Xiaomi Mi Note 10 / CC9 Camera Review

181Image Quality scoreUBER-G SCOREScoring/ranking system nameIQImage-Quality based scoring systemCAMERAMobile PremiumCategory based on price2019-11Device launch dateXiaomi Mi Note 10 (CC9)Device brand and name

When it launched, the Xiaomi Mi Note 10 / Note 10 Pro (called Xiaomi CC9 in other regions) was the first commercially available 108 Megapixel mobile camera. Since late 2019 the Megapixel War is back in full swing, and it will only increase in 2020 as phone chips, such as the Snapdragon 865, can support up to 200 Megapixel cameras.

Important: in the default “Photo mode”, the maximum photo resolution is actually 27 Megapixel (108/4 via pixel binning), so that’s what we’re testing. 108 MP is actually a different mode that the user has to manually select (vs. another resolution) which decreases the likelihood of it being used at all.

Key Camera Specifications

  • Rear Camera System (5 cameras)
    • Primary: 25mm 108-MP f/1.69 Wide (Primary) +OIS
    • Zoom #1*: 50mm 12.19-MP f/2 Zoom
    • Zoom #2: 94mm 8-MP f/2 Zoom +OIS
    • Ultrawide: 16mm 20.11-MP f/2.2 Ultrawide
    • Macro*: 46mm 2-MP f/2.4 Macro

*Zoom: there are two telephoto camera modules, which is great, but only the more powerful zoom (94mm) performance is relevant in the context of this review.

*Macro is not yet included in our Uber-G Camera IQ score because it’s a bit of a novelty and the resolution is relatively low. If you think that Macro should be included, and therefore that phones without Macro should be penalized, drop a comment.

More detailed specifications can be found in the Mi Note 10 full specifications page.

Image Quality Analysis

Important: let’s clarify some terminology we’ll be using:

  • “image processing”: software work that improves the image data quality
  • “image filtering”: software work that changes the style (aesthetic) of the photo.
  • context photo: a great approximation of what we see
    • Including how dark the scene actually is
    • Only to provide the context of the shot.

A note about the Uber-G Camera IQ benchmark: our camera scoring system is based on four “Pillars” or sub-scores that provide much-needed nuance: day, night, zoom and ultrawide photography.

Daylight Photography

Depending on the scene, HDR, details, or colors can be the biggest contributors, and in a scene without back-lighting like this, Details and Colors are the primary quality drivers. Let’s consider the scene below:

Reference photo: the scene as we see it

The above photo was taken in the afternoon and things in direct sunlight were quite bright. The “white” houses to the right are normally not “white” but under the sun, that’s how they looked at that time, and the reference photo captures this really well to show you.

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The Mi Note 10 uses HDR a bit aggressively and changes the brightness of the scene in a noticeable way. It is now a bit under-exposed and makes the photo duller and a bit less natural-looking.

The excess HDR also makes it seem like it’s later in the day than it actually was.

The iPhone 11 Pro behaves a bit in a similar fashion, and we have said in the past that the iPhone camera tends to over-apply HDR, just not as much as the Mi Note 10’s camera.

The Mate 30 captures a more life-like photo out of the box and also exposes the scene very well. The Samsung Galaxy Note 10 also captures good color hues, but often slightly over-exposes and uses more image-filtering such as sharpness.

But when it comes to details, the 27MP photos of the Mi Note 10 do impress. Check this comparison with the 10MP photo of a Mate 30 Pro:

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Left: Mi Note 10, Right: Mate 30 Pro

Why do Details (and photo Resolution) matter?

  • Better Detail and Texture capture
  • More creative freedom with crops and re-framing

When you re-open these photos years from now, you’ll be glad that they were captured with the best possible detail at the time. Similar color behavior and detail strength can be found in other daylight photos, like in the scene below:

Context photo: the scene as we see it

Above, the Huawei Mate 30 Pro captures a very life-like photo of the scene which is a great representation of the general colors and mood of that location.

Below, the Xiaomi Mi Note 10’s photo introduces very noticeable color and contrast changes: the grass, trees, and bushes are losing contrast because their brightness was artificially increased by the HDR processing of the Mi Note 10 camera.

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And of course, this applies to the houses as well, making the overall photo look somewhat unnatural when compared to what the photographer is looking at.

Below, the Galaxy Note 10 may have a slightly “warm” (yellow) color shift, it does a better job at handling contrast than the Mi Note 10.

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Below, it is also undeniable that the Mi Note 10 captures finer details as seen in the vegetation, sidings (blue house to the left) and cars, but not to the point that street signs would become readable.

