Huawei P30 Pro Camera Quality Review: Proof that Huawei’s ban will hurt innovation
The human quest for recording memories is thousands of years old. In contrast, the concept of having more than one camera on a smartphone is relatively infant. But if we stretch this timeline targeting the last decade or so, we’ve seen a lot of development in this niche. In the brief history of dual camera smartphones, early pioneers such as HTC and LG sidelined performance of the smartphone to devise something that would make their devices stand out, and this resulted in devices with a poor overall experience. A few years later, companies like Huawei and LG started experimenting with more practical applications of the dual camera, but it was Apple’s entry into the arena with the iPhone 7 Plus that opened the floodgates. Since then, many manufacturers alighted from the boat driven by the momentum of the extensive coverage given to the iPhone.
Dual cameras are now commonplace, but we’re now at a stage where three cameras will soon be normalized, especially since Apple might be hopping on this bandwagon. Meanwhile, Huawei, which always appears willing to cock a snook at Apple, is already keeping ahead with its four camera array and a periscope zoom setup on its most recent gem – the Huawei P30 Pro, which has kept me hooked.
I have been using the Huawei P30 Pro for a few months, and during this period I’ve used it extensively to take some stunning images while mostly staying in my comfort zone, primarily because the superb optical zoom brings everything much closer. It is awe-inspiring to see how Huawei has pioneered in uniting impeccable technology with the art of seizing moments into pictures. All this while, there is one question that I’ve constantly battled – where do you draw the line between a flagship and an affordable flagship? The answer, perhaps, lies in the incredible zoom capabilities of the Huawei Mate 30 Pro, which I talked at lengths in my initial impressions of the smartphone. Now, after a month-long fling with the Huawei P30 Pro, I have come to form my grounds for liking the phone for most occasions while snapping pictures.
There is a lot to love about the Huawei P30 Pro along with certain setbacks also covered in the following segments. Besides that, there’s an urge to know how the smartphone fares among its competitors, especially the darling Pixel 3, which has won many hearts due to its (pleasantly) surprising night photography and immaculately detailed day shots, something which Google has bestowed upon the Pixel 3a as well. Whether you’re a compulsive shutterbug or someone who waits for the perfect frame and moment before pulling the camera out of your pocket, the Huawei P30 Pro should easily grab your attention. But for how long does it deserve to keep you hooked? My 2-month-long experience should hopefully give you a rough idea.
Huawei P30 Pro Camera Specifications
Because of its tall stature, the Huawei P30 Pro may come across as an intimidating device at first glance. The 3D pattern on the back along with the curved display is likely to induce more complications, especially if you’re not too amazed by big phones. The icons in EMUI 9.1, bigger and now more spaced out than on EMUI 9, may take some time to adapt to. But after all of that is sorted, it’s safe to pay heed to the back of the smartphone and take a few good moments so that you don’t feel overwhelmed by the four cameras. Huawei isn’t the first brand to adopt a quad camera setup, but it can definitely be hailed as the first company to assign them valuable utility.
For primary shots, the Huawei P30 Pro uses a 1.17″ 40MP sensor, which is the same effective sensor size as its earlier flagships like the P20 Pro and the Mate 20 Pro. However, the lens co-designed with Leica and coupled with this sensor on the P30 Pro has a larger aperture of f/1.6. Huawei increased the aperture from f/1.8 on the P20 Pro to f/1.7 on the Mate 20 Pro, and this results in better sensitivity to light. Huawei has chosen an RYYB sensor instead of a conventional RGGB sensor for the Huawei P30 Pro since replacing the green filters with yellow ones on the sensor allows the Huawei P30 Pro’s primary sensor to admit as much as 40% more light. This, in turn, gives the algorithms more details to analyze and fiddle with to master the image better.
Furthermore, the 40MP images taken with the sensor are scaled down to 10MP via pixel binning for additional light. (Although you can also shoot 40MP images, the 10MP mode is selected by default.) As a result, the primary module on the smartphone can easily capture much more light than any of its competitors, making it especially great for photography in low light. The company says that this sensor has a wider ISO range than even DSLR cameras, going from 50 to 409600 (there are a few like the Sony A7SIII which do feature such a high ISO value). This premise should totally appeal to camera geeks even though you’re really unlikely to push the ISO to that extent. Of course, fiddling with the feature does not cause any harm, and it can actually be useful if you know the photography trade. At an ISO value of 409600, you can capture slight details even in pitch dark scenarios, though with a predictable amount of noise. You would also need a steady hand, preferably a tripod to master the image. But then again, planting these abilities on a smartphone camera still makes one appreciate the marvels of smartphone innovation.
