'Super' photos with little skill: Leica explains mobile foray

Joel Guinto, ABS-CBN News

Posted at Apr 24 2018 10:51 AM

PARIS/SINGAPORE - Smartphone manufacturers are cramming new hardware and artificial intelligence into their devices to help consumers produce professional quality images by just tapping on their screens.

For the third year of its partnership with German camera-maker Leica, Huawei added a third lens to its P20 Pro, allowing users to zoom 3 times optically, and up to 5 times when combined with the on-board AI.

"Our overarching mission with this partnership is to enable consumers to take super images without knowing too much about photography," Leica global director for business management Marius Eschweiler told ABS-CBN News.

"If you take a picture with a Leica M camera, you really need to master the tools. It's an instrument, but the result that you get with it is outstanding," he said.

The triple Leica lenses on the P20 Pro include a 40-megapixel main RGB sensor, a 20-megapixel black-and-white or monochrome lens and a 8-megapixel telephoto sensor.

An airplane engine is shown in this test shot using the Huawei P20 Pro. ABS-CBN News
An airplane engine is shown in this test shot using 5 times combined optical and AI-assisted zoom on the Huawei P20 Pro. ABS-CBN News

Rival Samsung, which leads the world in smartphone sales, is touting the dual aperture on its Galaxy S9 and S9+, which switches automatically between f/1.5 and f/2.4. The company claims this improves image quality, especially in low light.

The duel lens on the S9+, as on the Galaxy Note 8 from late 2017, allows users to zoom up to 2 times. Apple uses the same principle on the iPhone X and the iPhone 8 Plus, with the more expensive model allowing optical image stabilization on both lenses.

ARTIFICIAL INTELLIGENCE

While Google's Pixel phones have just one lens, the internet giant's AI technology allows it to produce effects that are otherwise available only on dual cameras, such "bokeh" or blurred backgrounds in portrait shots.

The camera interface on Google's Pixel phones are also among the cleanest available, encouraging users to just point and shoot. The second-generation Pixels, due out by the fourth quarter, were also the first to have Google Lens, which allows users to identify images in their galleries without opening their web browser or a separate app.

The next wave of internet users, who grew up on mobile are primed for AI adoption, said Google Asia Pacific president for operations Karim Temsamani.

"They expect technology to work seamlessly," Temsamani told reporters at a recent Google conference in Singapore.

Google Lens is also available on devices running Android 8 Oreo, including Huawei's P20 series and Samsung's Galaxy S9 line.

BRAINS AND BRAWN

Leica's Eschweiler said a good smartphone camera combines the best on both the hardware and software sides.

"What you have to take into account is the whole imaging system, which are the lenses, there's also the sensor, image signal processing," he said.

"You have to manage the whole image workflow, the whole image chain. Otherwise, you don't get the best result," he said.

Adding a dedicated monochrome sensor improves image quality in low light, addressing consumers' long-running gripe, said Leica project manager for optical design Florian Weiler.

Photography review website DxOMark currently ranks the Huawei P20 Pro as the best mobile camera over all, followed by its smaller sibling, the P20, Samsung's Galaxy S9+, Google's Pixel 2, Apple's iPhone X and Huawei's late 2017 flagship, the Mate 10 Pro.

"At Leica, we are not always aiming for nice test results," Eschweiler said, referring to the DxOMark score.

"What we try to give to a picture is a certain character... It's that touch of emotion from the consumer by giving them a nice (camera) set-up," he said.