Home News Huawei P20 Pro Camera Review – What makes this a top camera smartphone?

Huawei P20 Pro Camera Review – What makes this a top camera smartphone?

3x Optical Zoom and 5x Hybrid Zoom bring brilliantly detailed distant objects closer

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Huawei globally launched its latest flagship Huawei P20 Pro in March this year, later followed by the launch in Pakistan. The most intuitive and innovative factor of the smartphone is its camera. As you all know the Chinese smartphone maker has been building its flagship camera modules in collaboration with Leica – the German optics/camera makers. The cooperation does continue in this flagship and indeed makes up a healthy competitor to other brands.

Apparently what makes P20 Pro stand out is the first-time ever – the combination of three cameras/lenses on the back as primary camera module.

Rear Tri-Camera:

  • 40MP RGB: Main camera with large 1/1.7″ color sensor with quad-bayer structure. It captures more light with f/1.8 aperture lens.
  • 20MP B&W: Secondary camera with monochrome sensor to help improve image detail and provide depth information to simulate bokeh effect.
  • 8MP Telephoto: A third camera with 80mm equivalent 3x optical zoom tele-lens and features OIS.

Huawei P20 Pro Camera

When we look at the specifications of this camera, it’s not far from some impressive thing in a smartphone. But like many smartphones, at first look it also suggests to be some kind of a gimmick to have three cameras. First question indeed arises that why three cameras? what actually they do along each side? If you had that question, then there is valid and logical answer for you.

As you are already familiar with dual-camera setup on many smartphones by now. If you are not familiar with the kind of setups, there were two common setups of dual-cameras. One with a secondary monochrome sensor to help improve image detail and for depth mapping, the other setup features a secondary camera with a telephoto lens to take distant photos with optical zoom. This tri-camera setup on Huawei P20 Pro combines both the setups and offers all those features in one smartphone camera.

But this still doesn’t guarantee if this is the best camera in a smartphone you may choose to buy? We got the opportunity to shoot with Huawei P20 Pro for a few days and we found it delivering most impressive results. Let’s just have an in-depth look into the major features of the phone and the camera.

Huawei P20 Pro Features

  • Kirin 970 System-on-Chip with Octa-core CPU and Mali-G72 MP12 GPU
  • Android 8.1 operating system
  • 128GB internal storage and 6GB of RAM
  • 6.1-inch AMOLED display
  • 4000 mAh battery.
  • Rear Camera:
    • 40MP RGB – Primary 1/1.7-inch, f/1.8 aperture, 27mm equivalent
    • 20MP B&W – Secondary 1/2.7-inch, f/1.6 aperture, 27mm equivalent
    • 8MP Telephoto – 1/4-inch, f/2.4, 80mm equivalent,
      • Zoom factor: 3x optical, 5x hybrid (lossless), 10x digital (crop)
  • Front Camera: 24MP, f/2.0, 26mm equivalent.
Huawei P20 Pro Camera Review

How does that 40MP camera help produce better image?

Do you remember what did Nokia 808 PureView and Lumia 1020 do back then with those 40-megapixel sensors? Oversampling – that Nokia used to read image data from all pixels and produced one detailed 5MP image hence performing extraordinary in low-light and producing impressively low-noise.

Huawei is said to be using the more traditional “pixel-binning” technique. It also uses all the available pixels on sensor and combine them together into a larger 2×2 pixel resulting in a 10MP image. Likewise, it mimics as a larger pixel and takes more light to the sensor, performing better in low-light conditions. This also helps producing lossless zoom images – Huawei calls it “Hybrid Zoom”

It’s the default setting of P20 Pro that it take 10MP images out of the box. If you want a very high resolution image (40MP) you may go into settings and switch it accordingly. But you’ll lose features like zoom.

Realtime Camera Test

With all those camera features, P20 Pro is supposed to perform outstanding and it does indeed. If you didn’t know, the P20 Pro has received DxOMark’s top score and still standing on top. We just got a chance to try this camera phone on our own and see if it really did well.

Huawei P20 Pro actually did really well in bright light. Photos maintained the good image detail with very low noise. The colours tend to be vibrant by default at “standard” that you can turn to a lower level of vibrance if you prefer with “smooth colours”. Sharpness and contrast is impressive less-across the frame leaving the corners with a bit softness.

Huawei P20 Pro Camera Sample
Image 1: ISO-50, 1/5263

Overall image quality of appreciable without any loss of detail and over sharpening.

Huawei P20 Pro Camera Sample
Image 2: ISO-50, 1/1520

More daylight shots

Optical zoom is one of the most important factors of the tri-camera in Huawei P20 Pro. Its telephoto lens gives 80mm equivalent focal range which is 3x optical zoom. Galaxy S9 and iPhone X give you the 2x optical zoom. Sure P20 Pro gets plenty of the detail in more zoomed in shot.

Take a look at the 3x zoom level of the “Image 2” above – first pillar with the lion on the top.

Huawei P20 Pro - 3x Optical Zoom
3x Optical Zoom – 81mm focal length (35mm equivalent)

That’s not it. In addition to optical zoom, P20 Pro also offers 5x with the so-called “hybrid zoom”. Thanks to the monster 40-megapixel sensor that makes up an even closer image with very less loss of detail.

