Huawei's new P30 Pro has ground-breaking Leica Quad Camera system, superb low-light performance

Huawei's new P-series smartphones deliver superb low-light, optical zoom and ultra-wide angle camera performance.

huawei-p30-event-prices.png

Huawei's Consumer Business Group CEO Richard Yu unveils the P30 and P30 Pro in Paris.

Image: Huawei

As it did in 2018, Huawei skipped over February's Mobile World Congress (MWC) for the launch of its new camera-focused P-series smartphones in favour of a separate event the following month in Paris.

While last year's top-of-the-range P20 Pro offered a triple-lens Leica-branded rear camera system (40MP RGB, 20MP mono, 8MP telephoto), 2019's flagship P30 Pro goes even further with a 'quad camera' system featuring superb low-light performance, an ultra-wide-angle (UWA) lens, a 5x optical-zoom 'periscope' lens and a Time of Flight (ToF) depth-sensing camera.

Huawei ranks third in IDC's Q4 2018 figures with 60.5 million phones shipped worldwide for a 16.1 percent share of the market. Whereas top-ranked Samsung and second-placed Apple both saw shipment volumes decline in Q4 (by 5.5% and 11.5% respectively), Huawei's year-on-year growth was an impressive 43.9 percent – especially impressive performance as the company does not officially operate in the US (you can buy unlocked Huawei phones, but they're not available from any US carrier).

Huawei sold 200 million smartphones globally in 2018, of which 16m (8%) were P20-series devices. A year after its launch, Huawei P20 Pro remained at the top of the influential DXOmark smartphone camera rankings with an overall score of 109 (114 for photo, 98 for video).

That's quite an act to follow, but Huawei's claim for the P30 Pro isn't just incremental improvement – instead, it will "rewrite the rules of photography."

The flagship P30 Pro's SuperSensing Leica Quad Camera system centres around a 40MP sensor and an f/1.6 lens with optical image stabilisation (OIS). The new sensor replaces the green in a traditional RGGB (25% red, 50% green, 25% blue) colour filter with yellow, in pursuit of better low-light performance. This seemingly simple change requires many changes in the hardware and software stack to reconstruct greens, but the new RYYB sensor delivers "almost night-sight" sensitivity up to a remarkable ISO 409600 compared to ISO 102400 for the P20 Pro, says Huawei.

Here's an example of what the P30 Pro can do in a dark room, compared to the same scene 'photographed' by a Samsung Galaxy Note 8, which captures just the faintest smudge:

p30-pro-darkroom-v-note-8.jpg

Images: Charles McLellan/ZDNet

Handheld Night Mode is enabled by Huawei's AIS (AI Image Stabilisation), which helps to generate sharp images from several-second exposure times without the need for a tripod. AIS also comes into play in long-exposure daylight shots (of running water, for example) and in portrait images. New to the P30 series is AI HDR+, which 'understands' the exposure and light settings in a shot, decomposing the image and adding the right levels of HDR (High Dynamic Range) effects in the right places.

Replacing the P20 Pro's 20MP mono camera is a 20MP colour camera with an f/2.2 UWA lens supporting a 120-degree field of view. For detailed shots, the P30 Pro supports macro images down to 2.5cm from the subject.

The P30 Pro's 8MP sensor is fronted by a f/3.4 'periscope' lens with 5x optical zoom and OIS. The periscope 'lens' looks square because it's actually a prism that rotates incoming light by 90 degrees into a 5x zoom lens array. The P30 Pro can deliver 10x lossless 'hybrid' zoom by combining information from all sensors, optical zoom, software and AI, and up to a remarkable 50x using digital zoom.

Here's an example of 10x hybrid zoom:

p30-pro-1x-to-10x-zoom.jpg

Image: Charles McLellan/ZDNet

The fourth camera on the P30 Pro is a Time of Flight (ToF) unit that uses the round-trip time of reflected light to gather depth information about a scene. This enables improved bokeh effects, with the far background more blurred than near background and the subject in sharp focus, and improves any AR (augmented reality) experience.