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Daylight photography conclusion

The Xiaomi Mi Note Pro camera daylight performance is mixed. The extra detail from the 108MP sensor (27MP photos) is impressive and appreciable, but the color and HDR tuning need more work if the goal is to reliably capture the original mood of the scene.

The color and HDR issues weigh on the Mi Note 10’s camera score because of the Uber-G Camera IQ emphasis on capturing life-like colors and overall scene mood, for maximum creative control.

Daylight score
Samsung Galaxy S9+184
Galaxy Note 10187
iPhone 11 Pro189
Xiaomi Mi Note 10190
Huawei Mate 30 Pro196

Night Photography

Low-light or “Night” photography is the category that receives the most interest, and we were looking forward to seeing how the Mi Note 10’s new 108MP sensor would perform. Let’s look at some typical night photos with high dynamic range:

Context photo: what we are looking at

The above photo shows a scene that we were looking at: a house illuminated by Christmas lights. All smartphones will have a tendency to “brighten” the scene up. Brighter is not always better, and if the phone does a good capture, the brightness can mostly be dialed back for a more natural look.

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Above, the Mi Note 10 captures a nice image but has difficulties in brightly lit areas and loses data in these regions. The individual string lights are no longer distinguishable and the house number is no longer readable.  Other high-end mobile cameras will generally manage HDR better.

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This HDR  weakness appears often, like in this colorful scene below which strong highlights and subtle secondary lighting.

Context: what we are looking at

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In the scene above, the Mi Note 10 also has a stronger lens flare in the upper-left, but this is not something that we have seen often. The Galaxy Note 10 is the camera that captured the best color hues and is the easiest to make look like the reference scene with simple brightness/contrast edits.

The Huawei Mate 30 applies extra contrast that cannot be removed. It makes the lighting appear a little harsher than in the real world. However, it can claim the overall best image quality with for that round.

The Mi Note 10 low-light HDR quality could use some improvement to avoid these over-saturation issues in areas of the photos with stronger lighting.

That’s really a pity because a close examination of the photos reveals that its 108 MP sensor can capture very fine details. Here’s a slightly different view of the first night scene, and in green, the area in which we’re going to examine.

Context: what we’re looking at.

Below, you can see the excellent level of detail that the Mi Note 10 sensor is able to achieve. When compared to the iPhone 11 Pro, it’s easy to see how the iPhone is much noisier with fuzzy vegetation details. The Redmi Note 10’s colors are a bit off though, creating a warm tone in that upper house area which is predominantly blue.

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Even when compared to the Huawei Mate 30 Pro, the current camera champion the Mi Note 10 image is cleaner and seems less processed – because it is.  To compensate for its 10MP resolution, the Huawei Mate 30 Pro camera seems to use a couple of sharpening filter layers (outlines sharpening and contrast sharpening). That’s most visible on the palm leaves in front of the Window.

The Mi Note 10 uses sensor resolution “brute-force” and features fewer signs of image filtering.

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Also, if we look at the street post, there’s a tiny camera “Notice” sign. You can clearly read “Notice” on the Mi Note 10 photo. The aspect of the tree leaves in the back is also much more natural.

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Night Photos With Uniform Lighting (0.4 LUX)

When there is no strong highlights or backlights, we can focus our analysis on the raw light capture capabilities of the camera, and see how much colors and detail it can pick, and with what kind of noise. Below is our “colored bottles” scene, with an ambient brightness of 0.4 LUX at the bottle.

Context photo: this is what our eyes perceive

Below, we will crop the photos to better illustrate the results, in a way that is friendly to even tablets or smartphones. As usual, phones will “brighten” the scene up, but what’s important here is noise and detail. In such conditions, capturing the colors is tricky too.

Below, a comparison with the iPhone 11 Pro shows the Mi Note 10 pulling far away from the best Apple camera. For details, look at the small strings and knots, and the smaller Chinese characters on the labels.

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Although better than the iPhone 11 Pro, the Galaxy Note 10 is also outmatched by the Mi Note 10 photo, which has more details and cleaner noise, despite using seemingly less image-filtering.

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The Mate 30 Pro uses more image filtering to counter the noise and make the image “sharper”, but the image sharpener makes the text less readable and the overall image isn’t as clean-looking because of the noise and the slightly lower resolution.

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If we go back to the context photo, it is apparent that the Mi Note 10 camera preserves details in a way that none of the classic low-light champions can match. It shows how powerful that new sensor is, in its raw form.

