The Huawei P30 Pro delivers a fairly unique optical package for an Android smartphone, or any smartphone for that matter. This particular review is going to focus on that camera experience specifically, and deep dive into some of the nuance around the performance of the included cameras.
Disclaimer: Huawei Provided us with this P30 Pro unit for the purpose of review. We have not been compensated in any way and Huawei has no control over the outcome of this review.
First of all, if you’re after a standard sort of review, giving the pros and cons of this device across all of its functions, head over to Craig’s review here. In this piece, I’m focusing entirely on the camera performance and use cases.
- 40MP main Camera
- F1.6 aperture
- 27mm equivalent lens
- 1/1.7” sensor size
- RYYB Bayer filter
- PDAF (Phase Detect Auto Focus)
- OIS (Optical Image Stabilisation)
- 20MP Ultrawide Camera
- F2.2 aperture
- 16mm equivalent lens
- 1/2.7” sensor size
- RGGB Bayer Filter
- 8MP 5x Telephoto camera
- F3.4 Aperture
- 125mm equivalent lens
- 1 /4” sensor size
- RGGB Bayer filter
- TOF depth sensor.
- 32MP Selfie camera
- 0.8micron pixels
- Kirin 980 ISP
Still Images – Main
The main camera on the P30 Pro is the big update here. With the RYYB Bayer filter swapping out Green for Yellow pixels, and the large sensor size, Huawei is going for gold here and it shows.
So, why would Huawei swap out the Green pixels for Yellow ones in the first place? Well, in the simplest of answers, Yellow is more sensitive to light than Green is, meaning that in low light scenarios, having a more sensitive sensor means you can see more without having to resort to using the flash or a long exposure mode.
The downside of this is that every piece of kit on the market is made to look for RGGB when taking image data and making a picture from it, so Huawei had to rewrite and rejig the ISP (Image Signal Processor) to work with the Yellow sensor. They also had to match the colours, which sounds silly, but all the colours you see on a digital display are constructed from various mixes of Red, Green and Blue, so swapping one of those primary colours out is hard, because it is going to take different amounts of each colour to reproduce the same colour, so all in all, not a small undertaking.
Regardless of the size of the task, I’d say Huawei pulled it off. Not looking at the low-light stuff for a moment (that gets its own section) the images I’m getting from the main camera on the P30 Pro are nothing short of stunning. Greens are vibrant, Blues are deep and only Reds seem to “suffer” with a bit of a radioactive look sometimes. This is something I can most certainly live with, especially considering how pleasant the images look, and this is without any of the AI enhancements which strangely are turned off by default on the P30 Pro.
With the staggeringly sharp f/1.6 aperture you can also get some real bokeh effects on the P30 Pro too which, when used in the right context looks really quite good, and infinitely better than fake software bokeh. For some artsy photos, I’ve been impressed with how simple it is to point and shoot and get the photo I wanted without any real input from me.
If I wanted to though, I can take full control. Huawei’s camera app has had a Pro mode for years. In it, you can change ISO (up to a staggering 409600) shutter speed, exposure value, white balance, focus (yes, you can manually focus) and more. You can even do all of that and then set the camera to capture a RAW image as well as the JPEG so that if you wanted to, you could go into Adobe Lightroom or your image editor of choice and spruce up the image to your tastes, brilliant!
Low-Light images – Main
The low-light capability of the P30 Pro might be something you’ve heard a lot about. After all, it is why they changed the image sensor to RYYB, and enabled an insane ISO of 409600 – these better be damn good low light images, right? Well yeah, they are actually.
This is a picture of my car. This was at 11 pm at night and this was in full auto mode. It was so dark outside that if I did not know the colour of Vinnie (my car) I wouldn’t have been able to tell you, and the P30 Pro produced this. Not in night mode, not with a flash or any other external light sources. The phone produced this in a split second, with no long exposure, nothing. The phone just did this, and I am shocked.
Here is another low light shot. This is from the P30 Pro launch night and we’re on the river in Paris on a boat. There are lights yes, but just look at the sheer amount of detail here. This is late at night and I would have needed night mode on my P20 Pro to reproduce this, but the P30 Pro just shrugged and did it effortlessly. In fact, I took the same shot but in night mode, and I happen to think it made the shot worse. It bumped up the greens a bit too much and I think that’s because the night mode is still very similar to that of the P20 Pro which uses a normal RGGB sensor and not RYYB, going back to the work Huawei did to make the colours look normal.
Still Images – Ultrawide
So how about we look at the new camera this year, after all the P20 Pro had a 40MP main camera and a zoom lens, but instead of the ultrawide on the P30 Pro, it has a monochrome sensor. Now, I’m still a sucker for good monochrome photography, and I still prefer the real monochrome shot over an RGB shot with a monochrome filter, but the whole point of the monochrome sensor initially was that it can take in much more detail than the RGB sensor can, so whilst one worked on detail, the other worked on colour reproduction. Huawei claims that with the SuperSpectrum sensor, the colour sensor can take in more light than the monochrome one did, so it was superfluous.
But this was the better choice. As I said I miss the Monochrome sensor for sure, but I’m using the ultrawide far more than I ever did the monochrome sensor. Do you need to take a shot of something but can’t get far enough away? Boom, ultrawide comes in for the win. The de-noising and work they’ve done to reduce fish-eyeing at the edges do wonders for the image quality. It’s still obviously an ultrawide lens as things curve the closer they get to the perimeter, but it isn’t as severe as something like a GoPro for instance.
At “over 120 degrees” the P30 Pro ultrawide camera is wider than the human field of view and it really does come in handy having something that close to your field of view when framing up shots, because it is closer to what you’re seeing. It is a bit of a strange thing, but it feels better, I can’t explain why, but shooting with a camera that can seamlessly switch between “normal camera” mode and “human eye wide” mode is just cool.
