Huawei invited us to visit their partner LeicaheadquartersinWeltzar,Germany,to show us what thelegendarycamera maker is all about and to discuss how they managed their engineering collaboration to deliver the AI-powered triple-lens camera of theP20 Pro smartphone.

The tour started withan overview of the architectural concept behindLeicaCamera AG’shead office. ArchitectsGruberKleine-Kraneburgwere inspired bycamera parts’ shapes when they designed theadministrative and manufacturing complex in Wetzlar.

The buildings were designed to look like film rolls

The idea was to convey“tradition and modernity, quality and perfection”while“paying homage to the roots of Leica.”The recently rebuiltheadquarterswere officially openedin May 2014, for the 100thyear anniversary of LEICA photography(video min).

After abriefhistory of Leica,presented by spokesperson Lukas Hollmann,wewatcheda videopresentingthesemi-manualmanufacturing process forLeicahighlypraised top qualitylenses.

The tour endedin somenon-restricted areasof the factory, where the Q&A and the customer service teams operate. The visit closed with a 45 minutes conversationwith Huawei and Leica representatives about their collaboration that resulted in the triple lens camera of the Huawei P20 Pro.

Watch the highlights of the visit inourvideo and read more details in our article– see below the main paragraphs:

  1. Leica History
  2. Huawei P20 Pro camera: why three lenses?
  3. Leica and Huawei cooperation for the P20 Pro camera
  4. Leica manufacturing process for high-end camera lenses

1/ Leica History

Video minute 6:36

1849 -1911 – Ernst LeitzOptischeWerke early years: microscopes and binoculars

The Leica history starts in 1849 when the young mechanic Carl Kellner founds the«OptischesInstitute» (Optical Institute) inWetzlar, Germany.In 1851, the companystartsto produce its first microscopes that are noted for their quality and precision. In 1869, Ernst Leitzbecamemanaging director andaddedhis name to the brand:The Ernst Leitz –OptischeWerke –Wetzlarcompanyis established.

Max Berek, designer of the first Elmar lens for the Leica camera in 1925. Photo courtesy of Leica.

By 1900, the Leitz factory counts 400 employees and produces 4000 microscopes ayear andhas expanded internationally with a branch in New York.

Just before the Leica adventurestartedin 1914, the company produces its first binoculars in 1907, reaches the 950 employees and the 9000 microscopes a year mark by 1910.

In 1911, OskarBarnackwashired by Ernst Leitz, from the department of microscope where he was working at competitor Carl Zeiss inYena.In 1912,mathematician MaxBerekcame onboard, and draw the first Leitz lens for cameras.

1913- 1925 The birth of the 35 mm Leica camera

Oskar Barnack, inventor of the first 35mm Leica viewfinder in 1913. Photo courtesy of Leica.

The big breakthrough happened in 1913, when OskarBarnackdesigned the “Liliputkamera” in his spare time, officially known as the Ur-Leica, the first prototype of a small format 35 mm camera. In 1914, he built a second prototype of the UR-Leica that Ernst LeitzIItakes on a trip to New York.

The first prototype of the “Lilliput camera”from 1913, officially known as the UR-Leica camera,wasoriginallybuilt as a lightmeterto measure the exact exposure time forBarnack’slargermoviecamera.

The goal was to test small batches of 35 mm movie filmto avoid wasting the precious material.The 35 mm film, widely used since theend of the 19thcentury,became a standard for the movie industryin 1909.

When realizing that the“Lilliputcamera”delivered high image quality,OskarBarnackused ittoshoot its firststillphotographin 1913,at theEisenmarkt(Iron Market) inWetzlar,Germany (see photo below).

1913: first photo at the Eisenmarkt in Wetzlar, shot by Oscar Barnack with the first prototype of the UR-Leica

2018: a photo at the Eisenmarkt in Wetzlar, shot with the P20 Pro

Thesecond prototypeof the Ur-Leicadeveloped in 1914 iscurrentlyexhibited at Leicaheadquarters, (photo & in the video) andErnst Leitz II, thesecondson of founder Ernst Leitz I, shot one ofitsfirst photos inthe streets ofNew York(below).

1914: first photo by Ernst Leitz II in New York City with the UR-Leica second prototype. Photo courtesy of Leica.

At the time, professional photographers used large and heavyplatescameras that required prolonged exposure times (several minutes) and were inconvenient to move around.

The Ur-Leica solved those problems since it was light, small and able to shoot with faster shutter speed. The 1914 New York street photo is perfectly sharp and shows people walking, a resultthat largeplate cameras could not deliver withoutblurringthe moving subjects.

The Ur-Leica was not the first 35 mm camera,several prototypeswere developedaround the early years of the 20thcentury, even before the firstBarnack’sLilliput device, but none of them wereeither popular or widelyavailable.With that design, the German engineer created several innovative features that marked photography history forever.

