Now that the Huawei P30 Pro and P30 are officially here, it remains to be seen just how it will perform in Canada, in a market not used to giving first billing to a Chinese phone. Compared to a couple of years ago, however, many more Canadian consumers are aware of the Huawei brand, not just for its cutting-edge phones and from its advertising blitz, but the even higher-level political intrigue of the company's questioned security in the ongoing worldwide 5G network rollout. And then there's the little matter of the founder's daughter being detained in Canada, awaiting possible extradition to the U.S.
Politics aside, just how good is the camera in the new P30 Pro smartphone? I've had it now for just under a month, shooting relentlessly. The cheaper P30 lacks some over-the-top features, like the Pro's signature "periscope" telephoto lens. So I'm going to stick with evaluating the P30 Pro in this article, since its sights are on rivaling the iPhone and Samsung flagship phones in photographic prowess.
I refuse to go into the slight colour hue differences between camera phone pics. I will get a huge range of colours on a day's shoot using any phone. What matters more is the camera hardware and AI.
Here's my take on the P30 Pro's camera compared to the flagship Samsung S10 and iPhone XS and XS Max.
Count them, four. We know Huawei and partner Leica combine great optics with innovative design. AI plays big here grabbing the best of photo frames taken from more than one camera at a time. And that's not counting the 16mm equivalent super wide-angle lens, which, when combined with 50x zoom from other lenses, makes for an astounding 84x zoom that you'd typically only find in dedicated pocket digital cameras (that don't truly fit in any pockets.)
The Huawei P30 Pro periscope technology uses a prism to divert light inside the phone width for its powerful 50x zoom lens.
Huawei's secret recipe for getting away with such a huge zoom range is carefully producing challenging images to look good from a distance, especially its mid-range. The silver lining is impressive performance when shooting on the run, with impossible light, and from moving cars.
Let's put it this way: you will miss fewer good pictures with this camera phone than any other. From extreme wide angle to extreme telephoto, the P30 Pro, on paper, shoots near and afar. But Huawei and Leica admit the camera phone should not be compared to the much bulkier and pricier cameras and lenses, easily costing several thousand each.
Tough shots like a landing at dusk are easy with the Huawei P30 Pro.
The P30 Pro's 40MP photo sensor is 125% larger than the Samsung 10+ and iPhone XS. It's even larger than pocket digital cameras and the "pro size" 2μm (micrometer sensor) pixel produces amazing images. But Huawei does not see the P30 Pro as being ready for the big leagues.
The P30 Pro and P30 40MP sensors are considerably larger than the iPhone XS and Samsung S10+ for better quality photos.
But, says Marius Eschweiler, Leica's Global Director for Business Development, "if you compare this phone with other phones, you will see it makes a difference."
Agreed. And yes, I would buy one and carry it in place of my "real" digital cameras on most trips. That's because the majority of my pictures are posted online in socials and blogs. And I can squeeze every ounce of camera phone pixels from any camera phone.
Telephoto photography on the P30 Pro allows for more interesting composition from far away.
Here is a closer look at how the P30 Pro's cameras work together seamlessly during various parts of the zoom range, including where the camera phone beats competitors and where it doesn't.
The Hard-Working Rear Cameras
The 20MP f2.2 16mm equiv. 20 MP Ultra Wide Angle Lens can be zoomed to a narrower angle keeping the same generous file size. Winner! The Samsung S10+ has an even wider 13mm 16MP lens. Between the Samsung being wider but smaller and the Huawei being narrower and larger, the P30 Pro is slightly ahead in terms of quality and a more manageable wide angle. Sadly, the iPhone XS and Max do not have a super wide angle.
The P30 Pro can focus like a real macro lens as close as 2.5cm away.
At 27mm the second 10MP f1.6 camera has up to 5X optical zoom with excellent night time photography. Think constellations. It's a winner over competitors but at the cost of a small quality loss at 10MP compared to the 12MP Samsung S10+ and iPhone XS better quality images albeit with at best, only 2x optical zoom. You can enlarge a 10MP photo three mouse clicks in Photoshop compared to the four mouse clicks in a 12MP photo before you notice pixels showing onscreen.
