Recently launched in Paris, the Huawei P30 Pro has received unanimous accolades by reviewers, including in our complete Huawei P30 Pro smartphone review. With the help of two dedicated articles about the P30 Pro zoom and night photography, this P30 Pro Camera Review digs deep into the capabilities and real-world performance of today’s best mobile camera. Learn more: what is our Camera IQ score?
Key Camera Specifications and Uber HW Camera Score
- Rear Camera System (3 cameras + ToF)
- Primary: 26mm 40-MP f/1.6 wide (Primary) +OIS
- Zoom: 135mm 8-MP f/3.4 zoom
- Ultrawide: 16mm 20-MP f/2.2 ultrawide +OIS
- ToF Camera: for depth map generation
From a specifications point of view, the hardware of the Huawei P30 Pro is off-the-charts, and this is a continuation of what Mate 20 Pro brought to the table.
A lot of the top-specs represent resources spent to push edge-cases farther than ever before, with the night-vision and extreme zoom capabilities.
Image Quality Analysis
Important: let’s clarify some terminology we’ll be using:
- “image processing”: software work that improves the image data quality
- “image filtering”: software work that changes the style (aesthetic) of the photo.
- “context photo”: a great approximation of what we see
- Including how dark the scene actually is
- Only to provide the context of the shot.
- Not a quality benchmark
A note about the Uber IQ Camera score: our camera scoring system is based on four “Pillars” or sub-scores that provides much-needed nuance: day, night, zoom and ultrawide photography.
Daylight Photography: 186
Daylight photography is a less stressful environment for camera hardware, and the defining factors are details, colors and high-dynamic range. It is also an area where there is relatively little progress as OEMs focus on expanding in ultrawide, low-light and zoom as differentiators.
As such we compare the Huawei P30 Pro to the current leaders in daylight photography: the iPhone XS, the Galaxy S10 and the OnePlus 6T which all achieve a Day Photography score of 187 for slightly different reasons:
- iPhone XS
- Pros: excellent texture preservation
- Cons: excess HDR can make photos look more flat and dull.
- Galaxy S10
- Pros: excellent colors, good texture
- Cons: strong software sharpening
- OnePlus 6T
- Pros: best details/texture, thanks to its 16MP sensor
- Cons: strong image filtering, slighter higher levels of noise
- P30 Pro
- Pros: improved natural camera tuning than Mate 20 Pro
- Cons: lower sharpness (10MP), a tendency to over-expose
The Huawei P30 Pro captures excellent daylight photos as well and places itself in the leading group. Noise levels are low, and the only two caveats are that P30 Pro slightly over-expose a bit, and its 10 Megapixel auto mode makes the detail a bit less sharp, especially compared to the OnePlus 6T.
Above: iPhone Xs and P30 Pro capture excellent photos, but looking close, the iPhone Xs preserve more life-like details, like the trees which are somewhat over-processed on the P30 Pro.
Above: the P30 Pro and Pixel 3 took great shots of this scene, but both also have different outcomes, with the P30 Pro preserving the haze very well, while Pixel 3 erased it a bit and is over-contrasting the scene. It’s an aesthetic decision on the Pixel, which may (or may not) please users.
Note: we currently don’t give extra points for the ToF camera sensor’s improvements on the bokeh quality, but if/when we did, it would carry the Huawei P30 Pro over to be the best overall daylight camera. During our test with this phone, we noticed the difference against non-ToF phones.
Night Photography: 196
The Huawei P30 Pro Night Photography capabilities are such an extended topic that we have dedicated a P30 Pro low-light photo test article for just that feature. We have a summary here, but with you want all the details, read it.
Classic Low-Light Performance
The Huawei P30 Pro has noticeably better noise levels than the Galaxy S10, but Samsung’s color science is better, partly due to Huawei’s camera tuning aesthetic, which tends to over-process images to give them a “brighter” style. Perhaps that’s a legacy from mid-range phones. In classic low-light photography, it’s a near-draw with a small advantage to Samsung’s S10 if color is important to you, for P30 is low-noise makes you tick.
Above: the Huawei P30 has very good colors, so food photos look life-life and not over-processed (an issue we sometimes had with Mate 20 Pro). The Galaxy S10 is able to capture more subtle tints of yellow coming from the candles.
Above: a good illustration of the better noise-level management of the Huawei P30 Pro over the Galaxy S10. These two phones are at leading the pack when it comes to noise levels, and this shows how far Huawei has come.
Below (0.4 LUX scene crop): In soft lighting conditions (no HDR), the P30 Pro has caught up with the Galaxy S10 (and Note 9) color accuracy, which is better than Mate 20 Pro (we told you then…). You can also compare the noise between all three phones.
Below, the scooter crop shows a couple of things. First, the P30 Pro noise is better than S10, but the S10 colors are more life-like. Secondly, both cameras show color artifacts because of the difficult lighting conditions. Hopefully, that can be fixed by a software update.
