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Huawei P30 Pro camera comparison: The mighty Google Pixel 3 finally takes a backseat

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Huawei’s just announced its P30 Pro smartphone that seems to have it all, at least on paper, in terms of hardware specifications. It packs in an arsenal of cameras and even 5X periscope zoom lens that is somehow sandwiched into that design. There are other new features such as reverse wireless charging, use of electromagnetic sound levitation instead of a traditional speaker for placing calls and an optical in-display fingerprint reader. Oh! And did I mention that it looks good too?

The last time I saw so much camera equipment on a smartphone, it was the Asus ZenFone Zoom (2016) with 3X optical zoom in a similar periscopic setup in a really chubby and clunky body with an Intel chipset inside. Before that, it was the Samsung K Zoom (2014) which was a camera with a smartphone attached to it.

Yes, we have come a long way.

The Huawei P30 Pro. Image Tech2/ Prannoy Palav

Whether or not, all the features add up to make the Huawei P30 Pro a better device in comparison to the recent Samsung Galaxy S10 Plus, is something I’ll leave for the full review. But it sure looks like the P30 Pro is looking to outdo its predecessor, the Huawei P20 Pro which was a pretty capable smartphone camera as well. But plenty has changed since the Huawei P20 Pro, which was launched in May 2018.

Samsung’s Galaxy S10 Plus can shoot some amazing Super Steady video, while the Pixel 3 has mastered the art of the Portrait shot and night shooting like no other smartphone thanks to machine learning. Apple being Apple has seen subtle improvements with video and photos on its new iPhones as well. So its high time that we had a look at what has changed and how the new Huawei P30 Pro compares with its competition, which would be the recently Samsung Galaxy S10 Plus (Rs 73,900), the Google Pixel 3 XL (Rs 83,000) and the iPhone XR (Rs 59,000, earlier Rs 76,900).

Editor’s note: Since the Google Pixel 3 XL was not at hand, we shot the Pixel samples using a Pixel 3 instead which packs in the same camera as the bigger Pixel by Google.

You can click on the thumbnails below to view the comparison crops in a higher resolution.

Landscapes: Samsung Galaxy S10 Plus

Yes, Samsung is finally making a comeback in the camera department ever since they incorporated the dual aperture system that seemingly ruined things for the brand (the Galaxy S8 and Note 8 shot some really crisp images). The S10 Plus stands out, for a well-exposed landscape photo even though its competitors came quite close.

L to R: P30 Pro, Galaxy S10+, Pixel 3, iPhone XR.

L to R: P30 Pro, Galaxy S10+, Pixel 3, iPhone XR. Samsung’s ability to shoot brighter photos actually helps in the landscape mode, more than anywhere else.

It managed to expose the building in the background perfectly and did not crush the shadows in the foreground as well in the odd lighting scenarios shown below. Colour saturation was a bit of a problem, but the photos still look great.

Low Light: Huawei P30 Pro

The P30 Pro not just shoots, the better low light photos with better details but also gets the colours right. It’s impressive to see how much colour the P30 Pro rescued from the leather couch in this dimly lit bowling alley scene.

L to R: P30 Pro, Galaxy S10+, Pixel 3, iPhone XR.

L to R: P30 Pro, Galaxy S10+, Pixel 3, iPhone XR. While the P30 Pro clicks the better shots, the Pixel 3’s performance is the only one that comes close.

Ultra Wide: Huawei P30 Pro

Just like its sibling from the Mate series, the Huawei P30 Pro manages to click a really good ultra-wide-angle shot.

L to R: P30 Pro, Galaxy S10+. Standard.

L to R: P30 Pro, Galaxy S10+. Ultra-wide angle.

To make things extremely difficult for both the Galaxy S10 Plus and the P30 Pro, I picked a scene with dim lighting.

L to R: P30 Pro, Galaxy S10+. While the Samsung Galaxy S10 Plus did squeeze in more into the frame, the results were a bit blurred thanks to the lack of autofocus.

Huawei nailed the focus in this aspect with an image which balanced saturation and proper focus which was impressive given the low lighting scenario I shot these photos in. Still, there is always room for improvement as both smartphones did showcase blurry edges and plenty of lens barrel distortion.

Selfies: Pixel 3

There was no defeating the Google Pixel 3 XL when I reviewed the device last year and Google’s machine learning bits still do a great job this year as well. With near-perfect edge-detection and a cart-load of detail, the Pixel 3 shot the best portraits in both daylight and low light scenes.

L to R: P30 Pro, Galaxy S10+, Pixel 3, iPhone XR.

L to R: P30 Pro, Galaxy S10+, Pixel 3, iPhone XR. The Huawei P30 Pro comes eerily close with similar results as the Pixel, but softer details and less accurate edge detection.

I even tried the worst type of selfie portrait shot possible, with bright backlighting in the background and the Pixel 3 pulled it off like a professional photographer (even though I like I have been sunburnt). But it managed to expose that extremely bright background unlike any other smartphone in this comparison.

L to R: P30 Pro, Galaxy S10+, Pixel 3, iPhone XR. The Google Pixel 3 clicks selfies like a pro.