Still Images – Telephoto
This is the other headlining feature on the P30 Pro. Whilst the P20 Pro had a 3x Optical zoom, the 5x optical zoom on the P30 Pro is different. First off, when you look at the camera cluster on the rear of the phone, one of them is Square, and that’s the Telephoto zoom, and it’s square because that’s not actually the lens, that’s the periscope prism. Yup, periscope.
So why did Huawei need to do this? 5x isn’t so far off of 3x is it? Well, actually it is, and the periscope system allows Huawei to lay the camera sideways, use larger, better glass in the lenses and space them out properly enough to get a great 5x optical zoom. No digital cropping here! Light comes through the glass at the back, hits the prism, turns 90 degrees then goes through the 5 or 6 lens elements before hitting the camera. It’s complicated, but also remarkably simple. The fact it’s been done at all is impressive and it also just happens to take amazing photos.
Most optical zooms on phones are 2-3x, a useful amount for sure, but a full 5x optical zoom is nothing short of stunning. Huawei has also brought back their Hybrid Zoom system. This time, whereas it was 3x optical and 5x hybrid on the P20 Pro, on the P30 Pro we have 5x optical and 10x hybrid and wow does the 10x Hybrid look stunning here. Once again, most 10x zooms on phones are digital, noisy zooms where it just crops in on the frame. The 10X Hybrid zoom on the P30 Pro is the 5x optical with AI enhanced cropping to resolve edge detail and interpolate what it thinks should be there, and wow does it work. It works a lot better in bright light but is remarkably useable in lower light as well.
Video – Main
Huawei has worked on video recording this time, as unfortunately, the P20 Pro suffered quite a lot in this regard, and whilst the P30 Pro is leaps and bounds better it still lags behind others.
The recording options are the same, 720p, 720p+ (21:9) 1080p, 1080p+, 1080p60 and 4K UHD, it still lacks 4K60, which I’m not too sad about as humanity in 60fps looks weird as all hell. Given how the ISP here still struggles with 4k30, I’m not sure you’d even want a 60fps variant. All of these can also be recorded in H.264 or H.265. I instantly switch over to H.265 from the default so that I can save space, not lose quality and edit easier, but the compatibility is poorer as it is much newer than H.264.
The two video Samples below are in 4k30 and 1080p60 and whilst they’re fine, the colours on the main camera are off, skin tones especially, make people look like they’re jaundiced with a bit of a dodgy spray tan. Hopefully, this can be further adjusted in future, but I do not know if this is intrinsic to the ISP or just the colours they’ve got that are easy to change in something like an EMUI update.
Video – Ultrawide
Video recording on the ultrawide camera actually works pretty well. Despite not having OIS, the stabilisation is fine but clearly struggles in a 4K mode which is to be expected.
Another issue is, again, the colours, but in this case the colours between the sensors aren’t consistent. The skin tones here are more skin like, which is good, but also adds to my thoughts that the issues on the main sensor are that the RYYB hasn’t been “calibrated” properly and just needs a bit more work.
Video – Telephoto
Now, it’s hard for me to think of this as anything other than “wannabe Paparazzi creep” mode or “Dad late to the school play so is at the back” mode. The 8MP Telephoto sensor is just high enough resolution to be able to capture content at 3840×2160 (4K) but due to the aperture of f/3.4 it really struggles in low light. There is a lot of grain in anything but bright daylight and it is really hard to keep a camera steady at 5x zoom. Just make sure not to have an espresso too many before manning the camera in this mode or you might get seasick, let alone trying to shoot video at 10x
Front Facing Camera Stills
Now we get to the area where Huawei has struggled seemingly forever, and that is the front facing Camera.
The 32MP front camera is impressive when you look at it technically; a relatively bright aperture, pixel binning to make the image brighter and much more, but, at least in my opinion, the result we get is sub par.
Whilst I am pale when taking most of these selfies, I’m not usually that pale. Everything looks like it has had the wrong LUT applied to it and whilst these could likely be improved, without the RAW mode available on the front camera you are much more restricted to Instagram filters and a bit of light Photoshop work.
I’m impressed with the sheer amount of detail capture, but with a 32MP sensor, should I be? That’s a lot of resolution and I’d say the results are comparable to the detail level from the Pixel 3, but everything else looks a lot worse.
Can this be improved with software updates? I hope so, but after my experience with the P20 Pro, Mate 10 Pro, P10 and P9, I’m not sure they will.
Front Facing Camera Video
Video on the front camera is a bit different. We get 720p, 1080p and 1080p+ which stretches 1080p to the aspect ratio of the screen, which is roughly 19.5:9. We also get the same H.264/H.265 encoder toggle but not much of anything really.
The issue I find with recording video on the front camera is that it crops in a fair bit, and despite my relatively lanky arms (I’m 5ft6 with 6ft wingspan) it always seems to just be that smidge too close for comfort.
Video recording suffers the same as the other sensors though; colours look bland, depth is barely there and stabilisation is just fine. It’s better than the P20 Pro, but it isn’t in the same league as most other flagship tier smartphones and that is a bit sad to me.
So how to end this without gushing too badly. The camera system on the P30 Pro is nothing short of astounding. For stills, this is one of the best cameras on the market right now, easily on par with the iPhone Xs and the Pixel 3 in my opinion. Whilst this may not be as consistent as those, the P30 Pro does also exceed those devices in certain scenarios. For example it absolutely destroys them in low light, and when needed, that zoom lens just does wonders.
It’s not perfect, especially when it comes to colour science in video mode, and that is hopefully something that can be updated in the future, but even so, the P30 Pro has earned its spot in my pocket.