Huawei has just made the Mate 20 and Mate 20 Pro smartphones official. These are the latest smartphones from Huawei and once again sport three cameras. These are in a slightly different setup from the P20 Pro that the company announced earlier this year. Instead of three cameras vertically in the left-hand corner, they are in a square in the middle of the phone, with the flash on the left or right (depending on which model you look at). The big change on the camera front this time around, from the P20 Pro, is the removal of the Monochrome sensor for a wide-angle sensor. So the three cameras are set up pretty similar to the LG V40 ThinQ that was announced just under two weeks ago. Why did Huawei decide to take out the Monochrome sensor and add in a wide-angle sensor? Well the short of it is the fact that a wide-angle sensor is what customers wanted, and monochrome is something that Huawei can do with software, and it feels that it can do a better job with software than with a monochrome sensor.
Since Huawei debuted the dual-camera setup on the P9 back in 2016, it has always kept that monochrome sensor, with the regular RGB or color sensor. The reason for this was for it to act as two things: a depth sensor to allow for better Bokeh effects, and to give users a great black-and-white effect for their pictures without running it through software. It was a pretty cool option to have there, as software can sometimes affect the way a black and white photo would come out. But now, Huawei's software has gotten good enough to provide the same type of monochrome image through its camera software, as it would through a dedicated monochrome sensor. Which meant that Huawei had little use for the sensor.
Huawei also found that many people were not using the Monochrome mode on its smartphones. It was largely going unused, other than for depth information. But something that customers wanted, was a wide-angle sensor to get more in the shot. Monochrome does give you a pretty nice effect for your shot, but smartphone owners were just not using it on their Huawei smartphones. So it made sense for Huawei to get rid of it if it didn't need to use the camera with an RGB sensor. Huawei was pretty much the only smartphone maker that was actually using a monochrome sensor in the dual-camera setup on their smartphones. Most other companies were going with a main sensor and a depth sensor, or using a telephoto lens as the second sensor on smartphones. So it seemed like it was only a matter of time before a dedicated monochrome sensor was history.
Wide-Angle Proves to be the King
If you talk to any reviewer, or anyone that has used LG's newer flagship smartphones, they'll tell you that everyone needs to add a wide-angle camera to their smartphone. This is because you can get cooler shots with a wide-angle camera, then with the regular angled camera on a smartphone. Imagine trying to get a shot of a really cool building while you are on vacation or just traveling. But the standard camera zooms in too much to get the entire thing. Instead of moving further away, a wide-angle camera can get the entire building in the shot for you. This also works well for taking group shots with the rear-facing camera on the smartphone, as you can get everyone in the shot, without cutting off anyone's heads or anyone at all. This is infinitely more useful than having a monochrome sensor on the Mate 20 and Mate 20 Pro. It's also good to see that Huawei is actually listening to its customers, and giving them what they are asking for.
This isn't just any old wide-angle camera though, this is a wide-angle camera that Huawei has fine-tuned with Leica - who they have been partnering with since around the beginning of 2016. While Leica doesn't have much to do with the hardware that Huawei is using, the two do work together to improve the post-processing of these images. This means that you aren't just getting a regular old wide-angle camera that might take some grainy photos. Instead, you're getting one of the best out there, thanks to Leica's expertise in the field. Which is also a pretty big deal.
One of the issues for companies, largely LG, in adding a wide-angle sensor, was being able to zoom from the wide-angle sensor to the regular sensor. It is usually not that smooth. However, Huawei has made it pretty smooth on the Mate 20 and Mate 20 Pro. Allowing you to zoom in from wide to regular to telephoto in one fell swoop. This is another area where wide-angle sensors prove to be king, especially when paired with a telephoto lens on the other side of the regular lens. This allows you to zoom in much further without having to worry about the picture getting super grainy with a lot of noise. Typically, zoom on a smartphone is not good at all. And that's because it is all software-based, and the lens is not physically moving closer to the subject, but having wide-angle, standard, and telephoto lenses on board really do help with that.
Obviously, this doesn't mean that Huawei is ditching the Monochrome mode in its camera app, in fact, it is still there on the Mate 20 and Mate 20 Pro. It's just all being done with software now, and users have the ability to use the wide-angle camera to get more into each shot. While LG has been the main one using a wide-angle sensor on its smartphones (starting on the front with the V10 then moving to the back for the G5 the following year, before being used on both front and back on the V40 ThinQ in 2018), it now starts to appear that other manufacturers are going to start using wide-angle sensors on its smartphones. Google also added a wide-angle front-facing camera on the new Pixel 3 and Pixel 3 XL, while Huawei has one on the rear of the Mate 20 and Mate 20 Pro smartphones. That is definitely not a bad thing, but one has to wonder why it took manufacturers so long to adopt wide-angle cameras on their smartphones. After all, they have proved to be much more useful than just a two-megapixel "depth sensor" that you actually won't use.