Why do you care if cameras by Zeiss, Hasselblad, or Leica are suddenly no more on your flagship?

Why do you care if cameras by Zeiss, Hasselblad, or Leica are suddenly no more on your flagship?
Following the rumors that 2024 could mark the end of the Oppo/OnePlus partnership with Hasselblad (and also vivo’s with Zeiss), I couldn’t help but recall (with a smile) The Scrolls, one of Woody Allen’s great short stories.

It’s about a set of ancient scrolls from 4000 BC that are recently translated from “a mixture of Sumerian, Aramaic and Babylonian” although “the authenticity of the scrolls is currently in great doubt, particularly since the word Oldsmobile appears several times in the text”.

One of the scrolls tells the story of a man who sells shirts and whose business is in dire straits. The salesman, “smitten by hard times”, begs God for help.

The Lord says: “Put an alligator over the pocket”.

“Pardon me, Lord?”

“Just do what I'm telling you. You won't be sorry”.

Next thing you know, the shirts with the alligator started to sell well: “Suddenly his merchandise moved like gangbusters and there was much rejoicing while amongst his enemies there was wailing and gnashing of teeth”.

On how to sell camera phones (without alligators on them)

Putting a little alligator (or crocodile, for that matter) won’t do phone manufacturers any good – they’ll be popular among Steve Irwin fans, but that’s a finite target audience, however beloved the late Steve Irwin might be.

Because phone manufacturers want to sell, not simply manufacture phones, they opt for something else. These days it seems that it’s easier to sell phones with pumped-up cameras, and, following that logic, having even more pumped-up cameras means even higher sales.

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Enter the Red Dot, the Distinct-Blue Square, and the Stylish “H”: the Leica, Zeiss, and Hasselblad logos, respectively. In the photography world, these three are what Ferrari, Lamborghini, and Pagani are to the sports cars world.

And who doesn’t want to ride a Ferrari?

Operation: Collaboration Nation

One last Lacoste analogy, I swear: having a cool-looking alligator patch on your shirt is nice, but that’s about it, the shirt stays the same (it only gets more expensive). By having a Leica/Zeiss/Hasselblad inscription on your phone, however, things change beyond the inevitable price hike.

Before we proceed, let’s summarize why Leica, Zeiss, and Hasselblad are so sought after:

  • Leica cameras are a German folklore legend that materializes only after you start making some serious $$$. Yes, Leica is expensive. Renowned for their exceptional build quality and minimalist design, these cameras offer a shooting experience that’s luxurious and intuitive at the same time. Leica makes lenses as well, which are known for unparalleled sharpness and a signature Leica bokeh that turns simple pictures into a picturesque state-of-the-art masterpiece.
  • Hasselblad is just another way of saying “I’m rarer than a millennial who hasn’t taken a selfie”. These Swedish medium format beasts deliver just what many professionals in high-end fashion, portrait, and landscape photography need: extraterrestrial image quality, resolution, dynamic range, color fidelity, and detail.
  • Zeiss is by far the most accessible (and popular) of the three, but that doesn’t make it any less premium by any stretch of the imagination. Zeiss lenses are celebrated for their cutting-edge optical technology and precision engineering, providing photographers with sharp, contrasty images across a wide range of shooting conditions.

Brand collaborations are a phenomenon that’s far from new – the legendary GoPro x Red Bull partnership is responsible for countless hours of entertaining, yet nausea-inducing videos.

Similarly, phone makers’s partnerships with legendary photography brands like Leica, Zeiss, and Hasselblad have produced many – not countless, but many – phones with riveting cameras.

