You Said I'll Love You In A Different Way

July 31, 2021

Tangled in the sunsets in the skies over Shibuya…

Leica SL2-S + Vario-Elmarit-SL 24-70mm f/2.8

Leica Leitz Phone 1 + Summicron 19mm f/1.9 ASPH

Leica SL2-S + Vario-Elmarit-SL 24-70mm f/2.8

We bought the Leica Leitz Phone 1 (used to take the second photo above) somewhat on impulse because we have to admit that the aesthetic design of the phone really appealed to us, even as we knew that it was rebadged Sharp Aquos r6, replete with all the pros and cons of that phone.

iPhone 12 Pro Max + 26mm f/1.6 Back Camera

That Leica decided to label this a “Summicron”1 is really pushing it with the marketing hype. Not quite early 2010s Hassleblad embarrassments yet, but getting there if they’re not careful. The phone itself is beautiful and the camera itself is potentially capable of decent shots as per its 1” sensor but you need to fight with it to get the shots - the built in camera app sucks - super slow, crazy aggressive noise reduction that reduces everything to ugly smears and horrible autofocus in tricky situations that refuses to be overridden.

In many cases we had to shoot in RAW directly from within LR Mobile to actually get a useable starting point and override the multiple flaws of the default camera app. iPhone 12 Pro, on the other hand, just nailed everything out the gate (save WB which was off a bit but not nearly as bad as the Leitz Phone).

There’s a bunch of other odd compromises in the camera experience too, despite it ostensibly being the main selling point of this entire endeavour. For example, the choice of defaulting to a zoomed in capture frame of 24mm just to enable the rangefinder-esque “light frame” lines makes sense on a rangefinder camera but makes no sense at all on a smartphone and is a clear example of functionality suffering at the expense of design.2 Same story with the magnetic external aluminum lens cap, though that is so foolishly excessively pointless that we actually kind of ended up liking it. And why on earth is there no dedicated shutter button 3 or ability to shoot RAW (in the default app) for a phone that hypes up its camera and photographic legacy so much?

  1. Yes, this technically is Leica’s nomenclature to denote lens aperture, but we believe these labels tend to have some inherent positive associations/expectations when it comes to Leica and a 19mm smartphone f/1.9 “summicron” really is just not at all the same thing as full-frame Leica Summicron, regardless of the phones 1” sensor. Not in performance, not in image quality and not in all the characteristics that we believe most people associate with the label. It’s marketing hype that trades on their legacy of image quality and brand cachet to sell a phone but which potentially risks longer term damage to the brand (in our opinion) 4 

  2. Why? With only a single physical camera on the phone, this means all zooming is done digitally/by throwing away pixels. So by default, the Leitz Phone 1 throws away a significant part of the captured photo each and everytime you open the camera (as the zoomed view is set by default). If you want to use the full sensor size, you need to tap at a minimum of twice (24mm → 48mm → 19mm) each time to get to the full view. Annoying especially when coupled with the aforementioned clunky slowness of response of the camera app overall. 5 

  3. You do get a non-reprogrammable dedicated google assistant button though which is utterly superfluous given how many other ways there are to trigger the assistant. 

  4. Especially as the number of generic phones they keep slapping their name and logo onto keeps increasing. 

  5. And don’t get us started on the “Leitz Looks” option which (despite the marketing hype) is simply a generic black and white filter. Even for fans of the Leica Monochrome B&W-only cameras this “Leitz Look” mode really makes no sense since it’s the exact same sensor on the phone regardless of the mode - so not even the theoretical sharpness advantages that one gets from removing the sensor colour filter. 

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