Historical photo players join forces with smartphone manufacturers: for what results?

Smartphone manufacturers are no longer content to highlight the high definition of their photo sensors to woo and are turning to historic brands like Leica and Hasselblad for help.

Some smartphone manufacturers reject these sirens. With the exception of Apple and Samsung in this world, who perhaps don’t need more legitimacy in this area, we’re seeing more and more manufacturers gargling for having formed partnerships with photographic measures. Leica is teaming up with Xiaomi, Hasselblad with OnePlus, and Zeiss with Vivo. But what should we really understand about this kind of partnership?

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Were the days when smartphone manufacturers only emphasized megapixel counts in their communications? While a 200 megapixel sensor will jump on the back of our smartphone, we won’t go that far. On the other hand, it is true that companies in this sector have changed direction somewhat this year. And for good reason, they have other arguments to come up with.

First there is Huawei which, in 2016, when it was on the verge of its popularity, won the timpani by teaming up with optometrist Leica, a true legend of photography. With an excellent reputation and highly sophisticated images, Leica has undeniably highlighted a lot about the photographic capabilities of the smartphone of the Chinese brand.

But what exactly are we talking about? Mainly software optimization. Contrary to what the communications implied, Leica does not design cameras for Huawei or, more recently, Xiaomi smartphones. Hasselblad also didn’t remove the OnePlus 10 Pro lens from the factory.

The OnePlus 10 Pro with its photo module was designed in partnership with Hasselblad.©One Plus

What smartphone manufacturers are really looking for is to attach a prestigious brand image in the field of photography to themselves. A way to buy legitimacy; to affix the quality seal to their products.

Deceptive practice? Far from it! For the most part, products that are actually “designed in partnership with” often do very well. After all, a historic photo brand would lose everything by engaging in non-waterproof smartphone production. This is also why not all OnePlus smartphones, to take this example, carry the Hasselblad label (OnePlus 10T).

Extensive software optimization

As we wrote above, this kind of partnership is mostly realized by optimizing the software integrated into the smartphone. Camera brands provide advice and help improve the various algorithms that, don’t forget, do most of the photographic work on our smartphones.

On the vivo X80 Pro, Zeiss in particular has added various filters that make it possible to replicate the typical rendering of certain flagship lenses (Biotar, Sonnar, Planar, etc.). In addition, the German optometrist explained about the nature of his partnership with vivo. A page on his website is dedicated to him, where one can read in particular” At the ZEISS Imaging Lab, joint research and development programs will continue to create innovative technologies for advanced mobile imaging experiences by leveraging over 130 years of ZEISS imaging experience and applying technologies developed by cellular imaging technologies. By combining vivo’s expertise in 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 integrates several signature filters into its OnePlus and Oppo smartphones. In a press release announcing the collaboration, the Chinese brand wrote: “OPPO and Hasselblad will now work together to develop advanced imaging solutions through collaborative research and development aimed at providing users with more natural colors and a smoother imaging experience. »

Again, this is just a matter of software, programming, and not pure optics at all.

Don’t overestimate the role of hardware in a photophone

In hollow, taking a closer look at this interesting collaboration between a historic photo brand and a smartphone manufacturer has also allowed us to put the church back in the center of the village. If smartphones are getting gifted in photography, it is more due to improved processing algorithms than because they have cameras with advanced characteristics.

In the same way that a higher pixel count on a sensor doesn’t predict photo quality, a big camera on the back of a phone doesn’t mean we’ll be satisfied with the shots that come out. This is one of the reasons why, over the years, Apple, Samsung, and Google have stuck with the same 12-megapixel photo sensors from one generation to another. Why change it when “simple” software optimization can improve results?

An illustration of this fact: tech influencer Marques Brownlee just conducted his traditional blind poll to choose the photophone of the year. The videographer community is invited to decide between 16 smartphones released in 2022 through three photos taken in very different conditions. Who came out victorious? Maybe the Samsung Galaxy S22 Ultra and its 108 megapixel sensor? Missed. It was the Pixel 6a and its 12-megapixel module (the same that Google used on the Pixel 3 in 2018) that won all the votes.

The reason? Google is constantly improving its algorithm and making yearly efforts to render different skin tones in images correctly. An approach that Web giants like to describe as inclusive and which definitely hits the spot here.

It’s also interesting to see which model the people who answered the survey disliked. Among the big losers: Motorola Edge 30 Ultra, one of the first to mobilize a 200 megapixel photo sensor. Vivo X80 Pro and Xiaomi 12S Ultra, but partners Zeiss and Leica respectively, rank 9th and 10th respectively.

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

Fun fact: More and more “traditional” cameras are now relying more and more on processing algorithms, specifically to help with digital noise reduction. Like what, the two so-called competing industries actually share a lot of skills which, perhaps, will bring them into balance in the years to come.

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