Who Will Buy Leica’s Camera Phone?

It’s all about the branding

  • The Leitz Phone 1 is Sharp’s Aquos Android phone with a new shell and updated software.
  • The phone has a huge one-inch sensor.
  • Leica’s phone will only be available in Japan.
Leica's Leitz 1 phone, front and back

Leica

Leica’s latest smartphone is a relaunched Sharp Aquos R6 with a custom interface, and a big, round, metal lens cap. Yes, a lens cap. 

Leica is known for two things. Extremely high-quality cameras and even more extreme prices. Its cheapest M-Series body goes for $7,795, without a lens, and the used market is equally high—this unusable, fire-damaged M4 from 1968 sold for £1,488 ($2,070) at auction in May. Its new Leitz Phone 1, by contrast, is just another Android phone, albeit one with a large camera sensor. What’s going on?

“Leitz Phone 1 is a rebadged Sharp Aquos R6. However, Leica isn’t trying to hide the rebadge part,” Eden Cheng, founder of software company WeInvoice. told Lifewire via email. “[Smartphone company SoftBank] proudly demonstrated the phone side by side with the Aquos R6 in the keynote, and Leica has created numerous tweaks to the entire design of the phone.”

The Basics

The Leitz Phone 1 (Leitz is the parent company of Leica) has a modified lens array and a new custom user interface. It has a one-inch, 20 megapixel, ƒ1.9 camera, a Qualcomm Snapdragon 888 processor, 256GB storage, and 12GB RAM. The Leica version puts its lenses into a circular turret, instead of Sharp’s rectangular design, and adds a magnetic lens cap.

Leica's round camera module with red logo dot

Leica

About that lens cap. What’s the point? It seems like a gimmick, one which will just get in the way of pocketability, right up until you lose it. And while camera users like to protect their lenses, phone users throw their handsets into bags and pockets with no damage to the lens, and no problems other than the odd smear of finger grease. 

Who Will Buy This?

Leica cameras are an aspirational product for many photographers, amateur and pro. That’s down to price (expensive must be better, right?), build quality, and Leica’s incredible lenses. And while Leica’s are seriously lacking in features when compared to other cameras, what’s there is beautifully designed and simple to use. 

“It is a very old trend: lending your well known brand name that is associated with quality and value to increase the image of a product.”

The thing is, none of that applies to the Leitz Phone 1. Yes, it has a Leica lens, but so does the stock Sharp Aquos version. There is one technical advantage over other Android phones. The Leitz Phone 1 comes with “Leitz Looks,” aka filters. These emphasize B&W images, but there are some color looks in there too. This is a nice way to get away from the oversaturated, TV-showroom-style images you get from many Android cameras. 

Which brings us to the other buyers of Leica cameras. Collectors, and brand-conscious shoppers. Leicas are easily identified by the iconic red dot logo. The company sometimes leaves it off the M-series camera, but whenever Leica does a brand crossover like this, that red dot is part of the deal. It’s the Nike swoosh of the camera world, and people like to show it off.

Rear-facing camera module on the Leitz 1

Leica

“It is a very old trend: lending your well-known brand name that is associated with quality and value to increase the image of a product,” Berlin-based software engineer and musician "DirkPeh" says in the DP Review forums. “I guess the only thing Leica produces is the lens. Everything else including the sensor is made by other companies.”

Then there are the Leitz Phone 1’s looks. It’s a beauty. The Aquos is just another smoothed-pebble of a handset. The Leica is a satin-black monolith, with sharp, boxy edges that mimic the Leica M cameras.

Branding Exercise

In the end, Leica is now as much a luxury fashion brand as it is a camera maker. And phones like this are the Leica equivalent of Ferrari jackets or Porsche toasters (yes, you read that right).

The Aquos looks to be a decent Android phone, and Leica’s software improvements and case design make it even better. It’s not a Leica camera by any means, but then, this probably isn’t aimed at photographers. Serious phone-cam shooters will opt for the iPhone and Google Pixel, with their amazing cameras and image processing tricks. 

No, this Leica is all about looking good, and letting people know it. Fortunately, the unit does look good. Really, really good.

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