What is the Huawei P20?
The P20 is second in command to Huawei’s flagship smartphone, the P20 Pro which is the first mobile to feature a three-camera system. Like the P20 Pro, the P20 is an Android phone that runs on Android 8.1 Oreo.
Huawei has a partnership with Leica for camera development. Consequently, the P20 uses a dual Leica camera system that combines a 12Mp RGB f/1.8 camera with a 20Mp monochrome f/1.6 camera. By default, the camera produces 12Mp images, but you can opt to shoot 20Mp files if you prefer.
- Dual camera design
- Excellent Aperture Mode
- Superb low light performance
- Screen too vibrant in the default settings
- Tends towards quite bright images
- Stabilisation not available in 4K video mode
Like the P20 Pro, the P20 has a Pro shooting mode that allows you to take control over aspects such as the metering mode, sensitivity (ISO), shutter speed, exposure compensation, focus mode and white balance setting.
If you tap the settings icon in the top right corner of the screen you’ll also find that it’s possible to shoot raw files. However, it’s important to note even if you select the option to shoot raw files, the camera will only record jpegs in the automatic shooting modes.
Huawei has used artificial intelligence (AI) in the P20 to enable the camera to understand what it’s being asked to photograph and to apply appropriate settings. This comes into play in the automatic shooting modes and in the default Photo mode, icons are displayed on the screen to indicate what the camera has detected. Point it at a dog, for example, and an icon of a dog appears.
As with the P20 Pro, in its default setting the P20’s screen ramps up the colour of images too much so they can look unnatural. This can be rectified by dipping into the Display options of the Settings menu and activating Natural Tone within the Colour & Eye comfort settings and ensuring Colour mode & temperature is set to Normal rather than vivid.
The P20 is capable of capturing a high level of detail and in most situations, the images impress.
It produces colours that are vibrant and attractive. In the unlikely event that you want a bit more punch, there’s a ‘Vivid colours’ mode available via a film icon at the top of the screen. However, I’d advise caution with this as it can make natural subjects look over-saturated. For example, I used it when shooting some of the landscapes (identified as Greenery by the AI) in the sample images page and the bright spring day in England looks positively Mediterranean.
I found that images can also be quite bright and its sometimes necessary to reduce the exposure a little to stop the highlights from burning out.
One area where the P20 excels is in very low light situations. Switching to the Night mode sets the camera to capture a batch of images that are then merged to create a single composite with a high level of detail and little noise.
The autofocusing system is also good. Even in quite low light, it’s fast and accurate.
Video quality from the P20 is also good and the stabilisation system that’s available for use when shoot Full HD or lower resolution enables watchable footage to be produced when walking. Unfortunately, it can’t be used when shooting 4K (3849 x 2160) video.
As both of the cameras on the P20 have an effective focal length of 27mm, the zoom is digital rather than optical, but it produces good results.
It’s also worth noting here that the zoom can only be used when the camera’s resolution is set to 12Mp or lower, it can’t operate at 20Mp.
In Aperture mode, you can set the aperture before or after shooting. The images are tagged with an aperture icon and when this is tapped you can reset the aperture using the sliding control. You can also change the focus point by tapping on the screen at the point you want to be sharpest.
Whether you set the aperture value before or after the shot is taken, the actual aperture size doesn’t change. Instead, the phone carries out some depth analysis, drawing on information from both cameras, and then applies blur (or not) depending upon the selected aperture. The aim is to replicate the appearance of using a particular aperture with a camera that has a much larger sensor.
Aperture mode is usually used to blur the background to make a subject stand out from its surroundings and it’s especially popular with portraits. An automated form of Aperture mode kicks in when Portrait shooting mode is selected, but you can’t adjust the aperture before or after shooting the image.
The tricky part of applying blur to an image is handling the edges of the subject that you want sharp. In most cases, the Huawei P20 does this well and although you may find the odd troublesome artefact, the results usually look pretty convincing. That said, the P20 doesn’t pull this off quite as well as the P20 Pro which has the benefit of three cameras and two different focal lengths (equivalent to 27mm and 80mm on a 35mm camera).
The Huawei P20 has an excellent camera that will more than satisfy most users but it is, not surprisingly, outshone a little by its more expensive, more sophisticated stablemate, the P20 Pro.
Huawei’s use of AI technology enables the P20 to produce high-quality images in very low light conditions without the use of a tripod. Furthermore, in Aperture mode images can be made to resemble those captured by cameras with much larger sensors and expensive fast lenses.
It’s a high-quality device with snappy autofocusing and a stabilisation system that does a great job of smoothing and jitters from video.
Should I Buy the Huawei P20?
If you can resist the cache of the P20 Pro and its trio of cameras, the P20 has an excellent dual camera with sophisticated technology that helps it deliver high-quality results. If you must have the best, however, go for the P20 Pro.