More and more smartphones are sporting the names of fashionable photography brands on their cameras. But is it really necessary?
If you treat yourself to a flagship smartphone these days, you’re likely to spot an all-too-obvious brand name staring back at you. Not just that of the smartphone’s actual manufacturer, but rather one of the luminaries from the world of photography; Zeiss, Hasselblad, Leica…
Increasingly it has become a preserve of the most premium phones to emblazon the names of these brands on their devices, not just to boost the quality of their images but also presumably to boost the quality of their image, by mere association.
This week brought news that Samsung is mulling over a partnership with Olympus, coming just after OnePlus released its first device with Hasselblad’s cooperation. The question is, has this trend actually brought any measurable benefits?
In some cases, yes. The partnership between Leica and Huawei seemed to bear fruit (even though the brand was once caught trying to pass off DSLR shots as their own), with a noted improvement in standards that brought the Chinese brand within touching distance of the very best phone cameras around. But I’d argue that this is the exception rather than the rule.
OnePlus has been desperate to shore up its photography credentials, which have long lagged behind those of its rivals, and to that end it announced an exclusive partnership with Swedish firm Hasselblad. The OnePlus 9 Pro did indeed offer an improved camera performance, but as noted by Max Parker, Mobile Editor of our sister site Trusted Reviews, the input of Hasselblad amounted to fairly minor cosmetic differences in the camera app, including a different shutter sound and an orange button, while “the camera hardware itself isn’t Hasselblad-infused”. As for Zeiss’ tepid association with Nokia, the less said the better.
Instances such as this where a phone bears a brand on its back, in much the way that soulless corporations wish to bask in sporting glory by sponsoring football jerseys, succeed only in raising the prices for consumers thanks to licensing costs. But the trend in general further misleads people to believe that they will get DSLR-comparable photography from their smartphone snappers, which simply isn’t true and never will be.
If you really want to get yourself a Hasselblad, you’re going to have to shell out around £5,000 for one of the cheapest models available from the brand (the X1D) – or if you’d like to dream big, the H6D would set you back by over £30,000. And that’s before you start buying specialist lenses, some of which cost as much as the cameras themselves.
No amount of technological wizardry in the world is going to replicate that level of professional performance with the miniscule camera module on the back of a smartphone, and so it feels nigh-on misleading to have the two juxtaposed.
By comparison, two of the very best camera phones around right now are the iPhone 12 and the Pixel 5, both of which come from brands proud to stand on their own merits. Apple and Google have burnished their reputations through their own results, and therefore have no need to borrow credibility from their betters, or to play-act at being something they’re not.
My hope is that Samsung decides to do the same rather than partnering with Olympus, especially given the incredibly impressive performance of the Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra. There’s already one Olympus that’s tied up in myths that stretch credulity, and we don’t need another one.