Huawei Nova 5T camera review

With a 48MP main sensor, 32MP selfie camera and a quad-camera setup, is this the best budget smartphone for photography?

Huawei Nova 5T camera review
Review

Price when reviewed

£300

$375 / €400
Check current price

Our Verdict

The Huawei Nova 5T is a superb smartphone camera for the price. Huawei's AI and computational photography lead the market. Its smartphone cameras claim most of the top 10 spots on DxOMark's mobile image quality rankings. And with its Honor sub-brand and the Nova range, Huawei is filtering this flagship technology down into more affordable options. If you can overlook the LCD panel and other cost-cutting compromises, the Nova 5T offers tremendous value. For those who aren't concerned with many of the standard smartphone bells and whistles and want a solid, everyday camera they can rely on for quality images, the Huawei Nova 5T seems like one of the best options available. I often shoot with a Huawei P20 Pro, and the Nova 5T seems the closest comparison to me. The image quality of the Nova 5T isn't as good as the P20 Pro (and certainly not the P30 Pro), but it's close. The Nova 5T lacks the Leica lenses on its cameras and some of the other functionality, but it really is teeming with specifications that many other smartphones aren't offering at this price point. When we are talking about image quality with the Huawei Nova 5T we really need to take this in consideration with the price. The Nova 5T is one of the cheapest cameras on the market offering 48-megapixel resolution. Backed by the depth of Huawei's superb AI functionality, the Nova 5T is in my opinion the best smartphone camera for photographers on a budget.

For

  • Quad-camera setup
  • 48MP main camera, 32MP selfie camera
  • Superb AI
  • Kirin 980 Mobile AI chipset
  • Excellent image quality

Against

  • LCD panel, no OLED
  • Non-expandable, 128GB internal storage only
  • No headphone jack

What is the Huawei Nova 5T?

The Nova 5T is Huawei’s latest smartphone from its Nova range, which focuses on value for money. It achieves this with a mix of flagship features and cutting corners on the design.

To this end, with the Huawei Nova 5T you get a quad-camera setup offering a 48-megapixel main sensor, together with a 32-megapixel selfie camera on the front. Yet the compromise is an LCD panel instead of an OLED display, no water resistance or expandable storage, among other concessions.

If these things aren’t important to you, and you really just want the best smartphone camera for the least amount of money, then the Huawei Nova 5T should probably be at the top of your wishlist.

Huawei Nova 5T Price & Availability

The Huawei Nova 5T price tag is around £300 / $375 / €400. The device is available in one iteration of 128GB storage (non-expandable) and 6GB RAM. Available colours include black, blue and purple.

The Huawei Nova 5T boasts a quad camera setup with a 48-megapixel main sensor

Build Quality

The Nova 5T feels a lot like Huawei’s flagship P series phones both in weight and function, and even the range’s new reflective glass finish. The phone sits in a shiny aluminium frame, and overall it feels very solid and robust.

On the back of the Nova 5T is its much-heralded quad camera setup. Three cameras are positioned vertically in a row, with a flash at the bottom. To the right, adjacent to the third camera is another small camera that sits outside the camera bump.

On the front is the Nova 5T’s 2340 x 1080, 6.26-inch display offering 84.2% screen-to-body ratio and a 19.5:9 aspect ratio.

There’s no notch here, which will please the many people who get offended by notches. Instead you’ll find a small circle in the top left of the screen, which is the selfie camera.

The Nova 5T is not completely bezel-less, but you are hard-pressed to notice it’s there. Looking closely you can see a thin, black frame around the screen.

On the right side of the phone is your volume button, which sits above a fingerprint scanner that doubles as the power button. The fingerprint scanner works very well, and feels much more natural those phones that place them on the back or bottom front of the handset.

On the bottom of the Nova 5T is a USB C charging port and a small speaker.

Does the Huawei Nova 5T have a headphone jack?

There is no headphone jack on the Nova 5T. However, a pair of USB C headphones is provided in the box when you buy the phone, and these work quite well.

Huawei Nova 5T camera review

Performance

I had lofty expectations for the Nova 5T based on my experience with other Huawei devices, and I have to say the Nova 5T does not disappoint. Huawei’s AI algorithms have only got better over the years, and I am genuinely amazed by the level of images its phones can produce in very difficult lighting conditions – and the Nova 5T is no exception.

Shooting under a forest canopy in the low light of a late-autumn evening, I was able to capture images – albeit dark – with plenty of detail and vibrant colours.

In my tests, Huawei’s AI is superb at picking out scenes and emphasising the best elements of them. Images pop with colour and contrast. Detail is strong. I find myself amazed at what this budget smartphone camera can accomplish.

Sometimes the Nova 5T’s AI can overdo it. Some scenes may look unnatural, such as sunsets or big, blue skies. Switching to Pro mode, I have more control over my exposures and can produce more natural images.

Some have said it’s best to leave Huawei’s AI mode off, but I disagree. It really depends on how you’re using the phone. If you’re on the go, travelling, out on a family walk or any number of scenarios such as these where you really only have time for quick snapshots, the Nova 5T’s AI will produce a striking image that looks like you spent a lot of time creating it.

