The P30 smartphone lineup Huawei just “unveiled” in Paris has a fair shout when it comes to listing the most leaked consumer electronics families in history, but that lack of mystery should in no way diminish the importance of what was announced today. By every relevant standard and even many niche ones, the P30 range — that is – the P30 Pro — boast what is without a doubt the most advanced mobile camera ever created.
The tech advancements packed into the new handsets are so cutting-edge and unprecedented that the only scenario wherein the P30 series doesn’t end up dominating every imaging benchmark in existence is if Huawei lied about the entire thing and equipped its new phablets with VGA sensors as an early April Fools joke. We’ll have to go out on a limb and assume that’s not what happened here, so for now, we’re eagerly awaiting our review units from the company so as to attest this incredible tech is real.
Before delving into how the P30 range does what it does on the mobile photography front, let’s first look at the basic camera specs of the newly launched devices that Huawei and Leica have been actively working on for about a year now.
Huawei P30 Pro – the new golden standard
No sense in beating around the bush – the P30 Pro appears to be absolutely crushing its rivals in the imaging aspect from essentially every angle. It’s hence unsurprising how impressive its hardware list is, especially given that Huawei appears to be strengthening its collaboration with German optics experts at Leica. Despite the appearance of a three-lens system, the rear panel of the P30 Pro actually features a quad-camera setup, or at least its maker claims it does because it counts a time-of-flight sensor as a separate “camera.” That understanding is debatable but also irrelevant to the point here, which is that the P30 Pro’s portrait mode amazes with natural-looking bokeh effects, quick autofocus times, and remarkable consistency.
The main camera of the device is a 40-megapixel affair with a wide-angle lens featuring an aperture of f/1.6. This is the component responsible for the majority of the “natural” bokeh effect being delivered, though artificial intelligence shenanigans are certainly capable of adding more to it, and stitching is also part of the package — being fully automated, naturally — so that even the 8-megapixel sensor and the telephoto (f/3.4) lens it supports can contribute to the magic act of portraiture enabled by the P30 Pro.
Both of the aforementioned lenses are also optically stabilized but the image produced by the third glass module on the back of the newly launched phablet isn’t. The camera in question uses an ultra-wide-angle lens (f/2.2) and a 20-megapixel sensor, having been designed primarily for landscapes and group shots. PDAF/CDAF are part of the equation as well, so the speed and accuracy of the autofocus mechanism will be on par with the very best the industry has to offer at this sensor size (which is really close to the very best in overall, not that handsets are anywhere close to replacing actual dedicated cameras due to numerous other reasons).
Finally, Huawei AIS, the AI stabilization introduced last year as a way to see pure magic in the form of a mobile app programmed to take pictures is — believe it or not (why would you not, though) — back. Just imagine a tripod and the type of long expositions it allows for, then throw that bulky piece of metal out of the equation and be left with – those very same long expositions of fireworks, city lights, passing cars, or whatever else it is that you deem too pretty to be frozen still.
That’s mostly it, with the exception of another minor thingy worth mentioning – 5x optical zoom. In a regular-looking, non-modular, and, generally speaking, pretty thin and elegant – smartphone. For the first time ever. As if that is not enough, the P30 Pro goes beyond its optical limitations to combine a digital magnification factor of five with its insanely impressive optical zoom. Naturally, this is till mobile zooming we’re talking about so yes, results are inconsistent but the final image quality appears on par or above that of the Galaxy s10+, which can only do 2x optical zoom and struggles tremendously with doing anything elese simultaneously, which is an issue since photography occasionally require more than just pushing a button without thinking.
Not to single out Samsung’s Android flagships since they are amazing devices and actually among the best handsets when it comes to the question of zoom, even their 2018 predecessors can say the same, but the comparison is apt because it illustrates how Huawei even managed to beat the Seoul-based conglomerate at its own game – short and aggressive investment periods delivering shortcuts to the top followed by extremely broad R&D efforts experimenting with any and every thing that so much as promises improving the mobile photography experience of the previous-generation product to any degree that can still be described as discernible to the human eye.
