hero image vivo X80 Pro in Cosmic Black

A look at the optics expertise behind a smartphone born for photography

hero image vivo X80 Pro in Cosmic Black

When your strategy is “camera first”, it certainly helps to have a partner with 130 years of imaging experience in photo and film lenses by your side. This is how Ramona Ettig, Head of Mobile Imaging at ZEISS, described the relationship of the famous camera brand with the global smartphone maker vivo.

In 2020, the two brands announced a partnership that would allow them to leverage each other’s R&D and consumer insight strengths, with a shared vision to push the boundaries of mobile imaging. And these joint efforts are already bearing fruit. ZEISS’s first co-engineered vivo imaging system debuted with the vivo X60 series and has been improved with each new product generation. Now the vivo X80 series stands out for its carefully crafted lenses, premium color science and portrait styles inspired by classic ZEISS camera lenses.


Ramona Ettig, Head of Mobile Imaging at ZEISS

We’ve seen vivo be relentless in its pursuit of excellence when it comes to the camera system in the X-series, a dedicated flagship line of photography. If you ask Ettig, that’s one of the main factors that brought the teams together. She says: “This is a true partnership that will leverage the strengths of both teams to build something new and great together.” It’s true, ZEISS brings with it an extensive photographic legacy, while vivo has built its name by putting powerful all-round devices in the hands of users.

Also see: vivo X80 Pro review

It’s not easy to fit professional camera capabilities into the slim body of a smartphone, but vivo and ZEISS are up to the challenge.

Redefining mobile photography: two minds are better than one

When it comes to bringing professional photography experience to smartphones, an obvious challenge is volume limitation and allowable costs for modules on mobile devices, emphasizes Ettig. “To overcome these challenges, you have to accept that there are limits,” she says, and this is where the power of this partnership really comes into play.

She cites real portrait photography as one of the best examples. “The size of sensors and optical elements in smartphones, as well as the aperture size of the optical systems, prevents the ability to produce typical portrait effects, such as shallow depth of field and beautiful bokeh effects,” she explains. “To make this effect possible, you have to use software approaches to overcome the limits of physics in the world of smartphone imaging.” The two companies have combined their expertise to bring a variety of stunning portrait modes to the X Series, including a range of bokeh styles.

ZEISS and vivo have also jointly created new functions that neither side could do alone. Ettig lists an improved night mode, incredible bokeh on portraits, and some of the industry’s most natural color profiles as some of her favorite features. Today, smartphone camera images often intensify and exaggerate the brightness and intensity of colors so that scenes look (intentionally) unreal. However, ZEISS and vivo have taken the most natural approach. Relying on studies of the ZEISS ZX1the first fully digital camera from ZEISS, the team took a thorough and structured approach to iterating the color setting for the most natural look possible.

ZEISS Cinematic Style Bokeh

The latest feature of the X80 Pro, ZEISS Cinematic Style Bokeh

Improving the consumer experience is the ultimate goal. “Have great, clear images even in dark scenes (night mode), have access to legendary ZEISS lenses by applying bokeh filter to your portraits, have the most natural color setting available to create your scene in the most natural way possible to capture — I think all these features are a great foundation for the customers to capture all the special moments in their lives,” Ettig explains. “These are features that combine the capabilities of high-end professional cameras with the best ease of use, because they’re accessible when you need them on your smartphone.”

A clash of two worlds: the process behind joint innovation

Despite the huge differences in the backgrounds of the two companies, Ettig credits the “moments when you realize you’ve managed to bring the teams together and work towards the same goal” as the fuel that keeps the partnership going.


vivo and ZEISS announce a global collaboration for mobile imaging in 2020

It’s about more than just co-branding and advertising a product. Ettig points to the strengths of both parties and quotes: “vivo has many great ideas and suggestions for each new product generation. The main strength of ZEISS is its expertise in optical design and the fact that we know what photographers need in order to create extraordinary images.” She explains that the brands collaborate on hardware and software from the earliest concept stages.

The need for vivo and ZEISS to work together at every step of the process may not be quick, but it ensures that an extra layer of care is applied. An example is compliance with the ZEISS T* coating, which improves the transmission speed of visible light, improves image quality and reproduces colors more accurately.

Ettig explains that the two companies start very early on a theoretical basis and simulate the initial concepts and designs very thoroughly — a critical step — because the companies can eliminate many problems by changing design aspects before the first hardware is even built. When prototypes are made, both vivo and ZEISS conduct tests and measurements in the laboratory in China and Germany. Only when the final production modules also meet the internally defined criteria of ZEISS will the company approve the brand certificate (e.g. the T* approval).

This unique process also means that when the teams find a problem, a variety of solutions are available. The X80 series showed ghosting and flare in the prototype stages, and both sides rushed to the drawing board for an answer. Ettig praises vivo for its extraordinary ability to adapt its production process while keeping it on an efficient scale. It’s the kind of solution to a problem that most consumers don’t know exist.

Ettig’s vision is to work on R&D-related new inventions that will hopefully take mobile imaging to the next level. She sees vivo as the “perfect partner for bringing new imaging technology into the fast-paced world of mobile consumer electronics.”

Create shared goals

The main result we have seen from the collaboration between ZEISS and vivo is continued consumer demand. Both sides continue to find ways to take the “camera first” aspect of the X Series to new heights.

“We help optimize existing concept ideas and support improving the most relevant issues,” Ettig notes. “But our focus going forward is to differentiate our collaboration by exploring new innovative ideas and features for future phone generations. We focus on a true R&D partnership. But of course it will be a few more years before we can launch products for the first time that incorporate our new approaches.”


X80 in urban blue

That seems to be the main goal of the partnership right now, at least as far as Ramona Ettig would admit. She declined to provide details or previews, but did explain that the companies are working “to build a technology and product roadmap together.” All the steps they have already taken in the X60X70and now the X80 series is just the first step towards some great new ideas that vivo and ZEISS want to develop and work together.

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