Just how far does Leica lend its expertise to Huawei’s flagship models?
When the Huawei-Leica partnership was first introduced in the Huawei P9, it brought dual lens cameras and the smartphone-enabled “bokeh” into the mainstream lingo. Since then, the Leica cameras were introduced to the Huawei Mate 9 and Huawei P10, improving with bigger apertures and a Leica-certified front facing camera to boot.
How did this partnership come about, and of all brands, why Leica? Lee, who’s been with Huawei for 21 years and in the consumer business group for the last six of them, reveals just how deep the camera partnership is between the two companies.
Capturing a moment
Photography is a way to record society and the changing of our lives. Sounds like an over-the-top statement, but that’s the ethos behind Huawei’s cameras - and why they decided to converse with Leica four years ago.
Leica is a famed photography brand known for some of the most iconic portraits and street photography images - so the idea is to transfer that picture quality to a smartphone, because “the best camera is the one on you”.
If it was a licensing deal, then Huawei is guilty as charged - but we find out it’s more than that. Leica lent its expertise in exposure and lighting, and Huawei made it technologically possible in a small device - Huawei calls it a “co-creation.
RGB + Monochrome
So Huawei presented its idea - combining a RGB colour sensor with a monochrome one together like a pair of eyes - not a filtered black and white like most phones, but a true monochrome sensor. While other brands (even the flagship phones of today) have employed dual cameras, it’s this idea that really brought dual cameras to the mainstream.
And still, Huawei’s smartphones are the only flagship models that use this RGB + monochrome combination, when most others have gone the telephoto + wide angle route.
Creating a Leica photo
With the idea in place, the first step was redesigning the tiny optical lens on the rear of the phone. Thanks to Leica’s insights, the engineering team at Huawei was able to improve the MTF of the lens to obtain a smooth gradient of the shading and lighting, which is important when shooting black and white photos - just like Leica-shot iconic photographs.
So photographs should come out Leica-style - silky smooth, creamy gradient from black to white.
Interestingly, when the Huawei engineers brought the prototype phone to Leica’s headquarters, they were pleased to find out that Leica’s labs use the same equipments and testing patterns for their cameras. However, initial tests found the resulting image saturation, as well as flare and ghosting not to Leica’s high standards - so it was back to the drawing board until each image taken met Leica’s approval.