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Huawei P30 Pro camera review (dxomark.com)
58 points by luu 26 days ago | hide | past | web | favorite | 59 comments

> If you still needed a reason to spend money on a compact camera, it would have been for zoom reach, as even the best smartphone cameras could not provide usable zoom image quality beyond a 5x factor. This has now changed with the Huawei P30 Pro and its innovative zoom system that uses folded optics and a super-resolution algorithm, which finally makes usable 10x zoom on smartphones a reality. The zoom on its own will make the new Huawei an extremely tempting option for many mobile photographers, but the camera performs very well in almost all other areas as well.

To enable up to 10x usable (!) zoom, this phone has three lenses, the longest of which is positioned vertically along the body of the phone, with a mirror reflecting light to a sensor that is positioned perpendicular to the screen, at the bottom of the phone:

   /   \ 
  |   / |
  |  /<----- light
  | /|  |
  |  |  |
  |  |  |
  |  |  |
  |  |  |  ^
  |  |  |  |
  |  |  | lens focal length
  |  |  |  |
  |  |  |  v
  |  |  |
  |  |  |
  |  |  |
  |  v  |
  |=====| sensor

The advantages of this phone's camera are rooted in physics, not software.


EDITS: (1) adjusted the diagram to make it a bit nicer-looking; (2) replaced the word "optical" with "usable" in the second paragraph (in my mind, the two words have been interchangeable for describing zoom lenses, until very recently).

The Tele-Lens in the device actually has 3x zoom only. 10x Zoom is achieved by using software algorithms combining data from a cropped main-camera image and the zoom camera. Such periscope camera-modules are quite popular among chinese device-vendors these days, you can find the same on a few devices from there this year (i.e. Oppo Reno, Vivo).

Mr. Deckard, you're right. I edited my comment.

For what it's worth, I hope that one day we will have super-resolution photo zoom as good as the one you use every day as a Blade Runner.

Wow, I had no idea about this technology!

A better look at how it's made: https://www.theverge.com/2019/1/14/18181853/oppo-phone-10x-o...

Ignorant question: at what point does the limiting factor for useful zoom become stabilization rather than optics? I looked briefly into ridiculous-zoom-level compacts a while back and consensus seemed to be that while the tech specs look good on paper you're just going to get a blurry mess unless you put it on a tripod, at which point you've lost the main advantage of a compact.

if done properly, software stabilisation can genuinely rival hardware

I find as believable as software zoom can rival optical zoom, do you have some example?

For what angle of view?

If you are e.g. hand-holding a camera with a super-telephoto 1° angle of view, there’s nothing software stabilization is going to be able to do when your small wiggles make what you were looking at before violently jump out of the frame.

Yes, you got it. It's not a problem for narrow field, but at some point you the sacrifice of frame area gets too big

Sony also used this technique in their credit-card sized compact camera's.

Ya, a camera I bought 15 years ago was using this technique too. IIRC the model is Sony T1

It is crazy how much the quality of the camera's has changed. I haven't looked into DSLR camera's for a few years, since I have one and am not really in the market for one now, but have there been similar advances in that tech? As in, ground breaking higher quality, more compact form factors, etc? You'd imagine if you can get this type of quality from a phone's camera, you'd be able to make truly amazing things happen with dedicated camera's.

Yes, there have been massive changes in DSLR/mirrorless world. The main ones are:

1) Autofocus. Check out Sony A7 III or A9 reviews, it's absolutely mindblowing. It focuses perfectly and is insanely fast.

2) Low-light sensitivity. You can get a used Sony A7s, which goes to ISO 490,000, and quite usable up to ISO 50K. At its highest ISO and with a relatively cheap f1.4 lens it's much more sensitive than my eyes - it can see in the dark, it's like night vision, but in color.

But that's what's available for purchase. Canon has demonstrated Canon ME20F-SH, which shoots up to ISO 4.5 million. Judging by the videos, it's absolutely nuts. I hope that tech becomes widely available soon.

3) The cost of RAW video cameras has plummeted. Blackmagic BMPCC 4K is $1300. Quite an amazing little camera that records straight to an external SSD via USB-C. This is cinema-level camera, though with quite weak ergonomics. Still, if you're serious about cinematography, it's an excellent choice, and it's very affordable.

4) Lenses keep improving as well. New 135mm/f1.8 is breaking MTF chart records, it outresolves all the sensors by a wide margin.

5) Medium-format digital cameras have become affordable as well.

> Canon ME20F-SH, which shoots up to ISO 4.5 million

Video at 400k ISO 50fps:


or Sony alpha A7S II - 4K low-light ISO comparison movie


Thanks, great run down. Bad for my wallet in the near to mid future, but great to see the things improve that have a great impact on the usability of a camera.