Zooming past 5x switches to hybrid mode to almost indistinguishable 10MP 10x zoom optical quality, distancing the P30 Pro even more from the pack. Winner! The S10+ and iPhone XS allow to zoom past their 2x to 10x, but sorry, no contest. This is Huawei's bigger hammer in the industry.
Shooting sharp telephoto pictures inside a birthday party with P30 Pro.
Zooming past 10x to 50x gradually decreases quality and increases bragging rights. Depending on the subject texture, lighting, and colour (traditionally handled by pros in Photoshop post processing tricks) Huawei uses its own tricks to salvage the best blown up images. This falls under the "a poor quality photo is better than no photo category." I tweaked some of those 50X images on Photoshop to my liking.
The fourth ToF (Time of Flight) rear camera plays a role in the entire zoom range, helping out in special effects even sooner to figure out the volume of objects you shoot.
Selfie cameras deserve the most attention. Personally, I like to keep my face large in the frame, with every skin pore visible, carefully composing my visage against a sharp background. Note to all camera phone makers: let me choose soft when and if I want it.
A Huawei P30 Pro selfie is wide enough for a variety of compositions.
I found the P30 Pro the most challenging of the lot for keeping the selfie background in focus. Having a fast f2 aperture doesn't help. Despite the single front lens, the P30 Pro manages decent Bokeh, but not as good as its rear camera, isolating every sharp hair follicle from a soft background. The Samsung S10+ dual front lenses and iPhone XS' effective Intelligent A12 Bionic do a better job on selfie Bokeh effect.
The iPhone 10 Xs has the highest Bokeh setting for dramatic selfie portraits.
My personal favourite selfie camera phones are the Google Pixel 3 for its excellent AI super wide zoom and effects, and the LG G7 ThinQ. Both are only 8MP, but sharp as a tack and offering total focus.
The Samsung S10+ shoots the best most detailed selfies.
The Huawei P30 Pro is right up there with traditional flagships phones when it comes to photo-taking. If you frequently shoot long views in your hiking, cruising or birdwatching travels, the P30 Pro is a great choice, despite some minor flaws. If you keep close to the world around you, the Samsung S10+ will cover super wide to medium telephoto. If you are a current iPhone owner, and you rightly love the gated ecosystem Apple so wonderfully nurtured with its fans, you can enjoy great photos with the XS, substituting using Panorama mode to emulate a super wide angle lens.
The Huawei P30 Pro, top and the Samsung S10+ share the most features for super wide to telephoto photography.
A Word on Benchmarks
Huawei used a www.dxomark.com review in its overall benchmark scores, scoring slightly better than the competition. I ran 3DMark on the above phones and PCMark between the P30 Pro and Samsung S10+ and found no clear winner between these phones. Huawei had its wrists slapped in the past for not clearly stating that it uses internal accelerated modes in benchmarking. Although the P30 Pro has an optional "performance mode" in its battery settings, which I used, it still didn't walk over the other phones. It pretty much stayed in the middle of the pack.
In responsiveness tests, shooting a digital stop watch every second in normal camera mode, the P30 Pro was the most consistent at predictably capturing the onscreen numbers, followed by the iPhone XS and Samsung S10+.
Handheld extreme 84x zoom photography indoors with the P30 Pro.
But one real world application I used in all three phones, Adobe Premiere Clip movie maker for mobiles, surprised me. The same prepared project produced a 1,080P 10-minute-long video mixed with stills and transitions. The winner? The iPhone XS blasted it out of the ballpark in 49 seconds followed by the Samsung at 2:32 minutes and the P30 Pro at 03:29. I can only surmise that the app was initially written for the iPhone OS, subsequently followed by an Android release.
Which goes to prove that how you use your phone and the features that count to you matters more than how companies toss benchmarking numbers around. Practice, practice, practice for that perfect photo.
Steve has been a professional photographer for more than a half-century. He fondly remembers using flash bulbs in large format cameras, being one of the key players in bringing digital photography to Canadian newspapers, and jumping on the mobile photography scene with open arms. He can be followed at www.techuntangled.ca.