We interview Pablo Acevedo, head of mobile development and engineering at Leica

We interview Pablo Acevedo, head of mobile development and engineering at Leica

It was a somewhat cold winter afternoon in Wetzlar, Germany, a small town surrounded by industry where the center of traditional photography is located: the Leitz Park, a factory, museum and office complex where the Leica camera manufacturer It exposes its present and, above all, its past. Also its future, that is why we were there.

I was lucky enough to visit Leica’s headquarters for the launch of the Xiaomi 13, smartphones to which Leica puts its experience in imaging to equip them with unique processing features. And one of the people responsible for the software included in Xiaomi’s latest is Pablo Acevedo, Head of Mobile Development and Engineering at the German company. Apart from this position, Pablo is a photographer, he headed the camera department at BQ and worked as an image engineer at DXOMARK. With this CV, I approached my interview around the field of mobile photography. This is how the conversation went.


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As a photographer, do you only take your phone on holiday or do you bring your camera too, just in case?

Today?

Yes, as of today.

I only carry a cell phone.

Do you really know that all the photos your phone will take will be the way you want them?

There is a distinction to be made here, and it is that photography became a profession for me years ago. And not artistic photography, but technical photography. In other words, mobile devices in general for taking photos. Nowadays, I rely so much on my mobile phone that I don’t take a camera with me. Because I like to travel light, I am one of those people who doesn’t check in luggage. And, as you know, you are going to have your mobile phone with you no matter what. And with the quality that mobile phones give you today, sometimes the photos are even better than those from a large camera; especially when you are going to take landscape photos, daytime photos with good lighting conditions. The times that I take a professional camera, a SLR or a mirrorless camera, is when I know that I am going to have a very challenging situation in which I know that there is going to be low light or that I am going to need to use very high ISOs to compensate for very short exposure times. Then I take the mirrorless camera. But if not, I easily take the mobile phone. And I have no problem printing photos, I don’t print advertising size photos either, that’s more than enough for me. Apart from the occasional occasion when I have taken a camera, especially Leica cameras…


Sweeping for home

Exactly. Well, I think that since 2018, 2019… Yes, the latest BQ phones no longer had a camera.

I was going to ask you precisely about that. I think BQ disappeared just when you had acquired a very good camera.

I have a thorn in my side that BQ could not continue its journey as the company it was. I owe everything to BQ, practically, in the world of mobile photography. I started at BQ in 2015, just when the M range models were launched; and from then on until the X2 Pro, which was the last device I worked on the camera.

I reviewed it and loved it

Well, it’s a shame. It’s a shame because, well, it’s difficult to compete against everything that comes from Asia, obviously, because the ecosystem is there. Simply because of the proximity to the supply chain and support. Besides, at that time, salaries in China were much cheaper than salaries in Spain. And well, we couldn’t continue forward. But it’s true that in the X, in the X Pro and in the X2 Pro we had very good sensors. And not only the sensors, the work that was done on what is called the tuning of the ISP, the image signal processor. We worked a lot there. There we already had a team of six people dedicated only to the tuning of the device. Besides, the company invested a lot in third-party algorithms. So, thanks to the internal work and the integration of those third-party algorithms, the X, the X Pro and the X2 Pro were wonderful phones. In terms of the camera at least. I feel very proud. And I’m very angry about everything that happened afterwards.

I understand that you applied all that learning not only to Leica, but also to the Xiaomi 13 Pro

Exactly. All this experience that I have gained over the years in these projects is part of my background, it is part of my contribution to the cooperation between Leica and Xiaomi.

You were saying earlier that the phone offers a more technical capture. Would you say that the phone is more technical and that with the camera we still have a certain feeling of a more emotional capture of photography?

I am no longer a photographer. I tried it at the time because I liked photography, but then I understood that what I liked about photography was the technological part, how to get there, the technical challenge of how to capture this image the way I want. Since I am not an artist, in the end I stopped there. And there is a bit of everything. The mobile phone tries to cover the greatest number of situations possible. In other words, to take a good photograph in the greatest number of situations possible, without putting the weight on the photographer. Because mobile phone users are from professionals to our grandmothers. And everyone wants to take photos. So, there is that difference there where the photographer who has a camera, a professional camera, a reflex camera, a camera in which you have to invest money just in the camera and another money in the lenses, is completely different.

