Who is Leica, Xiaomi’s new photo partner?

Leica, the German photo specialist, and Xiaomi, one of the big players in the world of smartphones, have just entered into a partnership. If we know Xiaomi well on Frandroid, we know Leica a little less. Who is this manufacturer that has been making cameras since the beginning of the last century?

Source: Xiaomi

Xiaomi has been experiencing phenomenal growth in the world for two years. The Chinese smartphone manufacturer has used the Huawei crisis to afford the size of the lion and move up to second place in the ranking of the largest manufacturers – depending on the quarter, alternating with Apple. In 2021, the company sold more than 190 million smartphones worldwide.

In addition, if Xiaomi initially bet on unbeatable prices, its smartphones are increasingly positioning themselves as high-end products, such as the latest Xiaomi 12 Pro, launched at 1100 euros.

To further support its photography experience, which has already been largely pushed onto last year’s Mi 11 Ultra, the manufacturer announced a major partnership with Leica, a German camera manufacturer, in late May 2022.

Leica Camera: a renowned German specialist

If you don’t know Leica (short for Leitz u “Camera”), a short story is in order. Leica is a German camera manufacturer that began developing microscopes in the late 18th century before being bought by Leitz, a company partner. Whoever says microscope says lenses, and we therefore understand the connection to cameras a little better.

A company engineer, Oskar Barnack, came up with the idea in 1905 to build a compact camera, as he found the cameras of the time much too clumsy. In 1913 he produced the first prototype of a Original Leica with a 24 x 36mm negative, the 35mm film used in cinema, but here on a horizontal roll. The camera was then marketed under the name Leica I in 1925 and was a hit with photojournalists thanks to the compactness of the body.

Leica M9

Leica quickly found its target: a niche market looking for beautiful and effective products, despite a selling price much higher than that of the competition. Great photographers used (and still use) Leica cameras, which allowed the brand to do a nice advertisement without a huge marketing budget. Ideas and innovations were also part of the game, with the Leica I Model C, the first 24 x 36 interchangeable lens camera, or the Leica II with a rangefinder that avoids focusing to measure the distance to the subject. .

The digital shift a bit tight

In the 2004 and 2005 financial years, Leica fought against digital change with a heavy loss of several million euros. The rich Austrian Andreas Kaufmann believes in Leica’s potential and injects tens of millions of euros into the business. Leica regains its growth, successfully finds investments and enters the digital camera market with the help of Panasonic since Nippon chose Leica lenses in 1995. Leica makes some digital cameras, but also labels many Panasonic products in different bodies with the famous red logo as a distinctive mark.

The Leica M11
The Leica M11 // Source: Leica

The company managed to pull itself together in the second half of the 2010s and if Leica still doesn’t compete with Sony or Canon sales in the camera world, the manufacturer now offers many references of digital cameras, also in full frame camera segment. The latest is none other than the Leica M11 with 60 megapixel sensor and rangefinder.

Leica had also been working on a smartphone for the less original Panasonic Lumix DMC-CM1 in 2014. This quickly abandoned smartphone already had the advantage of offering a large photo sensor and looked like a real camera.

A partnership with Huawei

In 2015, Leica entered into a partnership with a smartphone manufacturer for the first time. It was Huawei that was growing in the high-end segment back then. This partnership marked Huawei’s rise in photo quality with the launch of the Huawei P9 and its second monochrome sensor.

This partnership will undoubtedly have marked the various evolutions of Huawei’s smartphones, making the Chinese manufacturer one of the best players in the world of smartphone photography, especially for the effectiveness of its night shot mode.

However, the crisis that Huawei has been going through in the world of smartphones since 2019 – with the end of Google services and the disappearance of 5G compatibility – has dealt a blow to this partnership. Earlier this year, Huawei launched its P50 and P50 Pro, two smartphones that are still developed in partnership with Leica, but they should be the last models to benefit from this partnership. It must be said that Leica has other ambitions in the world of smartphones.

A Leica smartphone developed with Sharp

In 2021, Leica wanted to emancipate itself from Huawei for the first time by developing a smartphone with a unique photo module. Two smartphones have appeared on the Japanese market in quick succession, the Sharp Aquos R6 and the Leica Leitz Phone 1.

They are in fact two smartphones with similar characteristics, but which stand out for the integration of a 1-inch sensor, a first in a smartphone since the Lumix DMC-1. Since then, Sony has repeated the experience with its Xperia Pro-I, but unlike Leica, the Japanese manufacturer only uses part of it in the two models presented in 2021.

A new partnership with Xiaomi

Finally, on May 23, 2022, Xiaomi and Leica confirmed their upcoming partnership. Even if its outlines remain rather vague, the ambition seems to be the same as in all of Leica’s previous partnerships with smartphone manufacturers: to offer both the reputation and the brand image of Leica and to significantly improve the photo quality of smartphones Xiaomi.

Xiaomi and @leica_camera have officially formed a global strategic partnership in the field of mobile imaging.

In July, let’s look forward to a new era of mobile photography by combining the legendary image with innovative technology! pic.twitter.com/GyFut9ZTlg

— Xiaomi (@Xiaomi) May 23, 2022

Xiaomi clarifies in a tweet that the goal is “to further improve the photographic quality of Xiaomi smartphones to enrich the user experience”. Most notably, the Japanese company indicates that the firstborn of this partnership will be presented in July 2022. Xiaomi is closely expected to unveil its next premium smartphone, the Xiaomi 12 Ultra, in the coming months. Given the photo performance of its predecessor, the Mi 11 Ultra, it would make perfect sense for Leica to champion this new photophone.

The content of the partnership between Xiaomi and Leica has yet to be defined. This can be anything from a simple brand addition to the joint development of optics, sensors or even software image processing.

Notably, while Huawei and Leica were almost the only manufacturers to join forces at the end of the last decade, this type of partnership between photo makers and smartphone makers has multiplied over the past two years. Hasselblad is now working with OnePlus and Oppo, while Zeiss is working with Vivo.


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