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Sticking a famous camera brand on a phone isn’t a substitute for innovation

Rumours suggest that Samsung might be following in the footsteps of Huawei, OnePlus and others by partnering with an iconic camera brand for its next flagship Galaxy S series phone.

According to South Korean site PulseNews, the Samsung Galaxy S22 Ultra will pack a five-camera system on the back headlined by a 200MP branded Olympus sensor when it launches in 2022.

This news has me concerned and I am worried that these camera tie-ins are coming at the expense of real innovation in the mobile camera space.

Teaming with a big, iconic camera brand is nothing new for phone makers. OnePlus has done it with Hasselblad, Huawei has done it with Leica, and Nokia, Vivo and Sony have all done it with Zeiss.

The results of these partnerships so far have been mixed and it’s often unclear about what the camera brand offers in return for the hefty branding.

OnePlus 9 Pro
The OnePlus 9 Pro has a Hasselblad branded camera module

Hasselblad’s deal with OnePlus doesn’t relate to any hardware (this could come in the future), with it instead focussing on amping up the camera processing to give pictures a more natural, Hasselblad look.

While I liked the camera on the OnePlus 9 Pro, the Hasselblad style wasn’t an obvious benefit and it felt like the main focus was the redesigned camera app.

This is where my scepticism about the rumoured Samsung-Olympus deal comes from. Will this simply be a standard Samsung camera with a new camera app made to look like an Olympus camera? Will it have a massive Olympus logo ruining the sleek look of the back of the phone? If that’s the case then I can’t say I am too interested.

Samsung has some of the best camera phones around, but that’s not to say innovation isn’t needed going forward. Google is heavily tipped to completely update the camera system with the Pixel 6 and Pixel 6 Pro later in 2021, and if it combines its stunning processing with a modern sensor array then it could very well be on top again.

I’d also still say the iPhone 12 series takes better general still snaps than the S21 Ultra – but I know some of you might think otherwise.

Deal: iPhone 12 for just £724 (was £799 at at launch)

There is still hope if this deal does go ahead though. You only need to look at Leica and Huawei to see that this has helped the Chinese brand craft some of the best smartphone cameras around. Huawei’s flagship phones have had Leica branding on their backs, specifically designed apps and filters for a number of years now.

Huawei Mate 40 Pro

Of course, it’s not entirely clear what Leica offers in this relationship but there has certainly been an improvement since it started.

What could Samsung do?

I’d like to see Samsung work on its photo processing more than anything else. I know Samsung’s colourful photos are very popular, but it’s also been the part that has made me look elsewhere for a long-term phone camera.

The overly bright reds and punchy greens look great on the phone’s OLED display, but less so elsewhere. Maybe this could be part of the Olympus tie-in, although I would be surprised if Samsung wants to lose its trademark look.

Of course, this is all just rumour and speculation at the minute and there might never be a Samsung Galaxy S22 Ultra with Olympus branding. But if there is, I hope Samsung doesn’t solely use brand recognition to sell its next flagship instead of true camera innovation.

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