Speaking of its marvels, the Huawei P30 Pro hosts another in the form of its periscope setup which allows for 5X optical zoom and up to 50X zoom in aggregate. Facilitating 5X zoom typically requires a longer focal length, which is why Huawei is using a right-angle prism which refracts incident light perpendicularly. So, instead of using a standard module in which light travels with the thickness of the smartphone, light travels along the width. The technology was first showcased by OPPO at MWC 2017 but Huawei beat its Chinese competitor to become the first brand to introduce it commercially. OPPO followed a month later with the OPPO Reno series, which is equally adept at zoom – though the final results may vary with a variety of different aspects. Going forward, we can expect more smartphone makers to employ this technology since Samsung has recently confirmed to have begun mass production of 5X optical zoom camera modules.
This 1/4″ sensor for zooming optically onto far off objects sports a resolution of 8MP along with a large 125mm sensor, and this is, seemingly, to compensate for the small f/3.4 aperture, which is to deal with the limitations with space inside the body. Just like the primary lens, the telephoto lens also features OIS so that a slight movement of your hand does not throw the subject out of sight (or the bounds of the viewfinder), i.e. the nerve-wracking experience we have all faced with older phones and digital zoom.
The third sensor in the array is delegated for wide-angle photography, enabling you to capture a wide expanse. With a view encompassing 107° in width, the 1.27″ 20MP sensor can cleverly capture incredible landscapes and actually make panorama shots appear trifling. Whether it’s a tall building or a handsome scenery, the wide-angle lens is capable of actually serving you fairly well. The images are actually calibrated to 0.6X magnification and I feel this flexibility of zooming in as well as out can make it feel as if you’re dealing with a rotating lens – kind of in a corny way but can be effective in swaying users who traditionally rely on cameras instead of their smartphones.
This sensor, equipped with an f/2.2 aperture lens is also capable of super macro photography and can focus on objects as close as 25mm (just short of an inch). Since both the sensor and the lens are smaller than the other two, the images are destined to struggle in terms of light. Furthermore, this lens does not have OIS, although a zoomed out view reduces the impact of any quivering that the camera may get.
In addition to these three sensors, the Huawei P30 Pro also has a Time of Flight sensor to effectively sense the distance of an object and create compelling results while capturing portrait shots. This sensor, just like on the Honor View20, can also be used to play motion-sensing games and perform a variety of AR functions – contactless length, area, or volume measure measurements, for instance – which are available to users in China, Europe, and recently in India.
The Huawei P30 Pro allows you to seamlessly switch between different sensors and use them all for photos and videos, while also letting you alternate between lenses without stopping recordings. The time limitation of 4K videos at 30fps may cause disappointment if you’re looking for an exhaustive production package on a smartphone. To make up for this shortcoming, the company has added a dual view mode to the smartphone which allows using the primary and the zoom lenses side-by-side for a split-screen video recording. This feature facilitates zooming between 2X and 15X, but I have yet to receive the update which enables it.
For the front, the Huawei P30 Pro gets a 32MP selfie camera settled within the tiny U-shaped notch. This camera has a fixed focus and an aperture of f/2.0. To enhance your selfies, you can use the auto HDR mode, AI beautification, portrait mode, and a host of filters. The front camera can also be used for AR emoji that track your face to move.
Overall, there’s no arguing against the Huawei P30 Pro’s grandeur in terms of camera hardware, bringing us to the next major element of photography on a smartphone – the software experience.
|Specifications||Huawei P30 Pro|
|SoC||7nm HiSilicon Kirin 980:|
|Expandability||Up to 256GB through proprietary nano-memory card (in SIM 2 slot)|
|Battery||4200 mAh; With 40W fast charging, and 15W fast wireless charging, reverse wireless charging|
|Fingerprint Sensor||Optical In-display|
|Android Version||EMUI 9.1 based on Android Pie|
|Colors||Aurora, Breathing Crystal|
Camera UI and Features
While the features that the Huawei P30 Pro delivers are charming and innovative, the camera interface – including the repelling (in my view) fonts – hasn’t seen much change since last year’s P20 Pro. As is typical on other Huawei devices, the camera app in the P30 Pro lets you tap on the various options to switch from the main Photo mode to the other available modes. On the left of the Photo mode, there is Portrait, Night, and Aperture mode while on the other side, there is Video and Pro mode along with an assortment of miscellaneous features clubbed under More on the far right. One slightly frustrating aspect of this camera UI is that, unlike the camera apps from most other manufacturers, one cannot switch between different modes by swiping across the interface. Regardless, Huawei seems to have given ample thought into prioritizing the placement of features based on how often users are likely to use them.