The person who invests money in equipment sees photography in a different way. They see photography in a more artistic way, generally, than a person who buys a mobile phone and looks for one with a good camera because they take photos from time to time. There are also people who look for a mobile phone with a very good camera, that is, as close as possible to a professional result. Those people, of course, are going to look at the details and they are going to use that mobile phone to take emotional photography, of course. And that is what we are trying to do with Xiaomi right now: bring the photographic experience of professional cameras to mobile phones. For users who are looking for it and for users who don’t know it to discover a new world in which they say: “Ok. If I do it in auto mode it comes out like this. But if I do it in professional mode, where I choose the parameters…”. And so they can learn about photography. And, who knows, tomorrow they might buy a Leica.

Now that you mention looking for the image parameters, with a phone like the Xiaomi 13 Pro, which has such a high level of image quality and customization of photography, what advice would you give to a person who only takes photos and that’s it? How could they really take advantage of the phone, its potential?

I really like it when I talk about photography with friends: what do you take photos of your son with? You have a small child. What do you take photos of your child with? There are people who tell me: “No, I bought a low-end SLR and I take all the photos with that.” And there are other people who tell me: “No, I take my phone, I put it in portrait mode, I change the light parameters, I make sure the focus is on the eye and things like that.” In order for people to love photography the way we love it, we have to try to educate the population on the capabilities of the camera. Because, generally, people take the camera in default mode, take the photo and that’s it. But if you explain to them that you have a portrait mode, which does this, that you have a different way of using the three cameras that, for example, the Xiaomi 13 has. What is each one good for? Well, look: I’m going to use this one for portraits, for example, the new 75 millimeter; Or I’m going to use this one for landscapes because I have a 14mm equivalent. What do you use each camera for or what do you use each camera feature for? It’s important.

Leica Museum in Leitz Park

Something that also happens is that, thanks to artificial intelligence, the mobile phone is able to detect what you are trying to photograph. Here you could change the camera, here you could move away a little to frame it… I also think that there is going to be a lot of room for improvement, which will help people understand photography better and like photography more. In other words, they will go out on the street to take photos without it being like… “Oh, I’m here and I want to take a photo of this.” That is something that was very important to me when I started out in photography. I said: “I want to go out on the street with my camera, just to take photos. I haven’t met anyone for a coffee, I’m going out on the street to take photos.” And I think that nowadays with the mobile phone that doesn’t happen so much. People who think about going out to take photos are generally people who have a camera, a mirrorless camera, a professional camera. Mobile photography is very much about the moment these days. The best camera is always the one you have with you, that’s a phrase that has always been used. There is a lot of room there for people to continue learning and continue looking for different ways to love photography.

What would you say are the challenges of mobile photography for the future?

Hardware is a big part of the whole photo capture process, but software is there. And AI is everywhere these days. We just have to open Google and search for ChatGPT or Mid-Journey. All these AI-based tools are going to help, I’m sure, they’re going to help photography, the quality of photography, improve in the future. There’s no doubt about it.

You have a frame, it will automatically detect it and give you suggestions. Not only will it give you suggestions, but the camera itself, internally, will make certain decisions based on the response of that artificial intelligence, of that algorithm. And once that image has been captured, once you have pressed the button, the artificial intelligence will detect what elements are in the photo and what they are, what are the best parameters in each area of ​​the photo to obtain the best possible result.

As a Leica engineer, what is the project you are most proud of?

Well, right now with the Xiaomi 13. I have to tell the truth: I’ve been with Leica for a year and a month; and last year’s projects were the 12 series, the Xiaomi 12S Pro and the normal one. But they were only sold in China. So, with the 13 Pro and the 13, it’s the project that I’m most proud of because it’s coming to Europe, because I’m going to be able to buy it for my mother, for example. [risas]. No, apart from that, it’s because I really think there’s been a qualitative leap in terms of the image quality that we’ve managed to bring to these devices.

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