We respond some existential questions (and some more pressing ones) on the controversial Leica camera integrated into the Huawei P9
The first thing to clarify is that Leica does not manufacture the camera on the Huawei P9. In fact Leica does not manufacture sensors so that, technically speaking, not even the company itself manufactures 100% Leica cameras. What happens is that Huawei and Leica have co-developed the optics of the P9’s camera. This meaning that Huawei has provided the factory and Leica the experience.
If we believe the official version, Huawei and Leica designed the camera together, or rather the cameras of this unique phone. Chances are that Leica is limited to perform quality control, and presumably that Huawei will strive to give the best of themselves to manufacture the cameras, using Sony sensors by the way. All with a trade agreement that benefits both parties. Some get money and others prestige.
The truth is that Leica lives of off revenues, selling overpriced exclusive editions and give the Leica "seal" to third parties. Something like that already happened almost 10 years ago when a partnership with Panasonic began, which has rendered quite good results in the world of digital cameras. So much so that many of the Leica compact cameras are actually identical Panasonic models.
But let’s focus on the important things. Is the idea truly so revolutionary? Huawei has already made a similar experiment with the Honor 6+ integrating two cameras (both full color) to improve the amount of information that makes a single final photo. But the idea was given little visibility and people mostly forgot about it. Now, however, this turns out to be the star feature, enhanced even further with a photographic wink materialized in its monochrome sensor.
What about the results? Well, this is the most difficult to evaluate and for this we have compared it to the Galaxy S7 and iPhone 6S. The monochrome sensor has two functions. On one hand it provides additional information (mostly extra brightness) that positively affect the overall outcome of the photos, especially in low light. In contrast, brightness f / 2.2 penalizes both goals this advantage. We must not confuse this value with the virtual aperture of up to f / 0.9, which is a digital blur for creative effects.
The P9 offers a good level of detail in captures, although this is only perceived in-depth analysis and always comparing it with other 12 Mpx cameras. Against other more high-end models, it loses this advantage. It generates a slight underexposure resulting in less colorful photos, but with a higher level of tones and shades, especially if you use the black and white mode. Regarding color fidelity there are no serious flaws, but it’s not always accurate.
Precisely the black and white mode, which is the second function of the extra sensor, is where we find the biggest difference. While the rest of the phones use a black and white filter from a color image, the P9 directly captures light unpolluted with RGB filters. This a priori is an advantage because it offers more detail, greater loyalty and, above all, a higher density of gray tones.
But here we found, once again, that the key to success lies in image processing, especially in color. Both the iPhone 6S as the Galaxy S7 have processing that relies on contrast and color, and it is quite attractive. The Huawei P9 relies more in manual postprocessing, preferably with the RAW (DNG) file which will make many photographers happy, but not to other users.
There are some operating details need improving. Each time you take each photo, it makes a clicking sounds as the shutter of a Leica. This detail is a good example of how important it is for the P9 to look like a Leica, but almost none of the users have heard in their life what a Leica camera sounds like. However, visually there is a small delay between the time you press and when it seems to capture the moment. It’s not a big problem, but should be improved. The same is true of digital blur by software, which is only available in color photos, but not in black and white. If you want to give an artistic look to your monochrome pictures, nothing better than a good bokeh (blur). Finally there is no option to capture in RAW in the monochrome mode, which is quite ironic for the shutterbugs.
In conclusion, to say that a camera is better or worse than another is nonsense. Basically because no camera is better in all that all of their competition. But if we can confirm that Huawei has taken a step forward with the P9 and Leica dual camera. It’s good in some ways, surpassed by the iPhone 6s or Galaxy S7 in others. But indeed it is a remarkable camera with an extra monochrome camera.
Nor should we forget that this type of mobile photographic ventures are not new. Zeiss and Nokia have been working together and the truth is that the cameras of the Nokia / Lumia line have always stood out for their good results. The fact that its strategy of its mobile operating system has been wrong is a completely different thing.
Of course, placing the brand of renowned photographic background, such as Leica, despite representing excellence, it is far less known than Nikon or Canon. Presumably, none of these two giants wants to know nothing of developing mobile cameras. For them they’re probably the evil making them lose sales. But surely the move should have a much bigger scope.
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