Xiaomi's Poco X3 NFC - A Photographer's Review

I bought myself a new smartphone - a budget USD200 Xiaomi's Poco X3 NFC. This midrange phone has some sweet specifications - 120Hz refresh rate 6.7 inch Full HD LCD display, beefy 5160mAh battery with fast charging, latest Qualcomm Snapdragon 732G processer, 6GB RAM and 64GB internal storage. The main reason I decided to take the plunge was the incredibly affordable pricing of just under USD200, I got mine during launch from online retailer store at Shopee for RM799, with free shipping. The camera specifications are nothing to scoff at either - the Poco X3 features the latest Sony's 64MP image sensor. Since I have been using this Poco X3 for about a month now, I thought why not do a review for it's camera performance?

For those who prefer to watch a review in video format than read lengthy blog articles, here is a YouTube video review I made for Poco X3's camera. 


Some important disclaimers first. This is not a sponsored article and I have no affiliation with Xiaomi or Poco. I bought the Poco X3 with my own money, and it is my own smartphone that I do use daily for more than a month now. I am only reviewing the camera's performance from a professional photographer's point of view, and I will not be discussing other aspects of the smartphone. I am not a videographer and I believe other YouTubers or reviewers are more qualified to speak about the video performance. I will also not be testing the selfie camera because I believe we don't need the selfie camera and we can do without it in any smartphones. Stop making them already!

I have been shooting with the Poco X3 whenever I can, and I did bring it out for several shutter therapy sessions before the second partial lockdown happened in Malaysia (thankfully). I have tested the Poco X3's camera in several shooting scenarios - city landscape, close up food lifestyle shots, street shooting as well as night city scape. All the images shown in this blog entry were straight out of the Poco X3 with minor cropping and contrast tweak only. 

Poco X3 claimed to have a quad camera setup at the rear of the smartphone. I disagree. To me there are only two usable cameras at the back of the phone. The quad camera setup refers to: 1) Main 64MP camera 2) Ultra Wide camera 3) 2MP Macro camera and 4) Depth sensor. I just don't see how a 2MP macro camera is any useful in 2020, and we practically can't shoot with the depth sensor any way, it is ridiculously laughable how the marketing gimmick used by Poco/Xiaomi included these two as part of the camera setup. That left us with only two, truly usable cameras - the main camera and ultra wide camera. 

One of the key features of Poco X3 is the large 6.7 inch Full HD LCD with high refresh rate of 120Hz. 

I really wish they did not place the Poco branding so dominantly at the back of the phone. It is plain ugly

The quad camera setup, which honestly, is only dual camera setup if you ask me. You can ignore the 2MP macro camera and the depth sensor.

MAIN 64MP CAMERA, 25MM F1.9

The main camera features a 64MP Sony image sensor and has an equivalent 25mm F1.9 lens. Technically, Xiaomi did not claim any focal length numbers in their official product site but based on my educated guess and experience as a professional photographer who does shoot fairly frequently with wide angle coverage, I'd say the focal length is not as wide as 24mm, definitely not as tight as 28mm, so it falls somewhere between 25-26mm, but that is not the main point to be concerned about. I am comfortable to assume it is about 25mm equivalent. Unfortunately the lens does not have built in image stabilization, but the aperture opens up wide at F1.9, which can be beneficial in low light shooting. 

By default the 64MP image sensor will spit out 16MP image output, a downsampled file from the full resolution. This is not necessarily a bad thing, the 64MP is quite impractical for many considerations - requires more intensive processing power, more storage, and seriously, who needs anything more than 8MP for your social media posting anyway? I'd say anything from 8-10MP is more than sufficient for today's standards. The downsampled 16MP images were optimized, came out sharp with plenty of fine details, and in good lighting condition the images exhibit good contrast and overall tonality. Dynamic range is well controlled, and lens flaws were corrected mostly via software compensation (distortion, chromatic aberration, corner softness, etc). I notice very little issues and even if there were, they can be safely neglected. 

While resolution is good and images do come out crisp and looking very good in generally favorable lighting, I am not very comfortable with the overall color rendering of Poco X3. There is something wrong with the color, they don't look natural. The blue in the sky was not the same blue that I remember seeing, and there is something wrong with the reds too. Nevertheless, the good news is Poco chose a less aggressive approach in handling their saturation and contrast by default, images came out looking more neutral, which did tone down the unnatural look. I guess this is just me nitpicking, the color issue does annoy me as a photographer who does care a lot about color accuracy, but I admit for general average consumers they probably can't tell the difference and the images do have generally pleasing colors. 

