All the talk around Huawei’s new P20 Pro has been about the cameras, and with good reason.
Boasting DxO scores of 109 and 102 – for the P20 Pro and standard P20 – Huawei’s new flagship devices are the new standard to beat in mobile photography, unseating the short-lived reign of Samsung’s Galaxy S9.
By now you know that the Huawei P20 Pro has three cameras across the back and this is where it gets really interesting.
The main camera has an ultra-high resolution 40 MP sensor, this is backed up by a 20MP monochrome sensor that helps with processing (as well as reducing image noise and improving dynamic range) and the third camera has an 8 MP sensor with a 3x zoom lens which means that you’ll be able to zoom into a scene without using digital zoom.
It’s fantastic, flexible setup, and a marvel of image processing and technical application. How do they get three lenses to work in tandem? Can you really shoot 40MP photos? Has low light performance been sacrificed for resolution?
As with the standard P20, the Huawei P20 Pro defaults to shooting 10MP photos. With the P20 Pro you can shoot 40 MP ones if you like, and 76,2 MB DNG RAW files when using Pro mode.
You might be wondering why you’d want to shoot at 10MP when you have the option of 40MP, but when looking at images shot at both resolutions, you’ll see that Huawei’s JPEG handling is so good that when you zoom to 100% on a 10MP photo it actually appears far sharper than one taken at 40MP. The difference comes in if you look deeper (ideally on a computer screen). This is where you’ll see that the 10MP photo becomes far more pixelated and end up with far more detail in the 40MP files.
Using the camera setup the way that Huawei intends you to is actually the better option. 10MP shots and the zoom lens provide some fantastic pictures and ends up rendering more detail than a crop of the RAW or 40MP JPEG files are able to.
There’s also the option of shooting at 5x zoom, something Huawei calls Hybrid Zoom. This uses far more intense processing than the 3x zoom which makes far-away text clearer and uses smart upscaling to make the photos look right rather than blurred like traditional digital zoom.
Huawei loves smart camera processing and have their own software version of optical image stabilisation (OIS) called AIS. In the case of AIS, Huawei uses smart processing to get rid of the need for mechanical stabilisation. This means that the camera never seems to slow its exposure beyond 1/16 of a second, and uses processing and the monochrome secondary sensor to improve image quality.
The most impressive camera performance though is during nighttime and lowlight. This is where the P20 Pro truly shines thanks to night mode.
It combines a barrage of images over 3-6 seconds. Previous Huawei phones had a similar mode, but this one is designed to be used handheld, which is an amazing feat of AI image processing.
Using night mode, you can get ultra-dark shots with dynamic range and detail far better than any Samsung, LG, Sony or iPhone.
Overall, the camera is a dream. 10MP images are sharp and detailed, low on noise. The phone handles exposure and dynamic range optimisation very well.
The large main sensor and relatively wide f/1.8 Leica lens means that natural bokeh is lovely and pronounced. The one thing that I didn’t always love is the AI scene selection. As with the Mate 10 Pro, the P20 Pro constantly analyses the camera feed, to see what you’re taking a photo of. It’s able to recognise various scenarios and adjust the settings to give you what it believes are the best in order to make your images pop.
For the most part it works like a dream, but at times it oversharpens images taking away the natural look of the image or over-saturates a colour a bit too much. It’s definitely not a deal breaker, all you need do is turn off the AI scene selection.
When it comes to video, the P20 Pro can shoot video up to 4K resolution, but for handheld footage you’re better off sticking with 1080p. At 4K, there’s no image stabilisation, which makes footage look jumpy, however at 1080p, the software stabilisation is incredibly effective.
If you up the frame rate to 60fps at 1080p, you will lose that stabilisation though.
As with every high-end smartphone released this year, there’s also a 960fps slo-mo option, however as with Samsung’s Galaxy S9, you can only shoot at 720p.
Our final verdict?
This is the best smartphone camera setup you’ll find and Huawei has clearly set a high bar that will be difficult to beat this year.