The ability to shoot star constellations with ease, with an 83x zoom range and over 200,000 ISO? With photo feats like these, you might be thinking I'm talking about the next serious enthusiast camera system. Nope! Say bonjour to Huawei's P30 Pro smartphone, which was introduced at a launch event in Paris.
The last few Huawei smartphones have sported the red Leica logo, a working partner pouring more than 100 years of picture quality knowledge in the tiny confines of thin mobile devices. Key Leica and Huawei experts sat down for an interview in Paris after the much-awaited launch of the P30 and P30 Pro phones, the latter of which comes armed with a ton of AI features, four rear lenses, and new photography tricks.
The "West meets Orient" duet didn't happen accidentally. It was after disappointing encounters between the famous German camera maker and phone makers who were looking for a quick marketing gimmick.
Two men chat in a Parisian Cafe. Photo take at 83mm equiv ISO 50 585th f1.6
Parisian street music. Taken at 270mm equiv tele f3.4 ISO 50 145th sec
"Five to six years ago, we first decided to design and manufacture our own phone, but that was not a good idea at all," admits Marius Eschweiler, Leica's Global Director for Business Development. "We started looking for partnerships to contribute our photography knowledge. We had discussions with a couple of phone manufacturers, but they were only interested in a license for brand, to put that dot on it and shut up."
In the first meeting between Leica and Huawei in 2014, the companies realized that they had common goals: improving photography, and creating a better customer experience.
"There was a fairly unknown company called Huawei who we sensed was going into technology in new ways with the P9, one of the first dual cameras in the world, trying to break out of the box," says Eschweiler. "This was something we could share some value with." The first dual camera product was launched in 2016.
This photo was taken from a car at -267mm equiv to 35 mm focal length film ISO 160 550th sec f3.4
Steve was able to catch this photo of a couple out on their bicycles from a moving car, at ISO 50 10th sec f1.6
"We had the same vision wishing to bring premium quality product to consumers," adds Li Changzhu, Vice President of Handsets Product Line for Huawei Consumer Business Group (BG). "We both wanted better pictures on the Internet taken with smartphones. Leica is a big name, having celebrated 100 years. And they have profound knowledge and expertise on how to produce the best image quality."
Subsequent Huawei/Leica multicamera phones incorporated giant leaps in quality photography to satisfy mobile enthusiasts. The P30 family of phones, which launched last month, did not disappoint. They shot more megapixels, better pictures in the dark, and zoomed in from farther away.
How? Pan Chaoyue, Phone Camera & Image Quality Expert with Huawei, says smartphones have the smallest pixels, so new tricks were required, like switching the main 40-year-old standard RGB sensor to RYYB to bring in more light with yellow sensors. "We also opened up the aperture to f1.6 for more light," he adds, "and have a 2μm (micrometer sensor) pixel, the largest pixel in a smartphone you have ever seen."
Notre Dame; taken at 39mm equiv f1.6 4630 th sec ISO 50
Both cameras can shoot amazingly clear and noise free photos beyond nearby dark scenes. Breathtaking star constellation photos use the same technique of pricey interchangeable lens cameras with post processing in Photoshop.
"We combine many images and parts of each in post processing to improve picture quality," explains Eschweiler. "This involves different exposures and HDR technologies, and all this is done in high speeds. Like processing multi frame techniques in Photoshop, we can do all in an instant image in a smartphone."
Paris Eifel Tower reflected at ISO 400 f1.6 30th sec handheld
To achieve the P30 Pro's impressive zoom range from 16mm to 1343mm required "out of the box" ideas to fit a long lens in a tight space. Thus, the periscope, a 125mm lens mounted sideways with a prism, which is combined with AI and the second normal lens, can shoot 5x optical and nearly perfect 10x zoom photos. The zoom continues to 50x with noticeable loss of quality, depending on the subject content to 1343mm super telephoto. "There were a bunch of challenges we worked on for more than one year," says Eschweiler. "One of the problems was the stability of the whole system. If you drop the phone, it still has to work exactly as it did before."
P30 Pro 20x zoom 541mm equiv to 35mm focal length captures a fireball sunset film
Officials point out that despite the eye-popping photography feats of the P30, it is not meant to compete with professional system cameras with much larger sensors and dedicated interchangeable lenses. "If you compare this phone with other phones," he adds, however, "you will see it makes a difference."
Dr. Florian Weiler, Project Manager of Optical Design at Leica, succinctly notes the difference between camera phones and professional system cameras. "Camera phones are like music synthesizers," he says, "easily creating music for anyone. Professional system cameras are like a Stradivarius violin that only trained musicians can play. If I played a Stradivarius," he jokes, "you would quickly leave the room."
Paris for dreamers: 16mm equiv ISO 640 f2.2 25th sec
Steve Makris is a consumer technology writer that can be followed on www.techuntangled.ca
Photo at top: Every Parisian street oozes history. Taken at 16mm equiv f2.2 20th sec ISO 1250
All photos by Steve Makris