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Huawei P20 Pro: All you need to know about the AI-assisted Leica triple-rear cameras

Huawei's new flagship smartphone, the P20 Pro is a photography centric smartphone with three cameras at the back. Here's everything you need to know about the working of these cameras.

huawei p20 pro leica triple cameras


  • The Huawei P20 Pro comes with three cameras at the back.

  • You get a 40-megapixel primary camera, a 20-megapixel monochrome sensor and 8-megapixel telephoto lens.

  • The smartphone supports 3X lossless optical zoom, and 5X hybrid zoom.

For years, when we talked about smartphone cameras, it was all about the megapixels. It is a common misconception that more megapixels mean better, crisper photos. But, if you take a look at flagship smartphones today, such as the Google Pixel, the iPhone X, the Samsung Galaxy S9, to name a few, they come with 12-megapixel sensors. Huawei, with its new P20 Pro smartphone, is trying to get into the megapixel game again.

The highlight of the Huawei P20 Pro is the Leica-branded triple camera setup at the back, including one 40-megapixel sensor. It uses a similar trick as the Nokia Lumia 1020 and Nokia 808 PureView, both of which came with 41-megapixel camera. It lets you use the full resolution of 40-megapixels while clicking photos, or lets you reduce the resolution too. Let’s take a closer look at the camera setup and how it works.

Huawei P20 Pro: Triple camera setup

As mentioned above, out of the three cameras, one is a 40-megapixel RGB (color) sensor of aperture f/1.8. It has a 1.55micron pixel sensor, which is larger than the 1.4micron pixel sensor on the Galaxy S9. A larger sensor allows it to capture more light, and help you capture better photos in low-light.

In the camera app, you can choose to capture 40-megapixel resolution photos in 4:3 aspect ratio, or in 7-megapixel resolution with 18:9 aspect ratio. The 40-megapixel sensor also enables ISO levels of 102,400, which is something that you’ll only find on the professional cameras.

Now, the other is a 20-megapixel monochrome sensor with aperture f/1.6 which lets you capture true high-resolution black and white photos. In low-light, both the 40-megapixel and 20-megapixel sensors work together to click one photo and combine them into one, thus allowing you to capture low-light photos with less noise.

Lastly, the third is an 8-megapixel sensor with a telephoto lens and f/2.4 aperture. It kicks in when you want to capture photos in portrait mode with DSLR-like bokeh effects. The third lens also enables 3X optical zoom functionality, along with 5X hybrid zoom. Sadly, the zoom functionality isn’t available when the resolution is set to 40-megapixels.

The smartphone also includes slow-motion video capture at 960fps in HD (720p) resolution, something that we have already seen on the Galaxy S9 and Sony Xperia XZ-series smartphones. You can also switch the capture mode to 120fps full HD (1080p) and 240fps HD (720p), depending on your preference.

Up front, you have a 25-megapixel sensor that lets you click photos in 4:3 resolution, or you can switch to 16-megapixels and click selfies in 18:9 aspect ratio. There is also portrait mode and with artistic blur effect and 3D lighting effects such as soft light, butterfly lighting, split lighting, stage light and classic lighting which gives effects like the light falling on your face from different angles, just like a professional would do in a studio.

Huawei P20 Pro camera app UI, and AI features

The camera app UI on the P20 Pro is pretty neat but can be a bit confusing initially. On the top, you can toggle the LED flash, turn live images on or off, toggle the color saturation and enter the camera settings, where you can change the resolution, turn off camera sounds, and more.

The bottom half has the quick shortcut on the left for accessing the gallery, the camera shutter in the center, and the front and rear camera toggle on the right. Just above the camera shutter, you have different modes, such as photos, videos, pro mode, portrait mode, night mode and aperture mode, where you can switch between f/0.95 to f/16 aperture. On the extreme right, there are other modes such as – panorama, true monochrome, light-painting, time-lapse and slow-motion among others.

Huawei is also bragging about the AI features that it has built into the camera software. It can detect over 500 scenarios in 19 categories and change the mode to help you capture photos with better colors, contrast, and sharpness. For instance, it can recognize a dog or a cat in the photo, it can detect blue sky or text and adjust settings accordingly.

