Historical photo players join forces with smartphone manufacturers: to what end?

Smartphone manufacturers are no longer content with emphasizing the high precision of their photo sensors and are calling on historic brands like Leica and Hasselblad to help.

Few smartphone manufacturers resist these sirens. With the exception of the Apples and Samsungs of this world, who perhaps don’t need more legitimacy in this area, we see more manufacturers gargling for their partnership with the photography dimension. Leica teamed up with Xiaomi, Hasselblad teamed up with OnePlus and Zeiss teamed up with vivo. But what should we really understand about such partnerships?

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Gone are the days when smartphone manufacturers only have to emphasize the number of megapixels in communication? While 200-megapixel sensors are on the way to the back of our smartphones, we won’t be going that far. On the other hand, it’s true that companies operating in the sector have changed their tune a bit this year. And for good reason, they have other arguments to make.

In 2016, Huawei, on the verge of popularity, first teamed up with the true legend of photography, optical Leica, and won the tympanum. With an excellent reputation and a particularly high-end image, Leica has undoubtedly paid a lot of attention to the photographic capabilities of the Chinese brand’s smartphones.

But what exactly are we talking about? Mainly software optimization. Contrary to what the communication might suggest, Leica did not design cameras for Huawei or, more recently, Xiaomi smartphones. Hasselblad has also not removed the lenses of the OnePlus 10 Pro from their factories.

OnePlus 10 Pro with a photo module developed in collaboration with Hasselblad.©OnePlus

What smartphone manufacturers are really looking for is to add the image of a prestigious brand in the field of photography to their image. One way to buy legitimacy; to put a stamp of quality on their products.

Deceptive experience? Far from it! In most cases, products that are actually “jointly developed” often work well. After all, historic photography brands have everything to lose by getting involved in making waterproof smartphones. That’s why not all OnePlus smartphones carry the Hasselblad label (the OnePlus 10T), to take this example.

Extensive software optimizations

As we wrote above, this kind of partnership is often implemented by optimizing the software integrated into smartphones. Camera brands provide advice and help improve various algorithms that, let’s not forget, do most of the photography work on our smartphones.

On the Vivo X80 Pro, Zeiss has added various filters that allow you to replicate the signature rendering of certain flagship lenses (Biotar, Sonnar, Planar, etc.). Moreover, the German optician is clear about the nature of its partnership with vivo. A page of his site is dedicated to him, where you can read in particular ” The collaborative research and development program at the ZEISS Imaging Laboratory will continue to create innovative technologies for a state-of-the-art mobile imaging experience, drawing on ZEISS’s more than 130 years of experience and leveraging technologies developed by mobile imaging technologies. Combining Vivo’s smartphone technology, software and user experience, ZEISS and vivo are committed to continuing to push the boundaries of smartphone photography. »

Same story on the Hasselblad side, which has incorporated some signature filters into OnePlus and Oppo smartphones. In the press release announcing the collaboration, the Chinese brand writes: “OPPO and Hasselblad will now work together to develop advanced imaging solutions through a research and development collaboration aimed at providing users with more natural colors and a finer imaging experience. »

Again, we are only talking about software, programming, and by no means pure optics.

Do not overestimate the role of the camera in the background

In the pit, a closer look at this juicy collaboration between historic photo brands and smartphone manufacturers also allows us to put the church back in the middle of the village. If smartphones are becoming more and more talented in the field of photography, it is not because they have a camera with advanced features, but because of the improvement of the processing algorithms.

Just as the number of pixels on the sensor does not predict the quality of the photo, a large camera on the back of the mobile phone does not mean that we will be satisfied with the shots. This is one of the reasons why Apple, Samsung and Google have stuck with the same 12-megapixel photo sensors generation after generation for years. If “simple” software optimization can improve results, why change it?

Description of this fact: tech influencer Marques Brownlee organized the traditional blind poll to choose the photographer of the year. The videographer community was invited to decide between 16 smartphones released in 2022 through three photos taken in very different conditions. Which won? Perhaps the Samsung Galaxy S22 Ultra and its 108-megapixel sensor? Released. It was the Pixel 6a and its 12-megapixel module (the same one used by Google in 2018’s Pixel 3) that won all the votes.

Reason ? Google is constantly improving its algorithms and strives every year to correctly display different skin tones in an image. An approach the web giant likes to describe as inclusive, and it’s clearly flagged here.

It is also interesting to look at the models that were not popular with the people who responded to the survey. Among the big losers: the Motorola Edge 30 Ultra, but one of the first to deploy a 200-megapixel photosensor. Vivo X80 Pro and Xiaomi 12S Ultra, partners of Zeiss and Leica, leave the 9th and 10th places in the ranking.

Just like photography and a fortiori smartphone photography (known as computing) is a bit more complicated than just the prestigious logo we put on the box. Note that some have no excuse: the €1,399 Sony Xperia 1 IV is the biggest loser in the survey, despite Sony’s expertise in photography. What is blamed on the smartphone? A very traditional approach to photography that tends to shy away from algorithms and features that automate shots.

Fun fact: More and more “traditional” cameras now support more processing algorithms, especially digital noise reduction. As such, the two competing industries share many skills that will perhaps balance them out in the years to come.

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