Coming back to the central screen, i.e. the Photo Mode, it is identical to the camera UI we’ve seen on earlier Huawei devices, but just in case you haven’t used or seen one before, I’ll give you a rundown. At the top sits a bar with toggle icons for various options. These icons are easily identifiable – that is, except for the first icon which activates HiVision, Huawei’s parallel to Google Lens. HiVision lets you identify articles for shopping, translate text in real-time, scan QR codes, effortlessly count calories on popular food items, fruits, or vegetables, and lastly, detect objects and tell you what they are. The Identify feature also discerns purchasable items from those that are not, and it then prompts you to buy the ones you can, thereby making it traditionally redundant. Apart from HiVision, the top bar has toggles for the flash, AI enhancements, color boost, and an icon to open the Settings pane.
One element unique to the Huawei P30 Pro’s Camera app is that it features a slider on the side that can be used to crank the zoom from 0.6x all the way up to 50X. For quickly switching to different zoom levels, the slider has steps for the wide-angle mode as well as 1X, 5X, and 10X zoom options. Alternatively, you can also pinch-to-zoom, but the slider reduces zooming to a job that requires a single finger. Assuming that you’re likely to zoom a lot on the P30 Pro, this addition is vital. For me, it also emulates the tactility of a rotating dial on a DSLR.
A minor peeve (or what I feel is a hiccup) is that while you can tap on the zoom steps for the period, doing so when the slider is visible can result in bounces to random figures. For instance, if you’re at 2X zoom and want to switch to 5X while the slider is active, you’re likely to land at say 4.7 or 5.2 instead of hitting the exact spot. Gladly, the slider minimizes after a couple of seconds of being untouched or as soon as you tap elsewhere in the UI.
Further, based on the scene, the AI automatically optimizes the color, although you can turn the feature off. The algorithm also switches to the Super Macro mode on its own when it determines that an object is very close.
The Photo mode has the most number of features, evidently being the spotlight feature on the Huawei P30 Pro. The available options in other modes are more or less intuitive, but I will highlight the distinguished ones to make sure you don’t feel overwhelmed by the sheer number of features. Trust me, there are fewer gimmicks than what may seem initially but getting to learn the interface takes some time and effort. Starting with the portrait mode, you do get bokeh shooting capabilities right out the gate, but if you want to improve upon that or play with the texture of the background blur, you can tap on the icon on the bottom left to choose between different modes that add to the background besides emphasizing on the face or object in focus. My favorite is the Stage lighting effect, obviously inspired by the iPhone X, which completely darkens the background and brings emphasis on the person under attention. Notably, zooming in portrait mode is limited to 3X.
Shifting over to the Night Mode, the feature works by analyzing the ambient light and automatically setting a timer for a long-exposure shot. Instead of simply adjusting the time of exposure, the camera app superimposes multiple images taken at different time lengths to create a dynamic and well-lit photograph. The good thing about the Night Mode is that it supports full-blown 50X zoom, but getting the best out of those highly magnified images during night-time requires you to keep the phone stable—preferably on a tripod. If you want to take things in your own hand instead of letting the algorithm decide it, you can set the shutter speed, the ISO level, or both.
Moving to the Aperture mode, this basically allows you to change the depth of field by varying the aperture value, and this helps in creating images that appear to be taken by a DSLR. I believe this is happening only via software since there is no visible movement under the lens. Just like with Portrait mode, zooming in this mode is limited to 3X with no ability to zoom out to the wide-angle mode. While Huawei could have merged aperture-related features into portrait mode, the addition of this standalone mode allows pro users to fine-tune results.
On the right side of the Photo mode lies Video in which you can zoom up to 15X and select smart filters such as AI color pop, background blur, and color filters such as vintage, suspense, and fresh. These are also available in other recent Huawei flagships including Mate 20 Pro. Besides these, there’s an option to choose the level of beautification and color boosting options. Further to the right is the Pro mode in which you can set the ISO, Shutter speed, Exposure Value, Autofocus, and the White Balance (including manually setting the color temperature).
On the extreme right, there’s More which includes a motley of different options that Huawei wanted to add but didn’t know where to place. Key options include Slow-mo, Panorama, Time Lapse, Moving picture, and Super Macro. The HDR mode is still in this menu and the reason behind that is unclear, although my speculation is that Huawei might not want users to use the HDR mode as often or might want them to rely on Night Mode instead (which basically takes dynamic HDR shots). Other than that, there are some other modes which you’re likely to use much less frequently and these include Monochrome, Light Painting (which includes modes to capture light graffiti, silky water, traffic trails, and star trails and most of them require a stand), Sticker, Filters, AR Lens effects (a poor and laggy implementation of the Animoji), and finally an underwater mode which requires a special case, even though the Huawei P30 Pro comes with an IP68 rating.