That may be an oversimplified version of Samsung’s mobile strategy in this decade but it’s precisely how Huawei unexpectedly rose to the top of the mobile photography segment in the last 48 months and appears to be strongly resemble the manner wherein Samsung was able to continue exchanging blows with Apple and (later) Google for years, constantly fluctuating between the title of the world’s most advanced mobile camera’s maker and the world’s second-most advanced mobile camera maker. The firm, a tech giant in every aspect which sources components to the majority of the mobile space, including Huawei (especially OLED screens, including those used by some variants of the P30 and P30 Pro.
Joint custody of visual magic
The imaging technologies shared by both the P30 and P30 Pro are as plentiful as the differences between the two models. Even the most inconsequential of the lot is an impressive piece of engineering, which is exactly how one should describe the front-facing camera of the two Android phablets. Hidden within their tiny notches are 32-megapixel sensors mounted behind f/2.0 lenses and backed by a wide variety of selfie magic such as beautification modes, 3D masks with face-tracking support, and AI-powered HDR+ enchantments. The lens itself can open wide enough to deliver a decent bokeh effect, judging from some of the photos taken with the new devices that we’ve seen (but not Huawei’s marketing material), so while we still most enthusiast photogs are still likely to prefer either the realistic immortalizations from the Google Pixel 3 XL’s front-facing dual cameras of the slightly-over-the-top self-portraiture delivered by the Samsung Galaxy S10+ which uses a similar setup, Huawei’s new Android flagships are definitely in the premium tier of devices when it comes to selfies.
Then there’s the new image sensor with a modest name of SuperSpectrum. Huawei calls this module revolutionary and while we’re still lacking in low-light results from the P30 and P30 Pro’s cameras (both phones use the same sensor), this is at the very least a clever solution that gets rid of green pixels in favor of another set of yellow ones which count for more when it comes to making the most out of poor lighting yet can still deliver standard greens in regular circumstances by blending — what else than — blue with yellow. The only potential downside of that solution that could be encountered in everyday photography would be washed out images of predominantly green subjects or spaces taken in poor light but if you end up encountering that issue on a frequent basis, you either need to consider getting a dedicated camera with a flash or lighting set, or simply stop trying to photograph blades of grass at night.
Believe it or not – the Mate 30 could actually be worse
The bottom line is that it truly doesn’t get any better than this when it comes to mobile photography, unless you’re solely interested in taking selfies or such imagery constitutes the overwhelming majority of what you’re framing through your digital viewfinder, which, granted, is far from impossible. If you fit that not-too-uncommon bill, then sure, there are comparable and on rare occasions even better options on the market; believe it or not, some from the former category are actually rather straightforward mid-rangers that just happen to be banking on their amazing front camera to bail them out whenever they start reminding their owners about how mediocre they are in virtually every other respect.
In other words, as great and high-resolution it is, the single selfie camera of the P30 range is physically predetermined to be at least slightly inferior to contemporary two-lens systems, so identify your mobile photography priorities before pulling a plug on either one of Huawei’s new devices. If those happen to mostly concern the four sensors on the back of the P30 Pro and you’re willing and able to pay for it, there’s no point in waiting for competitors, which is possibly the only case of this advice being given in a serious manner in the nine-year history of Android Headlines.
Yes, history tells us there’s always some better tech right around the corner, especially in consumer electronics, yet no rule is without an exception, and no major manufacturer pouring at least hundreds of millions of dollars into R&D on a yearly basis is without a chance to very infrequently hit gold. Speaking in concrete terms, last year’s P20 series was so dominant that it even resisted the Mate 20 line, Huawei’s fall flagship range which always comes with a new chip (then also used for the next P range), refusing to yield to its camera which should have been at least slightly better on paper, based on the fact it’s reliant on a more efficient chip. That didn’t come to pass, shocking many, presumably due to optimization issues, but left a clear and extremely memorable piece of evidence proving Huawei’s mobile gear now reached such a level that it doesn’t even necessarily conform to traditional electronics wisdom of one product being objectively more capable than another, newer once launched in the same class and targeting the same demographic.
In other words, there is a “brand-new” historic precedent suggesting the Mate 30 series won’t surpass the camera experience the P30 and especially P30 Pro are already offering right now in any discernible manner and that buying a member of the latest Android range right now will provide you with what’s still considered a rare opportunity of enjoying the best mobile camera for a full year without changing devices. Though that frequency descriptor will surely have to be dropped if Huawei actually starts its third consecutive year of smartphone camera dominance in 2020.