Huawei Mate 20 Pro

With three lenses cov­er­ing ul­tra-widean­gle to short tele­photo, this is prob­a­bly the best smart­phone pho­tog­ra­phers can buy, says Andy Westlake

Amateur Photographer - - 7 Days -

This is prob­a­bly the best smart­phone pho­tog­ra­phers can buy, says Andy Westlake

Over the past cou­ple of years, we’ve been watch­ing Chi­nese smart­phone maker Huawei’s progress with in­creas­ing in­ter­est. The firm’s me­te­oric rise has seen it jump from vir­tu­ally un­known just a cou­ple of years ago to claim­ing sec­ond place in global smart­phone sales, de­spite be­ing ef­fec­tively locked out of the huge US mar­ket. Its on­go­ing part­ner­ship with Le­ica has also seen the firms co-de­velop some gen­uinely ex­cit­ing new cam­era tech­nol­ogy.

With its lat­est model – the Mate 20 Pro – Huawei has taken the al­ready ex­cel­lent cam­era used by its P20 Pro and de­vel­oped it fur­ther. Most im­por­tantly, it has re­placed the ded­i­cated mono­chrome mod­ule that was used by pre­vi­ous Huawei flag­ship de­vices with a 16mm equiv­a­lent lens. In con­cert with the ex­ist­ing 27mm and 80mm lenses, this makes for a unique pho­to­graphic de­vice: no other cam­era of any type al­lows you to switch from ul­tra-widean­gle to short tele­photo op­tics, sim­ply by tap­ping a but­ton.

It’s not just the lenses that stand out, though; the Mate 20 Pro also pro­vides an im­pres­sive ar­ray of use­ful tools in its cam­era app. In its Pro mode, you get DNG raw shoot­ing with full man­ual con­trol of ex­po­sure, while else­where you’ll find the lat­est com­pu­ta­tional-pho­tog­ra­phy fea­tures such as shal­low depth- of-field sim­u­la­tion, por­trait re-light­ing and hand­held night shoot­ing. Yet this cam­era will fit into your shirt pocket, and as a side­line can also be used to browse the web, keep in touch with your fam­ily and friends, and buy old lenses on eBay. For se­ri­ous pho­tog­ra­phers, there’s noth­ing else quite like it.

Fea­tures

The Mate 20 Pro’s three lenses are ar­ranged in a square on the de­vice’s back, along­side a Dual Tone flash that aims to match the colour of both sun­light and artificial light. Its 16mm equiv­a­lent ul­tra-widean­gle cam­era has an aper­ture of f/2.2 and a 20MP sen­sor, and can fo­cus as close as 2.5cm in su­per-macro mode. Mean­while the main 27mm cam­era com­bines an f/1.8 aper­ture with a 40MP sen­sor; un­like the other two, this uses a 1/1.7in-type sen­sor that’s larger than av­er­age for a smart­phone (although still fin­ger­nail-sized, at 7.4x5.6mm). Fi­nally the 80mm tele­photo mod­ule only has an 8MP sen­sor, but its f/2.4 lens in­cludes op­ti­cal im­age sta­bil­i­sa­tion.

As with its other re­cent flag­ship phones, Huawei has made ex­ten­sive use of Artificial

In­tel­li­gence through­out the de­vice, and its lat­est Kirin 980 HiAI pro­ces­sor now has twin neu­ral pro­cess­ing units op­ti­mised for dif­fer­ent kinds of tasks. As a re­sult, the Mate 20 Pro can sup­pos­edly recog­nise 1,500 dif­fer­ent pho­to­graphic scenes and sce­nar­ios, and tai­lor the im­age pro­cess­ing to match. It also sports AI 4D pre­dic­tive fo­cus, which is de­signed to recog­nise sub­jects as they move around a frame and pre­cisely track fo­cus on them.