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Night Vision  (0.05 LUX)

If we lower the brightness in the same scene down to 0.05 LUX, our light meter can barely even measure the light. For phones not optimized for “night vision”, things get very difficult.

For example, the iPhone 11 Pro’s image quality breaks down and noise level shoots up drastically. The Galaxy Note 10 fares better but isn’t built for night vision either. The Mi Note 10 holds its ground, you can see how blurrier it got when compared to the previous 0.4 Lux round.

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And that’s where the Huawei Mate 30 Pro takes the lead, with a surprisingly clean image which looks very different from the previous one shot with a bit more light. This is probably due to the fact that Huawei doesn’t use the same set of image-filters here.

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Night Vision is impressive and a fun feature to have, but keep in mind that only a relatively low number of photos are actually shot in near-darkness conditions, so its contribution to the overall user experience isn’t that high.

Night photography conclusion

The Mi Note 10 low-light performance is also mixed. The hardware’s maximum capabilities are impressive and if you look at fine details, it can outclass competitors using older sensors.

“IT CAN OUTCLASS COMPETITORS USING OLDER SENSORS”

However, this camera also needs to do better with the basics such as color accuracy and dynamic range. Over-exposed areas are very noticeable and cannot be corrected with editing, this is an issue in very common situations.

The good news is that if Xiaomi keeps improving the camera software, there’s a chance for a significant increase in quality since virtually none of the weaknesses of the Mi Note 10 camera is due to hardware limitations.

Night score
Honor 20 Pro191
Xiaomi Mi Note 10193
Galaxy Note 10194
iPhone 11 Pro194
Huawei Mate 30 Pro211

Ultrawide Photography

In Ultrawide mode, we have noticed some of the same behavior spotted in the Daylight photo tests, namely some excess HDR filtering and color tone changes when compared to the real-world scene. Excessive HDR induces a loss of contrast that cannot be undone.

Using the image comparison below, you can see a sizeable difference between the Mate 30 Pro that is closest to the “real world” and the Mi Note 10 that has less contrast across the board.

It is most visible in the mass of grass, and strangely, the color hue of the foreground grass to the left is changed as well.

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Below, the Galaxy Note 10 exaggerates the saturation as part of its image filtering process, but it is easy to tone down, and it does a good job of preserving the color hues,

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However, from a Details and Texture perspective, the Mi Note 10 Ultrawide camera does quite well thanks to its sharp 20 Megapixel camera module. All the high-end cameras perform quite well in the center, but the Mi Note 10 is visibly sharper on the outer edge of the image.

Below, a crop of the center of the image where everybody has good detail levels. Interestingly, the excess HDR helps the Mi Note 10 when looking up close, because nothing is over, or under, exposed. The Mate 30 Pro has a bit too much contrast, which was not too noticeable at first. The Galaxy Note 10+ shows a good balance but its 12MP photos are surely a bit blurrier than the Mi Note 10.

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If we look closely to the left of the photo, we can see that our Mate 30 Pro’s camera is blurrier, which often happens with Ultrawide lenses, but the Mi Note 10 does really well with small details across the image. It’s impossible to tell how consistent the optics quality is as we don’t have enough samples.

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The comparison with the Mate 30 pro is particularly potent since their Focal lengths are 16mm (Mi) and 18mm (Mate) respectively. The Note 10+ has a 13mm lens and shoots even “wider” photos with potentially more challenges on the outer edges of the image.

Low-light ultrawide

In Low-light, the Mi Note 10’s ultrawide camera is better than the iPhone 11 Pro, but not quite as performance as the Galaxy Note 10. It shows difficulties to gather light as you go away from the center of the image, a very common situation with most Ultrawide cameras. First, here’s the scene we’re looking at:

Context: what we’re looking at

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Above, the iPhone 11 Pro’s Ultrawide photo is very noisy and has noticeably lower image quality than the Mi Note 10’s, even though the iPhone manages the Christmas lights a bit better.

Below, the Mate 30 Pro’s ultrawide camera captures much more light, and details and remains by far the best low-light Ultrawide camera. The image filtering is relatively strong, but with very simple brightness and (de)saturation filters, we can make it look much more natural, as seen under the slider.

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Mate 30 Pro image with lower brightness and saturation

Context photo: what we’re looking at

Ultrawide photography conclusion

In Daylight, the Mi Note 10’s overall performance is capped by its ability to get the colors and HDR as right as the competition. It is true that details are great, and that may be important for printing or looking at photos on a TV. However, it is a secondary feature as the Ultrawide function is to capture more “breath” instead of more “depth”.

