There are many reviews on internet talking about the great camera that the Huawei p30 pro has got, but these reviews are not telling the whole truth. I bought this phone for my wife after we decided that her old Iphone 6 was indeed old enough. We of course value a lot our photos for various reasons that I have also explained in my blog, hence nowadays is important for us to have a tool as convenient as a phone to take photos when a camera is not available or too awkward to use.
While I agree that the Huawei p30 pro has a great hardware, with hindsight I may have thought twice about it. The reasons, which I present in form of this open letter to Huawei hoping they would take notice, will be explained soon. But first I want to praise the pros:
The only reason while I would stick with this phone is the unique 5x lens. I think it’s a great choice over the more common 2x which is less useful for most of the cases. a 2x zoom makes sense, because its field of view is very close to the human eyes (I guess around a 50mm lens on a 35mm sensor), however 5x lens are far more useful to achieve depth compression that otherwise would be impossible to get right. Here an example from my last visit to the Death Valley:
Usually people link tele lens to zoom effects. However seeing things closer is not the only application and in my opinion not even the best. The best application is the depth compression. As you can see those mountains were quite far and become even further away with the standard wide lens of a phone. The 5x turns them in a predominant element of the photo, which can be achieved through the narrow field of view. Moreover thanks to the 40MP main lens, the 2X digital zoom can be used without any loss of detail (just it won’t be a 40MP image of course, but big enough for a good print).
About the rest I don’t need to add anything else that hasn’t been already said by other reviewers. Great resolution, low noise, good handling of low light, good dynamic range. It’s a marvel of the modern consumer technology to be fair.
The are only two hardware downsides for this phone: the first is the 5X lens sensor size. 8MP is not enough, at least 12MP would have been desirable for bigger prints. The second is the lack of autofocus on the front camera, which is very annoying on several occasions.
Now let’s talk about the real gotcha related to the Huawai p30 pro camera: the camera software. We have used this phone on a 15 days trip to the USA, hence we had the chance to thoroughly test it and analyse all the problems. Luckily since these are software related, they could all potentially be fixed, however I really have no clue why they haven’t been addressed already, as for me they are really big usability issues. Maybe this phone is not used by many photographers able to give good feedback after all? Let me the problems I found in random order:
- The HDR mode should not be a separate shoot mode, but an option always available in all the modes. While the dynamic range of the camera is pretty good, the software HDR is not in par with the Samsung algorithm.
- The phone has got 3 lens with 3 different sensors. The 5x 8MP sensor, the main lens 40MP sensor and the ultra wide 20MP sensor. Every time the phone switches back to the main sensor, I expect the software to set the resolution back to 40MP, but instead it switches to 10MP. This is utterly annoying and frustrating when you realise that you have shot with your main lens at 10MP instead of 40MP. A workaround is to use the Pro mode (which is my standard choice), the pro mode will switch resolution automatically, but it won’t allow digital zoom (I am not sure what would be the reason behind this choice).
Note: read my edit at the end of the post, it may explain why the software pushes the 10MP resolution. I need to do some research to understand where the truth is, as using a 40MP sensor only in 10MP would be controversial, but again choosing a camera for its megapixels is usually a bad choice anyway and according the technology the 10MP version of the image should be far superior than the output of standard sensors of the same resolution/size. To be tested…
- Digital zoom should be allowed at 40MP and shouldn’t force me to switch to 10MP. I understand why it happens, but it should happen automatically and switch back to 40MP once the zoom is disabled.
- The continuous focus is unreliable. This together with the wider aperture make very hard to take photos or videos of close moving small things. For example: we have a couple of conures we take pictures of (Taco and Bella: https://www.instagram.com/onetacoaday/) and taking pictures of them with the Huawei is a nightmare compared with my samsung s8 or the old Iphone 6)
I hope Huwaei team reads this post and may do something about it, it would make the experience much more enjoyable!
Edit: after I wrote this post I read about the sensor used in the phone main lens. I have never thought it would have been something different than a standard Bayer pattern filtered sensor although the sensor area is small, I assumed it was just the result of technological advancement. However the sensor uses instead a quad bayer filter which after some read up explains why the 10MP resolution option exists and why the software pushes its use. The sensor is in reality equivalent to a standard 10MP bayer one, while at 40mp the software must use custom (even AI based) demosaicing trickery to reconstruct the pixel colour. Plus with such a small pixel diffraction may become an issue. As a result photos may be better off at 10mp. I need to do some study, luckily I always shoot in raw mode, so I need to check if the software is able to reconstruct both images from the same source and compare the results.
P.S.: there are a lot of articles about the main sensor, but I couldn’t find much information about the other two sensors. I assumed they are standard CMOS backlit Bayer sensors, if you know anything about those, please let me know.
March 2020 update. UMEI 10 fixed some of the problems I listed before, specifically the issues with the autofocus. I am very impressed by the tonal range of the wide angle sensor.