It might have started off as an add-on, but the camera has today become an increasingly important part of a smartphone’s USP list. Indeed, most flagships and even mid-segment smartphones these days highlight the camera prowess of their devices. With cameras on smartphones assuming such stature, it is hardly surprising that a number of brands associated with “proper” cameras are now tying up with smartphone manufacturers, allowing them to cash in on their expertise and reputation.
A couple of years ago, popular camera maker Hasselblad joined hands with OnePlus, and last year saw Leica and Xiaomi also embark on a partnership. In fact, even as this is being written, Xiaomi and Leica are readying the Xiaomi 13 Pro, the latest flagship fruit of their photographic partnership to be released globally. While the OnePlus and Xiaomi tie-ups have grabbed attention, these are not the first times that brands known for making cameras have tried to get into the smartphone world.
Indeed, Hasselblad and Leica themselves have tried to take the phone-y path in the past, albeit with limited success.
So as we wait to find out what Xiaomi and Leica will serve up and what will be next from OnePlus and Hasselblad, here’s a look at six instances when camera brands tried to take their expertise to smartphone platforms:
Nikon Coolpix 800c: Nikon Tries Some Android
Camera legend Nikon actually made a camera that ran on Android in 2013. It did not come with support for a SIM card and needed Wi-Fi for connectivity, but that apart, it was the closest thing to a proper camera meeting a smartphone. It looked exactly like a camera — which it actually was — and featured a 16-megapixel main sensor with a massive 10x optical zoom, a Xenon flash and a 3.5-inch AMOLED touchscreen display.
The device ran on Android 2.3 and also came with GPS and Bluetooth. You could browse the Web on it, play games, use apps to edit images and videos shot on the camera and much more.
It generally worked fine but poor battery life and surprisingly mediocre image quality meant that Nikon’s Android foray into the smartphone zone was short-lived.
Leica’s-Huawei Tie-Up: Making The P Series Epic
Before its current collaboration with Xiaomi, Leica also had a tie-up with Huawei. In 2016, the Chinese phone brand joined hands with the legendary German camera manufacturer to add some camera magic to its flagship series.
The first phone in their collaboration was the Huawei P9 and it grabbed attention with the quality of its monochrome photography. The coming years saw Leica play a major role in Huawei’s P-series becoming a benchmark of sorts for the Android phone world, with special filters and some amazing cameras with astounding digital zoom (the Huawei P20 was taking snaps of the moon in 2019).
Unfortunately, it all came undone when Huawei’s smartphone business collapsed following international sanctions. The Leica ball is now in Xiaomi’s court.
Hasselblad True Zoom Moto Mod: Hello, Moto Photo!
It might be better known for its alliance with OnePlus and Oppo at the moment, but Hasselblad had dipped its camera toes in phone waters with a Hasselblad camera mod for the Moto Z series in 2016, rather elaborated named the Hasselblad True Zoom Moto Mod.
The mod attached to the back of the phone using special connectors not only made the phone look like a real camera from behind but also added a lot of camera muscle to it. It came with a high-quality 12-megapixel sensor, a Xenon flash, 10x optical zoom and even added physical shutter and zoom buttons.
You do not get some of those features in camera phones even today, and using the mod was as simple as slapping it on the back of the phone, with no additional software needed.
Unfortunately, the mod itself was an expensive proposition and worked only with certain phones, and the whole concept of mods did not quite take off. But while it was around, the mod took some terrific snaps.
Sony Cyber-Shot Lens Style Cameras: Lenses That Added Muscle To iOS And Android
Sony might have grabbed attention recently with a one-inch sensor in its latest Xperia phone (alas, not yet launched in India), but it had actually brought a one-inch sensor as well as a 10x zoom to phones with its camera attachments as far back as in 2013.
This was the Cyber-Shot Lens Style Cameras range. These attachments, which looked like proper camera lenses, were actually full-fledged cameras that could work on their own too (they had their own battery and shutter buttons too) but were actually designed to be clipped onto any iOS or Android phone, and be controlled through them using a special app and Wi-Fi.
There were Lens Style cameras with a one-inch sensor and with 10x optical zoom. They took some excellent photographs for their time. However, their design made them slightly unwieldy when attached to phones, they were slower than the onboard cameras of the phones, and the companion app was a little sluggish too.
They are still available and still take good snaps, but have been officially discontinued as being just too inconvenient to use.
Kodak Ektra: 1940s Looks…And Performance Too
Kodak was the brand that made cameras mainstream, but its efforts in the smartphone market were nowhere as successful. The Kodak Extra phone was actually manufactured by Bullitt. Released in 2017, it came with a design inspired by the legendary Kodak Ektra camera of 1941.
Its back certainly radiated camera feels and its interface had a number of interesting touches, including using Snapseed as the default image editing tool. In hardware terms, it came with a 21-megapixel Sony IMX230 sensor with OIS, a 5-inch full-HD display, a 3,000mAh battery, and ran on Android 6 (Marshmallow).
While it did have some neat touches, it was actually let down by its camera which seemed to take dull snaps more often than not. The MediaTek X20 processor also did not deliver the level of performance many expected in a phone of this pedigree.
Small wonder it felt more like a drop than a splash in the ocean of phone photography.
Red Hydrogen One: Taken Into The Red By 3D
This was supposed to be the ultimate camera phone and was hyped as such for months before it was finally released in 2018. After all, it came from Red Digital Cinema, a huge name in digital cinematography. It certainly seemed crazily innovative.
It featured 1 3D display to help create depth, had 8-megapixel dual front and 16-megapixel dual rear cameras that could shoot 3D footage, and also came with the option to connect other products or modifications to it. It looked nothing like other smartphones, with Kevlar and aluminium in its build, scalloped grips, and a very distinct red dot on the back. The phone ran on Android 8.1 (Oreo) and was powered by a slightly old but still flagship-level Qualcomm Snapdragon 835 chip.
But even with all that on board, the Hydrogen One failed to take off with consumers finding the 3D display a little odd and also not being pleased with its camera quality, especially in low light conditions. Those who bought one kept it more for the design than for the photography.
Poor sales meant that no modifications or sequels were ever released.