To help you capture blur-free photos, the smartphone comes with OIS (optical image stabilization) and EIS (electronic image stabilization), and AIS (artificial intelligence-based stabilization) for better long exposure shots without using a tripod.

Huawei P20 Pro camera samples

Specifications wise, everything sounds interesting, but what really matters is the actual camera quality. Well, after using the Huawei P20 for two-days, I can say that the camera is pretty interesting, and you would want to take the phone out and click photos every now and then. DxOMark has given it a score of 109, saying that it is the best smartphone camera available today. I don’t want to get into the claim game, but from what I can see, the camera sure has some good potential. So, here are some camera samples.

40-megapixel camera sample

Well, you cannot make out much from the camera sample, not on the smartphone screen or on the computer screen. But the photo has enough details, and it does not pixelate much when you zoom-in.

If you look at the overall color composition – the trees and the buildings have all retained natural colors. The sky is slightly blown out with a bit of purple fringing noticeable, but just one photo isn’t enough to judge. I will click more samples and share it in my review, so stay tuned for that.

10-megapixel camera sample, with 3X and 5X zoom

Even at 10-megapixel resolution, the photo looks good enough, except for the sky which still shows some purple fringing issue.

One of the highlight of the smartphone is the 3X lossless optical zoom functionality. And as you can see in the camera sample below, the photo is sharp, detailed and retains natural colors of the buildings. Also, with zoom, the sky and the overall dynamic range of the photo looks good.

Lastly, the 5X hybrid zoom photo also looks very good. It is detailed, and color reproduction is accurate too. I will be sharing more camera samples over the time as I review the smartphone.

20-megapixel true monochrome

Another advantage of the triple camera sensor is that you get one 20-megapixel monochrome sensor. Unlike other smartphones that allow you to click black and white photos by just adding a filter, here, you can capture true monochrome photos. And as you can see in the sample below it has managed to capture good details, without the photo looking over exposed.

Low-light photos

These days, smartphone makers are highlighting the low-light capabilities of their smartphones, and the P20 Pro really one-ups the game. When in Paris, I took photos of the Eiffel Tower at night, sometime around 11:30PM, and if you look at the photo below, you will see how beautifully the sensor is able to capture the photo, with almost negligible amount of grain. You can also see the lights that glitter at night in every one hour.

I shot one photo of me with the tower in the backdrop, and you can see, despite being in low-light, it has retained details – highlights my face, my clothes, and also the tower.

I also took a photo at the bar where you get different types of beer through the tap. It had fancy names for each tap, with a backlight. In usual scenarios, smartphones aren’t able to click good photos as the light is often over exposed. But if you look at the photo I shot on the P20 Pro, it has retained all details, and colors, even though it was low light.

Below are other photos that I clicked in low-light and they look bright, sharp and detailed too.

Portrait mode

This is one feature that you will now find on almost all dual camera and selfie-centric smartphones, and the P20 Pro has it too. The rear camera portrait looks lively, skin tones look natural, and the background blur is also very good. I will be comparing it with the Pixel, Galaxy S9 and iPhone X over the course of time to see how it fares against the competition.

Selfies look good too, and the portrait selfie is also decent enough. It is using AI to distinguish between the background and foreground to add the bokeh effects. There is also 3D mode that lets you add studio-like, but artificial lighting to your photos. It is similar to what you get on iPhone X, and the quality looks decent too.

The effect is not perfect as you would expect, it is a cool software trick to enhance your photos. Also, unlike iPhone, Huawei also lets you adjust these effects after the photos are taken. For instance, you can move the 3D lighting to fall on your face from different angles, and you can also increase or decrease the intensity. It does not do it that well, but software updates can fix it to a good extent.

Initial impressions

It’s been a few days since I’ve started using the Huawei P20 Pro and have extensively used the camera in Paris. Now whether or not the triple camera is a gimmick is something I can answer after I review it, but so far it looks like it can give a tough fight to the iPhone X, Galaxy S9 and other flagship smartphones. The smartphone will soon be launching in India sometime in April, and we will bring out our detailed review soon. Till then, stay tuned.

  • Published Date: March 29, 2018 5:23 PM IST

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