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HUAWEI P9 feature focus - Camera

Josh takes the HUAWEI P9 and its dual camera setup out for a few little trips to see what the camera offers and if the monochrome/RGB combo can keep up.

Published onJune 29, 2016

Following a solid run in the high-end smartphone category with the likes of the Nexus 6P and Mate 8, HUAWEI made yet another splash with the launch of their latest flagship offering, the HUAWEI P9. Apart from flagship specifications and features, what makes the P9 stand out from the crowd is not only its unique dual camera setup, that includes a monochrome sensor, but also the name attached to it – the well-known German camera maker, Leica.

The collaboration with Leica certainly raises the expectations we have from the camera, and while we have taken a look at it in action in the comprehensive review, we thought it pertinent to delve a little deeper. We take a closer look, in this HUAWEI P9 camera feature focus!

Starting with the front-facing 8 MP camera, HUAWEI’s Beauty mode returns, and remains somewhat odd to use. This mode helps with the skin tone, and generally softens the image, but the processing can be quite severe at times. For the most part however, the front-facing camera of the P9 does get the job done.

huawei p9 camera feature focus aa wp panorama (2)

Before diving into how the dual camera setup of the P9 works, let’s take a look at the extra features that are available with the camera application. In the Panorama shot above, you can already start to see the kind of quality we can expect from this camera is good lighting conditions, and the multiple shots do stitch together quite well to create the Panorama.

A feature that returns with the HUAWEI P9, and was very popular with previous HUAWEI smartphones, is De-focusing. Granted, this isn’t something we haven’t already seen before, but it is interesting to use on this phone. How this works is that you pick a portion of the viewfinder and then choose an f-stop, to emulate as open as even f/0.95. This allows for the point of focus to be clear and detailed, while everything else is blurred.

You can take really artistic shots with this feature, but something to remember is the fact that this is just a software effect. The camera focuses on the subject and makes that clear compared to everything else, and it is an artificial effect, which is plainly seen in a few images, when considering what is possible with an actual lens with a real aperture ring. It’s still a very nice feature to have though, and allows for some great-looking shots, but it something to keep in mind.

HDR mode has to be manually-triggered from the menu of the camera application, but does work quite well. HDR helps bring out more detail in the shadows, and adds some color saturation to the scene as well.

As mentioned, that HUAWEI P9 features a unique dual camera setup, which includes two 12 MP cameras with f/2.2 apertures, with one of them being a monochrome sensor. Essentially, all this secondary camera is doing is using black and white shots to gauge how much light is hitting the sensor, based upon the different subjects and objects inside the scene. By using that information, it will then add the color onto the photo using the other camera, allowing for better contrast, and ultimately, better detail with these photos. Of course, you can also use the monochrome camera to take some really nice looking black and white shots as well.

As far as image quality is concerned, the camera does impress. The f/2.2 aperture may not be ideal for low-light photography, but in well-lit situations, the camera does an excellent job. The color saturation isn’t too dull or too severe, but what is particularly good to see is the amount of contrast. That is exactly what HUAWEI hoped to achieve here, and as you can see in some of the photos above, the camera does a good job in marrying the very dark and very bright areas of a photo. The dynamic range is quite good here, and the two cameras that are working in conjunction are doing their job very well.

Unfortunately, video recording with the camera isn’t nearly as impressive. The colors do look pretty nice, but there is no optical image stabilization available, so shooting video will require a very steady hand. The camera is also capable of recording up to 1080p, which may be disappointing for some who were hoping for 4K capture, as is available with most current generation flagships. In lower light situations, videos can be quite grainy, and don’t nearly match up to what is possible with plenty of competing smartphones.

You will notice that even when indoors, the saturation does seem to taper off a little bit. It isn’t too much of a big deal though, and the contrast is still being captured quite well, with the highlights still being well separated from the shadows, which is obviously something that HUAWEI was trying to do here. It makes for a very dynamic photo, especially when you have a high range, and getting some nice looking shots is still possible in indoor situations.

However, when it comes to poorly-lit situations, contrast is still a priority, but the noise becomes noticeable as well. Of course, with a f/2.2 aperture, these situations and areas aren’t going to be ideal shooting locations with the HUAWEI P9 cameras. When in low light, lower shutter speeds are used to properly expose a photo, making a steady hand a necessity as well, to avoid blurry shots.

The main low-light situation where we can see exactly how these cameras worked was during the Pentatonix concert, I was able to attend, with Us the Duo opening for them, clippings of which you will see interspersed throughout the video above. These situations are where you will find a massive amount of contrast, which can make it quite difficult for a camera to create a good looking photo, with the stage and the darkened audience creating two areas with very high contrast.

One of the other supposed benefits of having a secondary monochrome camera is that it could provide a little more detail in situations like these, because of its data that only sees how much light is hitting the sensor, and where in the scene that light is coming from. That actually does seem to be the case, as you can see in the image above, and when zooming into these photos, the people on stage can be seen quite clearly. Granted, these aren’t going to be perfect shots, and there is plenty of noise in the darker areas, but as far as concert photos go, small tweaks to the exposure compensation was enough to create some nice looking pictures.

So, there you have it for this closer look at the cameras of the HUAWEI P9! Overall, this collaboration between HUAWEI and Leica serves as a proof of concept. Taking the information that a monochrome sensor can provide helped add a lot of contrast to photos, and also bumped up the detail in some of them.

There are admittedly some glaring holes in the overall experience, such as the lack of 4K video recording and OIS, but if you are looking for a camera that takes great looking pictures in well-lit situations, the HUAWEI P9 is actually a very impressive performer. We certainly hope that this is something that HUAWEI and Leica continue to work on and have return with future smartphones.

What do you think of the HUAWEI P9 camera and is it enough to make you want to buy the phone? Let us know your views in the comments below!

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