The leap in recent years isn't really in sensor tech so much as in phone manufacturers racing to get the best cameras by increasing the sensor size. E.g. the iPhone5/6 had an image sensor around 15sq mm, and the iPhone XS has a 25sq mm one. This one is over 40sq mm (1/1.7"). The nokia 1020 has a 2/3" sensor (same as the larger compact cameras) which is 58sq mm(!).

So while there is are small incremental improvements in sensor tech (quantum efficiency, etc), the big development in quality is pure physics. The phones takes as good pictures as compact digitals, because they are now using the same size tech.

Also the picture quality isn't just dependent on the sensor. Better processors can help with autofocus, noise reduction etc, and that obviously helps the end result.

This however will lead to a problem with physics: you can't grow much beyond where it is now, without making the phone much thicker to accomodate a bigger lens, at least not without using exotic thech such as diffractive optics etc. So don't expect the massive gains in image quality over the next 3 years, as in the past 3.

But building optics that can properly illuminate those larger sensors within the confines of current smartphone designs already is impressive progress.

As you said, those physics are hard. I'm no expert but I suspect that the physics would even be strictly impossible for a "proper" lens and they only get away with it because they can now apply corrections computationally which would require lot's of glass/space when done to light pre-sensor instead of to data post-sensor.

This, I think, is the actual innovation: when you don't have to care for distortion or uneven brightness because you can fix that digitally, basic sharpness becomes much easier to achieve. A truly raw sensor readout from those modules would probably look like worse than a Holga picture.

I fully agree with your assessment that this is a one-time free lunch. Looking forward to a computational compact that scales the same lens simplifications to a full frame sensor!

Yes (more) computantional imaging is probably the next frontier. We already see the double and triple cameras (some times for depth info, some times for different FOV's) but I'm guessing N modules in some grid pattern + computation can emulate a much larger camera without making it much thicker like a single large sensor). I think I saw such a prototype if I remember correctly. If it works, it's also quite similar to that black hole imaging tech which is funny.

I'd also be happy to get a phone with a detatchable camera module you could bring when you need it. So long as it's much smaller and cheaper than a camera, it would still be better than carrying a compact camera and a phone (which was the problem these good cameras solved in the first place).

Multiple sensors, stuff like Google "night sight" and all that fake bokeh are impressive. But compared to the benefits from liberating the optical path from the burden of minimizing distortion and vignetting they are little more than lipstick one a pig. Simplified optics improve the source signal, some hard trade-offs that defined camera design for more than a century have been blown wide open by a simple 2D convolution.

Admittedly, multiple sensors also create more/better source signal to work with and unlike optical path simplification it's an improvement that can be repeated over and over again (just add more), but currently it's main importance is that it is something for buyers to see, without diving into the subjectivity-infested depths of image quality comparisons. I have no doubts that a bad multi-sensor would sell better than a good single-sensor.

> N modules in some grid pattern

Nokia 9 is like that.

Thank you for the clarification.

> Better processors can help with autofocus, noise reduction etc, and that obviously helps the end result.

These processors could be put into bigger camera's too I imagine.

Fujifilm now offers a medium format camera for a price close to the full frame cameras of its competitors (sometimes cheaper).

Good camera tech will keep getting cheaper, but not smaller.

There has but the pace is significantly slower.

Fuji just announced the GFX100 which is a medium format camera in the same body as a Canon 1DS. And there are rumours they will allow for multi-capture i.e. 400MP image out of the 100MP sensor.

But in the middle between something like that and your phone camera the market is surely going to decline.

I recently looked at 1" sensor compact cameras, including several generations back, since they are still sold today. Main improvements in the sensor was backside illumination (same as in phone sensors, maybe phones were earlier) and sensors with DRAM attached as a cache for those 4K @100500 FPS insane videos. And technically, just attaching DRAM doesn't mean that sensor itself has changed. You can see in the same model lineup how manufacturer puts same exact sensor for several generations in row, improving other stuff. I guess in general sensors are at a limit, unless some breakthrough will happen. Phones improved extremely fast recently but still small optics are dark and AF is usually not great.

Low-light performance is now phenomenal due to better quantum efficiency as they are now using some older CPU manufacturing process tech, and small full-frame mirror-less cameras have almost perfect autofocus now.

Thanks. I might look into replacing my Nikon D5000 at some point. Low-light photography is one of the only things that I sometimes wish it could do better.

Well, now you have cameras that can basically shoot in the dark, seeing stuff you can't with your own eyes - Sony A7S II

If that;s from your experience, what lens are you paring it with? (A7 III owner here looking for shiny lens toys)

They are no longer R cameras. They have removed the mirror and gotten good results.

Great... Except you won't be able to buy one soon... And there won't be any updates.

Only if you are in the US. For the rest of us the price will probably drop.

Yea but no updates for the rest of the world either. What you get with the phone is basically it, no more updates after that. Now that I think about it, the new phones won't probably have GApps in general, so no market store -> no apps (I'm sure there'll be a different market app, like Amazon or someone's, but let's get real, who wants that?)

