Xiaomi has been playing with different camera sensors, features, and even setups for a while now. The Mi 5 offered a great 4-axis optical stabilization on a 16MP sensor, the Mi 5s dropped the stabilization for bigger sensor pixels spread at 12MP, then the Mi 5s Plus introduced a new setup with two 13MP cameras - one shooting in color and the other in monochrome.
Now, the Mi 6 is hopping on the dual-camera train, but it has swapped the monochrome sensor with a telephoto one. Huawei's idea has been replaced with Apple's, if you will.
The regular wide-angle camera on the Mi 6 has a 12MP Sony IMX386 sensor with 27mm f/1.8 lens and 1.25µm big pixels. The 4-axis OIS we saw on the Mi 5 has made its way back into the game and is backing the IMX386.
The 12MP telephoto sensor's maker is yet to be revealed, but its specs sound familiar - 1.00µm pixels and 56mm f/2.6 lens, close to what Apple used for the iPhone 7 Plus telephoto cam - 12MP, f/2.8. There is no OIS for this camera.
The camera interface is fairly simple and features toggles for HDR, Portrait Mode, and flash on the left, and 2x telephoto and the video camera on the right.
There are 12 filters available with live previews. The camera also offers quite a few different shooting modes - Panorama, Timer, Audio, Straighten, Manual, Beautify, Group Shot, Tilt Shift, and Night (HHT) as well as the camera settings. The Manual mode lets you tweak ISO (100-3200), exposure time (up to 1/4s), white balance, and focus.
The Xiaomi Mi 6, just like the Mi 5, snaps pictures blazingly fast, resolves a great deal of detail, and the noise levels are kept reasonably low. The white balance is accurate, and we liked the lively color rendition. The dynamic range is high without ever resorting to HDR. There is no corner softness either. And finally, we have to note the amazing foliage presentation.
Overall, the Mi 6 has a flagship worthy camera and processing, and even at 100% magnification nothing got in the way of our positive impressions.
The telephoto camera also does a great job in good light and comes in handy when you need a bit of zoom. Its quality gets close to the main camera's - the images have plenty of detail and the same great processing, colors, and dynamic range. Now, the images often come out a bit softer and are usually shot at a faster shutter speed than the regular ones and hence - at a higher ISO.
The telephoto lens lacks any kind of stabilization, but you would hardly need it either as when the light gets low, the phone will stop using it and would instead switch to cropping the output of the main camera to achieve the zoomed effect. The iPhone 7 Plus does the same thing, by the way. This, of course, takes its toll on image quality so we'd recommend against using the second camera in low light.
The Mi 6 regular camera has a wide dynamic range, sure, but there are times when you'd still want to use the HDR. Here the phone does a great job brightening up the shadows though some of the highlights may be compromised in the process.
The dusk shots turned out fine, with little noise and accurate colors. The stabilization and the wider aperture help the Mi 6's main camera to produce pleasant pictures with lots of fine detail and natural colors despite the spike in the noise levels.
The Mi 6 low-light shots came out sharp in a variety of scenes. In handheld shooting, the shutter speed would go down to 1/12s so the OIS is not doing a class-leading job but most photos we shot turned out sharp.
The Mi 6 is capable of further slowing down the shutter speed to as low as 1/4s but that's in Manual mode. It's not much as we've seen other phones offer much longer exposure times, but we guess you can download a long-exposure camera app from the Play Store if it's badly needed.
Just like Apple, Xiaomi wants you to use the telephoto camera only in really good light and mostly for portraits. Due to the lens' narrower aperture of f/2.6, the lack of optical stabilization and its smaller sensor, the telephoto camera is probably unfit to capture good low light images.
When the light is low and you try to use the 2X camera mode, the Mi 6 will resort to using a digitally zoomed photo from its main camera. This may not sound terrific, but this photo will be actually better than the one you would get from the tele cam itself. The iPhone 7 Plus resots to the same tactics when you attempt to take a zoomed picture in low light.
