Articles: Digital Photography Review (dpreview.com) 4 April 2018

Huawei P20 Pro hands-on: 3x zoom lens leaves the competition behind

The P20 Pro is Huawei's latest flagship smartphone and, at least in the camera department, arguably the most innovative mobile device we have seen in quite some time. The camera module was developed in cooperation with Leica and is the first to combine three sensor/lens modules: A large 1/1.7-inch RGB sensor with Quad-Bayer structure in the main camera is designed to capture as much light as possible and keep noise levels low. A secondary high-resolution monochrome sensor provides depth estimation for the simulated bokeh effect, helps with digital zooming at low magnifications and improves detail and noise levels. A dedicated tele-camera with an equivalent focal range of 80mm springs into action at 3x or higher zoom factors. The Huawei P20 Pro camera combines three cameras: The main module is at the center, the monochrome camera at the bottom (left in this image) and the tele at the top (right). So the spec sheet looks impressive but is the Huawei P20 Pro the best camera smartphone money can currently buy? We had the opportunity to shoot with a Huawei P20 Pro for a few days. Here are our first impressions. Please note that the camera software on our test unit is not final, so some improvements can be expected for the production version. Key specifications: Triple-camera, 10MP output size Main camera: 1/1.7-inch 40MP Quad-Bayer sensor, F1.8 aperture and 27mm equivalent focal length Secondary camera: 20MP 1/2.78-inch monochrome sensor, F1.6-aperture and 27mm equivalent focal length Tele-camera: 8MP, 1/4.4-inch RGB sensor, F2.4-aperture, 80mm equivalent focal length and optical image stabilization Kirin 970 chipset 6.1-inch Full View display 6GB RAM 128GB internal storage 4,000 mAh battery Wide-angle In bright light the P20 Pro's main camera captures images with good detail and very low noise levels. As you can see in the sample below, there is no noticeable grain in the blue sky, which is unusual for a smartphone, and fine detail is rendered nicely, though almost a touch oversharpened. Dynamic range is excellent as well, with very little highlight clipping for a smartphone camera. Colors and contrast are definitely on the vibrant end of the scale but if you like things a little more natural you can can set colors to 'smooth' in the settings. There is a touch of corner-softness in our sample but overall the P20 Pro performs very well in good light. ISO 50 The picture below was taken in a dim bar. In these conditions the camera does a very good job at keeping noise levels down. Some fine grain is noticeable in the shadows, but overall the image is very clean. Some detail is lost on very fine textures but you have to zoom in to full-size view to notice. Edge detail is still very sharp and colors are maintained nicely. This is very good image quality from a smartphone in these light conditions. ISO 1250 The very dim street lighting in the scene below pushes the P20 Pro camera to its limits. The image is exposed very well and colors are rendered nicely. However, detail clearly suffers and some fine textures are very soft. In these conditions the lack of optical image stabilization also becomes obvious, with some images showing signs of camera shake. ISO 4000 Zoom Thanks to the triple-camera with dedicated tele module, zoom is one of the P20 Pro's highlight features. The series below shows the same scene as the first image in this article, with the camera zoomed onto the stork that is nesting on the church tower. 3x zoom As you can see when clicking through to the full version of these images, detail is still decent at a 3x zoom factor and a good step ahead of any other current smartphone. Noise is very well controlled as well. At 5x a loss of detail and texture becomes more obvious but the images are still usable at smaller output sizes, for example in social media. 5x zoom The 10x zoom image shows the typical softness and pixelation we are used to from digital zoom images and is best reserved for emergency situations. That said, while the P20 Pro's zoom can't compare to the optical zoom of a compact camera, it's outstanding for a smartphone camera. Kudos to Huawei for squeezing the technology into the thin body of a mobile device. 10x zoom The zoom is still usable in indoor light conditions and produces results that, in terms of detail and noise, aren't far off from images captured in bright outdoor light. Wide angle 3x zoom 5x zoom 10x zoom The Huawei's zoom is not only handy for magnifying elements of the scene, just like the optical zoom on a "real" camera it also helps compress the planes of a scene. In the wide-angle image below the mountain range in the background is so small, it's hardly noticeable. In the 3x zoom image the mountains have become a much more important element of the composition, thanks to compression. However, in the zoom image the color response is much less vibrant and the camera tends to be a little more prone to highlight clipping. Hopefully that is something that can be fine-tuned for the final software version. Wide-angle 3x zoom While zoom performance is generally pretty amazing for a smartphone camera, we found exposure to be very unstable when zoomed in. Once zoom is activated you can get very noticeable exposure jumps between two images in a series, as you can see in the 3x zoom samples below. We would expect this bug to be fixed with a software update, hopefully for the final release of the production software. Underexposure Slight overexposure Portrait/Aperture modes Like most current high-end phones, the P20 Pro offers a background-blurring Portrait mode. The feature works very well with head-and-shoulder type portraits. The default blur strength is pleasant and the masking of the subject is quite accurate. Only some minor segmentation artifacts are visible in the hair of the subject below. Portrait mode Things don't look as good with full-body portraits, however. Like in the shot below, on most occasions Portrait mode does not trigger for this type of scene. Portrait mode Portrait mode applies a degree of skin tone smoothing to your subject's face. If you don't want that, or take an image of an object rather than a person, you can switch to Aperture mode which artificially blurs the background in the same way as Portrait mode. As you'd expect, the mode delivers similar results as Portrait mode but more complex objects, such as the bicycle in the image below, can cause some trouble, especially when shooting zoomed in. Foreground/background separation in this shot is pretty bad, with a lot of blur applied to areas that should be sharp and vice versa. Aperture mode, 3x zoom Video Video, and particularly video image stabilization, are strong points of the Huawei P20 Pro camera. The clip below was shot hand-held and is very stable and smooth, almost steady-cam-like. No judder, over-compensation or similar kind of artifacts are visible. Other than that, detail is in line with the competition and the color response is similar to still image mode. Conclusion We've only had a few days with the Huawei P20 Pro but that has been long enough to say it is the most advanced smartphone camera to date. General image quality is very good, with good detail, very low noise levels across all light levels and excellent dynamic range. In terms of those parameters the differences to other flagship smartphones, for example the Google Pixel 2 or Samsung Galaxy S9 Plus aren't massive, however. Where the P20 Pro really leaves the competition behind is zoom. The dedicated 3x tele-lens provides a real advantage in the zoom department and makes this device the best current smartphone for zooming. The triple camera is also capable of creating a natural looking bokeh simulation, and in video mode the image stabilization is up with the very best, creating an almost steady-cam like effect. There are still a few niggles in the camera software but hopefully those will be ironed out for the final release and our full review. It's still early in 2018, but it'll be interesting to see what the competition will come up with later in the year in order to counter Huawei's impressive move.

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