ZEISS optics: Nokia and Sony phones struggle for super cameras; matters arising

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Sony Mobile recently announced the Xperia 1 II and it features a quad rear camera with ZEISS optics. A smartphone with ZEISS optics is a first for Sony, and it also means that Nokia phones no longer enjoy the exclusivity with ZEISS that they once did.

nokia zeiss optics

Carl Zeiss AG, later branded as ZEISS, is a German manufacturer of optical systems and optoelectronics. The company and Nokia went into an exclusive partnership to deploy ZEISS optics and lenses for use in Nokia camera phones.

That was in the days when Nokia phones ran Symbian OS and later Windows Phone. That exclusive partnership with Carl Zeiss was a winning formula. Nokia churned out great smartphones that ruled unchallenged. But that era has since been over.

Nokia and ZEISS: Symbian and Windows Phone Era

Back in the days of the old Nokia, seeing a ZEISS label on a Nokia camera phone meant that you were looking at a camera that would wipe out the competition in a head-to-head. It gave Nokia phone cameras a distinct edge against the competition.

Nokia’s first phone with a ZEISS lens was the Nokia N90 in 2005. It was followed by other Nokia camera greats like the Nokia N82, N86, N95, N8, Nokia 808 PureView, Lumia 1020, Lumia 950 and 950 XL, Lumia 920 and 930, among others.

Those were Nokia’s glory days of great camera phones and ZEISS optics was in the picture all the way.

Nokia and ZEISS: Android Era

Nokia 9 PureView top

Nokia’s re-entry into the smartphone business included a re-uniting with their old partner, ZEISS. But the new partnership has not produced any outstanding Nokia camera phone that has made a splash. In other words, Zeiss optics has not done much for Nokia’s camera phones since 2017.

As a huge fan of the Nokia brand, it has been a disappointing journey following the brand’s camera phones in the last few years. When was the last time a Nokia camera phone rocked the mobile world? Year after year, these phones struggle to make it to the top of the pack in their different categories. At the premium flagship end, it almost looks like a lost cause.

The much anticipated Nokia 9 PureView flagship, while capable in a distinct way, has turned out to be a niche cameraphone that the average mobile user isn’t interested in. A cameraphone with little consumer interest is as good as dead in the water.

We have premium camera phones from Huawei, Xiaomi, Samsung and Apple leading the pack now. The partnership with ZEISS has done little for HMD Global’s generation of camera phones.

Sony and ZEISS Optics

Sony Xperia 1 II zeiss camera
Sony Xperia 1 II has ZEISS optics

Like Nokia, Sony once made really solid camera phones but slowly faded away into the background. The new Xperia 1 II’s camera is equipped with ZEISS optics with T* anti-reflective coating to enhance the quality of images. That sounds great. But what exactly will the Zeiss partnership do for Sony? To be honest, with what we have seen of Nokia phones with ZEISS in the last few years, I am not sure.

This much I can say though: if the failure to make a splash that we have seen with Nokia camera phones has been the fault of the Carl Zeiss team, the new partnership will do zilch for Sony camera phones. However, if the problem has been from the HMD Global team, then we are about to see a new generation of Sony smartphones with cameras that will make a bigger splash than ever before and further push Nokia camera phones down the charts.

For now, only time will tell. We will soon have reviews of the Sony Xperia 1 II and see how the camera performs in real world usage. But until then, I am not exactly excited for Sony or afraid for Nokia.

ZEISS Exclusivity Gone

The thing though is that ZEISS has a tradition of exclusive partnerships only – never working with more than one brand in each industry. What then has led to the company abandoning its exclusivity with Nokia? Are there cracks in the partnership? Is the ZEISS team frustrated with something? Or is the company simply re-strategizing in an industry that has become more volatile? Questions, questions.

The Chief Product Officer at HMD Global has said though that his company “will continue to develop exclusive experiences together with ZEISS for your Nokia phone”. HMD Global needs to go beyond mere rhetorics. Using ZEISS optics in recent years has not been as fruitful as Nokia fans would love it to be. Now that the exclusivity is gone, it is more important for HMD to put in the work in producing great Nokia camera phones again.

Both Nokia and Sony smartphone brands were once known for their super camera phones. For now, they both struggle to make any.

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