And we managed to grab a few shots taken with the telephoto camera at dusk.
Portrait mode uses the Telephoto camera and some software trickery to create a photo with a faux bokeh - an artificially blurry background resembling the one that occurs naturally when you use a lens with a bright aperture on a large sensor camera. It's quite the same as the Portrait Mode that Apple brought to the iPhone 7 Plus, and even the helper text in the viewfinder is identical to Apple's. While HTC was probably the first to introduce this effect with the One M8 way ahead of its time, Huawei was actually the first to make it trendy (and naturally looking) with the P9.
Anyway, the Mi 6 uses the combination of the two cameras to map the distance to all objects of the scene and attempts to isolate the subject in front by blurring the background. This works best when you're shooting a well-lit subject which stands out against the backdrop. The software will get fooled by a strong backlight or a busy scene.
The Mi 6 shoots its portrait shots faster than the iPhone 7+, but it takes longer for the camera to read the scene and determine where the depth effect should be. The samples turned out very pleasant with mostly accurate shapes and blur effects. It's possible for the algorithm to smear an ear or some hair, though that's not a Mi 6-specific issue, but an issue of the methods itself.
We also snapped the same scenes with the iPhone 7 Plus. Its images came out with somewhat duller colors and less contrast (that's how the camera is tuned in this generation), but the pixel-peepers will find the bokeh effect to be better. We also noticed that the iPhone's real-time blur that you see in the viewfinder before you take the picture is more accurate than the messy preview Xiaomi is offering.
You can capture only portrait panoramic photos with an 180-degree field of view. Shooting is easy and the resolution high at 64MP (up 4,000px tall). The image quality is great - there is plenty of fine detail, accurate colors, and no signs of bad stitching. The dynamic range is great as is the contrast. The pano shots are somewhat softer than the regular shots, and the foliage isn't as great, but given the high resolution we are happy with what we got.
You can also shoot a panorama with the telephoto camera. It has a similar resolution, great stitching, and keeps the great contrast and colors. There is less resolved detail, though, and the additive noise is much higher.
We also tested out the 8MP front-facing camera. The images came out with more than enough detail, high contrast, and pleasant colors. The dynamic range is above average, too.
Picture Compare Tool
Finally, you should check how the Xiaomi Mi 6 does against the Galaxy S8 and iPhone 7 Plus in our Photo Compare Tool. We've pre-selected these two, but you are free to pick any other phone to compare it against.
Video mode gives you a choice of 2160p@30fps and 1080p@30fps for common shooting with a 720p@120fps option if you want some slow-motion effects. There's no 1080p@60fps mode, though, which would make a big difference in fast-paced scenes. No telephoto videos either.
Anyway, the 2160p videos are captured at a bitrate of 42Mbps and have rock solid 30fps. The audio is stereo captured at 96KBps bitrate.
The video quality is average - the resolved detail is enough and barely competitive. The dynamic range is average and they are just too soft. On the positive side, the framerate is smooth and steady, and so is the footage itself thanks to the OIS.
The audio quality is OK- there are no traces of compression, but you'll notice that the quality gets worse with loud sound sources (loud music, crowds, cars honking, etc.).
The 1080p videos are shot at a bitrate of 20Mbps and have the same audio bitrate. The video quality in 1080p is quite different to the 4K videos and we really appreciate it. The level of detail is subjectively higher and they are sharper overall.
The Xiaomi Mi 6 offers 4-axis optical image stabilization and it's advertised as being exceptionally good even compared to other OIS systems. .
We shot a short 4K video while walking, and... the result wasn't peachy. The Mi 6 did fine with stabilizing the video, but what we were missing is the really smooth Steadicam-like footage, which we get from other flagship camera phones, which combine OIS with some extra digital stabilization.
Finally, you can use our Video Compare Tool to see how the Mi 6stacks against the Galaxy S8 and iPhone 7 Plus when it comes to video capturing.