(Pocket-lint) - Huawei has been making waves in the phone camera market for a number of years. In 2018 the release of the P20 Pro saw it heralded as the 'phone camera king'. For 2019 it's going up a notch, with the release of the Leica Quad Camera system in the P30 Pro and Leica Triple Camera system in the 'standard' P30 model.
That's not all, though, with the P30 Pro being the first phone released to feature a 5x optical zoom - achieved by using a periscope zoom mechanism, as first seen with Oppo's concept phone - to zoom in on those far-away subjects with greater clarity than every before. Huawei's 10x hybrid zoom and 50x digital zoom step things up even more if you don't mind some quality degradation.
- Huawei P30 Pro review: Quad camera quashes the competition?
- Huawei P30 review: The smaller option still packs a 'pro' punch
Following the announcement of both P30 devices at the launch event in Paris on 26 March, here's everything you need to know about these cameras before the handsets are available to buy from 5 April.
What is a SuperSensing sensor?
- Both phones feature SuperSensing main sensor, 1/1.7in size
- Colour array is RYB (red yellow blue), not RGB (red green blue)
- Yellow light frequency is extra sensitive, greater light adsorption for increased clarity
- High ISO sensitivity possible for low-light shooting: ISO 409,600 for P30 Pro / ISO 102,400 for P30
First thing's first, Huawei unveiled a brand new sensor at the core of both the P30 and P30 Pro. This 40-megapixel 'SuperSensing' sensor certainly has a fancy marketing name - although not even Huawei could get it right at first, telling us ahead of the launch event that it was called 'SuperSpectrum' - but what exactly does it mean?
Almost all camera sensors have a colour array over them divided into four, able to detect red, green and blue light (RGBG - the green is 50 per cent of the make-up in a Bayer array). This is so individual light frequencies can be adsorbed and utilised to calculate the fullest colour spectrum across an image.
This new SuperSensing sensor, however, has a different array that's able to detect red, yellow and blue light (RYBY - the yellow replacing the green above). That's because the yellow light frequency is more sensitive, so can adsorb more light, which gives more data to utilise - which is useful for greater quality and pulling information out in low-light images.
On stage at the P30 launch event, Huawei showed off just how well this camera can shoot in low-light conditions. And we're not talking multiple exposures or long exposures. This is all down to what's known as high ISO sensitivity, which is effectively how 'amplified' a signal is to deliver an image, which can result in lower quality or increase in unwanted image noise (that multi-coloured spectrum you might see in an image).
The P30 Pro can shoot up to ISO 409,600 - and while we doubt anyone will ever use this maximum sensitivity due to limits with the resulting quality, a few stops below at, say, ISO 51,200, might render an image unlike you'll get from other phone cameras. Although, with Google's Night Sight out there, Huawei seems to be struggling to answer that magic-like mode in the exact same way.
Huawei P30 Pro camera
- Leica Quad Camera system, SuperSensing main sensor
- Main: 40MP, 27mm, f/1.6
- Wide: 20MP, 16mm, f/2.2
- Zoom: 8MP, 5x periscope zoom, 135mm, f/3.4
- Optical stabilisation (OIS) for main and zoom lenses
- Time-of-Flight (ToF) for depth mapping
- Front-facing selfie camera: 32MP
Onto the main event: the P30 Pro. It's not the first time we've seen a four-camera setup - that accolade went to the Samsung Galaxy A9 - but it is the first time we've seen a system as complete as this.
Main sensor: 27mm f/1.6 equivalent
The main sensor, as we've touched on above, features the SuperSensing technology. But it's also ultra-resolute, at 40-megapixels, which means you can capture shots that are of a huge scale. The lens is a 27mm equivalent, which is fairly wide-angle.
However, the P30 Pro doesn't use this full resolution as an output by default, instead opting for 10-megapixels. Why? Because it can use the full range of 40MP, but super-sample to capture four times the information - which means it can deliver an ultra-detailed lower-resolution image.
Wide-angle: 0.6x, 16.2mm f/2.2 equivalent
Next to the main sensor is a wide-angle sensor, the very same as we've seen in the Mate 20 Pro device from late 2018. We love the wide-angle lens for the opportunity to cram more into the frame - it equates to 0.6x, a 16mm equivalent - making it far wider than the higher-resolution optic.
