The Huawei P30 Pro is a high-end Android smartphone that replaces the superb P20 Pro. While mate Mate line for Huawei smartphones is strictly speaking the flagship series, the PXX Pro line focuses on the camera performance. As such, Huawei P30 Pro is the first smartphone to feature a Leica quad camera. It also eschews the monochrome sensor of the P20 Pro in favour of the 16mm equivalent camera of the Mate 20 Pro.

We’ve been able to shoot with the P30 Pro ahead of its announcement and it looks like it will be the cameraphone that photographers will be hankering after.

For

  • Easy to use
  • AI helps produce superb images
  • Night mode enables good low light without a flash or tripod

Against

Huawei P30 Pro camera review

Features

Huawei was the first company to put a triple camera system into a smartphone – that was in the Huawei P20 Pro. Subsequently, Samsung pipped it to the first four-camera smartphone post with the introduction of the Galaxy A9.

However, the ace in Huawei’s sleeve is its collaboration with the esteemed German camera manufacturer, Leica. That means that the Huawei P30 Pro has a Leica four-camera system. This combines a new 40MP 27mm (equivalent) f/1.6 Huawei SuperSpectrum OIS camera, a 20Mp 16mm (equivalent) ultra wide f/2.2 camera, an 8MP 5x periscope design f/3.4 OIS zoom lens and a Huawei TOF (Time of Flight) lens.

The latter camera looks at how light bounces off objects to give a measure of depth and help improve the focusing and the rendering of out of the focus effects (bokeh). The 8Mp 5x zoom lens has a maximum focal length equivalent to 125mm.

These cameras work as a unit which is called a Leica Vario-Summilux-H1.6-3.4/16-125 ASPH.

You can opt to shoot 40Mp images, but the best results are usually produced when shooting at lower resolution using data from all the cameras.

Zoom

As with the Huawei Mate 20 Pro, including a 16mm (equivalent) lens means you can shoot wide-angle shots. That’s ideal for landscapes, cityscapes and cramped interiors. It can really inject some excitement by making skies and buildings look more dramatic.

The new periscope zoom has a square design and it turns the light through 90-degrees to enable the sensor to sit at 90 degrees to the normal orientation. As a result, the lens can be made longer than is normally possible so there’s a 5x optical zoom. There’s also a 10x Hybrid zoom and a 50x digital zoom. That digital zoom takes the focal length to the equivalent of 1343mm.

Huawei P30 Pro camera review

New Sensor

While the 16mm equivalent camera is nice, it’s the 40Mp SuperSpectrum camera that breaks new ground. According to Huawei, this new sensor lets more light in than ever before. It does this by using a variation on the standard RGGB Bayer pattern of coloured filters over the light receptors (pixels). Instead of the green filters, the sensor has yellow filters. The yellow spectrum is wider and therefore it enables more data to be collected from the same scene.

As a result, Huawei says the P30 Pro is much more effective in low light. In fact, the sensitivity has been extended to ISO 409,600 . That’s phenomenal for a smartphone and a 2EV step-up from ISO 102,400 in P20 Pro.

Using this novel sensor design means that the P30 Pro has to have reconfigured processing. The way colours are created had to be reworked because most cameras use a mix of red, green and blue light.

Focusing is handled by a Hybrid AF system that combines both phase and contrast detection.

Huawei AIS (Image stabilisation) is built-in to help get sharp images and steady video. This is the powerhouse behind the Night Mode. In the P20 Pro the IS system enables sharp shots with exposures of 5-6sec to be captured without a tripod. According to Huawei, the P30 Pro can capture even more detail during longer exposures.

Furthermore, the stabilisation can be used to help capture long exposures in daylight to create images with blurred water.

The front or selfie camera is becoming a subject of increasing focus and the P30 has a 32MP f/2.0 camera.

Huawei P30 Pro Camera Review

AI HDR+

The P20 Pro’s camera understands subjects, however the P30 Pro’s can also understand light and exposure. With AI activated, the P30 Pro applies bespoke enhancement across the scene, brightening dark areas and darkening bright areas to give more balanced exposures. That should be useful for backlit portraits.

Video

As usual 4K video recording is on hand and it benefits from the stabilisation system. Naturally, the videos also benefit from the P30 Pro’s low-light capability. 

In addition, the multi-camera set-up lets you shoot wide-angle and telephoto video in the same frame.

However, the video mode controls are a little lacking in clout. There are the basics of resolution and frame rate but not a great deal more.

We would have liked to have seen focus peaking and zebras, as well as white balance and exposure controls in video mode. The camera uses heat maps for exposure and colour in the background, so why not flip that over to the video section?

Huawei P30 Pro Camera Review

Battery and Storage

In addition, there’s a 2340×1080 screen and a 4200mAh battery that allows 40W Huawei SuperCharge, 15W Wireless Quick Charging and Reverse Wireless Charging. That battery should have enough juice for a couple of days use. Huawei states that under heavy use, such as editing video or tethering, you’ll still get 11.8 hours. That’s is impressive.

