Smartphone and Camera Brand Relationships: Friends with Benefits?

Smartphone and Camera Brand Relationships

Hasselblad H6D-400C Multi-Shot and the Leica S3, both of these two cameras are out of the average consumer budget & made by Legacy camera makers. With 5-digit price tags & popularity, one may think these brands are doing great in terms of revenue and growth, but when you see the same name & logo on a consumer smartphone brand like Xiaomi or oneplus, you might think otherwise. 

There is a reason why professional photographers who work for the greatest publications and advertising agencies, as well as scientists, choose cameras and lenses from both of these legacy brands. In fact, the first camera to take pictures of the moon was made by Hasselblad.

This is one of the major reasons why smartphone manufacturers like OnePlus and Xiaomi are partnering with legacy camera makers, at least on the surface of it. However, the reasons behind both of these partnerships go much beyond cashing in on legacy.

Smartphone & Camera Brand Relationships

We take a look at a few of the reasons why smartphone makers like OnePlus and Xiaomi are partnering up with legacy camera makers like Hasselblad and Leica.

OnePlus and Xiaomi are partnering up with legacy camera makers like Hasselblad and Leica
OnePlus and Xiaomi are partnering up with legacy camera makers like Hasselblad and Leica

On July 4, Xiaomi launched its freshly upgraded flagship phone series – the Xiaomi 12S line – and introduced us to the first of the company’s handsets to feature camera hardware sporting the Leica name. Leica, the German optics specialist known for its pricey but-capable cameras – is one of several established camera brands that have joined forces with assorted phone makers over the years. Most recently, it kicked off a freshly minted relationship with Xiaomi after its long-standing contract with fellow Chinese phone maker Huawei ended. 

While Leica is one of the most high-profile names involved in these partnerships, it’s not alone. Hasselblad and Zeiss have also entered into relationships of a similar nature. Hasselblad formerly worked with Motorola on an optical zoom camera mod for its Moto Mods accessory line and, more recently, buddied up with siblings OnePlus and Oppo.

Zeiss’s history stretches back even further – to Nokia’s pre-iPhone market dominance – alongside more recent work with Sony and Vivo. So the question is, why do they do it?

Grabbing Market Share

The name Hasselblad and Leica carry a lot of weight when it comes to photography in European markets. While Xiaomi has done decently well in Europe, OnePlus has struggled in the European market. As of April 2022, Xiaomi has about 15 percent market share in Europe, whereas OnePlus has less than 2 percent market share. 

Xiaomi and OnePlus market share in the European market
Xiaomi and OnePlus market share in the European market
iPhone and Samsung market share in the European market
iPhone and Samsung market share in the European market

In contrast, smartphone makers like Apple and Samsung, who are known for their exemplary real-life camera performance, have about 27 and 33 percent market share, respectively. OnePlus’ market share in Europe had, in fact, increased after they partnered with Hasselblad. All because of strategic brand collaboration.

Portraying Expertise

A smartphone maker’s association with a reputable legacy camera manufacturer gives people the impression that the product developed because of the partnership will be as good as the products by the legacy camera maker. This is what OnePlus and Xiaomi have tried to rely on. OnePlus has had issues with its cameras from the very beginning. 

However, by partnering with Hasselblad, they have been able to market themselves as experts in the field, even though in reality, their cameras still struggle in going toe to toe against most cameras found in other flagship devices. The partnership between OnePlus and Hasselblad also requires Hasselblad’s ambassadors, who are some of the best photographers on Earth, to work closely with the smartphone makers, suggesting how they can improve their imaging science.

Comparing OnePlus 10 Pro camara with iphone 13 pro max and Galaxy s22 ultra
Comparing OnePlus 10 Pro camara with iphone 13 pro max and Galaxy s22 ultra

Borrowing color science

None of the OnePlus phones that come with the Hasselblad logo has any physical components that have been developed by Hasselblad. Instead, what they do have is the color science that goes into making a modern Hasselblad. 

