The Huawei P20 Pro is here and with it comes a record-breaking DxOMark score, three cameras, and a whole bunch of photography tricks. With smartphones like the Pixel 2 XL and iPhone X setting the benchmark for smartphone cameras last year, and the Galaxy S9 Plus laying claim to the throne this year, how much better is Huawei’s camera?
As part of our exclusive look at the new camera, we had an hour with the P20 Pro last week and snapped a few pictures to compare against the latest flagships. The Pixel 2 XL is widely believed to be the best smartphone camera on the market. If you believe the DxO scores, the P20 Pro is significantly better. The same goes with the Galaxy S9 Plus and iPhone X, which both achieve similar scores to the Pixel 2 XL.
We conducted this shootout with beta software and only had a short amount of time with Huawei’s new flagship, so we could only get a first look at how the camera fares. We’ll bring you a full detailed camera shootout in the coming days!
Neither the Google Pixel 2 XL nor the iPhone X have dedicated “bokeh” modes, instead relying on a portrait mode to capture details with either one or two cameras, and using software to blur out the background.
Those two blurred the background a bit, but Galaxy S9 Plus and Huawei P20 Pro are in a league of their own in this bokeh battle. Both captured a lot of detail, though the P20 Pro seemed to handle the colors better and kept the leaves in focus when blurring out the background.
Winner: Huawei P20 Pro
The Huawei P20 Pro might have the most bokeh effect, but the effect is unnatural. If that’s what you’re looking for, it’s the best. Personally, I prefer the more subtle blurring effect of the iPhone X, though it struggled to illuminate my face.
The Galaxy S9 Plus produced a picture with a blown out sky. Looking at the exposure of my face, the background, and the amount of natural (or unnatural) bokeh applied to the final result, the Pixel 2 XL is the clear winner here.
Winner: Google Pixel 2 XL
With this test, the goal was to find which phone could capture the detail in the building without overexposing the sky. In particular, we wanted to capture the detail surrounding the windows, as well as the folds in the concrete wall, the brickwork, and the color of the sky.
The P20 Pro produces a slightly darker picture than we expected, with a noticeable lack of detail in the building architecture when zooming in. The iPhone X has a slight haze across the image, almost as if it is overcompensating for the blown out sky, which resulted in a slightly washed out image.
There’s not a lot of difference between the Pixel 2 Xl and the Galaxy S9 Plus here, but the S9 wins here by a fraction. The colors were more accurate than the Pixel 2 XL’s result, which over-aggressively applied its HDR effect.
Winner: Samsung Galaxy S9 Plus
How does each phone handle a scene with a gloomy sky and a colorful and detailed subject? Our trip through Chinatown took us to this building with mosaics, graffiti, lanterns, fire escapes, and statues.
There’s very little to pick from between these devices, but the winner should probably be the Pixel 2 XL. The Huawei P20 Pro comes a very close second, but the Pixel 2 XL is the best at accurately reproducing the colors in the scene, without overexposing the sky.
Winner: Pixel 2 XL
The focal point of this scene is the church in the background — to test which smartphone produces the best colors in a very busy scene. Judging by the colors of the church itself, the Huawei P20 Pro is the winner as the other smartphones produced images either slightly under or overexposed.
The P20 Pro also did an excellent job producing vivid colors in the grass, trees, and the background, while keeping the sky properly exposed. The runner-up would be the Pixel 2 XL, which comes mighty close, though the picture isn’t properly exposed.
Winner: Huawei P20 Pro
There’s very little to differentiate these images, despite the P20’s dedicated greenery mode (that activated automatically thanks to the onboard AI). In fact the P20’s image is a little blown out. Clearly the software tried to apply a blanket preset of settings designed for greenery, without truly analyzing this particular scene (and these shooting conditions).
Picking a winner from the remaining three was hard, but the Galaxy S9 Plus wins overall as it has the most detail zoomed into the image. In particular, it captures the water on the petals as well as more details of the broken petals compared to its rivals.
Winner: Galaxy S9 Plus
This dark church provided an interesting subject and a challenge for these smartphones. All of them promise excellent lowlight photography. The results varied widely, as you can see.
The iPhone X and Galaxy S9 Plus both overexposed the scene, which led to good color, but a noticeable lack of detail. The Galaxy S9 Plus outperforms the iPhone X here by a considerable margin, which is especially apparent when you zoom into the pews nearest the camera.
This leaves the Pixel 2 XL and the Huawei P20 Pro, and the result is a tie. Both devices are better than the other in different areas. The Pixel 2 XL does a great job of capturing the details in the overall scene but over-exposes slightly. The P20 Pro captured slightly less detail, but had more accurate exposure.
The Huawei P20 Pro might have a 24MP front-facing camera, but more megapixels doesn’t necessarily mean better pictures. It failed to properly expose this picture, resulting in a blown out image best thrown in the trash. The Galaxy S9 Plus selfie is slightly washed out, leaving the iPhone X and Pixel 2 XL as the two finalists.
Which of these two wins will largely be down to your personal preference, depending on whether you prefer darker or lighter images. The iPhone X had a produced a lighter image. The Pixel 2 XL better captured the colors of the background. I’d personally rather share the iPhone X selfie as it’s the more vibrant of the two.
Winner: Apple iPhone X
It might seem like a simple scene, but with a sliver of the sky at the top, water at the bottom, text on the wall behind and, of course, the waterfall itself, there’s a lot going on in these pictures. The focal point was the center of the image and it’s here we can draw our winner from (as well as at the bottom of the waterfall).
Zooming into the image, the iPhone X is the first to display noise, followed by the Galaxy S9 Plus. The Pixel 2 XL comes second, but the detail of the Huawei P20 Pro’s main camera shows. Looking at the bottom of the waterfall, its image remained properly exposed, unlike the other devices. There’s also more detail in the waterfall itself.
Winner: Huawei P20 Pro
How much better is the new camera?
Huawei’s new camera has some interesting tricks up its sleeve, and there’s no denying that 40MP resolution coupled with the f/1.7” sensor size gives it some advantages over the competition. Yet, the Pixel 2 XL proves software and clever algorithms make up for a lot of hardware disadvantages. Even the best hardware needs excellent software to produce the best photos.
Which of these smartphones do you think is the winner? You can see the full camera samples at the link in the button below. Let us know which one was your favorite in the comments below!
Stay tuned — we’ll be updating this post with our low light impressions tomorrow, followed by a full shootout in the coming days. For more on Huawei’s new flagship, check out these links below!