Ultimate Leica vs. Hasselblad phone camera test has a decisive winner

Leica and Hasselblad are the two big-name camera brands making a huge impact on smartphones. Leica, having recently split from its successful relationship with Huawei, has now partnered with Xiaomi, while Hasselblad works closely with both OnePlus and Oppo. There are other camera brand partnerships in the smartphone world, such as Zeiss and Vivo, but none have the same level of global brand awareness.

Which pairing is creating the best camera? To find out, we tested the new Xiaomi 12S Ultra with its Leica-tuned camera alongside the Hasselblad-tuned OnePlus 10 Pro.

The phones and cameras

Released at the end of March, the OnePlus 10 Pro is the brand’s second phone with Hasselblad’s tuning after the OnePlus 9 Pro. We’ve seen how Hasselblad has changed OnePlus’ cameras already, and also know its influence extends only to the software and not the hardware.

The main camera is a 48-megapixel Sony IMX789 sensor with an f/1.8 aperture and optical image stabilization (OIS), and it’s joined by a 50MP wide-angle camera and an 8MP telephoto camera for a 3.3x optical zoom. On the front is a 32MP fixed focus selfie camera. Hasselblad’s Camera for Mobile tuning and various custom Hasselblad filters, along with the unusual XPan Mode, are among the camera makers’s contributions.

Most people will be less familiar with the Xiaomi 12S Ultra as it’s not available outside China. Xiaomi and Leica announced their partnership in May and subsequently released the Xiaomi 12S series together in July, with the 12S Ultra as the flagship. How deeply the two collaborate isn’t really known, but the phones are described as being “co-engineered by Leica,” suggesting it may be as extensive as the partnership Leica had with Huawei, which went beyond just software.

The OnePlus 10 Pro and the Xiaomi 12S Ultra screens. Andy Boxall/Digital Trends

The Xiaomi 12S Ultra has three cameras on the back. A 1-inch, 50MP Sony IMX989 camera with an f/1.9 aperture and OIS is up first, with a 48MP wide-angle camera and a 48MP telephoto camera with OIS and electronic image stabilization (EIS) for a 5x optical zoom completing the array.

Leica’s involvement is obvious as you’re given the choice of taking photos in either Leica Vibrant or Leica Authentic mode, where the brand tunes the performance to give its trademark look to photos. OnePlus and Hasselblad do something similar with a selection of three “Master” modes — Radiance, Serenity, and Emerald — that are designed to replicate the look of photos taken by Hasselblad’s top ambassadors.

The processors The Xiaomi 12S Ultra's camera module. Andy Boxall/Digital Trends

Before we get into the photos, there’s another difference between the two phones that can change the camera’s performance, and that’s the processor. The OnePlus 10 Pro has the Qualcomm Snapdragon 8 Gen 1, while the Xiaomi 12S Ultra has the updated Snapdragon 8+ Gen 1. Ahead of testing the two phones, I spoke to Qualcomm’s vice president of product management, Judd Heape, about Snapdragon Sight and the changes between the 8 Gen 1 and 8+ Gen 1.

“The most important thing in a mobile camera are the sensors and optics, the ISP and its features, and then the tuning. All three have to work together to give a really good camera experience,” Heape told me, before revealing that the ISP is the same in both the processors used here and explaining more about Snapdragon Sight.

The OnePlus 10 Pro's camera module. Andy Boxall/Digital Trends

“Snapdragon Sight is an overarching delivery from Qualcomm, which includes the ISP and sometimes the tuning, where we help tune the camera to get the best image quality, and also features you may not think come from Qualcomm like electronic image stabilization, noise reduction, or lowlight video. We offer the hardware, the tuning, and the software features on top,” Heape said.

It’s worth remembering when looking at the photos below, it’s not just that OnePlus and Xiaomi that have worked on the cameras — it’s Leica, Hasselblad, and Qualcomm too. All have different degrees of involvement, but all have influenced the end result. These are flagship phones, represent the best of what’s available, and have high-profile collaborations behind them. Winning will be a big deal.

With all that explained, on to the photos. Unless otherwise stated, all the photos were taken in automatic mode. All were examined on a color-calibrated monitor and then resized for friendlier online viewing.

Leica vs. Hasselblad main camera

I’ll start off by saying this is one of the hardest-to-judge camera comparisons I’ve done. Unlike the one between the iPhone 13 Pro and iPhone 14 Pro, where the differences are minimal, here it’s obvious the two cameras take very different photos, with very different interpretations of the scene. Selecting a winner is a hard task, and there will be some photos where you may disagree with my choice.

Main camera photo taken with the OnePlus 10 Pro.
Main camera photo taken with the Xiaomi 12S Ultra.
  • 1. OnePlus 10 Pro
  • 2. Xiaomi 12S Ultra

Our first photo is a beach scene in difficult weather conditions. It was cloudy and rainy, with little chance for the sun to come through on the day this was taken. The two phones expose the scene in entirely different ways, with the OnePlus 10 Pro brightening the image to reveal more detail, while the darker, smoother Xiaomi 12S Ultra is more realistic, with better white balance and an accurate portrayal of the conditions.

Main camera photo taken with the OnePlus 10 Pro.
Main camera photo taken with the Xiaomi 12S Ultra.
  • 1. OnePlus 10 Pro
  • 2. Xiaomi 12S Ultra

The second photo moves on to a sunny day, and the OnePlus phone decides saturation is the order of the day, amping up the color of the blue sky and the green grass. The Xiaomi phone doesn’t do this, giving a natural look to the grass and sky, plus the tree on the right of the photo is far more realistically colored. The roof on the left of the photo is shrouded in shadow and lacks detail, though.

Main camera photo taken with the OnePlus 10 Pro.
Main camera photo taken with the Xiaomi 12S Ultra.
  • 1. OnePlus 10 Pro
  • 2. Xiaomi 12S Ultra

Our third photo shows the incredible depth of field possible with the Xiaomi 12S Ultra’s massive sensor, and how it can affect your photos. The OnePlus 10 Pro keeps the cake in sharp focus, blurring the coffee and the background. Colors, white balance, tone, and shadows are very attractive. The Xiaomi 12S Ultra focuses on the spoon and the coffee, then begins to blur out

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