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Huawei Mate 50 Pro: Still the mobile camera king?

It's time to pit the best smartphone cameras against each other.
By
December 10, 2022
Huawei Mate 50 Pro vs Pixel 7 Pro cameras
Robert Triggs / Android Authority

Although predominantly focused on its Chinese home market these days, Huawei has a new release for Western audiences in the flagship Mate 50 Pro. Pricing it at a hefty £1,199/€1,199, Huawei still wishes to compete with Apple and Samsung hardware, but you have to scrutinize the broader package at this level too.

As with all recent Huawei releases, the absence of GMS and Google app support continues to be a barrier that most consumers won’t want to hurdle. While Huawei claims the app situation is ever-improving, the workaround remains somewhat cumbersome and still can’t provide all the services or experiences Western audiences are used to.

In the past couple of years, a reason to overlook this lingering issue has been Huawei’s best-in-class camera expertise. But with the Leica partnership over, can Huawei still lead the mobile photography field?

What you need to know about the Huawei Mate 50 Pro

Huawei Mate 50 Pro back angled
Robert Triggs / Android Authority

As you’d expect from Huawei, the Mate 50 Pro is a well-equipped flagship handset. Highlight features include an IP68 rating, a multi-day 4,700mAh battery, fast 66W wired and 50W wireless charging, and a vivid 120Hz 6.74-inch OLED display. The inclusion of ultra-secure, 3D depth-data-powered face unlock sees a return of a large notch, though this dates the looks somewhat.

There are some bigger caveats here, though. Despite the inclusion of a powerhouse Snapdragon 8 Plus Gen 1 chipset, there’s only 4G modem support onboard. So no 5G connectivity. EMUI 13 is based on Android 12 (not Android 13, as you might expect), and Huawei promises an increasingly below-average two-year OS and three-year security update pledge.

Still, the phone’s highlight, for me, is the design. The Mate 50 Pro is lighter than rival handsets like the Samsung Galaxy S22 Ultra, while the rear Kunlun glass (which boasts Switzerland’s SGS 5-star glass drop resistance) feels great in the hand and is resistant to fingerprints. Not everyone will love the curved display, but the circular, symmetrical “Space Ring” camera housing continues to offer a unique look. Huawei offers three colorways: black, silver, and orange (vegan leather).

But the real reason to continue to pick up a Huawei flagship is for the cameras. Powered by a 50MP RYYB main sensor with 10-point f/1.4-f/4.0 variable aperture, 13MP f/2.2 ultrawide, 64MP f/3,5 3.5x periscope camera, 13MP f/2.4 selfie snapper, proximity light sensor, and laser autofocus, backed by Huawei’s Ximage software, there’s plenty to sink our teeth into here.

Let’s take a closer look at how the phone’s camera package performs.

Huawei Mate 50 Pro camera review

Huawei Mate 50 Pro back lying down
Robert Triggs / Android Authority

Let’s start out with a broad selection of snaps captured with the Mate 50 Pro before diving into a closer look at some specific scenarios.

In general terms, most photographers will be very pleased with the results below. Colors are punchy without veering into frustrating oversaturation, fine details are present, and the main camera flies through HDR and low-light environments without issues. The handset’s white balance is also exceptional, for the most part.

One complaint is that Huawei’s algorithms can result in the odd underexposed and desaturated image, while details can take on a processed look (likely owing to image fusion algorithms) in some situations. Thankfully that’s not a really common occurrence, and it won’t be an issue for the majority of users who never crop in.

While I’m being really picky (which is my job), the comparison with the Galaxy S22 Ultra shows the pros and cons of Huawei’s approach to detail processing.

In daylight, there’s a comparative level of detail to Samsung’s flagship (Huawei actually overtakes in low light). However, the trade-off is fractionally sharper-looking shadows and marginally more aggressive denoise that creates a more painted look on a 100% crop. There’s not a lot in it, but any presumptions that Huawei is well ahead in the detail game no longer hold up.

HDR and low light

Turning to trickier environments, the Mate 50 Pro hangs with the best. HDR capabilities have long been one of Huawei’s strengths, and the phone stands up well next to the mighty Google Pixel 7 Pro in this regard. In our first samples, you’ll find similar highlight preservation and shadow detail between the two. However, the Mate 50 Pro has a bit of a purple tint in the top left that looks like chromatic aberration, which could be a result of lens distortion caused by the wide f/1.4 aperture.