New: Night Vision Mode
In the above image, the Galaxy S10 captures what your eyes see, while P30 Pro goes into night-vision (NV). You still need SOME light, but a very faint light is enough. In the photo above, the brightness is insanely low to the point that we used a flashlight to set up the shot and make sure the camera was pointing in the right direction, before turning it off for the photo.
The Huawei P30 Pro introduces a new Night Vision mode that automatically turns ON in extreme low-light (when your eyes have a tough time seeing colors and details). In our tests, this was below 0.3 LUX, and for reference, if you are outside on a full moon night, that’s 1 LUX.
In that Night Vision mode, the P30 Pro camera switches to using its extreme-high ISO of up to 409,000 (light signal amplification) to turn night into day. It is a brilliant strategy that rests on Huawei’s unique ability to use extremely high ISO levels without introducing much noise."EXTREMELY HIGH ISO LEVELS WITHOUT INTRODUCING MUCH NOISE"
This new Night Vision runs alongside with the “classic low-light” photography. When your eyes can see, the Huawei P30 Pro behaves more like a classic phone.
For Night Vision, the Huawei P30 Pro is effectively the only game in town as other phones are neither tuned or equipped to handle near-total darkness. This mode is much better than long-exposure modes such as Google’s Night Sight or Huawei’s Night Mode. Huawei killed this whole genre which is only ~6-month old.
Thanks to this new capability, the P30 Pro wrestles the overall Night Photography leadership away from the Galaxy S10, and Samsung needs to upgrade its sensor hardware if it wants to compete there. How many photos will you take in near-total darkness? That’s the $1000 question.
Ultrawide Photography: 116
The Ultrawide capabilities of the P30 Pro are just slightly superior to the Mate 20 Pro in day and night scenes. The camera has a bit less lens distortion and chromatic aberrations on the edges of the frame and slightly better HDR management.
Above: the P30 Pro sometimes has better details at the center, but the Galaxy S10 consistently produces colors that are closer to the original ones.
The overall quality of the ultrawide shots remains inferior to the Galaxy S10, despite S10 having a more extreme wide angle. The P30 Pro ultrawide camera also has less consistent ultrawide daylight performance, sometimes yielding great pictures, other times not.
In the ultrawide arena, the new LG G8 camera looked like a promising challenger to the Galaxy S10, stay tuned for the complete camera review of the G8!
Above: At night, the Galaxy S10 easily wins, with much better color capture, along with lower levels of noise. It’s visible enough that we don’t need to crop to illustrate it.
Zoom Photography: 148
We also have a dedicated P30 Pro zoom test because there is so much to show and explain. We’ll summarize it for you here, but for all the details, read it.
The P30 Pro 135mm zoom is a ground-breaking feature that might make mobile zoom photography much more popular than it is today. If you look at your photo gallery, the chances are that zoom photos aren’t that numerous. This could change drastically in the future."THE P30 PRO 135MM ZOOM IS A GROUND-BREAKING FEATURE"
“Short” zooms such as 52mm (2X) aren’t particularly useful (except as Bokeh sensors) but they are the majority of zoom lenses today. Huawei already had the best 80mm mobile zoom in the Mate 20 Pro (and P20 Pro) and P30 Pro is going to the next level.
Optically, the 135mm zoom is called “5X” by Huawei, but it should be called “8X” (135mm / 16mm = 8.43X). The data from the 135m lens can also be used in the 80-135mm range, thanks to the merging (fusion) of the sensor data from the Primary Camera (26mm) and the 135mm telephoto camera. It’s an efficient way of using “sensor fusion”, and Huawei does it brilliantly.
There’s also a 10X (Hybrid) zoom that uses sensor-cropping and image-processing to reach a 270mm-equivalent zoom. It’s surprisingly usable and is the market’s best right now, perhaps until Oppo’s 10X optical zoom phone lands into our test schedule.
Finally, there’s a 50X (Digital) zoom which is impressive if you know what you’re doing, but we recommend a tripod because the shaking is wild. To Huawei’s credit, even at 50X the blur reduction is surprisingly good, thanks to the use of modern algorithms.
Conclusion and Uber Camera IQ score
Mobile photography is the real battleground of the phone industry, and the P30 Pro reflects that. Huawei has prioritized the camera hardware in the bill of material (BOM) and design constraints.
It’s not every day that a camera design comes with the potential of influencing user behavior, and we tip our hat to Huawei for that. The company has pushed zoom photography to a new level, and its night vision mode could create an entirely new use case for night photography.
|Uber IQ Camera||Sub-scores|
With the combined changes, the Huawei P30 Pro is taking the Uber IQ Camera top score away from the Galaxy S10, placing Huawei in the pole position, for now. Huawei snatched the overall best Camera IQ score in 2018 (Mate 20 Pro), and is now well positioned for 2019. We’ll constantly update our list of the best phone cameras as we test more of them.