Here are the more notable partnerships (a brief list):

  • Huawei and Leica – Announced in 2015, this major partnership gave birth to the Huawei P9 smartphone with a dual main camera. Very stylish. However, due to the US sanctions against Huawei, this collaboration with Leica ended in March 2022.
  • Xiaomi and Leica – Mere months after the Huawei/Leica breakup, Xiaomi won the heart of Leica and in May 2022, the two brands announced a long-term cooperation. Shortly after, the Xiaomi 12S and 12S Pro duo were unveiled with Leica cameras. Fast forward to February 2024: we’re days away from the official unveiling of the Xiaomi 14 Ultra and we’re eager to see what this beast could do. There are promotional shots, but the real judging will come from users who are not paid by Xiaomi to produce the most outstanding shots they can.
  • Motorola and Hasselblad – Back in the mid-2010s, Motorola collaborated with Hasselblad for a smartphone with interchangeable Moto Z modules. One of the mods was a Hasselblad camera with a 12-megapixel sensor and 10x optical magnification. This didn’t convince aspiring mobile photographers and as a result, Motorola abandoned the idea.
  • OnePlus and Hasselblad – Now we’re talking. This time, Hasselblad really nailed it. This partnership dates back to 2021 when the OnePlus 9 flagship was announced (the camera interface in the Pro mode is designed to resemble that of a Hasselblad camera). In 2022, Oppo also joined the Hasselblad partnership which culminated in the Oppo Find N3, a.k.a. the OnePlus Open: finally, a book-style foldable phone with a great camera.
  • Nokia and (Carl) Zeiss – It’s 2005 and Nokia is still king (‘member the Sony Ericsson K750i?) and on
  • the camera module of the Nokia N90 phone there was an inscription that read “Carl Zeiss”. On a side note: Carl Zeiss and simply “Zeiss” are the same thing, the company ditched the “Carl” post-2010. Some years later, Nokia and Carl Zeiss made the Lumia 1020 camera-centric phone with a 41 MP image sensor and optical stabilization. Hey, don’t scoff, that was great back in the day!
  • Sony and Zeiss – A match made in heaven. On paper, at least – Sony and Zeiss have been developing top-notch lenses for Sony’s mirrorless cameras for years. When translated to Sony’s mobile phones, things are somewhat different and fall short of expectations – not in quality, but in popularity. Given both brands' legendary status, one expects this partnership to be the most successful of them all, but the invisible hand of the market works in mysterious ways. Or maybe Sony’s Xperia line is priced insanely and that’s why people keep forgetting about it.
  • vivo and Zeiss – This one is under the radar for many people, because vivo is – how do I say this gently – not exactly the most popular brand out there, especially in the West. This only makes the satisfaction of taking photos with a vivo/Zeiss phone even greater: non-PhoneArena readers in your inner circle will never believe you that a phone that isn’t a Galaxy S-something or the latest iPhone takes pictures this good. Thanks, vivo X100 Pro!

Is something missing?

Oh, right, we forgot to mention Apple, Samsung and Google. Well, that’s because there isn’t anything to mention about them – they sell their phones so well, they don’t need to pay Leica, Zeiss, or Hasselblad millions of dollars for a partnership.

Whether you like to admit it or not, Apple, Samsung, and Google are very capable in the mobile photography field. Apple's photography achievements span many years behind. I can remember that I was straightforwardly shocked years ago (14? 15?), when a colleague in the newspaper I was working in, got back from a vacation. Being a journalist, she did some work on her vacation and got back with a story. She wrote the piece and printed it with accompanying photos from her iPhone – large, colorful, sharp, and overall great-looking photos. From her phone to the national newspaper!

As far as Samsung goes – love it or hate it, the Galaxy S24 Ultra is the new best smartphone camera: that’s what our tests come up with.

Google is not to be disregarded as well. The computational photo capabilities of the Google Pixel series is what, in my humble opinion, made them so popular.

Smartphones have plateaued, smartphone photography – not yet

If smartphones have plateaued, mobile photography for sure hasn’t yet – or at least, it evolves with more confidence than the device it’s found on. The question is whether photography-oriented brands such as Leica, Zeiss, and Hasselblad will keep on truckin’, or will leave the party in 2024.

Or maybe they’ve had enough of the Far East brands and will now join Apple, Samsung, and Google for an all-star game?

Personally, I’m not that crazy about what the inscription on my phone says about its camera, as long as it takes great photos: it may read Leica, Zeiss, or Hasselblad. Or nothing.

I just don’t want mobile photography to become boring.

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