Leica by name, Sunny by nature: The company behind the Huawei P9’s clever dual camera revealed
posted Tuesday, April 19, 2016 at 7:59 AM EDT
A couple of weeks ago, we told you about the Huawei P9 and P9 Plus, a very interesting duo of flagship smartphones which feature not just one, but two Leica-branded lenses on their rear faces. Today, we learn another interesting fact about the pair: The identity of the company behind manufacture of these optics. (Hint: It's neither Leica nor Huawei.)
The manner in which the two lenses are used by the Huawei P9-series phones is very interesting indeed. In both models, which share the exact same imaging capabilities, one camera has an RGB color filter array, and the other lacks one, making it about three times more sensitive. This difference allows one camera to be used for color photography, and the other for black-and-white shots with much greater sensitivity. It also allows for color information to come from one optic and luminance from the other, providing a clearer and brighter color image with lower noise levels (but with the risk of some processing artifacts). And finally, the slightly differing positions of the two optics allows the Huawei P9-series phones to build a depth map of the scene, something which can then be used to overlay a reasonable facsimile of a depth-of-field blur effect.
But if it's not Leica or Huawei making these camera modules and their optics then who is behind their production? As first reported on by a Chinese-language tech website, it turns out to be a company we've mentioned on this news page before: Zhejiang, China-based Sunny Optical Technology. (Well, actually, we've mentioned their North American subsidiary, Sunny Opotech, in association with a rather unusual autofocus technology that made its market debut last year.)
Of course, this isn't the first time that Leica has done a deal to allow others to manufacture optics in its name. The company has had a long-running deal with Panasonic which has seen the latter use Leica branding on many of its optics for years, much as Sony has done with Zeiss for a similarly lengthy period. In fact, it's not even the first time that we've seen the Leica brand appear on a phone camera, as the unusual Panasonic CM1 smartphone features a Leica-branded 28mm f/2.8 optic.
Nevertheless, it's very interesting to see Leica branding appearing on a phone produced in China, and sporting optical modules likewise China-produced. Could this signal a shift to the German photography legend marketing its brand more widely in the smartphone space, in place of the lengthy exclusive with its long-time partner in the standalone camera space? We wait with much interest to see how this story unfolds!
Want to know more about the Huawei P9 Plus and P9 smartphones? You can find further details in our earlier coverage.
Update: Huawei has issued a statement suggesting that Leica participated closely in design of the Huawei P9-series smartphones' imaging feature-set:
"The P9 and P9 Plus were co-engineered between Huawei and Leica. This is the first collaboration between the two companies following a long-term partnership that was announced in February. From the very beginning, Leica has been deeply involved in the development of these devices. There has been significant technological collaboration between Huawei and Leica around many aspects of the camera, including optical design, imaging quality, image data processing, optimization, and the mechanical construction of the camera module to the graphic user interface. The devices meet Leica’s highest imaging quality standards."