Overall, the UI seems really expansive but getting comfortable with all the features will take a significant amount of time. On the bright side, the Huawei P30 Pro will keep you engaged as you continue to discover new features every now and then in the slow process of learning. With that wrapped up, we can safely jump to the camera quality of the smartphone.
Huawei P30 Pro Camera Performance
The Huawei P30 Pro is commissioned to “rewrite the rules of photography” and as we can understand from the plethora of functions available in the Camera UI, it is well-stocked to stand a chance of doing so. For the last couple of months that I’ve used the smartphone, it has succeeded in surprising me with the output of pictures. With the quad camera setup, in which each sensor carries individual responsibility, Huawei has designed this smartphone to perform well across a spectrum of features.
Like I said before, the plethora of features can be bewildering, so I will essentially be focusing on the primary highlights of the Huawei P30 Pro. These features include the super powerful zoom, the Ultra Wide mode, the Night Mode, and the portrait mode. The article will also cover areas where features may overlap.
The features that the Huawei P30 Pro comes with are very tempting and can sway our attention away from the primary RYYB sensor, which already sets the smartphone apart from other noted devices. The special sensor, as we’ve mentioned above, admits 40% more light and the effect is enhanced by pixel binning which further increases the entry of light. As a result, images turn out to be bright, warm, and saturated. Besides being rife with colors, images are free from any structural distortion. In terms of colors, while we witness some increase in the temperature of the images over the top, the warmth does not look unnatural or fake. Furthermore, the yellowing also adds a pleasant contrast to darker shades. The effect of the extra bit of yellow light will be visible more in the later sections when the images from the primary sensor are compared with the others.
For night photography, this is one of the best camera sensors on a smartphone with a wide aperture of f/1.6. Even when the Night Mode is not in use, the light visible through the camera is actually more than what most humans are able to see, making it another surprising element of the smartphone. While the amount of details is evidently lower and the noise much higher in conditions with limited light, the Huawei P30 Pro still manages to thrive in retaining details in these images.
Moving on, let’s take a look at the most exciting head-turner on the Huawei P30 Pro – its 50x Super Zoom.
50x Super Zoom
The brilliant zoom capabilities of the Huawei P30 Pro has, in my experience, been its most compelling feature. Achieving 10x zoom on a smartphone without destroying the resulting image is one of the most satisfying experiences that the smartphone affords. While the periscope setup facilitates “hybrid” zooming up to 10X magnification and instead of pre-defined measures, Huawei’s proficient AI automatically determines when it needs to switch from the primary lens to the telephoto lens. This switch takes place depending on the amount of light. I’ve mostly noticed that the telephoto setup is activated around the 5X magnification in daylight (or scenarios with similar exposure), while it is not spawned until zoom crosses the 10X mark when the images are being taken in indoor lighting or at night.
To clarify, the telephoto lens is designed for 5X optical zoom and is a stationary lens. So you wouldn’t get the kind of zooming functionality like a rolling lens in digital cameras or DSLRs. In spite of that, the Huawei P30 Pro produces crisp and legible images even at higher magnifications, a testament to the company’s endeavors. It doesn’t seem that Huawei is superimposing images from more than a single sensor currently, but if it does in the future, the results could actually be mind-boggling.
The practical applications of the feature are many but my plebeian self has mostly focused on views that can be easily compared. Here are some images with increasing zoom in succession.
The images taken with the zoom lens have a noticeable greenish undertone. This cooler tinge is perhaps to counterbalance the RYYB sensor’s tendency to capture warmer tones. It appears that Huawei has tweaked the software to tone down the temperature of the images captured with the RYYB sensor. The images have remarkable quality and low noise up to 10X zoom, but they tend to get blurry beyond this point. While the 50x zoom may sound exciting on paper, the results are not very convincing. Without OIS, it is extremely difficult to prevent shaking without using a tripod. As a result, images are not focused and have a significant amount of aberration.
There is one application of the 50x zoom that is too good to be overlooked, and that is its ability to capture the moon. Huawei has actually endorsed moon photography as one of the virtues of the P30 Pro, and I’ve managed to capture the different phases of the moon, too. It blows my mind when in hindsight, I see these images have been taken without using any equipment to mount the phone. The moon has different colors because the images were taken at different times on different nights, also at varying levels of pollution in Delhi.