SEE: IT pro's guide to the evolution and impact of 5G technology (free PDF)

At the Paris launch, Huawei's consumer boss Richard Yu revealed that the P30 Pro had received a DXOmark score of 112 (119 for photo, 97 for video), making it the new number-one, ahead of its predecessor (and the Huawei Mate 20 Pro).

The quad camera system is only present on the flagship P30 Pro, as the P30 lacks the ToF camera, and has less stellar (but still impressive) low-light and zoom performance. Here's a comparison of the key specifications for the P30 Pro and the P30:

Huawei P30 Pro

Huawei P30

Display

6.47 inches, OLED, 2,340 x 1,080, DCI-P3, 19.5:9, 398ppi

6.1 inches, OLED, 2,340 x 1,080, DCI-P3, 19.5:9, 422ppi

Dimensions

158mm x 73.4mm x 8.41mm

149.1mm x 71.36mm x 7.57mm

Screen/body ratio

88.52%

85.8%

Weight

192g

165g

IP rating

IP68

IP53

Colours

Pearl White, Breathing Crystal, Black, Amber Sunrise, Aurora

Breathing Crystal, Black, Aurora

OS / UI overlay

Android 9 Pie / EMUI 9.1

Android 9 Pie / EMUI 9.1

Chipset

HiSilicon Kirin 980

HiSilicon Kirin 980

RAM

8GB

6GB

Internal storage

128GB / 256GB / 512GB

128GB

External storage

NM (Nano Memory) Card (up to 256GB, in 2nd SIM slot)

NM (Nano Memory) Card (up to 256GB, in 2nd SIM slot)

Rear cameras

Leica Quad Camera: 40MP, f/1.6, OIS, ISO 409600 / 20MP, f/2.2, UWA / 8MP, f/3.4, periscope 5x optical/10x hybrid/50x digital zoom, OIS / ToF 3D

Leica Triple Camera: 40MP, f/1.8, OIS, ISO 204800 / 16MP, f/2.2, UWA / 8MP, f/2.4, 3x optical/5x hybrid/30x digital zoom

Front camera

32MP with AI HDR+

32MP with AI HDR+

Speakers

mono

mono

3.5mm audio jack

no

yes

USB-C

yes

yes

Wi-fi

802.11 a/b/g/n/ac (wave2)

802.11 a/b/g/n/ac (wave2)

Bluetooth

Bluetooth 5.0, BLE, SBC, AAC, aptX, aptX HD, LDAC and HWA Audio Type-C

Bluetooth 5.0, BLE, SBC, AAC, aptX, aptX HD, LDAC and HWA Audio Type-C

Mobile network

4G LTE

4G LTE

GPS

GPS (L1 + L5 Dual Band) / AGPS / Glonass / BeiDou / Galileo (E1 + E5a Dual Band) / QZSS (L1 + L5 Dual Band)

GPS (L1 + L5 Dual Band) / AGPS / Glonass / BeiDou / Galileo (E1 + E5a Dual Band) / QZSS (L1 + L5 Dual Band)

NFC

yes

yes

Infrared

yes

no

FM radio

no

no

Fingerprint reader

in-screen

in-screen

Battery

4,200mAh / 11.1h under 'heavy user profile'

3,650mAh / 10h under 'heavy user profile'

Fast charging

40W (0-70% in 30 minutes)

Huawei SuperCharge

Wireless charging

15W, with reverse wireless charging support

no

Price

€999 (8GB/128GB), €1,099 (8GB/256GB), €1,249 (8GB/512GB)

€799 (6GB/128GB)

Pricing for the P30 Pro starts at €999 (with 8GB of RAM and 128GB of internal storage), while the P30 costs €799 with 6GB of RAM and 128GB of storage. Both phones are available from today. Huawei also announced FreeLace earphones, FreeBuds Lite wireless earbuds, new colours and variants of the Huawei Watch GT, a SuperCharge Power Bank and, in partnership with Gentle Monster, a pair of smart glasses.

Huawei didn't launch a 5G phone today – for that, you'll have to wait until the summer, when the company releases the folding 6.6-to-8-inch Mate X (€2,299 for 8GB RAM/512GB) which was revealed at MWC.

Disclosure: ZDNet earns commissions from some of the products featured on this page.