Helpfully, it can also recharge to 70% in just 30 minutes.

The P30 Pro is weather and dust resistant to IP68 and will be available with capacities of 128GB, 256GB and 512GB.

There’s also a NM (Nano Memory) card slot for additional storage. This card enables an additional 256GB of storage. It looks likely that this will be expanded to 512GB in the near future.

Huawei has given the P30 Pro the Kirin 980 2.6 GHz EMUI with 8GB RAM.

The central CPU is an ARMv8 with three clusters; a 4-core at 1.80Ghz, 2-core at 1.92 GHz and 2-core at 2.60 Ghz.

Not only that but inside is a 40w charger that enables you to charge the phone to 80% in 30 minutes; that’s a quick nip down to the coast from where I live, and I’ll have a days charge.

Built-in storage options are 128GB, 256GB or 512GB – although the 256GB model won’t be available in the UK.

One very clever aspect of the built-in storage is that it features Huawei’s EROFS (Extended Read Only Files System) which reserves some of the drive for read-only operations, such as the base file system. This means that as the storage drive degrades that sector of the drive is protected and retains the performance.

This ultimately means you shouldn’t see a reduction in performance over the perceived 26-month life cycle of the phone.

Huawei P30 Pro Camera Review

Build and Handling

The P30 Pro has the high quality feel that we’ve come to expect from Huawei’s P-series smartphones and the weatherproofing gives you the reassurance that you can use it in rain.

It’s set to be available in five colours, Pearl White, Breathing Crystal, Black, Amber Sunrise
And Aurora. Aurora and Amber Sunrise get my vote, the first replicates the shimmering blues and greens of the Aurora Borealis while Amber Sunrise is a warm orange. However, Breathing Crystal, which seems to change from a pearl white to pale blue, is growing on me.

Huawei has reduced the notch at the top of the screen to 6.64mm, just enough space for the 32MP f/2.0 selfie camera.

Shooting Modes

As with previous models, the camera has a selection of scene modes in addition to Pro mode and the default Photo mode. In Photo mode the camera operates automatically with the option to use AI (Artificial Intelligence) if you want. In a new move, the AI control is displayed at the top of the camera screen rather than in the settings. This makes it easier to turn the AI on and off.

Pro mode gives control over key aspects such as the metering mode, sensitivity (ISO), shutter speed, exposure compensation, focus mode and white balance. That’s attractive to experienced photographers but it also means that inexperienced photographers can learn about the most important controls with a phone.

Alongside the Photo and Pro modes is the ‘More’ option. This gives a route to a selection of shooting modes for specific scenes/subjects like Light Painting and Night Shot.

At 2340×1080 pixels (19.5:9 ratio), the P30 Pro’s 6.47-inch OLED screen isn’t the highest resolution, but it manages to make your images ping out. The images and video usually look their best on the phone screen.

Although the curved edges of the screen are appealing, they can impact upon your composition as it’s hard to assess the outermost parts of your shots. I find this can result in some images having extra elements along the edges.

Huawei P30 Pro camera review

Zoom

When you use the camera, the Main lens is selected by default. Tapping one of the four dots on the right of the screen enables you to select one of the other three focal lengths: Wide, 5x and 10x zoom. Alternatively, tap on the zoom number that’s displayed to shift up to the next in line. 

If you want to zoom in further then you can use the standard pinch zoom gesture which will take you up to 50x zoom. The lens swapping takes place automatically and smoothly.

I’m pleased to say the image stabilisation works well using the standard zoom options, and switching to the 5x and 10x zoom you can see the IS kick in with a slight seeming delay in the footage as you pan the camera.

Huawei P30 Pro camera review

Performance

At the pre-launch event, Huawei arranged a couple of paintings in a very dark room. The results in there were nothing short of amazing. Firstly, the camera was able to focus in very little light, but secondly, it captured a level of detail that is astonishing for such dim conditions. 

As I had the Huawei Mate 20 Pro with me, I was able to shoot the same subjects with the older flagship smartphone. Suffice to say, it made a valiant attempt but wasn’t able to capture the level of detail that the P30 managed.

There was a similar set-up at the P30 Pro’s launch event in Paris. The conditions were so dim that I couldn’t actually see what I was photographing. Again the results are astonishing but the composition is terrible as I couldn’t see to frame the shot!

Thankfully, I’ve been able to test the Night mode in more standard night conditions and they continue to impress.

Huawei P30 Pro Camera Review

Captured in night mode: rather than being completely black, there’s a hint of detail in the sky

The 16mm wide-angle option proves very useful shooting around cities and landscapes. Anywhere that you want to include some foreground as well as the vista beyond to give context. On a boat trip, for example, I was able to capture both the boat and the city beyond.

And naturally, the telephoto options are helpful for more distant subjects.