While the zoom sensor brings objects closer, the wide-angle sensor on the Huawei P30 Pro lets you move further without actually taking a step back. At a 107° field of view, the wide-angle module facilitates capturing a sweeping breadth. I have enjoyed clicking images in the wide-angle mode as much as zooming with the P30 Pro. As mentioned before, this is a 1.27″ 20MP sensor with an f/2.2 aperture.
If judged by what it is designed for, this sensor clicks fairly pleasing wide-angle images. To begin with, there is no fish-eye effect or curving or straight lines. There is, however, a noticeable skewing in the perspective of the image compared to the primary sensor. This is mostly visible as a result of the exaggeration of the angle if the smartphone is tilted and not perfectly perpendicular to the ground, but it can be overcome with some practice.
As you can see in the video of the camera UI, the zoom slider can also be used to toggle the wide angle mode. Alternatively, you can pinch in to switch to the mode. The wide-angle mode works seamlessly in Video, Night, and Pro modes besides the principal Photo mode.
Just like the zoom lens, there is a visible greenish tinge in the images for the same reasons. Compared to the primary sensor, the colors are not very deep and certain objects on the canvas can appear overexposed or washed out. The images have a greater amount of shadows and fewer details than the main sensor. A side-by-side comparison, such as the one above, makes these more observable.
At night, the sensor permits much less light than the primary one. So, the Camera app takes slightly longer to click wide-angle images at night than the standard. This, in turn, increases the chances of diffraction along edges or some sort of chromatic aberration. Thus, the lens performs the best during the day and with strong light. In certain scenarios with a fiesta of colors or dramatic lighting such as during sunset, the images can appear to have more contrast and thus have an artistic charm.
The Night Mode on the Huawei P30 Pro is another striking feature that the company is extremely proud of. This mode, as with previous Huawei flagships, increases the time of exposure to let more light in. But instead of taking a single long-exposure image, the Huawei P30 Pro’s Night Mode appears to be stitching multiple images at different exposure levels to make sure that all parts of the frame are adequately illuminated.
With this increase in exposure, the biggest visible improvements come in the parts of the image which are dimly lit. With the increase in ambiance, the amount of detailing increases too. In images which are evenly dim, the effect of the Night Mode is drastic and compelling. While the primary sensor is already proficient for low-light scenarios, the extra bit from the Night Mode really boosts the images entirely.
Ironically, when the Night Mode is used to capture scenes with patchy lighting or during daylight, it often creates a strong HDR effect, which may not necessarily produce the results as you might have intended. To tackle that, there is a possibility to fix the ISO level and the shutter speed and doing this will override AI’s setting and even cancel out the HDR effect to an extent. While keeping the ISO level under check and increasing the shutter speed can also help reduce noise, these manual controls are practically the same as the dedicated Pro mode. I believe Huawei could have just added the extra ISO toggle without giving users the options of manually controlling the exposure time since doing so adds nothing but a redundancy of features.
Fortunately, the Night Mode is also functional with the other two sensors. Again, while using the zoom sensor, the greenish tint is visible, though it is more muted when compared to daylight shots. It is easy to capture trails of moving objects but the stationary elements in the frame turn out to be well-lit and detailed. Clearly, the results will not be as detailed as daylight images, but the results do not disappoint in any way – even if they might not be able to amaze you.
Using the Night mode with the wide-angle sensor may not be very effective since the sensor is smaller in size and has a narrower aperture than the other two. Further, since it lacks OIS, keeping things stable can be really challenging. Here’s an example:
The wide-angle lens on the Huawei P30 Pro doubles up as a macro lens which can focus on objects from a close distance of 25mm (nearly an inch). In addition, the built-in Super Macro mode facilitates up to 3X digital zoom and a wide-angle view, adding more flexibility. While its abilities are fascinating, the images lack the same richness that the primary sensor delivers and the differences are on the same lines that we saw in the case of wide-angle images.
The images look appealing as long as you view them on the smartphone itself. But turning to a bigger display is when the distortions become visible. The lack of saturation in the Super Macro mode is something that has kept me longing for more, especially since the primary sensor has pampered my understanding. Nevertheless, if making objects look much bigger than their actual size is your only objective, then these should fulfill the purpose.
With that noted, the images should be good enough if you intend to share them on social media. In all fairness, that’s what most users are expected to do, and that’s why the Huawei P30 Pro passes in this area – although not with flying colors.
The tiny sensor below the flash on the Huawei P30 Pro, as mentioned in the previous sections, is a Time of Flight (ToF) sensor which determines how far an object is from the smartphone. It uses this information for wisely creating a blurring effect over the background. In tandem with the primary sensor, this ToF sensor effectively separates out the background from the persons in focus for brilliant portrait shots.