The second image, above, is also incredibly similar. I give the Pixel 7 Pro the nudge on taming scene highlights. However, there’s much less shadow noise in the Mate 50 Pro’s picture, possibly in part thanks to its unique RYYB sensor configuration.

Turning the lights down lower reveals consistently solid white balance and detail capture. However, as we previously observed, the Mate 50 Pro is a little more aggressive in its processing than Samsung, which trades off lower noise for sacrifices in detail. Personally, I don’t mind a little grain in my images if it results in less distracting sharpening.

Oddly, the Mate 50 Pro dials up the color in low light. This could be in a bid to avoid the desaturation we often see with minimal light sources. Compared to the Pixel 7 Pro above, the color pop ends up looking a bit too much, in my opinion.

Compared to previous Huawei smartphones, something has definitely changed in this area of processing. It could be down to moving algorithms over from its in-house Kirin to Qualcomm’s Snapdragon platform or to the loss of Leica’s partnership. Either way, Huawei’s low-light images, and details more generally, aren’t quite as clean as I recall in past models.

Ultrawide and macro

On paper, Huawei’s ultrawide camera fits even more into the frame than Samsung’s S22 Ultra 12mm, 120-degree lens. It’s actually fractionally broader than the 13mm, 126-degree Google Pixel 7 Pro, making it one of the wider cameras on the market. See the example below.

Usually, I’d be very hesitant about a camera this wide. However, Huawei’s software chain provides rock-solid image correction, chromatic aberration reduction, and denoise. The level of detail preservation is a cut above competing flagship phones, although it’s still notably inferior to the main camera. White balance can also be a bit hit-and-miss and doesn’t always match the main camera.

The 100% corner crop above clearly shows superior detail and color capture, but there are still telltale signs of distortion, much like the Pixel 7 Pro. Huawei compensates for common purple haloing, but we can spot blue artifacts in their place. The Mate 50 Pro also attempts to correct for its extreme field of view to produce a “flatter” image; the perspective is just so-so in its utility, at least to me. It also has a knock-on effect on macro photography.

Like many flagship handsets, Huawei offers you the option of an optimized macro mode that flicks between main and ultrawide cameras to obtain the best focus. It works well enough but leans heavily on the ultrawide camera, which, given the very wide field of view, produces slightly odd perspectives compared to competing phones. See below.

Your preference here will really depend on whether you favor bokeh or sharp details in your macro shots. The Pixel 7 Pro does better at the latter, while the S22 Ultra offers nice bokeh. I find the Mate 50 Pro’s perspective too warped here.

Huawei missed a trick to leverage the phone’s variable aperture for much improved macro capabilities. You can toggle the aperture manually in the dedicated mode, and this works great to address the dreaded over-powering depth of field effect when using the primary lens up close. However, it’s a pain to navigate quickly. I would rather that the automatic macro mode handled it for you. Check out the shots below with the default f/1.4 aperture, f/4.0, and auto-macro settings.

I’d say the result’s pretty clear-cut here. Overall, Huawei’s ultrawide setup is better than most when it comes to fitting more in your shot as well as preserving image quality to a higher standard. However, I’m less confined by the extreme field of view and macro capabilities.

Hybrid zoom compared

Although it looks like the Huawei Mate 50 Pro camera package has four lenses, there are actually three and a proximity light sensor. The third camera is a 3.5x optical lens which, while a good pick for portrait photos, is a step back for long-range zoom enthusiasts compared to the Mate 40 Pro’s 5x optical zoom and certainly not close to the Huawei P40 Pro Plus and its 10x optical zoom capabilities. But perhaps Huawei can make up the gap with its super-resolution zoom technology.

Broadly speaking, zoom quality is solid for medium-range shots. Colors and detail are fine but not quite up to par with the main lens. It’s much easier to spot signs of sharpening and processing, as is typical for zoom cameras. The single lens setup is limited to about 5x reasonable maximum level of zoom. By the time you hit 10x, image quality looks just about passable at full frame but certainly doesn’t hold up on closer inspection.

That certainly doesn’t sound as good as Google’s and Samsung’s best, so how does the phone compare to its rivals?