Smartphone cameras have a tendency to oversaturate colors and sometimes blow up the dynamic to smithereens. What Hasselblad is doing for OnePlus, is basically teaching them how not to do that. One can assume that Leica will be doing the same for Xiaomi.

Lessons in Image Processing

Smartphone cameras, especially the ones from Chinese brands like Xiaomi and OnePlus, have always had the tendency to overprocess and oversharpen images. Now, in well-lit conditions, these are hard to detect, as the images tend to be just right. However, this becomes a major problem when lighting conditions aren’t ideal. Legacy camera brands like Hasselblad and Leica are also responsible for basically teaching these smartphone makers how to reel this in.

The Money 

Finally, we come to the benefits that Hasselblad and Leica will get out of these partnerships. OnePlus is paying Hasselblad over $150 Million over three years, and in all likelihood, their partnership will go beyond that. Similarly, Xiaomi must also be paying Leica a ton of money. 

For camera manufacturers who sell less than 10,000 units a year, the money that comes from these partnerships will go a long way. Moreover, legacy cameras like Hasselblad and Leica are very well-known in Asian markets. However, their visibility is almost zero, especially among people who aren’t into photography. 

OnePlus is paying Hasselblad over $150 Million over three years
OnePlus is paying Hasselblad over $150 Million over three years

A partnership with some of the highest-selling smartphone brands will surely come in handy when these legacy camera makers get into a messier camera market, with their budget offerings when they take on the likes of Nikon, Canon, and Sony.

It’s Not Always The Same

While it isn’t the only brand doing so, Sony has struck perhaps the most encouraging balance with its smartphone camera systems. On the Xperia pro I, Sony has given a headline-grabbing feature. For its main camera, Sony has taken the same 20-megapixel 1-inch CMOS sensor from its widely popular RX100V2, modified it a bit, and packed in the Xperia pro I. It’s not the first time we’ve seen a 1″-type sensor in a smartphone: Panasonic did it with the oversized CM1 before computational photography really skyrocketed. 

Sony is uniquely positioned as a maker of some of the best cameras out there while also serving as one of the principal suppliers of mobile imaging hardware used by some of the market’s best camera phones. Sony is a mobile market leader when it comes to imaging sensors, supplying modules to customers such as ASUS, OnePlus, Xiaomi, and Samsung, a sensor competitor. Some smartphone companies play up the Sony brand when touting their cameras, but Sony hasn’t pushed its name as an ingredient brand like Qualcomm.

While offering what is consistently seen as a more involved mobile photography experience compared to rivals, Sony has established a cycle of investment and refinement with the camera technology found on its flagship Xperia 1 line that delivers far more meaningful functionality to users. Not to mention, its ongoing brand partnership with Zeiss is well-considered and unobtrusive. The company’s T* lens coating improves image quality without the need for unnecessary filters or modes.

Revolution from partnerships?

These partnerships can also lead to possible hardware collaborations. If something like this actually happens, smartphone photography will see a tectonic paradigm shift. Most of the time, these partnerships are pure marketing to increase sales, but what if Hasselblad actually made the camera for oneplus? Or Zeiss delivered the glass & tuned the sensor of a smartphone camera? That would totally revolutionize how we take photos today.

Having said that, let’s be real here, no matter how good a smartphone camera gets, it will never be able to completely replace professional full-frame DSLRs and mirrorless cameras. Sure, they will get the job done for your random TikTok and Instagram, but they will be nowhere near professionals. 

Joe Pfeffer

Joe Pfeffer

What started off as just a dream for Joe Pfeffer, turned into his passion and livelihood. He started his career as a wildlife photographer and then transitioned into becoming a cinematographer. With a decade of raw on-the-field experience, Joe Pfeffer has all the technical knowledge about the ins and outs of cameras. Now, he uses his vast experience to educate others about photography.