Huawei P20 Pro 5x Hybrid Zoom
5x hybrid zoom – 135mm focal length (35mm equivalent)

If you still want more magnification, you can go up to 10x but after 5x you get a digitally enlarged picture – the traditional digital zoom with degraded image quality. You will start noticing pixelation in the image with less sharpness.

Low-light and Night time performance

Indoor performance in low-light condition also worth noting. The P20 Pro does a very good job in moderately low light environment. Some grain is present in dark shades however overall noise stays at lower level. Image detail is not as fine as in good light but it’s only noticeable if you look at the 1:1 crop of the shot. That means looking at the full image on your computer screen leaves no complaint whatsoever. In fact, the image looks stunning with accurate colours popping out.

Huawei P20 Pro Camera Sample Indoor Log-light
ISO-320, 1/25

Following two shots were taken when no light source was present over the clock-tower. It was completely dark and I just wanted to see how the “Night” mode works in this situation. Night mode is the well prominent feature of Huawei P20 Pro that allows you to take a night shot with up to 5 seconds long exposure hand-held. It uses the optical image stabilizer for sharp image but you also need to keep your hands steady as much as possible.

Night mode works fine in most cases where some light is present that also helps the camera to focus on the subject. In following case, I doubted the camera will focus but it did, however the image was totally unusable when seen at 1:1. Full image still looks fine. On the other hand there is normal shot which was taken at ISO 8000 leading to heavy digital noise but the subject is in focus.

Huawei P20 Pro Camera Night Mode Huawei P20 Pro Camera Normal Night Shot
ISO-3200, 5 sec (Night mode, left) – ISO-800, 1/17 sec (Standard, right)

Low-light shots

Portrait and Aperture Mode

While every other smartphone now offers portrait mode, why wouldn’t a phone that has three cameras on its back? Huawei has already been offering portrait mode in its smartphones in addition to the aperture mode.

Portrait mode only detects human subjects and blurs the background at a system decided level – called Artistic bokeh effect. This mode also offers different lighting simulations that include soft lighting, butterfly lighting, split lighting, stage lighting and classic lighting. Beauty mode is now bundled within the Portrait mode. P20 Pro’s Master AI also detects when you are trying to take a shot of closer subject that is human, it will automatically switches to Portrait mode. That could be an oversmart move by the system but you can easily switch back to normal mode if you want and it won’t do it again in the current session.

Huawei P20 Pro Portrait Mode Huawei P20 Pro Portrait Bokeh
Portrait Mode / Artistic Bokeh Enabled – (Left – Indoor, Right – Partially Outdoor)

Aperture mode, on the other hand, offers the “artistic bokeh” subset from portrait mode but also offers you to adjust the aperture simulation, unlike the system decided one in portrait mode. You will use this mode if you want to take close up shots of anything other than human subjects and want to adjust background blur according to what you think works better.

Huawei P20 Pro Aperture Mode
Aperture mode – aperture f/4.0

Video Performance

Huawei P20 Pro is impressive in video recording with its flawless stabilization. Unfortunately video stabilization can only be used when recording at 1080p resolution with 30fps or below. 60fps impresses with its own smooth panning. 4K resolution on the other hand also has superb sharpness. Colors are as accurate as they are in still images. Watch through the playlist.

P20 Pro also features Super Slow-Motion at 960fps you can watch two samples below. Framerate is indeed impressive making the motion at its slowest speed but I am not really impressed with the image detail. You can easily notice the pixelated edges.

Conclusion

First of all, let me clear that we only got the Huawei P20 Pro for a few days. We tried hard to get the most out of it but still we couldn’t test it in a variety of other situations. However as long as we tested the phone’s camera, it impressed us. We can safely tell if any smartphone that has innovated within camera after 808 PureView and Lumia 1020, it’s Huawei P20 Pro.

Overall image quality is very good with impressive fine detail. Noise handling is too good in bright light, however there is some noise in less lighting conditions but that’s also ignorable. Dynamic range on the other hand is worth praising in most scenarios.

If you are looking for some sort of comparison with other flagships such as Galaxy S9 or iPhone X, then you get something in P20 Pro to tell that you have a better camera phone – that is its Zooming factor. Compared to 2x optical zoom in both the phones, P20 Pro takes the lead with 3x optical zoom. With even further 5x hybrid zoom, if I tell you that this is the smartphone with the most brilliant zooming capabilities, it won’t be lie.

Huawei P20 Pro 40MP Camera

Then comes the bokeh effect – it’s something which now almost every flagship smartphone offers with its camera. This is the first time that it actually impressed me with its edge detection. In video recording, Huawei finally seems to be standing with the competition – so it’s good. Do not include the slow-motion videos, as it’s not up to par.

Master AI of the camera to detect scenes and apply settings automatically is instant. There are other software elements which Huawei moved from one place to the other. I preferred the older design though with simply a three-wall slide. We’ll see how the company goes with its camera dedication.

Do let us know about your questions and give your feedback as a full review of the device is coming soon.

All Camera Samples

Panorama

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