Huawei P20 Pro camera experience: Better than an iPhone in more ways than just sales

Last week it was reported that Huawei surpassed Apple in smartphone sales, which reminded me to post this article on how the P20 Pro also beats the iPhone X in digital camera experiences.

Video: Huawei shipped more smartphones than Apple in Q2 2018

Fans enjoy the Apple iPhone experience because it is quick and simple while turning out solid results. Huawei's P20 Pro uses AI and auto modes to offer a similar simple experience, but if you spend a bit more time with the camera your window into the world is unlimited.

Also: Huawei P20 Pro review: Three rear cameras, and a lot more

Up until a month ago, when I was going out and about with a limitation of carrying only a single phone (one of the pleasures of being a smartphone reviewer) I would always grab the Apple iPhone X. Today, the Huawei P20 Pro fills that role due in large part to the camera performance. In addition, the RF strength is one of the best I've ever experienced, the battery lasts forever, and I've been enjoying the Android experience more lately.

ZDNet's Jason Ciprian took a recent trip to Germany and shared his P20 Pro camera experiences, detailing the close relationship between Leica and Huawei.

Three lenses on the back

The Huawei P20 Pro is one of the first smartphones we have seen with three distance camera lenses on the back. The top one is an 8 megapixel telephoto lens, the middle one is a 40 megapixel RGB lens, and the bottom one (set apart by itself) is a 20 megapixel mono lens. The only lens experience missing, and one that LG continue to make distinctive on its flagship devices, is a wide-angle variant. Maybe we'll soon see a Huawei device with four rear cameras to include this capability too.

Most telephoto lenses on smartphone offer 2x optical zoom, but the P20 Pro's supports 3x optical. Hybrid zoom up to 5x is available through an intelligent, automatic balancing of the lenses by Huawei.

The 40 megapixel RGB lens functions similarly to the old Nokia 41 megapixel cameras found on the 808 PureView and Lumia 1020. Huawei labels its technology Light Fusion and combines four pixels into a single large pixel, called pixel binning, in order to capture more light and minimize loss in quality. Thus, you won't actually get a massive file when shooting with this camera, so don't worry about burning through your internal storage.

While the zoom capability and typical photographic experiences are excellent, I believe that great smartphone photography has more to do with the photographer than the phone. Huawei definitely helps you improve your techniques and does all it can to aid your prowess, but other phones can get similar results with some effort too.

Also: Huawei P20 Pro review: The new low-light photo champ CNET

The real differentiator with these three lenses is the low light photography experience. With this mode enabled, the camera takes multiple exposures over a four-second period and then combines these into one still image. Huawei has also been demonstrating, and encouraging, the use of night mode during the daytime with outdoor sunny days as the prime example. Shutter time is reduced in this mode and it then works similarly to HDR. Give it a try and you may find you use night mode more than planned.

I've been blown away by the ability of the P20 Pro to pull in light when night mode is enabled and every single person that has experienced it during my usage has been stunned, asking me what phone I am using and wanting to know more about it.

huawei-p20-pro-cameras.png
Image: Huawei

Front 24 megapixel camera

While I'm almost 50 and don't live my daily life with selfies, when I travel I do like to capture selfies in order to share some of my travel experiences with family and friends. The P20 Pro has a 24 megapixel front shooter that has proven to deliver some great shots.

Similar to the iPhone, the front-facing camera can be used to take portrait photos with soft lighting, butterfly lighting, split lighting, stage lighting, and classic lighting. You can also choose to toggle on artist bokeh effects with beauty levels also available.Artificial intelligence

Huawei Kirin processors support a neural processing unit (NPU) with artificial intelligence baked into the hardware. By default, Master AI mode is enabled in the settings. This results in the phone attempting to identify your subject in 19 different categories and then adjusting the lighting and settings to match that category. Categories include cat, dog, food, portrait, night shot, blue sky, flowers, beach, and more. For the most part, I leave Master AI enabled. However, I do find that landscapes tend to get a bit too color saturated for my tastes so I jump into the settings and toggle it off when hiking and at the beach.

Also: Huawei P20 smartphone: A cheat sheet TechRepublic

Artificial intelligence is also used to help train you a bit when you are in Pro (manual) mode by offering on-screen intelligent layout suggestions.

The top 8 megapixel telephoto lens has optical image stabilization. Huawei uses AI image stabilization for its photography so it intelligently provides optical and digital stabilization when it is needed. After a few months of use, the only time I have I needed a tripod was when trying to shoot silky water shots. Otherwise, the AI stabilization has worked flawlessly.

Camera app

The Huawei camera app has always provided an exensive amount of options and capability. The P20 Pro camera app is improved with an easier swipe to switch between common modes so that those looking for a simpler iPhone-like experience can do so as well. You can swipe between aperture, night, portrait, photo, video, Pro, and more options. More brings you to another display with icons for monochrome, time-lapse, slow-mo, light painting, panorama, HDR, filter, 3D panorama, and document scan modes. As you can see, there is a ton of functionality in the Huawei P20 Pro.

Huawei users may recall that Huawei offered portrait mode capability long before Apple made it popular through the use of its aperture mode. This mode lets you control the width of the aperture and change the focal point of your picture. The great thing about using the aperture mode is that you can just shoot the image and then make adjustments later or even make multiple copies with different aperture settings all from the same single image you captured. It's a mode that doesn't get discussed much, but can be a lot of fun and help you create some creative images.

Portrait images can be captured by the front or rear camera with the rear camera even support 3x optical zoom in this mode.

Also: Huawei faces UK security backlash over legacy US software

Moving pictures can be captured, standard/vivid/smooth color options are available, 960 fps super slow motion video can be captured, and so much more. Resolution options are available in the settings, along with watermarks, location data, gridlines, audio control, touch to capture, predictive focus, and more.

You can check out full resolution images I have captured over the past couple of months using the Huawei P20 Pro in this Flickr album.

While the Huawei P20 Pro lives at the top of my 10 best smartphones ranking (as of 6 August 2018), there are some devices coming soon that will challenge it for this top spot. If you just look at the camera experience though, it may take a Huawei successor to knock it off that pedestal.

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