And it’s important to realise that that’s not cheating! Wouldn’t you want to get a nice image in all situations?

What’s great about the Nova 5T is that its sophisticated cameras allow you to capture creative effects whether you’re at the wheel or not: kind of like a self-driving Tesla.

Image Quality

Despite all the uncertainty around Huawei at the moment (C’mon, Trump, Xi, let’s work this out), you can pick up any of its smartphones from the top end Mate and P ranges on down and know that image quality will be among the best, if not the best, on the market at that phone’s price point.

And I’m pleased to say the Nova 5T carries on this standard.

Images are rich with colour without appearing over-processed or unnatural. In good light the Nova 5T picks up a nice amount of detail, and even in low light Huawei’s AI manages to produce some really nice images that sacrifice a little bit of the detail and dynamic range but are still very good.

Myself, I’ve found with Huawei phones – and again with the Nova 5T – that I can get my best images by turning off the AI in good light and taking more control. In poor light conditions I let the AI take control, and it does the job admirably.

Huawei has struck a nice balance of giving people creative control, but allowing people to rely on the camera when they need to.

48MP images

The Huawei Nova 5T can shoot images in 48-megapixel resolution, and these images provide bags of detail. But it performs best in good light in this mode. I found that this high resolution mode is also more effective with landscape scenes where there is finer detail.

Low light

In low light you really need the AI. The Nova 5T’s Super Night Mode captures multiple images and harvests the best bits to make a sharp, well-exposed final image. I did find that some of these Super Night Mode images – compared to the Huawei P20 and P30 Pro cameras – were washed out, but for a junior smartphone in Huawei’s range and at this price point, this is a small concession. Some quick, light editing will lift these low-light images significantly.

I am very impressed with the Nova 5T’s capabilities in low light. Colours do tend to look a little flat in darker conditions – particularly with AI turned off – but overall I’m impressed by its dynamic range and ability to capture detail in difficult conditions.

Zoom options

It’s worth noting that the Huawei Nova 5T has different lenses, but it has no optical zoom. The zoom options you see on the display are digital zoom, and this of course affects image quality.

That said, the Nova 5T’s digital zoom options are quite good. The wide-angle option is free of distortion, while the 1x zoom scenes look crisp and detailed.

Video

The Huawei Nova 5T can record 4K video, but it doesn’t offer any built-in stabilisation. But let’s face it: if you’re buying a budget smartphone you probably don’t need 4K video capability for professional reasons, or likely even for personal reasons.

But the Nova 5T can record beautiful HD footage, which benefits from stabilisation and nice detail.

Huawei Nova 5T Sample Photos

Below is a selection of sample photos shot with the Huawei Nova 5T in a range of different conditions.

Huawei Nova 5T camera review: sample photos

Shot with Night mode at late dusk under a forest canopy

 

Huawei Nova 5T camera review: sample photos

This image was shot at dusk in Pro mode in really dark conditions.

 

Huawei Nova 5T camera review: sample photos

Shot using 2x zoom

 

Huawei Nova 5T camera review: sample photos

Shot using 1x zoom

 

Huawei Nova 5T camera review: sample photos

Shot with the Nova 5T’s wide-angle lens

 

Huawei Nova 5T camera review: sample photos

The Huawei Nova 5T camera performs best in good light

Huawei Nova 5T camera review: sample photos

 

Huawei Nova 5T camera review: sample photos

The Huawei Nova 5T copes well in high-contrast scenes.

 

Huawei Nova 5T camera review: sample photos

Colours look great in strong light, but in dark, overcast conditions they can appear a little flat.

 

Huawei Nova 5T camera review: sample photos

Portrait mode accurately picks out the main subject and blurs the surrounding background.

 

Huawei Nova 5T camera review: sample photos

Verdict

The Huawei Nova 5T is a superb smartphone camera for the price. Huawei’s AI and computational photography lead the market. Its smartphone cameras claim most of the top 10 spots on DxOMark’s mobile image quality rankings. And with its Honor sub-brand and the Nova range, Huawei is filtering this flagship technology down into more affordable options.

If you can overlook the LCD panel and other cost-cutting compromises, the Nova 5T offers tremendous value. For those who aren’t concerned with many of the standard smartphone bells and whistles and want a solid, everyday camera they can rely on for quality images, the Huawei Nova 5T seems like one of the best options available.

I often shoot with a Huawei P20 Pro, and the Nova 5T seems the closest comparison to me. The image quality of the Nova 5T isn’t as good as the P20 Pro (and certainly not the P30 Pro), but it’s close.

The Nova 5T lacks the Leica lenses on its cameras and some of the other functionality, but it really is teeming with specifications that many other smartphones aren’t offering at this price point.

When we are talking about image quality with the Huawei Nova 5T we really need to take this in consideration with the price. The Nova 5T is one of the cheapest cameras on the market offering 48-megapixel resolution.

Backed by the depth of Huawei’s superb AI functionality, the Nova 5T is in my opinion the best smartphone camera for photographers on a budget.

Recent Stories