We’ve seen quite a few breakthroughs in smartphone photography over the past few years, but none seems to have been adopted quite as quickly as Night Mode. Huawei seems to have joined the most recent trend with the P20 family last spring, and many manufacturers followed suit with their own versions, including some more budget-friendly phones that might surprise a few folks. But some more expensive flagships, namely Samsung’s Galaxy lineup, have yet to get an official night mode of any kind. This brings us to the first question in our video below: is night mode really necessary, or are most auto modes good enough?
Samsung led the charge in low light photography nearly three years ago now with the launch of the Galaxy S7, and 2018's Galaxy Note 9 marks the best attempt at retaining the low-light crown. Night mode can make a substantial difference in some cases, while other scenes won't show much improvement at all. This all at the expense of time, as most phones' auto modes can take a picture in a fraction of a second, while all night modes take several seconds. Huawei even provides options to increase the ISO or shutter speed manually in its night mode settings, meaning that automatic 6 seconds or so can be increased to 10 times that length to better improve the shot.
Secondly we take a look at the price of phones with night modes and how each of them compare in quality. Can a more budget-friendly phone get the job done, or do you need to shell out an arm and a leg for a premium flagship-level phone to really reap the benefits of night mode? The Xiaomi Mi MIX 3, OnePlus 6T, OPPO R17 Pro, and HONOR View20 are all more affordable than the average flagship-grade phone, yet all offer a night mode and cutting-edge camera tech to some degree. We pit those head-to-head against the Huawei Mate 20 Pro and the Google Pixel 3, which both are low light champions with their night modes, as Google's own Night Sight advertising suggests.
It's particularly interesting to pay attention to the details of each phones' inner-workings too. Huawei's night mode introduction with the P20 nearly a year ago seemed to be a variation on simple long-exposure shots, utilizing what it called "AI stabilization" to further enhance detail and remove hand jitter. This method has been improved a considerable amount with the Mate 20 Pro and the HONOR View20, but other manufacturers like Google, Xiaomi, OnePlus, and OPPO have taken a different approach to how night mode works.
These companies appear to take a single picture immediately to capture the essence of the shot, while taking multiple longer exposure shots after and stitching them together in the end. OnePlus and Xiaomi seem to have the fastest capture in this methodology, but the results speak for themselves, with OnePlus's night mode coming out darkest and with the least amount of detail. Xiaomi method on the Mi MIX 3 is considerably better, but still isn't nearly as bright or well balanced as the OPPO R17 Pro or HONOR View20. How did they fair against the more expensive Google Pixel 3 and Huawei Mate 20 Pro? Find out in our video below!