At night, the performance is very honorable, but it comes down to how powerful the camera hardware is. Here, the Mi Note 10 does better than the iPhone 11 Pro but can’t outmatch the Galaxy Note 10+, let alone the Mate 30 Pro.

Ultrawide score
Huawei Mate 20 Pro114
iPhone 11 Pro117
Xiaomi Mi Note 10130
Galaxy Note 10140
Huawei Mate 30 Pro172

Zoom Photography

When it comes to zoom, the Xiaomi Mi Note 10 comes well endowed, with a 94mm zoom lens, backed by an 8 Megapixel sensor and optical image stabilization (OIS). Traditionally, the power of the optics has more influence than the sensor resolution.

That’s accentuated by the fact that in daylight, there’s plenty of light available, so the sensor size is less of a factor. At night, most phones will fall back to the Primary (non-telephoto) camera which is optimized for low-light and simply upscale the image to simulate a zoom.

Zoom Camera
iPhone 11 Pro51mm 12-MP f/2 Zoom +OIS
Huawei Mate 30 Pro80mm 10-MP f/2.4 Zoom +OIS
Xiaomi Mi Note 1094mm 8-MP f/2 Zoom +OIS
Huawei P30 Pro135mm 8-MP f/3.4 Zoom +OIS

As a result, the Xiaomi Mi Note 10 easily outguns the iPhone 11 Pro and all the other high-end phones with a 52mm optics, such as the Galaxy Note 10, and many more.

First, let’s show you the area where will be zooming. In the overall scene, we’re going to turn towards the area highlighted by the small green square and take a 10X zoom photo.

Below, this what a 10X zoom photo from this location looks like. Here’s a photo that was taken with the Huawei P30 Pro, the most powerful zoom we’ve tested to far:

10X photo from the same location

The image comparison below are cropped from this view to better highlights the differences. This is where things are getting interesting.

Below, a comparison with the iPhone 11 Pro shows the huge difference in detail that we would expect just by looking at the technical specifications.

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Below, the Mate 20 Pro is using a shape-based sharpening filter, and it does work well on straight edges like the windows, wires, and pipes, but it garbles a lot of the texture as seen in the solar panels, roof, and wooden barriers.

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A zoom camera like the Huawei P30 Pro doesn’t need sharpening as much and will just use brute force sensor power to achieve an excellent image quality. As you can observe, the quality is noticeably better, both in terms of details, but also when it comes to noise levels.

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Zoom conclusion

Xiaomi has taken a good decision by equipping the Mi Note 10 with a powerful telephoto lens. This gives Xiaomi’s customers one of the most powerful telephoto mobile cameras on the market and one that far surpasses what iPhone users can get their hands on. We rate the Zoom performance with a Zoom score of 135.

“ONE OF THE MOST POWERFUL TELEPHOTO MOBILE CAMERAS”

Zoom score
Google Pixel 362
iPhone 11 Pro92
Xiaomi Mi Note 10135
Huawei Mate 30 Pro118
Huawei P30 Pro148

Conclusion and Camera IQ Score

The Xiaomi Mi Note 10 camera is one of the best cameras we’ve tested, and one of the most exciting in terms of hardware development as it had the first commercial 108MP sensor. We have shown that such an increase in the Megapixel count can lead to visible improvements in Details and Texture for the user.

At a $460 street price, the Mi Note 10 camera is also the one that offers, by far, the best value of any camera above 164 we’ve tested to date, and the best overall mobile camera under $600 (“Premium” segment).

BESTOVERALLSpecific category being considered2019-11Award dateUBER-G SCOREThe ranking system nameIQImage-Quality based rankingCAMERAMobile PremiumCategory based on launch price2019-11Device launch dateXiaomi Mi Note 10 (CC9)Device brand and name

181Image Quality scoreUBER-G SCOREScoring/ranking system nameIQImage-Quality based scoring systemCAMERAMobile PremiumCategory based on price2019-11Device launch dateXiaomi Mi Note 10 (CC9)Device brand and name

Uber-G Camera IQSub-scores
Day190
Night193
Zoom135
Ultrawide130

However, to fully utilize the camera’s hardware potential, the Mi Note 10 would need better color and HDR tuning to make the camera capture the image the photographer expects. With many colors and lighting filters, Daylight photos colors can appear a bit unnatural.

At night, the dynamic range needs to be better managed to capture life-like scenes with complex lighting such as City nightlife, Carnival, Amusement parks and other common low-light situations where contrast can be extreme.

Overall product rating: 9.2/10

Filed in Cellphones >Reviews. Read more about Android, Editorspick, Mobile Camera Reviews and Xiaomi.