Main Camera, ISO513, 1/33

Main Camera, ISO105, 1/100

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The main camera is able to capture good amount of fine details and contrast

Main Camera, ISO100, 1/1003

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There is something wrong with the color rendering - the blue in the sky was not the same blue as seen in real life. It is completely different!

Main Camera, ISO100, 1/1759

Main Camera, ISO100, 1/30, PRO MODE

Main Camera, ISO100, 1/206

Main Camera, ISO100, 1/175

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Main Camera, ISO100, 1/1495

I did play quite a bit with the full 64MP resolution capture, which you have to enable by going into the PRO mode. The 64MP resolution may give you a bit more fine details, but the full potential is dumbed down by Poco's internal image processing which has aggressive noise reduction and sharpening, effectively destroying any useful details and advantage of using high resolution in the first place. Comparing the images side by side with 16MP capture, yes you can see there is better sharpness and contrast overall, but I'd say that the 64MP images look closer to 20-24MP images instead of true 64MP, and the 16MP by default looks more like a 10MP or less resolution. It still makes you think that the resolution is impressive because you are comparing at least twice effective more pixels, but the 64MP truthfully is nowhere near what a real 64MP image sensor can do. 

I am not claiming that the 64MP image sensor is pointless, in fact far from it. All I am saying is, I do not see the point in using the PRO 64MP full resolution capture, The benefit of using the 64MP resolution was to have an optimized downsampled 16MP (though I doubt it is true 16MP to begin with) which will have better dynamic range, noise suppression and overall better detail retention. And I do quite like the 16MP image output from the Poco X3, though I think they can optimize it further by going down to 12MP or even just 10MP. Unfortunately, in the world of number games, these numbers won't fly the smartphones off the shelves. But we photographers know better than just blatantly believe the numbers without extensive tests to verify them. 

Full resolution 64MP capture enabled via PRO mode

Main Camera, ISO100, 1/1633, 64MP mode

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Main Camera, ISO100, 1/2508, 64MP mode

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LEFT: 16MP, RIGHT 64MP

Main Camera, ISO100, 1/1838, 64MP mode

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LEFT: 16MP, RIGHT 64MP

ULTRA WIDE ANGLE CAMERA - 13MP, 14MM F2.2

The ultra wide angle camera is not as good as the main camera, and that is to be expected. I'd highly suggest using the primary camera as much as you can, and only switch to ultra wide when you absolutely have to - in situations where you need to fit as much as you can within a frame. I also cannot imagine many scenarios that you need to go wider than what the main camera can provide. 

The ultra wide camera has a different image sensor, a 13MP, which is visibly softer and lacks contrast overall, maybe this is due to an inferior lens used (it is more difficult to design a wider lens). The 14mm coverage is indeed super wide, I don't think you'd need anything wider than this and F2.2 aperture is decent. Again, there is no image stabilization, which would have made a difference when dealing with low light. Generally, I am not that impressed with what the ultra wide camera can do - resolution does not look like it was 13MP, I'd say more like 5-6MP true resolution, and the extreme corners do suffer softness. Poco X3 does correct the barrel distortion (curved lines) automatically in camera, so that is a plus point. Also, another thing to note is that you do get full AF operation even with the ultra wide angle camera, something certain other smartphone manufacturers excluded from their lower-level priced phones. On top of that, Poco also enabled full PRO mode for the ultra wide angle camera for those who want to get a bit more creative, granting you access to camera parameters such as ISO and shutter speeds. 

I did have plenty of fun shooting with the ultra wide angle camera, especially in city landscape environment where I can fit a lot more in my frame, but I must also warn you that the dynamic range is poorer when the ultra wide angle is being used in comparison to the main camera. It is easier to get highlight blow outs (bright regions being white and cannot be recovered). 

Ultra Wide, ISO100, 1/577

Ultra Wide, ISO100, 1/799

Ultra Wide, ISO100, 1/1968
Take note now the dynamic range is poorer in ultra wide camera - blownouts in the sky

Ultra Wide, ISO100, 1/968

Ultra Wide, ISO100, 1/1027

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resolution and contrast not as well captured on ultra wide

Ultra Wide, ISO110, 1/50

Ultra Wide, ISO100, 1/1156


LOW LIGHT PERFORMANCE
When the light dims, this is where the Poco X3 starts to fall apart. I have no idea why the programming of the camera in Poco X3 is so willing to go extremely high ISO numbers. I am talking about ridiculously high numbers such as ISO10,000 or higher, which I myself don't even use when I am shooting with my professional camera. Not surprising, when I shoot low light images on the Poco X3, they all came out grainy, mushy and soft due to bad noise reduction and they just look plain bad. There is nothing nice to say about low light images from the Poco X3. 