Since the underlying software also plays a role in sensing the depth of field, it may not function properly in cases where parts of the foreground and background have overlapping or blending colors. If you can forgive the Huawei P30 Pro for defaulting here (as do a score of other smartphones, including flagships), the accuracy of the blur is brilliant and mostly satisfying. Sadly, there is no way to change the intensity of the blur, which may seem aggressive to some users. Furthermore, there is no way to adjust the point of focus later on. Here are some of the portrait shots I took with the Huawei P30 Pro. You can choose from the different modes if you wish to create any pattern in the background.
The Portrait mode on this smartphone is a bit fussy about faces and may not always work when it does not find one. But, in exchange, Huawei has added a separate Aperture mode which allows capturing objects with a convincing bokeh effect. Going by the standard relation between aperture and depth of field, you can increase the intensity of the background blur by decreasing the aperture.
Since the aperture for all of the Huawei P30 Pro’s lenses is actually fixed, this is mostly handled by software. You can zoom in and out between 1X and 3X to change the point of focus for the effect. Later on, the amount of background blur can be adjusted while the points of focus can be edited in the Gallery, and there’s also an option to apply filters to make the images more interesting.
Since selfies have become part of our regular technology appetite, it is de rigueur for us to talk about how the Huawei P30 Pro’s front camera performs. I started with the impression that on a smartphone conferred with a diversity of features that grace the rear camera, selfies are bound to take a backseat – and that mostly turned out to be true. Unlike the quad camera on the back, I do not feel like much is going on for the 32MP selfie camera which has an f/2.0 aperture. The images taken by this front camera are not bad; they’re decently detailed, adequately lit, and fare well in terms of the reproduction of colors, but that’s about it! Using the four cameras on the back left me with the impression that the front camera will be identically spectacular but, disappointingly, it isn’t.
As you might be able to see, the images are good to go on your Instagram account but will leave you longing for more. While the overall structure of faces and hair are maintained, details seem to get lost when the images are zoomed into. Traditionally, Huawei has been known for its aggressive beautification even when the mode is turned off. While that has been toned down to some extent on the Huawei P30 Pro, there is an evident amount of smoothening. While this can be flattering to users, we hate to say that it looks unnatural and we wish Huawei fixes this further with updates in the future.
As for portrait shots, what agitated for me a long time is that the images don’t have a background blur. I later discovered that it can be turned on by choosing one of the effects for the geometric patterns over the background. The extra step is pointless (or ineffectively communicated) since you can also click a selfie without background blurring in the Photo mode.
Lastly, while HDR continues to be a separate mode buried in the “More” section of the Huawei P30 Pro’s Camera app, it is integrated within the primary Photo section of the app for selfies. We’re not sure whether this is intentional or because the rear camera on the smartphone is good enough to actually need HDR.
While your chances of buying the Huawei P30 Pro for selfies and not its rear camera are extremely thin, we would recommend you look elsewhere if this is actually the case.
Despite seeming pretty muscular in terms of photography and shutting out the competition at most fronts, the Huawei P30 Pro feels ill-prepared for the video battle. While it allows video recording at 4K resolution, the frame rate is capped at 30fps due to the limitation of the ISP in Huawei’s HiSilicon Kirin 980. In comparison, Samsung’s Galaxy S9 series, Galaxy S10 series, Galaxy Note 9, the OnePlus 6, and even the much cheaper POCO F1 support 4K recording at 60fps.
In the videos, the warmth due to the RYYB sensor is much more evident when compared to photos. The quality of these videos is acceptable and the OIS in the cameras works appreciably well, which can be really helpful if you don’t carry a tripod or other mount around with you. Here’s a sample clip at 4K (India is a noisy country so you’ll thank me for muting these videos). The smartphone does use both microphones to record spatial audio, but they struggle while trying to filter out the noise of the wind.
Fortunately, zooming is also supported within the Video mode, though it is limited to 15x. At 5X, the quality of the 4K video remains pristine but there is a visible amount of shakiness and vibrations in the frame.
At 10X, the trembling is intensified and the video is almost constantly shaking. Plus, the blurriness tends to become visible at this point.
At night, the Huawei P30 Pro’s RYYB sensor does capture light to an amazing extent. Details in the 4K video at night remain clear, even in patches of low light.
Capturing video with the 5X zoom at night, however, does not produce pleasant results. Besides the lack of light compared to the main sensor, the Huawei P30 Pro’s zoom lens struggles to focus with equal dexterity. The greenish tinge creeps in here as well.
The Huawei P30 Pro can record 60fps videos at 1080p. Besides the obvious decline in quality with the lower resolution, there is a slight decrease in the saturation and the overall frame may be a tad bit pale compared to the 4K video.