Huawei’s cam­era app is both im­pres­sively well fea­tured and in­tu­itive to use. Along­side the ba­sic point-and-shoot Photo mode, you get an Aper­ture mode for shal­low depth- of-field ef­fects, Night mode that al­lows hand­held ex­po­sures up to 8 sec­onds, and a Por­trait mode in­clud­ing var­i­ous re­light­ing and bokeh-sim­u­la­tion ef­fects. But I sus­pect many en­thu­si­ast pho­tog­ra­phers will quickly grav­i­tate to us­ing Pro mode, which gives full man­ual con­trol and the abil­ity to record DNG raw files from all three cam­eras (pre­vi­ously this was lim­ited to the main cam­era). Other op­tions in­clude Panorama, Mono­chrome, HDR and Time-lapse modes.

De­sign and han­dling

While it’s sim­i­lar in size to pre­vi­ous Huawei flag­ship de­vices, at 157.8x72.3mm and just 8.6mm thick, the Mate 20 Pro uses a dis­tinc­tively dif­fer­ent de­sign. It’s based around a 6.39in OLED HDR screen that’s gently curved to­wards the edges, with a 19.5: 9 as­pect ra­tio. It’s the first smart­phone to have a fin­ger­print reader em­bed­ded be­neath the screen, while the 24MP front cam­era sys­tem is now ca­pa­ble of more se­cure 3D fa­cial recog­ni­tion. There’s a wide notch at the top of the screen, but thank­fully it can be hid­den, with var­i­ous sta­tus icons then dis­played ei­ther side on a black back­ground to give a cleaner, more el­e­gant ap­pear­ance.

Power is pro­vided by a huge 4,200mAh bat­tery, which can charge from empty to 70% in 30 min­utes, with wire­less charg­ing also avail­able at a slower rate. It’s eas­ily ca­pa­ble of last­ing a day of in­ten­sive use and can even be used to top up other de­vices wire­lessly, al­beit very slowly. Other fea­tures in­clude IP68 wa­ter­re­sis­tance, and a sin­gle USB 3.0 port for charg­ing, data trans­fer and au­dio out. The de­vice is com­pat­i­ble with a new Nano Mem­ory card for­mat that fits into the dual-SIM tray to ex­pand the 128GB of built-in mem­ory, with a 128GB card cost­ing £55. This could be handy when shoot­ing lots of raw files.

The Mate 20 Pro comes in a choice of four colours: Mid­night Blue, Emer­ald Green, Twi­light, and Black. The blue and green mod­els have an at­trac­tive ‘Hy­per Op­ti­cal Pat­tern’ sur­face fin­ish, with

ex­tremely fine ridges de­signed to make them more re­silient to fin­ger­print mark­ing and pro­vide a bet­ter grip. My Emer­ald review sam­ple was cer­tainly a lot more se­cure in-hand than the no­to­ri­ously slip­pery P20 Pro.

On bal­ance the Mate 20 Pro han­dles as well as any other high- end smart­phone. It’s speedy in oper­a­tion, with apps open­ing in the blink of an eye. The sub-screen fin­ger­print reader isn’t as light­ning-fast as the sep­a­rate scan­ners found on Huawei’s pre­vi­ous phones, and I mostly used face de­tec­tion for un­lock­ing in­stead. A big­ger prob­lem is that with the screen ex­tend­ing right to the edges of the de­vice, it’s easy to get ‘false touches’ that re­sult in un­pre­dictable oper­a­tion. But this can be sub­stan­tially al­le­vi­ated by adding a case.

Im­age qual­ity

When judg­ing the Mate 20 Pro’s cam­era, it’s im­por­tant to un­der­stand what it’s try­ing to do. At heart, it’s a point-and-shoot that’s de­signed to take pic­tures that will look great on Face­book or In­sta­gram, with im­age-pro­cess­ing to match. De­spite what the hype might claim, it isn’t go­ing to re­place a DSLR for most en­thu­si­ast pho­tog­ra­phers. But it might just com­ple­ment one nicely.

