of course, they need to make sure the 'camera they have with them' is capable of doing the job they're being paid to do. Now I no longer work as a professional photographer (a few decades ago), 99% of the photos I take are on my iPhone. It's extremely liberating not to have to carry kilograms of kit around.

        1. Tim99 Silver badge

          Re: Camera makes little difference, subject is king.

          The same teacher also said that much of the ancillary stuff that was carried about by (male) amateur photographers was "gentlemans’ jewellery", implying that it’s decorative potential outweighed it’s functional necessity, a bit like wearing an expensive chunky watch. I suspect that in my case, that may well have been true.

        2. J. Cook Silver badge

          Re: Camera makes little difference, subject is king.

          Indeed: I entered a costume contest at work, and had my picture taken with both the 'official' point n gawp jobbie, and my iphone 8, which took a better looking shot.

          (and then the picture somehow got deleted off the official camera phone and I had to go back and have it re-taken...)

  25. Anonymous South African Coward Bronze badge

    reminds me of codpieces.

    "mine is bigger than yours" etc etc etc.

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