The Mi Note 10 takes very nice 27MP photos with its main cam. They are packed with detail (27MP is a lot) and this is the first time we're seeing the patterns of the balcony blinds rendered so clearly with a 1x cam. Meanwhile noise is virtually eliminated. The colors are spot on, and dynamic range is very wide (all of these were shot in HDR Auto).
Shooting at the nominal 108MP resolution comes with an obvious noise penalty, for which you're getting a marginal increase in absolute detail. Upscaling and then sharpening the 27MP will give you cleaner images with only the slightest bit less fine detail, which, frankly, we can't imagine anyone needing out of their phone camera. Mind you, when shooting in 108MP, the phone takes significantly longer to save the image, and we also had the camera app freeze on us on several occasions during this process. 27MP is more than enough, use that.
Since we have a bit more to say about the telephotos, let's get the ultra wide out of the way first. It's photos are a touch soft throughout the frame, but only in comparison with the main cam and certainly not worse than other ultra wides. The software distortion correction is competent too and doesn't mess up your corners. We're liking the colors and the dynamic range too. Most important, perhaps, is the camera's ability to autofocus, making it a lot more versatile than the majority of rivals, letting you focus on nearby objects, as opposed to being locked at infinity.
On to the zoom modules. The 2x cam takes really sharp 12MP images, which are, however, quite noisy even in bright daylight. Colors are nicely matched with the main cam, which isn't something you can say of all multi-cam setups we've seen. Dynamic range is quite good too - not main-camera-good, but still respectable.
On a side note, one begins to wonder if cropping the center of the main cam's 27MP to match the coverage of the short tele wouldn't make for a better 2x shot, but after trying it out, the answer is 'not really'. Almost, but not really. The same experiment carried out when starting with a 108MP shot got us to the same conclusion - the dedicated 2x module still makes a valid case for its presence.
Which gets us to the 5x telephoto. The 8MP photos we got out of it are plenty sharp and we'd easily forgive it the moderate amounts of noise there is. The continued consistency in color rendering is much appreciated too.
We did immediately think of a comparison with the other 5x camera that's widely available, the periscope one on the Huawei P30 Pro. In a head-to-head comparison, the two capture about the same detail - the Huawei may have a minor edge in the definition of the text inside the clock in the second sample, but we can't say it has a definitive advantage in the plant on the balcony in the first image. In any case, the Mi Note 10 costs a little more than half the price of the P30 Pro, and the Huawei certainly isn't performing twice as good.
We're really liking the low-light shots out of the Mi Note 10's main camera, in the general Photo mode. They're detailed and clean, with nice mostly accurate colors. Perhaps a bit more dynamic range in the highlights wouldn't hurt, but we're more than okay as it is.
Switch to Night mode, and you won't be getting much better results, though it restores most of the clipped highlights but loses some detail and sharpness. The Night Mode on the Mi Note 10 is one of the most conservative ones we've seen and acts more like HDR rather than Night mode. There is something that may make it rather unattractive though - while shooting takes about 2 seconds, processing the image (read the camera is unavailable) takes about 10 seconds. That's why we suggest sticking with Photo mode instead, and happily so.
On to the 2x zoom module. Unlike most phones on the market which will decide for yourself which camera to use in the dark, if it says 2x in the Mi Note 10's viewfinder and you're in Photo mode, the 2x will be used.
It's capable of some very sharp and detailed shots, though they all exhibit one major flaw - noise. It's luminance noise this time, made all the more obvious by the sharpening. It's a valid approach, and you can get rid of some of it in post choosing your own balance between noise and detail, it's just that it's a bit too much to start with.
Now, if you go into Night mode, the 2x magnification will come out of the main cam instead, and will be in 27MP, only zoomed in to match the correct field of view. As with the 1x mode it takes a while for the photo to be saved and this one will restore the clipped highlights as well, and also do a minor improvement in contrast. We played around and downscaled a 27MP 2x Night mode image to 12MP to see how it compares against the 12MP 2x Photo mode shots, and it's... ever so slightly more detailed, though not really worth the trouble, perhaps.
It gets more interesting when you zoom in to 5x in the dark - the long tele actually does produce usable results much to our amazement. Your results will vary from scene to scene, and even the best ones won't be spectacular in terms of dynamic range, and maybe you'll generally get underexposed shots. But the fact is, you'll be getting images in which you can make out the subjects in the dark at around 130mm focal length out of smartphone. And that's mighty impressive.
It's worth pointing out that while the camera may be capable of capturing a sharp image, the autofocus may not be willing to comply all of the time. If you get soft shots, it's very likely that you didn't bother to tap to focus, or didn't wait for the focus to lock before triggering.
The ultra wide angle cam really struggles in the dark, with both exposure and autofocus. Give it enough light and time to focus, however, and it can produce decent images, like the second sample below.
There's no night mode for the 5x telephoto or the ultra wide angle cam.
Here's how the main camera on the Mi Note 10 stacks against the rest of the competition in a more controlled environment.
Since there's a dedicated 'macro' camera, we snapped a few quick close-ups. At just 2MP, it's not all the resolving power you might want, but as we previously pointed out with the telephotos, you can't replicate this unassuming module's output with the other cams.
Portraits on the Mi Note 10 are taken with the 2x cam. Subject detection is excellent, and the produced background blur looks natural at the f/1.8 simulated aperture we opted for (the default is f/3.5).
Of course, you can use the portrait mode on non-human subjects with much the same success.
Big sensors with bright optics will have the ability to naturally blur the background more than small-and-dim combos due to their inherently shallower depth of field. Well, the Mi Note 10 has the biggest sensor on a smartphone to date, coupled with an f/1.7 lens, and that shallow depth of field is one aspect of the phone camera's performance that's easy to overlook. The Mi Note 10 in its photo mode will deliver creamy out of focus areas like no other phone right now, provided you keep your subject close - works with people too.
Selfies out of the Mi Note 10 come out looking pretty good, with high dynamic range and mostly nice colors. Looking at them up close, there's not really 32MP of detail, but we didn't expect that either.
When shooting selfie portraits on the Mi Note 10, you'd be sacrificing the HDR processing - there's only so much they can do at the same time with just one cam. However, subject isolation is competent and the background blur at our chosen f/1.8 setting is pretty convincing.