At night, the 1080p video at 60fps is darker than 4K videos. This is obvious and expected as each frame gets half the time to capture light.
The Huawei P30 Pro also supports higher frame rates for slow-motion videos. The 120fps slo-mo video is recorded at 1080p and this allows for the retention of details to quite an extent. You can trim the length of the slowed-down part from within the gallery after recording the video.
Taking things twice as slowly, i.e. at 240fps, the video quality is reduced to 720p. This makes the video packed with optical noise, basically making it useless if you’re looking to use it for any artistic endeavor.
Lastly, the smartphone also supports slo-mo at 960fps, but its duration is limited to 10 seconds (of the final video clip and not the recording). In this mode, you cannot trim the video and there’s basically no option to fiddle with it. The amount of noise is very visible and the video requires bright scenarios to avoid any flickering.
It can be concluded that while the smartphone is packed with innovative and intriguing features in terms of photography, Huawei has not paid the same amount (or even half) of its attention to videos. Considering the price of the smartphone, we did expect a few more feature in this area.
While the handheld video is pretty stable when you’re not moving, videos while walking turn out pretty solid too. Sure, there’s some visible wobbling in this case, but the video is pretty stable and dependable if not as good as with a gimbal. This is perhaps because aside from the in-lens stabilization mechanisms, Huawei is using AI stabilization to keep jerks from shaking your spirits, and it is doing pretty well.
Comparison with Google Pixel 3
Before we bestow the Huawei P30 Pro the title of the smartphone with the best camera, it must pass one last test and that is a face-off with the acclaimed Google Pixel 3. Until the launch of the Huawei P30 Pro, the Pixel 3 had been at the center of my attention, especially because it is capable of mustering a wonderful image of the world with just a single camera, but I’d keep my biases aside for this comparison. I reckon that a lot of users may call Huawei’s Mate 20 Pro a better camera than the Google Pixel 3 (my ignorant self would snub that by calling it subjective) but it makes more sense to compare the Huawei P30 Pro with the Google Pixel 3 because the P30 Pro only furthers the expertise of the Mate 20 Pro, in terms of both hardware and software, instead of being a true replacement or competitor.
I also acknowledge that even before we begin this clash, the battle for Huawei P30 Pro is already half won because of its additional features viz. the 5X telephoto zoom and the ultra-wide lens. But this comparison is for those who prefer to keep things minimal and want more quality instead of more utility out of their smartphone’s camera. Besides benefiting from extra lenses, the Huawei P30 Pro uses a bigger sensor as well as a lens with a wider aperture for the primary camera. On top of that, the RYYB sensor is something to add to Google’s troubles. The Pixel 3 only has a strong backbone of software optimization and unbeatable computational photography algorithms that help it secure its position.
Jumping straight to the comparison, the two smartphones produce almost identical results with their primary cameras. As seen throughout this review, the images taken by the Huawei P30 Pro are mostly warmer, especially when clicking pictures of objects. The images taken with the Pixel 3 have a more natural and appealing tint, in my opinion. Here, the Pixel 3’s seemingly smarter algorithms help it be more versatile and dynamic, and unlike the Huawei P30 Pro, it does not follow a trend throughout. I guess that’s a testament to the intelligence of the AI.
A similar trend can be seen when we look at a comparison between images clicked with Huawei’s Night Mode versus Google’s Night Sight. The images taken with the Google Pixel 3 are noticeably brighter despite a shorter span of exposure and similar ISO values. This can again be credited to Google’s software expertise.
What makes me want to lean in favor of the Google Pixel 3 is its incredible speed at clicking pictures. If you’ve used a Pixel device, you would be familiar with its process of capturing unpolished images and working on them in the background while also allowing you to take more images at the same time. The Pixel Visual Core chipset on the Google Pixel 3/3 XL (as well as the older Google Pixel 2) facilitates this superfast image processing. The Huawei P30 Pro, on the other hand, takes its sweet time to first click an image and then process it, often missing the shot that you took with it. Likewise, in terms of the Night Mode vs. Night Sight, the Google Pixel 3 is less likely to capture a blurred Night Sight image than the Huawei P30 Pro with the Night Mode and this, again, can be attributed to the promptness of both the device when it comes to capturing the best moment.
What you make out of this comparison depends on what you’re seeking from a smartphone’s camera. If it’s fantastic tricks like super zoom or ultra-wide shots, then the Huawei P30 Pro should make more sense whereas if you’re planning to limit yourself to narrower spectrum photography but getting marginally better quality out of images, the Google Pixel 3 should be a good choice. Since the Google Pixel 3 has dual cameras in the front, I would definitely recommend it over the Huawei P30 Pro if you’re also looking to capture good selfies.
