Huawei, aided by esteemed German camera manufacturer Leica, has made impressive progress with the image quality from its smartphones. This has largely been as a result of predictable improvements in optical and sensor design, along with the use of artificial intelligence.
The Huawei Pro 30 Pro, however, debuts a completely new sensor design. Instead of the red, green, green, blue (RGGB) Bayer Pattern filter array that we usually see over camera sensors, it uses a red, yellow, yellow, blue (RYYB) filter pattern.
Leica and Huawei opted for this design because yellow filters transmit a wider spectrum of light. As well as yellow, some green and red light pass through to the photoreceptor. In fact, the yellow filters transmit about 40% or more light.
This means that the P30 Pro’s sensor has a lot more information to work with. As a result, the camera has much better low-light performance. In fact, the results in very low light conditions are astonishing.
During an interview at the Huawei P30-series launch event, I asked Leica’s Dr Florian Weiler, Project Manager of Optical Design, if the RYYB sensor design might be used elsewhere, perhaps in interchangeable lens cameras. And the answer was yes.
I could be imagining it, but from the tone of voice, I got the impression that it’s actually already in the pipeline.
Using this new design for an APS-C or full-frame sensor could have major repercussions for low-light shooting. And it’s not just about image quality. Mirrorless cameras use the imaging sensor for autofocusing, so a cleaner, brighter image should also really help with AF performance.
Most image processing uses information from an RGGB sensor. Switching to an RYYB sensor necessitates a change in the processing to ensure that the image colours look right.
I’ve now shot with the Huawei P30 Pro for a few hours and it appears to me that Huawei and Leica have got the processing right. The colours are good. However, the P30-series also uses AI (artificial intelligence), which may help it understand the scene and deliver correct colours.
This technology is starting to appear in interchangeable lens cameras. In the Sony A6400, for example, it helps with subject recognition to improve focus tracking. The potential for it, however, is huge and perhaps it will help with a change to RYYB sensors.