The P20 Pro comes with Leica-branded triple cameras at the back.
You get a 40-megapixel primary camera, a 20-megapixel monochrome sensor and 8-megapixel telephoto lens.
The camera supports 3X optical zoom, 5X hybrid zoom and 960fps slow motion video recording capabilities.
Smartphone photography is something that is becoming a new hobby for many. And why not? Even a sub Rs 10,000 device also comes with a good camera these days. When it comes to flagship smartphones, you have the likes of the iPhone X, Galaxy S9 Plus and the Pixel 2 XL featuring cameras that perform better than the point-and-shoots. Huawei surprised everyone with the P9 that featured a Leica-branded dual-camera setup, and with the Mate 10, the company introduced artificial intelligence to enhance photography. Now, with the new P20 Pro, Huawei has introduced a triple-camera setup co-engineered with Leica.
I have already talked about the triple-camera setup, what it is and how it works. Now, after using the Huawei P20 Pro for the last couple of weeks and clicking a number of photos in difference lighting conditions, it’s time to talk about the camera performance. As a part of my job, I keep switching smartphones every week, and when I meet my friends they are excited to see what’s new. When I recently met my friends and showed them the Rs 64,999 P20 Pro, the reaction was ‘wow’ followed by a question – does the triple-camera setup really as good as it sounds, or is it just another gimmick? I’m sure you may have the same question, so let me go ahead and answer that for you.
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Huawei P20 Pro cameras
Out of the three cameras, the one in the center is a high-resolution 40-megapixel sensor with aperture f/1.8, and pixel size of 1.55micron. The pixel size is larger than the Galaxy S9’s dual-aperture camera that comes with a sensor size of 1.4micron. This is the camera that is generally used when clicking photos and videos. It also lets you record 4K videos, and super slow-motion videos at 960fps in HD (720p) resolution.
The second camera at the top is an 8-megapixel sensor of aperture f/2.4 with a telephoto lens. It enables you to add DSLR-like background blur (portrait mode) to your photos, and also enables up to 3X optical lossless zoom, and 5X hybrid zoom. And the last one, at the bottom, is a 20-megapixel monochrome sensor with aperture f/1.6 to help you capture true high-resolution black and white photos and also assist with low-light photography.
By default, the smartphone clicks photos in 4:3 aspect ratio at 40-megapixels, but if you want to click photos in the 16:9 aspect ratio, you can reduce the resolution to 10 megapixels in the settings. For 18:9 photos, you can further reduce the resolution to 7 megapixels. The cameras are backed by a dual-tone LED flash to help you capture better photos in low-light.
Up front, you have a 24-megapixel camera of aperture f/2.4 for clicking selfies and for video calling. The camera is backed with sensors along with AI-based implementation that lets you add bokeh effects to your selfies, and also enables iPhone X-like 3D Portrait lighting where you can add studio-quality lighting effects to your selfies.
Specifications aside, do you really need three cameras? Well, some may say it is overkill, but I personally feel it is a clever implementation. The Huawei P9 and Mate 10 featured dual-camera setups – a setup that includes an RGB and a monochrome sensor to click better low-light photos with low noise. But competitors such as Apple and Samsung among others are using a combination of a wide-angle and a telephoto lens to add zoom and bokeh effects functionality.
With a dual-camera setup, you can have either of the two functionalities, and adding a third camera solves the issue. The cameras work together to help you capture sharp photos, whereas the AI can recognize the scene to automatically adjust the color balance of your photos.
Let’s talk about the AI implementations
Artificial Intelligence or AI is the buzz word today, and companies have been implementing it in messaging apps, software and almost everywhere. Huawei, has added AI in the camera software along with Machine Learning to detect over 500 scenarios in 19 categories to automatically change the shooting mode to help you capture photos with better colors, contrast, and sharpness.
With Master AI turned on in camera settings, you just need to point the camera at the subject and it will automatically detect the subject. When you point at an animal, it can detect if it is a cat or a dog, it can detect food, blue sky or text as well.
