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When phone brands meet photo brands

The combinations of companies known for imaging excellence and those known for covering every base in a smartphone can be a picture perfect match or ruined exposure.
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Hasselblad and OnePlus

The latest major collaboration between a smartphone and imaging brand saw ascendant Chinese brand OnePlus team up with Hasselblad, a leader in medium format photography known for taking the first photos on the moon. The partnership has started with a focus on tuning color, and is part of a $150 million investment to go toe to toe with the industry's best in the coming years. 

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Hasselblad and Motorola

While the Hasselblad-OnePlus tie-up has placed a clear value on the former's imaging expertise, brand recognition was likely more of a draw for Motorola, which placed the distinctive "H" on a $300 Moto Mod that imbued its Z-series phones with 10x optical zoom. While no one likely expected the module to live up to the standards of an actual Hasselblad camera, results were still disappointing

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Carl Zeiss

The famed German glass company, long a supplier for Sony lenses, has also partnered with some hard-luck smartphone brands. Sony and Zelss expanded their partnership for the struggling Xperia line last year. The Zeiss name also wasn't enough to save Nokia's Windows Phone line hailed for its imaging capabilities. However, the Zeiss-Nokia association survived the Windows Phone operating system and even Nokia as a phone-making entity. The Zeiss brand continues to be featured on HMD smartphones bearing the Nokia brand.

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Polaroid

The Polaroid brand has taken a roundabout route to again representing cameras that use self-developing film. But after the original Polaroid gave up the ghosted image, the brand was licensed aggressively and has found its way to many products that had little to do with image capture. These included TVs, 3D printers, headphones, and a smartphone. The Link A6 was an unlocked phone running Android KitKat and featured a dual SIM.  It wasn't much competition for Apple, whose co-founder Steve Jobs was inspired by Polaroid founder Edwin Land. Indeed, beyond having a camera as nearly every smartphone does, there was no particular tie-in to the Polaroid brand, which has had its biggest impact on mobile imaging by inspiring the early icons for Instagram.

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Schneider Kreuznach

"Timing is everything" may be a cliché, but one that nonetheless holds true in photography. Like its fellow German optical specialist Carl Zeiss, Schneider Kreuznach teamed up with a few smartphone brands, including Blackberry and LG in its feature phone days. Perhaps the most noteworthy phone to come out of the LG partnership was the Viewty, the front of which looked particularly camera-like. The 3G phone had a 5-megapixel rear camera. An 8-megapixel follow-up called the Viewty Smart (despite it still being a feature phone) dispensed with the Schneider brand.

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Sony

Following its 2006 purchase of Konica Minolta, Sony became a strong challenger to Nikon and Canon in professional cameras as it championed mirrorless technology as an alternative to pentaprism-based DSLRs. That hasn't translated to similar success for its Xperia smartphones that command a tiny fraction of the market. In 2013, Sony sought to bring some of its digital camera prowess to a broader smartphone market with the QX10 and QX100, two bulky, mostly autonomous zoom lenses that attached to a smartphone and communicated to it via Wi-Fi even though they had their own on-board storage and battery. These experiments paved the way for the Alice camera now in development.

However, Sony is a mobile market leader when it comes to imaging sensors, supplying modules to customers such as ASUS, OnePlus, Xiaomi, and Samsung, a sensor competitor. (To be fair, Sony also uses Samsung sensors in its phones.) Some smartphone companies play up the Sony brand when touting their cameras, but Sony hasn't pushed its storied name as an ingredient brand like Qualcomm.

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Leica

As he introduced the iPhone 4, Steve Jobs compared it to a "beautiful, old Leica". But it was Huawei that partnered with the German maker of cameras and lenses that celebrated its sesquicentennial in 2019. Since 2016's P9, Huawei has significantly upped its imaging game in its P-series of smartphones, although much of that goodness has also crossed over to its Mate flagships. Alas, for those outside of China, the camera is about the only thing left to recommend about Huawei's smartphones, which have been prevented from participating in Google's Android ecosystem.

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Samsung

Before Samsung dominated Android smartphones, it tried in vain to uproot the leaders in digital cameras. Those two category pursuits came together in the Galaxy Camera, essentially an Android smartphone with the 21x zoom lens and ergonomics of a high-zoom point-and-shoot camera. Released in 2012, the Galaxy Camera's imaging capabilities were simply adequate, but the product seemed ahead of its time. While today's smartphone flagships can match or exceed the zoom capabilities of Samsung's mashup, combining the magic of computational photography and cellular connectivity of a modern smartphone with the richness of an interchangeable lens system is an enticing prospect.

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Kodak

Unlike the original Polaroid, Kodak has survived, although it exited consumer photography years ago and also licensed its brand for a range of products, including smartphones. The innocuous IM5 released in 2015 was followed up by 2017's Kodak Ektra, which took its name from a 1940s camera model and more aggressively sought to capitalize on Kodak's heritage by courting photographers. The CNET review of the Ektra bemoaned its lack of color fidelity, concluding that the phone shouldn't have been made. That was a bruising message for a brand representing the company that invented digital photography and produced the first digital camera for Apple, which would set the standard for the modern smartphone experience.

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Alice

The name Alice is more commonly associated with white rabbits than white balance. Nonetheless, it has served as the inspiration for a UK startup creating an unusual mashup between camera and smartphone that may portend the future of imaging devices. The Alice camera is a Micro Four Thirds body capable of 11-megapixel stills (for better low-light capture) and 4K video that can be clipped onto a smartphone. The smartphone acts as a touchscreen LCD for the camera. However, the camera can also work with no smartphone connected or present. Rather than tap the smartphone's processor, the Alice camera uses its own to produce the kind of advanced image processing employed well by Apple and Google. It's available for preorder for £650.

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Canon and Nikon

The two most famous names in professional cameras have been conspicuously absent from the smartphone game. Both companies, of course, have apps that allow Wi-Fi-based communications between smartphones and their DSLRs. Beyond that, though, neither brand (nor Nikon's lens brand Nikkor) has graced a smartphone camera. Nikon came closer in 2012 with the Android-powered Nikon Coolpix S800c that lacked cellular capability.

With advances in computational photography, though, it may be only a matter of time before we see a smartphone-like SoC in one of their cameras. And last year, both companies were floated as potential partners for Xiaomi, which has been doing pretty well navigating the bumpy road to better imaging on its own.

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