Xiaomi 9 SE Review: Game-Changer for Photography and Phones

Holy moly, I just got my hands on a new Xiaomi 9 SE phone (only $350 USD while in Vietnam), and it is the most incredible phone and camera I have ever used:

Looks like my prediction was right

Xiaomi 9 SE Selfie

A while back, I predicted that the future of photography was going to be bifurcated into two directions: phone photography and digital medium-format photography.

This is my thought:

With cameras, you want them to either be uber-convenient and uber-light (phones that fit in your front pocket and are always with you), or digital medium formats for supreme supreme aesthetics/image quality.

The Xiaomi 9 SE phone is a game changer.

Several thoughts:

  1. Super-cheap (only ~$350 USD)
  2. Fantastic specs (super-fast performance), beautiful AMOLED screen by Samsung, and the phone camera is incredible (Sony sensor)
  3. Three lenses (ultra-wide, wide, and telephoto) which all work very well. The aesthetics of the image quality is phenomenal for a phone camera, and their AI-built in ‘beauty’ filter and their other filters look fantastic.
  4. Lighter than the iPhone Xs, and has a superior camera to the iPhone Xs. In terms of a productivity device, I prefer this over the iPhone Xs (although truth be told, Apple will never be bested in terms of their integration with Apple products as well as the ingenuity of their built-in apps).
  5. The ultimate democratic phone: Superlative phone camera quality for the masses, and a uber-powerful/lightweight and beautifully-designed phone (design essentially mimics the iPhone XS).

Built-in AI and Filters

I am super impressed with the MIUI (the built-in ROM/operating system for the Xiaomi phone). It is clean, intuitive, and their photos/gallery app works very well. I love their filters, and the auto AI “beautify” ‘image correction’. It seriously works 100x better than anything else I’ve used thus far.


The beautiful thing about shooting with a phone is this:

  1. Super-easy to shoot on a phone
  2. Super-easy to select and process photos on a phone
  3. Super-easy to publish/share photos from a phone

It is really the holy grail of photography/blogging/publishing if you think about it — the ultimate ‘frictionless‘ experience.

The future of ‘stand-alone’ digital cameras

Photos below shot on RICOH GR II:

Personally even though I love the RICOH GR II, there is quite a lot of friction with shooting with it:

  1. Shoot on RICOH GR II (camera is a bit slow)
  2. Import photos from SD card to either laptop or iPad.
  3. Post-process photos in Lightroom CC (or Apple Photos)
  4. Export photos to hard drive
  5. Upload photos from hard drive to website/blog/social media.

Too many steps involved!

If I am going to go through this hassle, I will probably treat my digital camera kind of like the new film camera–

The future of standalone digital cameras is like a film camera (more hassle).

Thus if I want to shoot with a standalone digital camera, it will probably intentionally be something super big and bulky and functional, like a digital-medium-format Pentax 645Z or something.

80% good enough

My personal philosophy with tools is generally this:

If it is “80% good enough” in your own eyes, it is good enough!!!

There is no such thing as a perfect anything. But with phone cameras, I have always been a huge fan– but still– the image quality/aesthetic quality was only 60% ‘good enough’ for myself (this is why I stuck with RICOH GR II). But now seeing what the Xiaomi 9 SE is capable of, I think I will stick with this phone as my ‘daily shooter’.

Furthermore, it still blows my mind that the phone/camera only costs $350!!! To me, it is the ultimate democratic tool, and now I’m starting to wonder:

Once we all have democratic access to the same epic tools of empowerment– what is the significance of this?

In other words:

In the past, having more money to buy more expensive tools did in-fact give us an advantage artistically. Now, having more money gives us access to more luxury tools (better aesthetics of the tool and build-quality), but having access to create beautiful aesthetics is now within grasp of any photographer (regardless of how rich/poor they are).

It seems we are now going through an artistic/photographic ‘democratic revolution’.

Where can I buy a Xiaomi 9 SE?

You can find Xiaomi 9SE’s on Amazon, and probably all around Asia. Technically Xiaomi/Huawei (Chinese phone companies) are banned from being sold direct-consumer in the states, but I think it should be easy to procure online.

Learn more about the epic specs of the Xiaomi 9SE on their official website, it is the most exciting technological innovation happening so far.