That’s not all; the three camera modules come with optical image stabilization (OIS), and AIS (artificial intelligence-based stabilization) which Huawei claims can predict the hand movements and let you capture blur-free long exposure shots, even without using a tripod. Well, enough of AI and specs talk, let’s go ahead and take a quick look at the triple-camera setup at work.
Huawei P20 Pro: AI mode camera samples
Photos shot in day-light using the Huawei P20 Pro appear sharp and detailed. Below are two shots captured in 40-megapixel resolution – one with Master AI turned on, and other with it turned off. When the AI scene detection is turned on, it did detect the blue sky and slightly pumped the blue color in the photo, while also adding vignette effect, on the whole making the photo look a little more vivid.
Next, I clicked a couple of photos of fennel seeds in low-light at a restaurant, both with and without the AI mode. In normal mode, the camera captured the photo with good amount of details, and natural looking colors. But with AI turned on, the colors look a little punchy, and it adds radial tilt shift effect with focus on the object, while keeping the rest blur.
Now, the question is, does it work well? Let me give an example. A lot of us share our photos on Instagram and other social channels. I generally upload the photos as they are, but I know a lot of friends who tune the photos in apps like Snapseed and then upload. The Master AI does that part for you, so I would say it is making things easier for you.
Huawei P20 Pro 3x, 5x zoom
Daylight photos shot on the P20 Pro look good, and even with 100 percent crop, the details are clearly visible. Look at the photos below.
40-megapixel sample with 100 percent crop
Now, that was just about cropping photos using tools like Photoshop, but the smartphone also supports 3X optical zoom in lossless quality, and 5X hybrid zoom, which uses basically crops the photos, and uses AI to sharpen them.
Camera sample with 3X Optical Zoom
Camera sample with 5X Hybrid Zoom
As you can see in the above samples of P20 Pro’s zoom capabilities, the photos retain the color of building and the blue skies along with all details.
Huawei P20 Pro low-light camera samples
Huawei is also highlighting the low-light capabilities of the P20 Pro and I must agree, the smartphone camera is not afraid of the dark. The sensor captures beautiful photos, with almost negligible amount of grain. Below are some low-light photos I shot in Paris and in Mumbai. I have also included one true monochrome photo, which looks sharp and detailed without any visible noise.
I also tested the ‘Night’ mode on the P20 Pro which captures a burst of images in for 4 seconds at different exposure levels, and then superimposes them into one photo, that is bright and detailed.
As you can see in the photo without ‘Night’ mode, the galleries on the first floor, the shop’s name (Cyclone and the Samsung showroom) are all dark, whereas in the other photo with the mode turned on, everything is bright and clearly visible.
Huawei P20 Pro Portrait mode
This is a popular feature on most dual-camera smartphones. The rear camera captures some good portrait shots with natural looking skin tones, and good background blur. However, the same cannot be said about the front camera. No, there is no issue with the details or background blur, but even without beauty mode turned all the way down to zero, the skin appears to be little fair most of the time. And this is something that we have seen on most Chinese smartphones, such as the ones from Oppo and Vivo too.
The camera also lets you capture photos with 3D lighting where the light falls on your face from different angles, and the settings also allow you to increase or decrease the intensity. Below are some photos show in different lighting modes. They look artificial, but not that bad.
In the past one year, I’ve reviewed some good phones, such as the Galaxy S8, Galaxy Note 8 and HTC U11, to name a few. I had even compared the cameras on the iPhone X and Pixel 2 XL cameras with other smartphones, and clearly, the P20 Pro camera has left me impressed. The triple-camera setup does help you capture amazing photos be it in daylight or low-light.
So, is the three-camera system a gimmick? No, it is there to help you capture better photos in different scenarios that you may come across. I personally like the Night mode for low-light shots and the zoom capabilities of the smartphone, which lets you get closer to the subject, without pixelating.
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Clearly, the cameras on the Rs 64,999 P20 Pro are up to the mark and I’ll give it a thumbs up. But, is the camera quality ahead of the competition? The photos look good, but we will be comparing the P20 Pro camera with other flagships out there before passing our verdict, so stay tuned for that, and of course, for our full review which we will publish very soon.