scorecardThe Vivo-Zeiss story: How a Covid-time collab led to the creation of the X90 series
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The Vivo-Zeiss story: How a Covid-time collab led to the creation of the X90 series

The Vivo-Zeiss story: How a Covid-time collab led to the creation of the X90 series
Tech5 min read
Vivo X90 Pro with Zeiss-powered optics    Sudhanshu Singh
  • Business Insider India spoke to camera experts from Vivo and Zeiss to break down what goes behind these collaborations.
  • Their latest offering with the X90-series brings a 1-inch sensor to mobile phones, taking photography a notch higher.
  • Find out how far the Vivo-Zeiss collaboration has come and what to expect in the future.
Vivo recently launched its flagship series of smartphones in India - the X90 and the X90 Pro. It's the company's first big launch of 2023, and like its predecessors, the X90 series bets big on cameras as it returns with Zeiss-powered optics for the fourth time, with a 1-inch sensor this time.

Vivo and Zeiss have worked together on smartphone cameras since 2020; hence the expectations from the X90 Pro are sky-high, as four years of research and development (R&D) on a smartphone camera is rare. To recall, Carl Zeiss is the same optics giant that powered the first generation of stunning phone cameras on the Nokia N-series in 2005.

According to Zeiss, both companies have partnered on R&D not just for one component or software feature but to establish the entire imaging and artistic experience. To understand it better, Business Insider India spoke to Oliver Schindelbeck, senior smartphone technology manager at Zeiss Consumer Products, and Keshav Chugh, product manager, Camera R&D, Vivo India.

Schindelbeck has been part of the Nokia-Zeiss collaboration and has been developing phone cameras for nearly two decades.

The first Vivo x Zeiss camera was born during the peak of pandemic

Vivo and Zeiss have collaborated four times on X60, X70 and X80-series of phones and now, on the X90. Schindelbeck told Business Insider India that the Vivo-Zeiss collaboration was born during the pandemic's peak.

Vivo X90 Pro      Sudhanshu Singh

He said, “We started this collaboration with X60, and naturally, as with a new collaboration, we needed to learn about each other and get started. So we set up a basic development process for how to work together. And if you see, it's almost three years ago, exactly when this Covid hit. We had to set up everything online. So our very first personal meeting with Vivo guys from China was last autumn. Everything was organised by video calls, email, and all that electronic communication you can think of.”

Schindelbeck added that as they moved to the next generation of devices, the development process was modified per the learnings. With the X90 series, they are having a holistic look at the imaging chain, capturing and displaying the image.

More than just a marketing exercise

Schindelbeck told us that a standard must be met to get approved for the Zeiss branding. So the Vivo and Zeiss teams work not just on a device but also on future technologies. There are two streams in the process – the first is the actual development of devices, where both develop the optics for the camera system and software certification. The other is R&D for technology that is not related to a specific device but instead has a long-term objective of developing technology for the next five to ten years or even longer.

“Yeah, so what I can easily say is it's not just branding, I would say it is just a cream on the cake,” said Schindelbeck.

He added, “In research, you think you have a beautiful idea that could be a revolutionary technology. And after a few years of time, work, and effort, you find out it doesn't work with the smartphone. It's frustrating but also naturally very interesting because that is groundbreaking, but that is something where you need patience.”

Adding to that, Keshav Chugh, product manager, Camera R&D, Vivo India, said, “...Most of their collaboration (of other brands) is just software. Our collaboration with Zeiss is both hardware and software. They are helping us with lenses and the T-star coating, which actually makes a physical difference in how the sensor is seeing the light. Zeiss is a 100-year-old-plus company, so we have certain standards to meet to use their brand name, which is not easy.”

Here’s what goes behind making the camera system

Schindelbeck said the companies had defined a clear development process, starting with the specifications and requirements, even discussing what goes into the next-gen devices.

He told us that the two teams decide on the image quality parameters like what they want to deliver to the customer. They then identify and create a specification for the optical system to achieve those results. It includes the size of the module, what sensor to use, and which lenses will fit the best. The device is measured and evaluated in theory and once the optical system is defined, the Zeiss team uses simulation tools to test the design by thread-and-core performance and also things like how the flares would look like in the build system.

Based on the simulation, the Zeiss team decides if the performance of the coatings is fine or if it requires any changes to achieve the required level of quality. Once done, the hardware prototypes of the camera modules are made. Then a final level of testing is done in Zeiss’ lab in Germany and then in China.

The biggest challenge in all of this, as per Schindelbeck, is this – since the development time is extremely short, they need to have a tight process for measurements, shipment of prototypes, and testing in Germany so that there are no complications after they are shipped to China. “ All this while keeping this process as lean and fast as possible.”

Software simplifies photography for budding phone photographers

Chugh told us that the new mode for portraits, called the Zeiss Cineflair, is a smart filter that emulates the legendary Hollywood Zeiss Cine lenses and produces camera flares in portraits. The filter adjusts the layer's type and size based on the background and light source. Additionally, the device's bigger sensor and V2 Chip, combined with improved night and HDR algorithms, have significantly enhanced night videos, photos, and portraits. The software features enable the creation of handheld Astro mode content without needing a tripod.

Schindelbeck emphasised the importance of simplicity of usage. Although traditional cameras offer several features, they require complicated equipment such as a tripod. The software features aim to provide snapshooters with a simple solution and beautiful results.