1914: UR-Leica second prototype. Photo courtesy of Leica.

OskarBarnackinvented the standard for 35 mm still photography, with the 24×36 mm negative format (improved from the 18×24 motion picture size) in a36 exposureroll film, today’s industry standard that was defined, thatwas definedby the length of his outstretched arms (according to Leica).

Unlike the movie camera, the film transport systemwas horizontally oriented. Other innovations included afocal plane shutterwith speed of 1/40s and1/20sand the coupling of film winding and shutter cocking.Additionally, heintroduced the daylight reloadable film cassette.

More info on the Ur-Leica specshere.

In 1924, Ernst Leitz IItook the riskto lead the company into mass production, to give birthto the LeicaI in 1925. The product name is a combination of the words Leitz and camera. Introduced at the Leipzig Spring Fair, it featured a non-interchangeable Leitz Anastigmat 50 mm f/3.5 lens designed by Max Berek in a collapsible mount.

1925: Leica IA with Leitz Elmar lens

The Leica I became very popular, and its lens, later re-branded Elmax (ErnstLeitz, MaxBerek), became world famous whenBerekused a new type of glass for its successor, the Elmar 50 mm f/3.5. The viewfinderwas mountedon top of the camera body, there was no rangefinder,andthe shutter speed ranged from 1/25s to 1/500s.

1932 -1953 The legend is born

1932: Leica II

With the Leica II launched in 1932, OskarBarnackintroduced arangefinder coupledwith interchangeable screw-mounted lenses integratedintothe camera body.Therangefinderis a very important part of the companyhistorysince Leica still manufactures rangefinder cameras today: the Leica M-series. The Leica II featured seven shutter speeds ranging from 1/20s to 1/500s, the rangefinder and the viewfinder were separated.

In 1954, the Ernst Leitz company launched its most iconic product, the Leica M3. The M3 was the first to combine the viewfinder and the rangefinder, that automatically displayed bright-line frames for the area covered by 50, 90 and 135 mm focal length.

1954: Leica M3

It introduced the M-mount, a bayonet mount forinterchangeablelenses that is still used today by some manufacturers. Film winding was made easier by the replacement of the knob with a rapid winding lever. In fact, Leica states that theM3,is still the reference to all the M-cameras built since then.

Since that date, Leica continued to develop many more models until today’s latest M-series, theLeica M10.

36 iconic photos at the Leica HQ in Germany

At the start of our visit our visit, we stopped in the lobby, in front of the 36 iconicphotos, shotwith Leica cameras since 1914, and I was amazed to recognize a few of them including the legendary portrait of Che Guevarra, by AlexKorda. You can check the collection on theLeica website here.

Learn more on the Leica I, Leica II and Leica M3 on the Leicaofficial page, andonthoseotherpages:

2/Huawei P20Procamera:why three lenses?

To date, the P20 Profeatures the most complex camera system available in a smartphone,andit is co-branded with Leica. In addition to the triple-lens rear shooter, the Huawei P20 Pro offers a 24-megapixel front camera.

What sets the Huawei P20 Pro apart from the competition is its complex three-lenses rear camera systemcombined withits NPU unit integrated totheKirin 970 processor,whichpowers, among other things,theAI-driven camera software.

Camera 1: 40 MP RGB camera with a f/1.8 aperture

f/1.8aperture in a high-end smartphoneis not an extremelyimpressive number by itself as you canfind better paper-specsout there: (f/1.5 (S9), f/1.6 (V30) or f/1.7 (S8).However, the aperture is not an absolute metricbut relative to the sensor size.Huawei’s camera has a sensor withnearly twice the surface area of the Galaxy S9’s.

I shot impressive night photos in Milan before our visitofHuawei’s flagship Experience Store.In low-light conditions, The P20 Prouses pixel-binning to increase the signal to noise ratio by reducing the final resolution from 40MP down to 10MP.LG successfully used a similar technique with its LG V30S update. Manysensorsare capable of this, but unfortunately, only a handful of OEMs use the binning functionality because it lowers the resolution. For Huawei, going from 40 to 10 MP works. For others, going from 16 to 4MP is a much larger trade-off.

Low light performance andUltra longexposure –multi-frametechnique

When it comes to low-light performance,Huawei is also introducing an ultra-long exposure of 4 secondsfor low-light photos. The principleis basedon a variant of the multi-frame noise-reduction technique and HDR photography used by many top phones such as the Pixel 2 and S9: take a lot of photos with low ISO and fast shutter speed, and combine them into a bright, low-noise final image.

Camera 2: Light/Monochrome

The 20 Megapixel f/1.6 (monochrome, no RGB filter) camerais dedicatedto capturing the brightness (light intensity) of the image. Removing the RGB layer from the sensor and thus making it monochrome enables more light to hit the sensing areas.

