Leica and Huawei really seem to have let discussion about the P9's camera module get under their joint-skin. Today, the companies released a joint statement addressing concerns about Leica's involvement, after it became clear earlier this week that the camera modules themselves were manufactured by the Chinese company Sunny Optical.

Huawei and Leica, though, were not satisfied with the conclusions this continued to cause journalists and readers alike to draw: that the camera was, in large part, a marketing effort. Today, Huawei and Leica have attempted to shine a light on exactly what involvement the German optics and camera manufacturer had in the P9's development process. They've helpfully bulleted it out. I will helpfully explain these bullets.

Collaborative development, evaluation and optimization of optical design (lens calculation) in compliance with Leica standards.

This, to me, can read one of two ways. Very optimistically: that Leica literally helped Huawei design a camera lens system from the ground up. Or, very pessimistically: that Leica helped Huawei choose a lens in the Sunny Optical parts bin that met some arbitrary "Leica standards" that are still very vaguely articulated here. Your call. I've yet to see an expert teardown of the P9's optics, but I would very much like to know if the lenses are basically just tweaked versions of existing parts, or if this is an original design.

Collaborative development of the mechanical construction of the camera module to reduce stray light effects (“ghost and flare”).

Positive reading? Leica worked tirelessly with Huawei to ensure that the modules and their placement would reduce lens flare as much as humanly possible. Less positive? Leica tried all the prototype P9 camera designs and picked the one they thought worked best.

Definition of imaging quality in terms of color rendition/color fidelity, white balance, stray light reduction (“ghost & flare effects”), exposure precision, dynamic range, sharpness and noise characteristics.

At best, this means Leica assisted Huawei in developing a set of rules and guidelines for defining "good" image quality. That's fine, and what most people frankly expected the large part of the collaboration entailed: Leica telling Huawei what a good picture should look like, and Huawei then tuning their cameras to produce images within that definition, as much as was possible, at least.

Processing of image data with the aid of long-standing Leica optical and signal processing expertise

This really seems basically like a restatement of the previous bullet point, but with slightly more information. But it's still pretty unclear what this actually means. We can at least assume Leica helped "tuning" on the sensor, which again, had been strongly assumed at this point.

Definition of the most stringent common quality standards and production requirements for serial production by Huawei to ensure consistently high quality.

This seems like marketing gobbledygook sort of disguised as quality assurance or something - I'm not exactly sure.

So, what have we learned? Well, first: that Huawei and Leica - probably mostly Huawei - really, really want you to know that Leica was super involved with the development of the P9's cameras, and in specific ways, even if Huawei and Leica didn't actually produce the camera modules or design the image sensors. The lenses are still up for debate - if this is an original Leica/Huawei design, maybe there really is something special here.

But reviews of the P9 to date don't seem to paint the camera as being the world-beater the marketing might have you think, and I look forward to spending some time with the P9 once we get our hands on one and, in particular, taking a close look at that camera.

Press Release

Leica and Huawei co-engineered P9 camera module [Düsseldorf, Germany, Düsseldorf – 21 April 2016] - In February, Huawei and Leica announced a long-term strategic partnership. The camera function is the most used smartphone application and our aim is to bring it up to the high standards demanded by the Leica product philosophy. Leica brings to the cooperation their expertise gathered from decades of experience in optical engineering and optical design. The collaboration between Huawei and Leica aims to deliver the best possible picture quality in the smartphone segment.

Both companies have been working closely to co-engineer Huawei’s recently launched premium smartphone - the P9 - based on innovation and excellent craftsmanship.

The camera module of the P9 series and the achievable picture quality is the result of the intensive technological collaboration between Huawei and Leica. Leica has been deeply involved in the development of the camera-module of the P9 and P9 Plus. Our joint objective was to achieve the best possible image results and optical imaging performance in order to provide consumers in the smartphone photography segment with the best possible picture quality. The result raises smartphone photography to an entirely new level.

Our co-engineering is deeply embedded in the product and Leica’s contribution has involved:

  • Collaborative development, evaluation and optimization of optical design (lens calculation) in compliance with Leica standards.

  • Collaborative development of the mechanical construction of the camera module to reduce stray light effects (“ghost and flare”).

  • Definition of imaging quality in terms of color rendition/color fidelity, white balance, stray light reduction (“ghost & flare effects”), exposure precision, dynamic range, sharpness and noise characteristics.

  • Processing of image data with the aid of long-standing Leica optical and signal processing expertise

  • Definition of the most stringent common quality standards and production requirements for serial production by Huawei to ensure consistently high quality.

Leica’s globally recognized expertise is based to a large extent on the ability to guarantee the narrowest tolerances on the market. This justifiable claim to excellence is naturally also an integral component of the technology partnership and is implemented in Huawei’s production processes of the P9 camera module to ensure uncompromising quality.