This will find appeal among those that wish to minimise their interaction with Google.

Having a smartphone (access internet, email etc) with camera is appealing, contributing to large surveillance corporations like Google, Facebook etc is not.

This will be a tiny minority of potential users.

This company is facing trouble worldwide because of their likely involvement with Chinese spying. I don’t think this will find any takers among people who are privacy conscious.

Those who are privacy conscious prefer to be spied upon by TLAs and surveillance corporations?

To clarify I'm not in favour of one type or another, but it's unlikely China can have any influence over my life.

Wow I’ve been pondering exactly this. China has no influence over my life (yet) and I feel it’s more likely that my information could be used against me by the Five Eyes. Not now necessarily but who knows what the future holds for western politics, surveillance etc.

...and don't mind unwanted interaction with Baidu or whoever installs non-removable services there.

if they give me something like F-droid or their own market place which endorses FOSS in a better way than what Android originally promised, e.g. minus the Google / Spyware shit preinstalled, then I'd pre-order one now. There is a window of opportunity and massive momentum for this provided they play their cards right (wouldn't hold my breath ... though ZTE on the other hand has been doing not too bad in contributing and supporting FOSS in the past).

It'll be easy for them to ship UnGoogled Android because that's what Huawei (and other manufacturers) use on their phones in China. Demand, however, is another story...

I would buy an ungoogled android phone - in particular with those specs and price to value ratio.

If they are clever they make a version of the required services hosted in Europe and under European law. Many many people would buy that.

The last two chinese android phones I have had came with a chinese app store pre-installed anyway. Now, I didn't trust it enough to use it then, but with how google have been the last couple of years...

You don't get that many updates on most Android phones anyway.

As long as you can root it and put LineageOS on it we're good.

Unlikely as Huawei disabled Bootloader unlocking starting with the P30. See https://forum.xda-developers.com/huawei-p30-pro/help/huawei-... for example.

Without platform-level support from HiSilicon for the Kirin CPU you won't get that far with community-OS either. And as a wholly owned Huawei subsidiary, HiSilicon is also on that sanction list.

I could imagine they might suddenly become way more open source friendly...

That's a very good point. If they start making lineageOS-friendly phones because of this whole deal, my next one might be a Huawei .

Except they can't buy half the components they need to make the hardware.

Politics aside, I have Huawei phones and tablets and they're probably the best bang for your buck you'll get.

Huawei's higher-end tablets restored my faith in Android as an alternative to iOS. Nice deisgn, thin bezels, 2560 x 1600 screens (absent on all but the most expensive Samsung tablets) and most importantly, long-lasting battery life.

I have the M3 8.4" tablet with those specs, and it's been running great. The 10.8" versions have pen support.

Wonder how the P30 mic is? I own the P20 and the thing I never noticed on any phone but completely hate on this phone is the mic. I'll go to concert and my girlfriend will take the same footage on her S8 and it sound great. The P20 totally melts down. Maybe a lack of dynamic gain? Not sure.

How is the mic for talking on the phone? I guess it might not matter since everyone is torturing everyone else with speaker phone and ear buds.

It's fine for any low volume stuff like conversation. My guess is that it has a fixed mic gain that does not adjust for loud environments. Not sure though.

Can anyone suggest a point-and-shoot camera for taking pictures at concerts? I don't think the venues would allow DSLRs, but a small P&S would be OK. I'm thinking that would require good night-time photo capability and a certain level of optical zoom.

The camera on my Galaxy S7 was great, but I upgraded to a Nokia X6 and the camera there is significantly worse (phone was $500 cheaper though).

For my needs, I'd rather have a single high-quality dedicated compact camera, and not have it be tied to my phone, which I change every couple of years.

I have used the beautiful Olympus OMD E-10 Mk.III -- can't really say if it's going to be allowed in a concert[0], but it has a great advantage: it looks like a retro camera, and many people actually think it's an analog (ie, physical film) camera. I absolutely loved it's low light performance, though I've seen review compare it to the Sony A7 family and it'd seem those surpass it.

Before getting it, I owned two compact Canons, the G12 and G16 and both were a joy to use: fast stabilized lenses, """large""" sensors (at least for a compact camera) and lots of integrated features. The newer lineup has sort of derailed and there are tons of very-similar-with-tiny-differences models, but you'd be looking at either the G1X Mk2 or the G7x Mk2 (those are the ones that look more like compacts rather than "pro" cameras).

[0] since it's a mirrorless, so some would say a pro camera, hence not allowed without a permit.

The Sony Rx-100 mk V or mk VI will suit your needs perfectly. It’s pricy but generally considered to be the most camera you can pack into a compact. The VI has the only 35-200mm equivalent zoom on a compact which makes it perfect for sporting events and concerts that don’t allow ‘professional’ dSLR cameras.

I wouldn't buy a Huawei phone, horrible service

How so?

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