The Xiaomi Mi 9 SE should theoretically have an identical camera setup to the one on the larger Mi 9T, itself a slight downgrade compared to the high-end Mi 9.
It's still a combination of an ultra wide angle cam and a telephoto module next to the primary shooter.
The main camera is based on a 1/2" Quad Bayer 48MP sensor that outputs 12MP images by default. It's paired with an f/1.75 aperture 26mm equivalent lens which isn't stabilized - it is on the Mi 9. Then there's the ultra wide-angle camera which has a 13MP sensor behind an f/2.4 aperture lens with a 15mm equivalent focal length. The ultra-wide is fixed-focus.
It does get more interesting when we move on to the telephoto. Xiaomi specs pages list it as 8MP, but 2x shots from our unit come out at 4,000x3,000px, or obviously 12MP. In comparison, the Mi 9 T we had for review took 8MP telephoto shots. We can't be sure what to make of this - Xiaomi's specs page claims it's an 8MP camera. The focal length of the lens is specified at a 52mm equivalent, and the aperture is f/2.4.
The camera app is straightforward, but on the Mi 9 SE, there are a few kinks which were ironed out on the marginally newer build that was running on the Mi 9T. One of those is the camera switching, which on the SE is a 1x/2x toggle with an extra icon for accessing the ultra wide-angle module. The three-position switch on the 9T makes so much more sense. Then there's the 48MP mode which is accessed from the hamburger menu on the Mi 9 SE but is available on the regular swipeable mode selector on the Mi 9T.
There's an HDR setting with On/Off/Auto positions, and AI toggle for scene-based tweaking of image parameters, as well as a full set of filters. There are also a couple of subject enhancement options with a general Beauty mode (0-5 range) and a Figure mode for altering head and shoulders proportions and whatnot.
There's a Pro mode as well for when you want to take over control. It lets you adjust white balance (presets and a temperature slider), focus (in a range of 0 to 100 arbitrary units), shutter speed (1/1000s to 32s) and ISO (100-3200). Perhaps the best bit about the Pro mode is that it works with all three cameras and not just the main one.
With the same main camera as the 9T, the Mi 9 SE takes similarly great daytime shots. The level of captured detail is quite high for a 12MP photo, and the way it's rendered has a very natural look without excessive sharpening and such.
We also enjoy the color rendition as the Mi 9 SE manages to take pleasingly colorful pictures without going over the top. Dynamic range is nice and wide, and the phone handles high-contrast scenes with poise.
The ultra wide angle cam's dynamic range is pretty good as well, and particularly so for an ultra wide cam. It may not be as sharp on a pixel level as the main module, but it still produces some of the most detailed images for an ultra wide-angle camera. That is unless you look at the corners, where sharpness does noticeably degrade.
On to the 12MP-posing-for-8MP telephoto. This camera does produce less contrasty images with a certain haze in more challenging light, plus some fairly noticeable purple fringes around bright areas in the photo. The level of detail is still more than acceptable and the noise that is visible when pixel peeping isn't overly distracting in the grand scheme of things. Dynamic range isn't quite on par with the other two, but it's not too shabby either - it's a tiny sensor after all.
Looking at 48MP images, we can now appreciate the fact that the mode is buried a few taps away as opposed to being readily available. Unlike on some other phones, Mi 9T included, the Mi 9 SE's 48MP shots are a blotchy mess and offer no practical advantages over the regular 12MP images. We gather the 48MP shots are just the 12MP ones upscaled back to 48MP.
Low-light images out of the main cam are quite good, but not spectacular. They're a little soft, and there isn't a ton of detail in there. Even so, we like the SE's regular night photos a little better than the T's.
Night mode to the rescue. The Mi 9 SE's Night mode exposes well even in the darkest of scenes, and produces very balanced shots with well-developed shadows and preserved highlights. There's a noticeable drop in sharpness, that's true, and some fairly prominent noise when you look up close, but at fit-to-screen magnifications, the photos do look good. What we're saying is that the Mi 9 SE's night mode isn't the best there is, but it's plenty nice, and perfectly alright for a midranger.
Night mode works on the telephoto camera, or rather in 2x zoomed-in mode. It is, in fact, the main camera that is taking the 2x shots in low light and for those, you're better off not hitting the 1:1 button at all. From afar, however, the shots do look nice with good tonal development and color rendition.
Zoomed in night shots in photo mode is mostly meh - shadows are dark, highlights are blown, detail is low. We'd stick to night mode.
There's no night mode for the ultra wide-angle cam, and you'd best refrain from using it after dark. If you so manage to find a well-lit scene, you could get a usable shot like maybe the first one below, but we ended up with more of the other ones.
Once you're done looking at real-life samples, don't forget to head over to our Photo compare tool to check out how the Mi 9 SE deals with our studio charts. We've picked a set of competitors to get you started, but feel free to look around.
Portrait mode on the Mi 9 SE uses the telephoto cam for image capture and the main cam for depth detection - so you're getting the better perspective of the longer lens, but the inferior light gathering capabilities of the smaller sensor and tighter aperture. Still, in good light, you can get some nice-looking faux-bokeh photos. Do take several shots to get a higher chance of ending up with the best possible subject separation as the results do vary from shot to shot.
Portrait mode can be used to emphasize non-human subjects, to varying success. We'd say the Mi 9 SE handled our attempts at fooling it quite well.
The Mi 9 SE has the same selfie camera as the Mi 9. The 20MP shooter has a 26mm equivalent lens and an f/2.0 aperture - so a fraction of a stop brighter than what could fit in the motorized pop-up rig of the Mi 9T.
The selfies come out with good detail, though they do have a fairly overprocessed look when viewed up close with more than what we'd call the ideal amount of sharpening - we'd blame the HDR. At more reasonable magnifications you're likely to appreciate the nice colors. The camera does struggle a bit with dynamic range in challenging light, but it's nothing out of the norm for a selfie cam.
Portrait selfies come with quite a competent subject separation for a single-cam setup, and we got very good results in a lot of settings.
The Mi 9 SE captures video in three resolutions - 2160p, 1080p, and 720p. It does so at 30fps only (apart from the slow motion) - there's no 1080/60 mode, which the 9T does offer, as do most phones. You can shoot with the main cam and the ultra wide angle one, but there's no 2x toggle in the viewfinder, and the telephoto camera isn't used even if you pinch-zoom to 2x- the phone just takes the center portion of the main sensor.
4K clips are encoded at a 42Mbps bitrate, which is about the usual amount of bits for the task, while 1080p footage gets an above-average 20Mbps. Audio is recorded in stereo at 192kbps.
4K videos out of the main cam are nice and detailed and have very likable colors. Dynamic range is excellent too. 1080p footage is similarly good - aside from the drop in resolution, they look the same.
Ultra wide angle videos are very good too, and quite different from the ones we got out of the Mi 9T in terms of color - the SE's ultra-wide footage is more conservatively processed with truer colors next to the oversaturated ones of the Mi 9T. Dynamic range is also better on the SE's ultra-wide videos than it is on the 9T.
The video stabilization toggle in settings is there when you select 2160p resolution, but we're not seeing it do anything for removing shake. In 1080p, on the other hand, it is very effective at ironing out shake and handles pans well, though there is the occasional dropped frame if you're panning too fast.
Here's a glimpse of how the Xiaomi Mi 9 SE compares to rivals in our Video compare tool. Head over there for the complete picture.