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Huawei P20 Pro camera review: Innovative technologies, outstanding results

Huawei P20 Pro camera review: Innovative technologies, outstanding results
Posted on March 27, 2018 by Lars Rehm

The Huawei P20 Pro is the Chinese manufacturer’s latest flagship smartphone, and in terms of camera tech, is arguably the most innovative device we’ve seen in quite some time. A quick look at the device’s back plate reveals that the P20 Pro is the first smartphone to feature a triple camera setup. However, Huawei hasn’t simply slapped a third sensor and lens onto its current dual-camera system. The new model stands out among its peers in several ways:

At 1/1.78″, the main camera’s sensor is unusually large—approximately twice the size of the Samsung Galaxy S9’s 1/2.55″ chip. Despite a slightly slower f/1.8-aperture lens, the RGB main camera sensor of the  P20 Pro captures approximately 20 percent more light than the smaller sensors used in most competing models. As with previous high-end Huawei smartphones, the main sensor is supported by a secondary monochrome sensor which helps further increase photon capture.
The main camera sensor uses a Quad Bayer structure with a total pixel count of 40Mp. It outputs data binned in 2 × 2 pixel units, resulting in 10Mp image output.
With an equivalent focal length of 80mm, the P20 Pro’s optically-stabilized tele-camera offers a significantly longer reach than the 2x tele-modules in the latest iPhone or Samsung Galaxy devices. This is possible because the main camera in combination with the 20Mp monochrome secondary sensor is already capable of delivering decent zoom detail at a 2x zoom factor. As a consequence, the engineers have been able to focus on squeezing a longer reach out of the P20 Pro’s tele-lens. The Tele also outputs 10Mp image.
The monochrome sensor in the camera setup serves several purposes: it helps with depth estimation for the simulated bokeh effect, and the fine detail and low noise levels of the monochrome sensor improve image quality when zooming and in low light.

The Huawei P20 Pro triple camera: The main camera is at the center, the monochrome module at the bottom (left in this image) and the tele at the top (right).
Key camera specifications:

Triple camera setup
Main camera: 40Mp, 1/1.73″ RGB sensor with Quad Bayer structure, f/1.8-aperture lens with 27mm equivalent focal length
Secondary camera: 20Mp, 1/2.78″ monochrome sensor, f/1.6-aperture lens with 27mm equivalent focal length
Tele-camera: 8Mp, 1/4.4″ RGB sensor, f/2.4-aperture lens with 80mm equivalent focal length, and optical image stabilization
Aperture mode default eq. focal length: 55mm
PDAF on main sensor
4K video (not default mode)
960 fps slow-motion video at 720p
6.1″ display, 2240 x 1080 resolution
Kirin 970 chipset
About DxOMark Mobile tests: For scoring and analysis in our smartphone camera reviews, DxOMark engineers capture and evaluate over 1500 test images and more than 2 hours of video both in controlled lab environments and in natural indoor and outdoor scenes, using the camera’s default settings. This article is designed to highlight the most important results of our testing. For more information about the DxOMark Mobile test protocol, click here. More details on how we score smartphone cameras are available here.

Test summary
With an overall score of 109 points, the Huawei P20 Pro sets a new benchmark for smartphone cameras on, outscoring all of its closest rivals, such as the Apple iPhone X, the Google Pixel 2, and the Samsung Galaxy S9 Plus by a margin that is close to or higher than 10 points. Much of this is due to the Huawei’s outstanding still image capabilities that earn it an unprecedented Photo score of 114 points. The large sensor in the main camera combined with the B&W sensor allows for excellent low-light performance and class-leading dynamic range; the dedicated 80mm equivalent tele-lens in combination with the high-resolution monochrome chip, delivers the best zoom performance we’ve seen on a smartphone to date. The monochrome chip is also used to help generate the P20 Pro’s excellent bokeh-simulation.

And the P20 Pro is no slouch either in video mode, thanks to class-leading image stabilization, a good autofocus, and very low noise levels. At 98 points, it just manages to push the Google Pixel 2 off the number one spot in the video ranking, making the P20 Pro the best all-around mobile device for imaging that money can currently buy.

Bright light

The Huawei P20 Pro delivers excellent image in all bright-light conditions. Exposure is usually spot-on and the dynamic range is one of the widest we have measured on any smartphone, making the Huawei ideal for shooting in difficult high-contrast situations. Images are sharp across the frame, with pleasant textures and a lot of detail. Noise is very well under control, too, with virtually no grain visible in areas of plain color, such as blue skies.

The P20 Pro’s autofocus system works reliably and swiftly in all situations, and color rendering is generally very pleasant, with only very occasional orange or pink color casts noticeable. We also observed a slight loss of color saturation and some aliasing and halo artifacts in some specific high-contrast scenes.