This camera module supplements the RGB camera, and its image will be combined with the RGB image to improve its brightness accuracy.That might be why Huawei decided that the main RGB lens does not need a larger aperture.The additional detail from this camera could also be (somewhat) integrated into the final photo.

Camera 3: 8 MP with 3X optical Zoom (5X Hybrid Zoom) with hardware OIS

1x zoom at the Louvres in Paris

3x zoom at the Louvres in Paris

5x zoom at the Louvres in Paris

As you know, Apple introduced a 2X optical zoom with the iPhone 7 Plus, followed by Samsung shortly after,in the Note 8.Huawei is outdoing both Samsung and Apple by integrating a 3X optical zoom in the P20 Pro and Mate RS. With this new lens, Huaweiis able tocreate a 5X hybrid zoom (optical+digital)which beats everything the competition has to oppose.


When it comes to Zooming, especially in good lighting conditions, nothing beat the optics specifications. 3X optical zoom issimplysharper than 2X. It isreallythat simple. The third lens gets hardware Optical Image Stabilization because it is much needed when you zoom all the way.

Thezoom providesamazingresults:when I tried it in broad daylight in the huge courtyardof the LouvremuseumI was able to capture details of the sculptures on the roof of the palace I could not imagine would bereproducedso sharplywith a smartphone camera.

Artificial Intelligence

There are many other aspects of the new Huawei P20Prothat we might go back to later, but things like Super Slow Motion at 960 FPS and Artificial Intelligence (AI) driven photo are on the menu.

The camera automaticallyrecognizes19 types of scenes by the camera such as blue sky, cat, food, greenery and more. You can set the AI on and off form the settings, and when the scenecategory name appearson thescreen,you can dismiss the AI settings from there as well by clicking on the X in front of the name.

When I tried the AI, mostly for food shots and outdoors, it automatically detected “greenery,”“blue sky” “food,”and “night.”.I liked the results in AI mode, in comparison with similar shots in regular Auto mode. The ability to discard the AI settings right from the screen is great as it does not fit some people’s tastes. Sometimes the AI modetendsto saturate more some colors, which I like.

HuaweiP20 ProCamera and how it compares to the competition:
See our P20 Pro review– we plan on updating the review again in the next days.

3/ Leica and Huawei cooperation for the P20 Pro camera

Huawei and Leica started tocollaborate in 2016on the Huawei P9, and during our visit, both teams took the time to talk a little more about the partnership.

Left: Michael Röder, Senior Communication Manager, Leica
Middle: Florian Weiler, Project Manager Optical Design, Leica Camera AG
Right: PeterGauden, Global Senior Product Marketing Manager, Huawei CBG

When itwas askedwho does the lens manufacturing of the Huawei P20Pro, “Huawei or Leica?”,Florian Weiler, Project Manager Optical Design, Leica Camera AGsaid “Neither nor. We have suppliers, but Leica does not produce the lenses.”Itwas explainedthat the suppliers are selected both by Leica and Huawei, and most of them are in Asia.

Lens Design

Leica is world-famous foritshigh-quality and compact Mlensesmade of glass, sonaturally,the conversation started on that topic.

Whenasked aboutdesigning the lens, the Leica representativereplied that“it isa closecooperation between Huawei and Leica”that takes place during a“complex iteration process,”according toFlorian Weiler, Project Manager Optical Design, Leica Camera AG. Itsoundedlike boththeLeica and Huawei teamsfrequently traveledbetweenGermany and Asia during the design and manufacturing processes.

Leica confirmed that the lens in the Huawei P20Pro does not feature any glass,andthey are made of plastic instead, which isa very common practice for smartphones.

Leicais praised for its high-precision craftsmanship of expensive large glass lenses and optical systems,so it makes sense that the manufacturing of mass-produced smallsmartphonesplastic lensesis donein Asia

Although we could not get any detailed information about “who does what” during our interview, it sounded like Leica played a key role in the design decisions for the P20 Pro’s optical system. Later, the German company confirmed that its involvementwas mostly focusedon the main rear camera system.

Artificial intelligence

Then the Artificial Intelligence topic came on the table as it is a central feature of the P20 Pro shooter.Florian Weilerfrom Leica explained that when it comes to image quality, his company is certainly interested in artificialintelligencebecause the software can sometimes “have a betterjudgment” (his words).

He mentioned the example of white balance which can be complex to execute properly for a human photographer, so AI can be useful to make proper assessments.

Camera Software and image processing

When it comes to the image processing software, which is a key element of the P20 Pro camera efficiency, experts from Leica worked closely with the Huawei team to develop the fine-tuning of the image quality.

PeterGauden, Global Senior Product Marketing Manager, Huawei CBG, said“it is not just the lenses[they collaborate on],both companies share the same philosophy”that the image quality demands“the combination of the entire camera ecosystem”.