Periscope zoom: 5x, 135mm f/3.4 equivalent
While the Mate 20 Pro didn't offer zoom, the P30 Pro makes that its biggest selling point. Load the camera and it's possible to tap the multiplier to the right-hand side to jump straight into 5x zoom (a 135mm equivalent) or 10x hybrid zoom (a 270mm equivalent) with individual taps.
It's the first phone to offer a true 5x optical zoom. The optical part of that equation is really important because it means the lens can resolve resolution correctly of subjects at distance - it's not 'making up' data for in-between gaps, thus it can deliver great clarity.
The lens is optically stabilised (OIS) which helps support it somewhat, but it's still a little choppy on the screen - a really steady hand will help with your compositions.
We do miss an easy-access 3x zoom, as per the P20 Pro, but any degree of zoom is available in the P30 Pro by using pinch-to-zoom on the screen. For those in-between focal lengths - let's say you're capturing 3.4x, for example - the device is clever enough to use multiple sensors, compiling the most relevant data from all to deliver the most detailed image possible.
Time-of-flight (ToF) depth sensor
The last piece of the puzzle is a Time of Flight sensor. This works a bit like the way a bat sees: the ToF sensor outputs infrared light (IR), which can't be seen by the human eye, which then bounces off surrounding objects and returns to the sensor at different intervals. Deciphering the differences between those intervals can build an accurate depth map of what is placed where within an image.
So why is this useful? Well, almost everyone knows about Portrait mode - the ever popular shooting mode where a subject's face is in focus but software blurs out the background, giving software-derived bokeh and a more 'pro' look. Using a ToF sensor means this can be achieved more accurately - in many Portrait mode shots people's hair might be caught between different depth layers, unnecessarily blurred, but ToF helps to eliminate this.
There's more too. The P30 Pro can be used for Augmented Reality (AR) thanks to Google's ARCore, meaning virtual objects can be 'placed' upon captured objects within images. Measurements to a reasonable accuracy will also be possible.
Huawei P30 camera
- Leica Triple Camera system with SuperSensing main sensor
- Main: 40MP, 27mm, f/1.8
- Wide: 16MP, 16mm, f/2.2
- Zoom: 8MP, 3x optical zoom (80mm), f/2.4
- Optical stabilisation (OIS) for zoom lens
- Front-facing selfie camera: 32MP
With its triple camera setup you might think the P30 is a lot like the earlier P20 Pro in its setup. It's not a million miles away from it. If anything, it's like a half-way house between P20 Pro and Mate 20 Pro, featuring a standard, wide and moderate optical zoom trio.
Main sensor: 27mm f/1.8 equivalent
The main sensor we believe is the very same as the 40MP one found in the P30 Pro, meaning the same SuperSensing technology structure. However, its maximum ISO sensitivity isn't quite as high due to the less wide aperture specification.
Just like the Pro, the P30 can shoot at full resolution, but by default it super-samples and produces 10-megapixel shots.
Wide-angle: 0.6x, 16.2mm f/2.2 equivalent
No difference between P30 and P30 Pro in terms of the lens here: next to the main sensor is a wide-angle sensor, which equates to 0.6x, a 16mm equivalent. However, the P30 has a lower-resolution sensor than the Pro. Still, we love this ultra-wide view and how much is possible to cram into the frame.
Optical zoom: 3x, 80mm f/3.4 equivalent
An echo of the P20 Pro, the P30 has a 3x optical zoom that can extend to 5x hybrid zoom. No, it's not as far-reaching as the Pro model, but many will find it more than substantial enough. It's easier to hold steady too, although optical stabilisation (OIS) does also feature.
Which is best? P30 vs P30 Pro
So which of the two handsets is best? It really depends if you want that zoom or not. That's the ultimate key difference between the pair. And with the P30 costing £699 and the P30 Pro starting at £899, the price between them is considerable.
That said, the Pro also offers a larger screen size, bigger battery capacity and more RAM - making it the more tempting proposition of the two. Don't write-off the 'standard' P30, though, as there's still a whole lot to Leica there too.