In gen­eral the de­vice pro­duces good-look­ing im­ages with at­trac­tive colour, aided by ac­cu­rate aut­o­fo­cus and ex­tremely well-judged auto white bal­ance and ex­po­sure. Like pre­vi­ous Huawei mod­els, the AI pro­cess­ing in the ba­sic Photo mode can get over- en­thu­si­as­tic with the colour sat­u­ra­tion, but my im­pres­sion is that it’s been di­alled back slightly from the car­toon­ish ex­tremes of the P20 Pro. How­ever if you still don’t like it, you can switch the AI off, or sim­ply switch to Pro mode for more re­al­is­tic colour out­put.

Ex­am­in­ing the im­ages in de­tail re­veals just how much com­pro­mise has been made to fit such a di­verse range of fo­cal lengths into such a thin de­vice. Not sur­pris­ingly, the main cam­era is the best of the three, thanks to its fast aper­ture and larger sen­sor. It de­liv­ers strong lev­els of de­tail across al­most the en­tire im­age, with barely any dis­tor­tion. How­ever if you in­tend to process raw files, you’ll need to cor­rect cyan­coloured cor­ner shad­ing.

The widean­gle op­tic re­solves plenty of de­tail in the cen­tre of the frame, but gets much softer to­wards the edges. It also shows marked mous­tache dis­tor­tion, mean­ing that lines along the edges of the frame that should be straight ap­pear wavy in­stead. Raw files re­veal mas­sive vi­gnetting of al­most 3 stops, plus a lit­tle lateral chro­matic aber­ra­tion.

The tele­photo cam­era is the weak­est of the three, in part re­flect­ing the fact that its 8MP sen­sor out­put is up­sized to 10MP by de­fault. How­ever this is com­pounded by the fact that be­cause it’s a smaller aper­ture it needs to use higher ISOs more of­ten, with noise and noise re­duc­tion then de­grad­ing fine de­tail. Raw files again ex­hibit colour shad­ing in the cor­ners.

This might all sound like a whole cat­a­logue of im­age- qual­ity prob­lems, but it’s im­por­tant to keep things in per­spec­tive. I’d be per­fectly happy mak­ing A4 prints of many of the im­ages I shot with the Mate 20 Pro, and with min­i­mal post-pro­cess­ing.

Un­less you’re shoot­ing raw, it’s pos­si­ble to se­lect in­ter­me­di­ate fo­cal lengths, but this in­volves dig­i­tal zoom with some loss of de­tail. It’s not a prob­lem if you’re only go­ing to use the im­ages on so­cial me­dia, but be­comes read­ily vis­i­ble if you ex­am­ine im­age files up close. The var­i­ous spe­cial fea­tures mostly work well, too. Night mode gives en­tirely us­able im­ages in sit­u­a­tions where you’d nor­mally need a tri­pod, while the Aper­ture mode is get­ting more ac­cu­rate and con­vinc­ing all the time. Un­for­tu­nately Huawei’s Panorama mode is pretty poor: it can give ob­vi­ous stitch­ing arte­facts and strug­gles to deal with bright­ness changes across the scene, mean­ing it lags a long way be­hind com­pet­ing de­vices from Ap­ple and Google.

With its ul­tra-wide cam­era, the Mate 20 Pro of­fers a dif­fer­ent per­spec­tive to other smart­phones 16mm equiv­a­lent 1/220sec at f/2.2, ISO 50

The three cam­era mod­ules and Dual Tone flash are ar­ranged in a square

With the tele­photo cam­era, you can home in on de­tails within a scene 80mm equiv­a­lent, 1/100sec at f/2.4, ISO 64

Left: In its Pro mode the cam­era app of­fers fully man­ual ex­po­sure con­trol

The Mate 20 Pro is built around a gently curv­ing OLED screen

The main cam­era gives ex­cel­lent re­sults with min­i­mal dis­tor­tion 27mm equiv­a­lent 1/430sec at f/1.8, ISO 50

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