Photo Mode

There’s been some debate about the pros and cons of shooting with the AI activated on a Huawei phone, but judging by my experience of the P30, it looks like it’s well worth using it. When photographing people, for example, it helps with balancing the exposure and delivering natural-looking fall-off in sharpness. This makes the subject look less cutout than in some shots from previous cameras. There’s also a better sense of depth and distance thanks to the information gathered by the TOF camera.

In most instances, the P30 Pro correctly recognises what it’s shooting when it’s in Photo Mode. You can tell as it displays the subject type, Portrait, Greenery, Clouds etc.

The difference between a portrait shot with and without the subject recognition is marked. If the P30 Pro doesn’t see a portrait subject, the level of contrast and sharpening tends to be quite unflattering. So if you find that your subject isn’t recognised, it’s well worth switching to Portrait or Aperture mode. However, you lose the ability to turn the AI on and off.

Artificial Intelligence

The AI also helps with tricky exposures. Normally if you take a backlit photo of a subject in front of a window, for example, you’d expect them cast in shadow. However, with the AI active the exposure is balanced.

It does this with startling efficiency, evaluating and adjusting the scene to balance the exposure differences. It essentially captures a wide dynamic range and crunches the data down to output a pleasing image. The end result is impressive, faster and more effective than with the P20 Pro.

In some instances when you lift up the camera you can actually see the effects of the AI as skies darken to pull out detail or faces sharpen and highlight.

Using the AI also helps with colour, often bringing the saturation down a bit and reducing the warmth of some shots. 

Aperture Mode

The P30’s Aperture mode enables you to adjust the effective aperture of your image after you’ve taken the shot. However, you can’t select the aperture before taking a shot.

As standard, the camera ‘shoots’ at f/4 but this can be changed with a quick tap of the aperture icon. You can increase it to f/16 for deep depth-of-field or reduce it to f/0.95 for a shallow depth-of-field effect.

Any image shot within Aperture mode can be reopened and the depth-of-field adjusted whenever you like. 

The images below are all in-camera Aperture edits of the same shot.

As you can see, the Huawei P30 Pro does an excellent job of blurring the background and managing the transition from sharp to blurred. If you look carefully, there are some challenging tufts of hair at the top of my head. And despite the busy background, the Huawei P30 Pro has managed the separation well. 

Image quality

On the whole, the images from the Huawei P30 Pro impress. They have a good level of detail and the exposure is handled well. However, the colours in images captured in the Portrait and Aperture modes are variable. I have some that are too warm or the colours too saturated. Meanwhile, there are others that look a bit cool.

Of course, colour can be adjusted in the phone post-capture, but it would be nice to be able to adjust the white balance at the shooting stage in these modes. This control is available in Pro mode, but it doesn’t allow you to adjust the aperture to blur the background/foreground.

The zoom options are useful, especially the 5x zoom for portraits.  And the detail level is maintained well, even at 10x zoom as long as you can hold the camera steadily enough.

Video

The video quality from the Huawei P30 Pro is mixed. Some of it looks great, with the 4K footage having lots of detail and being stabilised well. However, colours are an issue.  In some situations, they look natural, while in other situations, there’s a strong red or magenta cast. 

Skin tones seem to be a particular challenge. Caucasian skin looks very red and too saturated even in the Standard colour setting. Overcast skies can also be rendered too warm. 

Sample Images

Follow the link to browse and download full-resolution images

[FAG id=78129]

Sample Video

This video was shot in 4K (H.264) on the Huawei P30 Pro to test how the rolling shutter performs with moving subjects. The video as uploaded directly to Youtube from the phone.

Some sections have a strong red or magenta cast and the colours are generally too saturated.

This video was shot in 4K (H.264) on the Huawei P30 Pro. The clips were joined together on the phone using CyberLink’s PowerDirector app and then uploaded directly to Youtube.

Verdict

The cameras in Huawei P20 Pro and Mate 20 Pro both impressed me enormously when I tested them. Of the two, I find the P20 Pro easier to use with some subjects because of the location of the camera, but I like the 16mm wide-angle shooting that’s possible with the Mate 20 Pro.

Now the P30 Pro has come along and it seems to blow them both out of the water in some respects.  It has the same 16mm wide-angle shooting option as the Mate 20 Pro but the cameras are in the same location as on the P20 Pro and low-light performance is much improved.

I also like the ease with which you can access the AI control on the P30 Pro. And using it is like a ‘get out of jail free’ card, it helps you get good shots in tricky situations. Switch to Portrait or Aperture mode and the results are again usually great. However, the colour is a bit variable. Sometimes it’s perfect, sometimes it’s not. It would be nice to be able to adjust this at the shooting stage.

While I would happily use the Huawei P30 Pro to shoot stills in a wide variety of situations, I’m less impressed with the quality of the 4K video it outputs. Again, it’s the colour that’s the main issue. Some footage looks too magenta or red while other clips have patches with a purple hue.

This suggests that the switch in colour science is an issue and that switching from an RGGB filter array to an RYYB array has caused some problems. It’s possible that this will be improved by a firmware update, but for now, I wouldn’t recommend the P30 Pro as a video camera. I’ll update this review if the situation changes.