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Huawei P20 and P20 Pro camera review

Touted as a "renaissance in photography", Huawei's new phone calls time on the dark ages for smartphone cameras.

The P20 and P20 Pro are the latest flagship phones from Huawei and are touted as ushering in nothing less than a “renaissance in photography”.

The P20 comes with a dual-lens camera, which pairs a 12-megapixel main camera with a 20-megapixel monochrome sensor for extra-detailed black-and-white images.

What's the P20 got to offer besides its camera? Find out in our full review.

It’s also equipped with a 2x optical, lossless zoom that’s similar to the one seen on the iPhone X and the Galaxy S9 series.

The larger, higher-end Huawei P20 Pro, on the other hand, is where the biggest camera innovation has been introduced.

It has not two, but three cameras: a 40-megapixel main camera, a 20-megapixel monochrome camera and an additional 8-megapixel zoom lens capable of 3x optical zoom with no loss of detail.

Both phones perform very well in a range of conditions, thanks to fast focus, minimal shutter lag and surprisingly good camera artificial intelligence (AI) that recognises the subject you’re shooting and adjusts the settings accordingly.

Optical Image Stabilisation, an essential element of sharp images, especially in low light, is also present on both.

However, it’s the bigger P20 Pro with its unrivalled 3x optical zoom and excellent low light performance that we’d happily name as one of the best camera phones around.

In the market for a P20? You'll find a wide range of deals on our comparison page.

Think you'd prefer the P20 Pro? Take a look at our pick of the best deals.

Using the camera

The camera interface is super simple with the shutter button in the middle, gallery shortcut on the left and video on the right.

The main shooting modes can be accessed at the top (or the left if you’re holding the phone in on its side). As well as standard flash options (on/off/auto), they include an Aperture Mode that allows you to adjust the depth of field for a blurred-out background effect and a dedicated Portrait Mode.

There’s also a Moving Picture Mode. Like the one seen in the latest iPhone, this allows you to capture a picture alongside a tiny video clip of what happened moments before you pressed the shutter.

Huawei-P20-Pro-interface-gallery

The P20 Pro has a clean interface. Unusually it’s got Gallery, Shutter and Selfie buttons, while the Video option is in the scrolling menu.

Huawei-P20-interface-gallery

The P20’s interface is slightly different. Here you’ll find the more common Gallery/Shutter/Video configuration, while the selfie button is on the top-right.

Bright light and landscapes

Both the P20 and P20 Pro are perfect companions for a stroll along the river on a sunny day. But it’s the P20 Pro, with its impressive Optical Zoom, that’s better for landscape photography.

The AI Scene Mode, which detects what you’re trying to capture and adjusts the settings for best results, works very well. Handily, it displays the detected settings with small tags at the bottom of the screen, such as Blue Sky or Greenery.

Depending on personal taste, you may find the adjustments a bit overzealous, with some oversaturation on occasion leading to an overly blue sky or overly green leaves. But as the shots below attest, the results are certainly very striking.

Eye-popping colours in evidence at London’s Borough Market.

If there’s one thing that sets the P20 Pro apart from the competition, it’s the 3x Optical Zoom. It’s staggeringly great and finally makes good on phone manufacturers’ claims of ‘lossless zoom’.

Soft background and Portrait Mode

There are two ways to get the ‘soft-background’ bokeh mode in the P20 and P20 Pro.

First up, is the Aperture Mode that allows you to adjust the aperture level and how blurred the background appears.

The second way is the Portrait Mode, which, as the name suggests, is used for Portraits and gives you a Beauty Level slider for skin smoothing and softening.

For best results, I suggest you set the Beauty level to a low setting to avoid artificial looking portraits.

With the Aperture Mode, on the other hand, I’d recommend you go crazy and experiment with different levels. You’ll be surprised how it can make any subject stand out.

Huawei-P20-Pro-camera-sample-portrait-mode

Select Portrait from the main menu for professional-looking portraits.

Selfies

We’ve seen a lot of progress in the quality of the front-facing camera in the last generation of high-end smartphones. So expectations were high for the P20 series.

And I’m pleased to say that I’m not disappointed, with colours and details easily the equal of other top-of-the-range phones. The soft focus Portrait Selfie Mode softens the background effectively, but some may find the results a bit artificial-looking.

Low light

On a sunny day, you’ll probably get equally good results with either the P20 or P20 Pro. But after dark, they become two very different camera-phones.

While the standard P20 gives you great results by most people’s standards, the P20 Pro is an exceptional performer, especially when using the monochrome mode which brings out a remarkably high level of detail.

Huawei-P20-camera-sample-low-light Huawei-P20-Pro-camera-sample-low-light

Video

Both phones in the P20 series are capable of recording video at 2160p at 30fps (frames per seconds) and super slow-motion clips at a resolution of 720p at 960fps.

This exactly matches what you will find on the Galaxy S9. And the quality of video clips is every bit as good.

The slow-motion mode works quite differently, though, as it records a fixed length of 0.2 seconds. That doesn’t sound much. But at 960 frames per second, it results in some very impressive clips.

Verdict

I’d be happy to recommend the P20 and P20 Pro as excellent alternatives to the S9 and iPhone X.

Although the contrast and saturation are sometimes a bit higher than I’d have liked, both phones are very, very capable in most everyday situations.

Forced to choose between them, it’s the bigger, three-lensed P20 Pro that gets my vote. Due to its excellent Optical Zoom, superior performance in low light and the impressive level of detail, especially when shooting with the Monochrome lens.

Without a doubt, it’s one of the best camera phones we’ve ever used.

In the market for a P20? You'll find a wide range of deals on our comparison page.

Think you'd prefer the P20 Pro? Take a look at our pick of the best deals.

Category: Reviews
Tagged: huawei p20
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