The Huawei P30 Pro introduces the first commercially available 135mm Periscope telephoto lens, a record-breaking mobile focal length, when compared to the previous champions: the Huawei P20 Pro and Mate 20 Pro phones (80mm). This article has a lot of details and explanations now included in the Huawei P30 Pro Camera Review (too much content).
Huawei’s 135mm camera module is a fantastic piece of electro-optics that perform exceptionally well in the real world. However, the lens’ usefulness isn’t limited to the 5X mode (and beyond) and can also improve image quality anywhere in the 52mm (2X) to 135mm (5X) range as well. How so? Read on.
Different lens combinations for zooming
Huawei is cleverly using its rich camera hardware to handle different zoom ranges. It’s not clear how intermediate ranges like 2-3X are handled, but it is possible that the camera app chooses to merge data or not, depending on the situation. What we know is:
- 1-2X: 26mm Primary only
- 3-5X: 26m Primary + 135mm Zoom data merge
- 5X+: 135mm Zoom only
3X zoom and beyond with “Field of View Fusion.”
The 135mm zoom exploited fully in the “5X” mode, but Huawei can use the 135mm lens data in the 80mm “3X” mode as well thanks to a feature called Field of View Fusion that merges two shots from the 26mm and the 135mm cameras. It works by “fusing” (merging) data from photos taken at multiple zoom levels.
By doing so, Huawei increases details at the center of the photo where it is typically most important, while the edges may mostly contain data from the 26mm lens. We suspect that Huawei gets the 26mm image using the 40 Megapixel mode that can capture nearly as well as a 2X optical zoom in bright light. Our Honor View 20 camera review demonstrated as much.
Here’s a visual that shows you the source data for the 80mm “3X” zoom:
It’s a great way to handle the 80mm to 135mm zoom range but it also means that at 80mm, the image quality of a native 80mm lens like the Mate 20 Pro and P20 Pro should be more consistent across the image, while the P30 Pro should have slightly better details in the center, but who’s going to complain as long as the edge details aren’t too different.
This kind of merging can be extremely tricky, especially when it comes having a seamless color integration, but Huawei did it with great success.
1-2X zoom with the primary 26mm lens
As the 26-52mm range, the photo data only comes from the 26mm primary lens. It seems impractical to use data from the 135mm lens here because the 135mm field of view does not cover enough surface on a 54mm shot.
It means that in the 1X-2X range, the P30 Pro’s performance can be challenged by competitors with 2X optical lenses, but it’s probably not a huge deal as we’ve said for years (since Apple introduced its 52mm lens) that 2X zoom isn’t that useful when compared to 3X and 5X.
The comparison above shows that the Galaxy S10 uses a lot more image filtering while Huawei does not, but at the end of the day, the 2X optical lens doesn’t give it a ground-breaking advantage. Additionally, Google has shown with the Pixel 3 that it is possible to get close to (but not equal) 2X optical performance by using image-stacking (multi-frame photography). Our Google Pixel 3 Zoom analysis showed as much.
Unchallenged between 5X and 10X
Huawei P30 Pro 5X Optical Zoom
We had already awarded a Best Zoom Camera award to the Mate 20 Pro (and P20 Pro) for its excellent 80mm telephoto camera. The P30 Pro takes things to a new level. Whether it is wildlife, a concert or a conference, it is possible to zoom and capture at an unprecedented range and image quality. Because it has an excellent electro-optics (lens+sensor) module, the P30 Pro has the best 5X zoom we’ve seen yet.
Huawei P30 Pro 10X Hybrid Zoom
Huawei also has a 10X Hybrid Zoom that utilizes a combination of the 135mm lens data, with a lossless sensor crop zoom, and multi-frame photography techniques to capture the best possible 10X zoom (~270mm equivalent) photo: a perfect merging of cutting-edge hardware and software.
Many people are asking if the P30 Pro has a 10X Optical zoom (probably because Oppo is marketing its 10X zoom), but unfortunately, that’s not the case.
However, if Huawei used the standard zoom factor calculation as Oppo does, it would look like this: 135mm/16mm is an 8.43X optical zoom, and not “5X”. Huawei probably wanted to keep numbers consistent with the “3X” of the Mate20/P20 generation.
Huawei P30 Pro 50X Zoom (Digital)
A different mix of these techniques (more software) can push to a 50X digital zoom mode, in which the image is magnified and filtered. In our experience, at 50X, the image shaking is extreme when used handheld. If you have a tripod, you can have some real fun.
P30 Pro Moon Photo
Unfortunately, weather conditions didn’t allow us to capture a good moon shot yet, but we’ll try when we have a chance since that Huawei made much noise when Richard Yu (Huawei Mobile’s CEO) posted this moon picture on Weibo.
There are a couple of tricky things with moon shots, one being the zoom itself, but the second is the exposure. It seems like a believable shot, but we’ll update this with our own when we have a chance.
Update: we finally had a good opportunity to test this. The image above shows what we’re looking at in 1X zoom mode, and what the moon shot looks like in 50X zoom (handheld). We think that our photo is more representative of the level of details you should expect from real-world situations.
The Huawei photo seems to use the now controversial “moon mode” in which some known images of the moon are layered on top of your actual photo by the camera app. More on that in a subsequent post. As far as we know, this feature is not (yet) available on our test unit.
The Zoom works with video recording too!
When shooting videos, the zoom goes all the way up to 15X, probably because there’s not enough computing power to do all that’s required to achieve 50X. It’s hard to complain here because even a 10X zoom would allow you to shoot some videos that the competition could just not offer.
Conclusion: a crazy-good zoom performance in today’s market
The Huawei P30 Pro smartphone’s tremendous 135mm telephoto camera easily outclasses near-peers still equipped with 52mm modules.
When it comes to zooming, no amount of algorithms can beat an optically high-powered zoom camera. We’ve already demonstrated that when we compared the Google Pixel 3 with the Huawei Mate 20 Pro, and the difference is only much higher now.
Since Periscope telephoto lenses have made their appearances, the smartphone market forces will make other OEMs to integrate them, just like they did for Ultrawide cameras under the impulsion created by LG.
Expect to see more of them in the coming months, but one thing is sure: the more powerful the 3zoom and the more useful it is. Happy photography, and keep an eye out for the P30 Pro Uber-G Camera IQ score!