At 3.5x, there’s not a lot to distinguish between any of the three phones I ported around for this shootout. At 100%, details are sharper than the Galaxy S22 Ultra’s roughly equivalent camera but not quite as robust as the Pixel 7 Pro’s super res zoom — at least in the center of the frame; Google’s implementation offers poor details at the image edge. Also, Huawei’s color choice is better than its rivals in the shot above, perfectly capturing the cold, crisp look of a winter’s morning.

Things are a little more interesting at 10x. The Galaxy S22 Ultra leads in long-distance outdoor photography owing to its dedicated 10x camera. The Pixel 7 Pro isn’t far behind, and then the Mate 50 Pro is a little behind that. However, check out the indoor shot below.

With non-ideal lighting, the Huawei Mate 50 Pro’s super res zoom technology closes in on the Galaxy S22 Ultra’s periscope camera. While Samsung still provides a softer, more realistic image that’s free from sharpening, Huawei’s entirely software-based approach isn’t far behind at all when looking at the full frame.

Overall, while Huawei has taken strides to surpass the competition in the ultrawide department, the Mate 50 Pro’s zoom capabilities trade blows with but can’t knock out the best in the business. While solid out to about 5x, the phone doesn’t quite offer the same level of detail as the Pixel 7 Pro and can’t quite keep pace with the S22 Ultra at longer range.

Portraits and selfies

Huawei’s portrait photography remains one of the best in the business, offering great subject exposure and rock-solid bokeh edge detection in both outdoor and dimly lit conditions. The Mate 50 Pro also excels at preserving realistic skin tones and textures without the oversharp or smeared details you’ll still often find on other flagship smartphones. The only drawback is that Huawei seemingly dials up the color punch a bit with portrait mode enabled; that hoodie is red, not pink. Thankfully, the look isn’t overbearing, but again, it’s a bit of a deviation from the more realistic approach we’ve seen from previous Huawei flagships.

Unfortunately, the portrait quality doesn’t carry over to the selfie camera. For starters, the Mate 50 Pro sports an unnecessarily wide field of view that results in very narrow faces and a distorted perspective. You can crop the image, but that doesn’t solve the problem. The front camera also oversaturates colors a tad to add more pop, yet struggles for saturation and detail in low light. Huawei has clearly prioritized group selfies over image quality.

Thankfully, bokeh edge detection is as good as its rivals. However, you have to switch the camera to 1x and enable the Circles effect before Huawei’s portrait mode does anything noticeable to the background. Even here, the blur effect isn’t quite as pleasing as the light circles you’ll see from other phones.

The bottom line: there are better selfie snappers out there. This is a shame because the Mate 50 Pro’s portrait photography is really decent.

Huawei Mate 50 Pro camera review: The verdict

Huawei Mate 50 Pro EMUI 13 homescreen
Robert Triggs / Android Authority

As expected, the Huawei Mate 50 Pro wields a competent camera array that’ll have you well covered regardless of the subject matter. Versatility remains one of the camera package’s greatest strengths, particularly in the portrait and ultrawide photography departments. It’s an innovative piece of kit too. Although the variable aperture controls could be more user-friendly, it is a powerful tool for taking greater control over the look of your pictures. I certainly hope more smartphones crib the idea in 2023.

The Mate 50 Pro camera excels in many areas but is let down by poor selfies and limited zoom capabilities.

That said, I have very high expectations for Huawei’s camera capabilities, and while mostly solid, there are definitely some uncharacteristic drawbacks here. Hit-and-miss colors, middling zoom capabilities, and a disappointing selfie camera take the shine off a setup that’s commanding a premium flagship £1,199/€1,199 price tag. While there’s still a good camera package here, it’s harder to recommend than previous models, especially when compared to the ever-improving competition.

With Huawei’s main selling point struggling to stand out and the ongoing Google ecosystem trade-offs, the Mate 50 Pro is a tougher ask than initially anticipated. While Huawei photography enthusiasts may still find enough to love here, we’d steer the majority of consumers to the excellent camera and less compromising software packages available from the Google Pixel 7, Samsung Galaxy S22, or even Apple’s iPhone 14 series.

Huawei Mate 50 ProHuawei Mate 50 Pro
Huawei Mate 50 Pro
Wonderful design • 3D face unlock • Flexible cameras
The Mate 50 Pro continues to represent the best of Huawei's mobile technology
With an exquisite design, flexible camera package, fast charging, secure 3D face unlock, and top-class performance, there's plenty of hardware to sink your teeth into with the Huawei Mate 50 Pro.