Huawei P30 Pro: The new benchmark for smartphone zoom
The P30 Pro, Huawei's brand new high-end Android smartphone, comes with a whole bunch of innovative imaging features but to many users the most exciting one will arguably be the new device's innovative zoom system.
The P30 Pro offers a 125mm equivalent periscope-style tele lens and uses image fusion and other computational methods for seamless zooming between the 16mm equivalent focal length of the camera's super-wide-angle module, the 27mm primary module and the tele.
At the long end reach is extended to an approximately 250mm equivalent focal length using a super resolution algorithm that stacks several frames for increased detail capture. The camera apps even allows for a maximum 50x zoom factor but it's probably best to limit yourself to 10x for usable results.
We've had a few days to try the P30 Pro's zoom since the device was launched and are so far seriously impressed. By managing to pack an extremely useful zoom range into the thin body of a high-end smartphone the new Huawei is bound to make an important impact on mobile photography and the smartphone market alike.
At the long end reach is extended to an approximately 250mm equivalent focal length using a super resolution algorithm that stacks several frames for increased detail capture.
Let's start by having a look at the actual zoom range that is covered by the device. The four samples below were shot from the same position, using different zoom settings in the camera app. The super-wide-angle offers, as you would expect, a very wide field-of-view. At 16MP the image is larger than the 10MP output of the primary camera and offers decent detail. There are the usual distortions and softness around the edges you would expect on such a wide lens, and some low-contrast detail is being smeared.
Overall, the camera does very well though, considering these samples were captured on a very gloomy afternoon. The exposure system deals especially well with the bright over cast sky, capturing good detail in the clouds without underexposing the landscape elements of the scene. Below are comparison images showing the difference in quality between the P20 Pro and P30 Pro (the P20 Pro didn't offer a super-wide camera, so there's only a P30 Pro photograph for that image).
At 27mm equivalent the primary camera offers a typical smartphone field-of-view. The image has a lower 10MP pixel count than the super-wide-angle output but still manages to squeeze better detail out of the scene. We're not talking DSLR-level here but detail rendering is pretty good for a smartphone and more than sufficient for any kind of web use and social sharing.
The 5x zoom level (using the primary camera as a reference) is where things get really interesting. Yes, image purists will detect some blurring of fine low contrast detail but the quality of this shot is a large step ahead of the 5x zoom output of any other current smartphone. Detail is decent, dynamic range is excellent and the corners are sharp. This is the first 5x zoom on a smartphone that is genuinely usable for general shooting.
Even the 10x setting, which combines the image capture of the tele lens with the effects of a super-resolution algorithm is capable of producing usable results. Some years ago most of us would have been happy with this kind of image out of a travel compact camera. Now you can get it from your smartphone camera, along with all the other useful functions of a high-end device.
It's very reassuring to see that the system continues to deliver good results when light levels go down. The primary camera is actually one of the best we have seen on a smartphone in terms of low light capabilities. If you click through to the full-size version of the night show below you'll see the camera captures excellent detail and manages to keep noise levels at bay. The exposure system also works very well, balancing the high contrast of the scene and avoiding highlight clipping in the brightest parts.
|Primary camera, 27mm, night shot|
Thanks to very efficient optical image stabilization and excellent image processing the tele camera still performs well in dim conditions, allowing to zoom into some architectural detail in this night shot.
|Tele camera, 125mm, night shot|
Detail is getting softer at the 10x zoom factor but the image below is definitely still usable in social media and smaller viewing sizes in general. Given the tele-camera has to capture and stack several frames in low light to achieve these results, this is quite an impressive feat.
Only in very dim light does the camera give up, producing severely underexposed images at the 10x zoom setting. At 5x, when no frame stacking is required, it can shoot for longer in low light, however.
|Tele camera plus super-resolution, 250mm, night shot|
Shooting with the tele lens that offers more than 2x or 3x magnification is an entirely new experience on a smartphone. The zoomed-in scenes look great on the P30 Pro's large OLED display and a very efficient combination of electronic and optical image stabilization ensures easy hand-held framing at all focal lengths.
The longer lens compresses the scene a lot more than the wider conventional smartphone lenses and offers a field-of-view that most of us will be familiar with from travel compact cameras. This opens up new possibilities for smartphone photography. You can capture street scenes without getting uncomfortably close and create perspectives that simply aren't possible with a conventional wide-angle smartphone lens.
|Tele camera, 125mm|
|Tele camera, 125mm|
|Tele camera, 125mm|
|Tele camera, 125mm|
Overall, it's fair to say that in terms of zoom performance Huawei is currently light years ahead of the smartphone competition, and for me that's a good enough reason to make the P30 Pro my go-to device for the foreseeable future — a least until other brands can follow suit and make similar zoom technologies available in their devices.
That said, it would be unfair to reduce the P30 Pro to its zoom system. It's a high-end smartphone with an excellent all-around camera that shines especially in low light (as long as you stick to the primary module). You can find a wide range of samples across focal lengths and light conditions in the gallery below. For more information on specs and technologies please read our original P30 Pro news story and closer-look article.
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