Something major happened on 19 September 2019: Huawei announced what's probably going to be the best camera phone on the market, the Mate 30 Pro.
But that's not the take-away that most will see, because the Mate 30 Pro also happens to be a phone that, despite running Google's Android OS (with Huawei's EMUI 10 over the top), won't work with the Google Play Store. So no apps as you know it. This was confirmed in conversation with the company CEO, Richard Yu, following the Mate 30 series launch event in Munich, Germany.
Say hello to the biggest conundrum in the flagship phone world this year. A device that's the result of the collision between politics and technology. Here's what prospective European buyers are likely to be missing out on in the cameras department...
Mate 30 Pro vs P30 Pro: What's different?
- Mate 30 Pro: 18mm ultra-wide angle / P30 Pro: 16mm ultra-wide angle
- Mate 30 Pro: 3x optical zoom (80mm) / P30 Pro: 5x optical zoom (125mm)
- Mate 30 Pro: 40MP Cine Camera sensor for ultra-wide / P30 Pro: 20MP ultra-wide
The Mate 30 Pro picks up where its P30 Pro brother left off, with the main camera sensor the very same in both models, but makes some major changes in terms of feature set.
First, the Mate 30 Pro's tele zoom isn't as significant, at 3x optical (80mm equivalent) compared to the 5x optical of the P30 Pro (125mm equivalent). Second, the Mate 30 Pro's ultra-wide angle isn't quite as wide as the P30 Pro's one either (18mm vs 16mm equivalent, respectively).
Those two points may sound like criticism, but actually the Mate 30 Pro should come out on top in both regards. Why? Because the 'jump' to a 5x was often seen as a little too severe in the P30 Pro, not achieving the same revered sharpness as the P20 Pro, which also had a 3x zoom.
Furthermore that ultra-wide ought to negate some of the more extreme corner/edge softness associated with such lenses by being not quite as super-wide - plus in the Mate it's a 'Cine Camera' sensor with some special benefits, which we'll detail in a moment.
Mate 30 Pro: Cameras specs
- Main: 40MP 1/1.7in SuperSensing (RYYB) sensor, f/1.6, 26mm equiv, OIS
- 'Cine' Ultra-Wide: 40MP 1/1.54in (RGGB) sensor, f/1.8, 18mm equiv
- Tele: 8MP 3x optical (80mm equiv.), f/2.4, OIS
- 3D Depth Sensing (or 'ToF' / Time of Flight)
Design-wise, the Mate 30 Pro has a circular feature to its rear that contains the four cameras. It looks a lot better than the 'cooker hob' design of the P30 Pro in our view.
There are some big take-aways from the specification of the Mate 30 Pro's cameras, too, principally how physically large two of them are. As before, the main 40MP sensor is a 1/1.7in size - something that high-end compact cameras used to tout as warranting much higher price-tags some years back. The new addition, that Cine Sensor, is larger still, at 1/1.54in.
Bigger sensors means larger 'pixel' sites for cleaner reception of a signal, for better image quality potential as a result. And we already know how well Huawei devices can handle night scenes and low-light conditions, thanks to the P30 Pro. The Mate 30 Pro should be as good and better in many regards.
There's also a Time of Flight 3D depth sensor, used to detect subject distances and feed software to produce software-derived background blur (bokeh), including in real-time on video for the first time.
What's a SuperSensing sensor?
- 40MP, 1/1.7in size, 4:3 aspect ratio, f/1.6 aperture, optical stabilisation
- RYYB (Red, Yellow, Blue) colour array
- ISO 406,900 maximum
That main sensor features a wholly different colour array to conventional sensors, as it's based on a Red-Yellow-Yellow-Blue pattern (not the Red-Green-Blue of most Bayer arrays in more-or-less every other camera out there).
Yellow is more sensitive to certain light frequencies and, therefore, is a great tool for getting great low-light results. The P30 Pro was mega in this regard, so with the same sensor in the Mate 30 Pro, expect much of the same - just without Google apps to then share your ace images.
What does a Cine Camera sensor do?
- 40MP, 1/1.54in size, 3:2 aspect ratio, f/1.8, no optical stabilisation
- RGGB (Red, Green, Blue) colour array
- ISO 51,200 maximum
- 4K HDR+ up to 60fps
- 7680fps slow-mo (resolution TBC)
- Real-time bokeh (software-based)
Brand new to the Mate 30 Pro is the Cine Camera sensor. It's 1/1.54in size is significant, as is its 40MP resolution, but unlike the SuperSensing main camera this Cine version uses a traditional RGGB colour array - said to be better for moving images.
Sure, this ultra-wide is designed for stills, but it's also got a lot of moving image smarts too, hence its name. Not only can it shoot 4K at 60fps, there's also a super slow-mo option, up to 7,680fps (although we don't know exactly at what resolution yet - but it won't be especially high, we suspect), and even real-time bokeh.
Oddly, however, there's no optical stabilisation, which we find really surprising for a camera focused on moving images. Ultra-wide angles tend not to need stabilisation as much as longer focal lengths, but when there's movement in motion it's a whole different story. Here's hoping the digital stabilisation holds up well.
Mate 30 Pro cameras: In summary
The long and short of it is that Huawei has come on in leaps and bounds when it concerns camera development in its smartphones and, from what we can tell, the Mate 30 Pro ought to be mighty impressive.
But it's a tainted would-be success, because the company's hand has been forced and, without Google Play Store access, this phone just isn't going to strike a chord with the non-Asian markets. That's the sad truth.
Company CEO, Richard Yu, said as much to Pocket-lint after the big reveal: "We didn't want to do this. We were forced to do this. We have a good partnership with Google, but the US Government forced us to do this. I hope you guys can understand ... In the US-China trade war we have become a bargaining chip."
So there you have it. If you want the best camera phone on the market, be prepared to not really be able to use it for normal tasks without the apps you're used to. And for that you can blame the US government.