Headded thatthe P20 Pro’s image capturing system development wasa “joint collaboration[…] all the way from the sensor”.From the camera hardware to the lenses, including the parameters used by the Huawei chipset, and the “fine-tuningof the software on the back of it.”

We could not get a more precise description of each company’s contribution to the software, even when I asked how many engineers on both sideswere dedicatedto the task. It is highly probable that neither Huawei nor Leica want to disclose their “secret sauce” to the competition.

Leica and the future of mobile photography

Weasked Leicaabout how itsees its future in the context of mobile photography and if they would consider collaboration with other mobile makers.

Leicamade it clear that the exclusive cooperation with Huawei involved a lot of knowledge transferbetweenboth sides and because the level of achievement with the P20 Pro is so high thatthe German manufacturerdoes not want to lose the benefits of thepartnership.

On the manufacturing side, some high-end Leica lenses can take up to four hours to make, in that regard, the camera manufacturer does not have the mass-production capabilities required for smartphones. Only Huawei’s supply chainhas the ability toproduce the camera modules for the 6 million P20 and P20 Pro that were sold globally (as of June 2018).

4/ Leica manufacturing process for high-end camera lenses

Video Minute 6:36According to Leica

, “the majority of Leica M-Lenses feature aspherical elements” and “a standard lens is made up of about 100 individual parts”.

Spherical lenses (the shape of the lens is part of a sphere) are easier and cheaper to manufacture than aspheric ones (the shape is not part of a sphere), but they produce spherical aberrations.

Aberrationscauselight rays passing through the center of the lens and those passing through the edge of the lens to have different focal points, resulting in lower image quality and requiring correction systems.

Aspherical surfaces minimize or avoid aberrations and are also “the key to the compact size of M-Lenses” because they need far less correction, they reduce the number of elements required in the camera’s optical system.

Aspherical lenses are expensive because they require the use of high-precision grinding and polishing technology while spherical lenses can be easily molded and use less complex manufacturing processes.

Leica lens manufacturingis madeof more than“30 production processes”,the lenses are “finished by hand.”Finally, before the lensis releasedin the market, “60 quality controls check are performed”by experienced technicians.

Step 1: Grinding

Around-shapedpiece of optical glass isgrindedtobe shapedto concave or convex form, and then the radius is measured withhigh-precision. The radius size is important to create the desired light path in the lens element. Then the radius is measured with a high-precision tool.

Step 2: Centration

The lens iscenteredso that the outer edgeis cutto the right circumference, which defines the mechanical axis that must be aligned with the optical axis of the lens, defined by the curvatures of the optical surfaces.The amount ofdecenteringin a lens is the physical displacement of the mechanical axis from the optical axis.  Laser technologydeliversprecision measurement of centration.

Step 3: Polishing.

In the video, the high-precision stylus traces the profile of the physical aspherical lens element and measures the deviation from the perfect aspheric equation, the deviation tolerance at Leica is 0.1 micrometer.

Leica uses computer-controlled (CCP) and magneto-rheological (MRF) precision polishing to finalize the surface of its aspheric lenses. This process requires the use of a magnetic-sensitive fluid (MR fluid or MRF) whose viscosity changes in milliseconds when subjected to a magnetic field.

MRF delivershigh-performancesurface previously unattainable with standard polishing techniques and enables an optimized production of high precision optical aspheric elements.

The control panel displays in red the thicker surfaces andinblue the thinner ones, the thicknessisshown in a gradient from red to blue.

Step 4: Coating

Anti-reflective coating reduces reflections and increases light transmittance. At Leica, the coating process enables the reduction of light reflection to 0.4% (from 4% reflection loss before coating). Other coating processes in lens manufacturing allow better color rendition as well.

Step 5: Manual cementing doublets

Leica uses cemented doublet lens elements to correct light diffraction while maintaining the final optical system’s size compact. The Leica’s cemented doublet lens is made by manually gluing two simple lenses together.

The hard part is to make sure that no bubbles form between the two elements, which would result in blurry images. The doubletis alignedduring the glue solidification process powered by Ultra-violet light.

Step 6: Manual lacquering

the black lacquerisappliedonthe lens outer ring reduces the light reflection and increase the optical system efficiency. More informationabout thehand-craftedM lensesfrom a2012 interview of Stefan Daniels, Leica.

Manufacturing processsources: Leica,EdmundOptics(link,pdf),QED technologies,Thorlabs,ESCO Optics,J.H. BurgeandKatieSchwertzfrom College ofOpticalSciences,University of Arizona,Panasonic (Know-Hows website), Wikipedia

Filed in Cellphones >Photo-Video. Read more about Editorspick, Huawei, Leica and Social Hit.

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