Implications of the ban on Huawei
A few weeks ago, U.S. President Donald Trump passed an executive order to block Huawei from sourcing its supplies from companies in the U.S. As a result, many major companies have cut trade ties with Huawei. The ban also roped in Google, preventing it from licensing the commercial version of Android to Huawei. As a result, upcoming smartphones from Huawei and Honor will not be allowed to ship with Google Play Services and other Google apps while existing smartphones cannot be updated after the expiry of the 90-day reprieve period by the Department of Commerce, which ends on August 19th.
In the meantime, President Trump has hinted that he might ease restrictions on Huawei if certain conditions are met, while Huawei recently proposed to sign a “no-spy” agreement. The future of Android updates is currently in the air, and we understand that you may have concerns as someone who might be willing to buy this smartphone.
Meanwhile, Huawei’s Mate 20 Pro was recently reinstated into the Android Q beta program. While nothing is clear at this moment, this step makes us hopeful that the Huawei P30 Pro should receive an Android Q update. Meanwhile, Huawei is reportedly bulking up alternatives and is even preparing its own operating system just in case it is not reinstated by Google.
So, if you’re absolutely obsessed with having the latest Android version on your smartphone, you might want to step aside from buying the Huawei P30 Pro until there’s more clarity on the matter. Since Android is typically associated with Google apps, Huawei is most likely to hold off from pushing updates to smartphones (after August 19th) and compromising access to Google’s apps. It is, however, safe to buy the Huawei P30 Pro already if you’re moving from iOS and do not have rigid expectations from Android. If you only care about the performance of the camera and not much about the state of updates, you shouldn’t refrain from buying the Huawei P30 Pro.
It will be interesting to see if the innovations in the Huawei P30 Pro can help Huawei survive this ban by the U.S. government. I hope that even if the ban is finally imposed, Huawei at least keeps on updating the Camera app via its own app store – the AppGallery.
So, that brings me to face to face with the final quest – is the Huawei P30 Pro the best camera smartphone?
Huawei P30 Pro: Zoom kingpin with a basket full of features
The Huawei P30 Pro is an extremely powerful and compelling smartphone. It has one of the most competent primary sensors which is complemented by an extraordinary periscope zoom setup and a fascinating ultra-wide sensor which also supports super macro shots. Aside from these, the Time of Flight sensor ensures some striking portrait shots and, collectively, all these quirks make up for an irresistible package. In my decently long experience with the smartphone, I have come to view it as part of a revolution in terms of smartphone imaging.
The quad camera setup does not make the Huawei P30 Pro a perfect replacement for a camera, but it serves a variety of purposes much better than other smartphones. The objective of the Huawei P30 Pro is to take scenic images but primarily, the smartphone does a fabulous job of assisting users when it comes to photography, and the results are commendable in most cases. Staying true to the pedigree of the P Series, the Huawei P30 Pro not only touts striking photography but also flagship grade performance – not to forget its sleek build and shiny glass back.
Using the zoom lens, especially to ogle at the moon, easily remains my favorite aspect of the smartphone. The Night Mode remains my second most favorite feature due to its expandability.
The Camera UI is splashed with a wide array of features which may be mistaken for gimmicks initially, but with time, you realize their vitality. Some features do come across as redundant and forced, which can be ignored until Huawei fixes them.
The challenges that I’ve acknowledged during my extensive trial period include the ambiguity of colors between the primary RYYB sensor and the other two sensors with standard RGGB filters. Then, the Night Mode can be too aggressive sometimes. Super Macro mode may not be the ultimate weapon for macro photography and selfies are probably not among the strongest abilities of the Huawei P30 Pro. Lastly, it is not really a Pro when it comes to videos, except for its utilization of AIS along with OIS.
In spite of all these pain points, the Huawei P30 Pro has the capacity to produce stunning images in a variety of scenarios. It has also lent some vitality to my viewpoint by showing visuals I’ve never seen before. I’m sure that this smartphone marks the beginning of a new era, and soon we’ll see many devices that not only come equipped with multiple camera modules but also judiciously utilize each with their mesmerizing performance.
For this appealing package, you have to shell out €999 for the 128GB model and even higher for the 256GB and 512GB variants. At the time of the launch, Huawei seemed confident that the P30 Pro can single-handedly beat other flagships, especially for users looking primarily for a stunning camera. But with the ban in the U.S. complicating things for users worldwide, we’d recommend you only spend your hard-earned money on this if you want a spectacular camera. Again, if updates are not among your concerns, don’t hesitate to buy this beast.