Portraits: Huawei P30 Pro

While the Pixel 3 came out on top for selfies, this was not the case with Portrait images shot from the rear camera (or cameras).

L to R: P30 Pro, Galaxy S10+, Pixel 3, iPhone XR.

L to R: P30 Pro, Galaxy S10+, Pixel 3, iPhone XR. The Pixel 3 despite packing in a bit more detail than the Huawei in daylight portrait shots took background blurring to the extremes.

It’s hard to get an idea where my colleague Shomik is standing as the blur applied is a bit too much. The P30 Pro did a better job with the blur and one can even adjust the level of blur (and apply cool effects to the background) which is something you just cannot do on a Pixel.

L to R: P30 Pro, Galaxy S10+, Pixel 3, iPhone XR.

L to R: P30 Pro, Galaxy S10+, Pixel 3, iPhone XR.

In low light and the confused lighting scenario at the arcade, the Pixel did not only have trouble focussing on the subject, but the thanks to its already cranked up saturation levels went overboard with the colours.

The P30 Pro is the winner here, as it produced a really clean shot with great detail and near-perfect edge-detection.

Objects: Google Pixel 3

L to R: P30 Pro, Galaxy S10+, Pixel 3, iPhone XR.

L to R: P30 Pro, Galaxy S10+, Pixel 3, iPhone XR. The Samsung Galaxy S10 Plus decided to separate the bottles from tissues which was basically the shot that I wanted but was hard to get because the tissue holder was quite close to the bottles.

In our difficult low light close-up of the two Tabasco bottles in low light, the Pixel 3 did a better job than the competition, keeping the objects in focus. It’s interesting to see how each smartphone’s camera, took a slightly different approach to background separation.

Close-up: Huawei P30 Pro

Slapping on an autofocus system to the wide-angle lens does allow the P30 Pro to get really close to the objects. I was not shooting bugs, but it’s jaw-dropping to see the freckles in the paint on the letters of the date dial on my wristwatch. That’s something that is barely 3 mm wide.

L to R: P30 Pro, Galaxy S10+, Pixel 3, iPhone XR. The Huawei P30 lets you get really, really close.

Zoom: Huawei P30 Pro

Enough said.

L to R: P30 Pro, Galaxy S10+, Pixel 3, iPhone XR. Maximum wide.

L to R: P30 Pro, Galaxy S10+, Pixel 3, iPhone XR. Maximum telephoto + digital zoom.

Night mode: Huawei P30 Pro

I tested out the night modes (where available) in a studio setting. My subject was my colleague Kshitij and he was more than willing to pose to find out which smartphone could see better in the dark.

In the first go, we went with absolutely no light, a pitch dark studio where I could not see the subject but just my hands because of the light coming from the display.

L to R: P30 Pro, Galaxy S10+, Pixel 3, iPhone XR. The P30 Pro managed the impossible. If you have a really well-calibrated monitor you will be able to spot Kshitij’s ghost on the S10+ sample.

The P30 Pro was the only phone to pull out something out of nothing. The Pixel 3 did not even come close and Samsung and iPhone probably never knew that Kshitij was in the room.

In the second test. I allowed a wee bit of light to seep into the pitch dark studio I could finally see “the ghost of Kshitij” in the digital viewfinders. To my eyes, he was barely visible.

L to R: P30 Pro, Galaxy S10+, Pixel 3, iPhone XR. Studio lights on.

L to R: P30 Pro, Galaxy S10+, Pixel 3, iPhone XR. To give you an idea about how dark the scene just looked, just take a look at what the iPhone XR captured and take the lighting about 2-3 stops lower.

The P30 Pro not only clicked a decent shot grabbing enough light to expose the silk black background curtain but also exposed his shirt and beard better than any other smartphone. The Pixel being the Pixel, oversaturated Kshitij’s face and turned him into a Simpson but was only able to see him and not the background.

Video: Apple iPhone XR

I have always complained about Huawei smartphones featuring below average video capabilities. Well, Huawei did some tweaking with the P30 Pro (after the Mate 20 Pro) and has now finally delivered some video that can now be compared with flagships. But nothing more.

The iPhone XR shot the best video, both when it comes to selfies and from the rear camera. Its HDR capabilities are the best in class and it does not burn out any details as seen in the mall panning shot with plenty of confusing bright lighting, which none of the smartphones could master. The noise was a bit high, but if I had to pick a phone for a video, I would pick the iPhone.

You check out all the image and video camera samples in high-resolution in our Flickr album.

Verdict

In this camera comparison, the Pixel 3 shot the best portrait selfies, while Galaxy S10 Plus clicked the most impressive landscape photos in daylight. The iPhone XR shot the best video, but for everything else and more, there was the P30 Pro.

The Huawei P30 Pro. Image Tech2/ Prannoy Palav

The Huawei P30 Pro literally feels like a black hole that feeds on light. It made me point a smartphone and shoot in places that I would not dare to, forcing me to capture things that I could not physically see (be it low light or zoom). The addition of a capable wide angle lens also makes things interesting for the P30 Pro.

So which one would I pick on my next vacation instead of a DSLR? It would definitely be the P30 Pro because it lets me do so much more.

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