Shooting with Night mode enabled did not help much - the shutter speed goes even slower which makes things a bit more dangerous, due to higher chance of image shake, and sometimes the ISO numbers go even higher! You can see that the Night mode tries very hard to increase the brightness of the images especially in darker areas, but at the expense of using extremely high ISO numbers, sacrificing image quality in the process. I personally would recommend not to use the night mode, just use the regular camera mode and you should be ok. I think if the camera just decided to stay with normal ISO numbers like ISO1600, or even below ISO1000 whenever possible, images would have come out much, much better. 

This is also where the exclusion of image stabilization takes a huge hit. With an effective IS built in, you can gain 2-3 stops of advantage, that means, instead of using ISO10,000, you can get away with maybe ISO1000. That is a big, big difference in terms of image quality between an ISO1000 image vs ISO10,000! Well, the good news is, the PRO mode allows you to have full control of shutter speed and ISO, and if you want to get a bit more serious, mount the Poco X3 on a sturdy tripod, fix the ISO at 100 and you can open up the shutter speed as long as you need to capture sufficient exposure, and that should give you a clean output, even in the darkest of environment. 

Oh and one very important thing - do not use the ultra wide camera in low light. It is doing much worse than what the main camera can do - and that is not good. Noise is worse, and you lose more details. Just stay with the main camera as much as you can. 

Main Camera, ISO4192, 1/17

Main Camera, ISO15839, 1/14

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What are we expecting from an ISO16000 image in a tiny sensor, really?

Main Camera, ISO14934, 1/8, Night Mode

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Nope, just nope

Main Camera, ISO3370, 1/14

Main Camera, ISO2587, 1/20

Main Camera, ISO6400, 1/10, PRO mode

Main Camera, ISO1197, 1/20

Ultra Wide, ISO2770 1/14

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Ultra Wide, ISO9174 1/14

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CAMERA AUTOFOCUS AND GENERAL RESPONSIVENESS
On the whole, I have no issues with the Poco X3's camera operations. The autofocus was quick and accurate, the display lag was manageable, the shot to shot delay was minimal and generally the shutter lag was also not a problem. No, the Poco X3 is not the fastest smartphone camera in the market, there is still noticeable lag in the display, AF and press of shutter, but I am making this comment for a USD200 budget smartphone camera - it is doing really good for this price point, and I'd even go as far as saying better than some more expensive options out there. I have seen worse lags in even some latest flagship smartphones, and you'd know which ones if you have been following me here. 

There is one problem I must report - the camera software for Poco X3 is the buggiest I have used. In one morning's shooting session (2-3 hours duration of continuous street shooting) the camera on Poco X3 crashed about 5 times. The app just decided to stop working, I got the error message and I had to restart the camera app to continue shooting. This was very frustrating and should not have happened, not to this smartphone, not to any smartphone ever. I can tolerate 1 or 2 crashes in one week or more review span, I admit this is a smartphone and things happen, but having so many crashes in just one morning was unforgiveable, it shows how bad the software is, and Poco has a lot more work to do to optimize their camera app. I hope they take notice and update their camera app in the coming firmware upgrade. 


The error message when the camera app crashes








REVIEW SUMMARY CONCLUSION
I did have tremendous fun shooting with the Xiaomi's Poco X3, and I think the camera they have included in this smartphone is quite capable. It does have a lot of potential, and I hope Poco will improve the software and fix the camera app bug. 

WHAT I LIKE:
Good 64MP camera - optimized image, good details and sharpness
Useful ultra wide camera with decent performance
Generally responsive camera operations - fast AF, minimal lag
Versatile PRO mode with full camera control for both main and ultra wide camera

WHAT I DON'T LIKE:
Unnatural looking colors
Poor low light shooting - camera choosing crazy high ISO numbers all the time
No Image Stabilization
Useless Night Mode
Buggy Camera App - needs fixing ASAP

The Poco X3 will be something that I use every single day for a long time, so do expect to see me post some more images from this smartphone from time to time, and I may even do some full shutter therapy sessions with just the smartphone. I do think that for the super budget pricing of just under USD200, you probably can't find any better smartphone camera than Poco X3!

Do you agree with my assessment? Do you own the Poco X3 yourself? Share your thoughts!


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  4. No can not relate. I will get mine tomorrow and the first thing I will do is shooting. But I will be shooting RAW. And with a few cam apps. I do not expect Xiaomi to be able to write an app that makes good use of an excellent sensor from Sony.

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