The days of compact and digital cameras ruling the photography world are steadily declining, with most people now finding the best camera they have is in their pocket. We were treated to the Google Pixel 2 XL in 2017, which made us realise that one camera with no additional gimmicks could still take breathtaking pictures. This then in turn became the handset to beat in terms of camera ability, with many pundits calling it the best of the best.
However, in early 2018 we were treated to the Huawei P20 Pro which took a different approach to their camera design. The Chinese firm instead opted for triple lens rear cameras, which were co-engineered with the camera giants Leica. Huawei’s camera has multiple features including artificial intelligence and super-high resolution. This set-up has already proven to be a huge hit, with the Huawei P20 Pro becoming a camera sensation.
To begin with, these phones don’t spell the end of camera sales worldwide, as smart phones still have restrictions in terms of small-scale sensors and limited lens sharpness. However, the P20 Pro produced by Huawei, and the Pixel XL 2 from Google have certainly changed the mobile camera game for the better. With the Huawei able to produce 40MP resolution images.
The latest trend to hit flagship devices is the addition of a second lens, which normally has a longer focal length so as to provide zoom capabilities without compromising the definition of the images. The Huawei P20 Pro goes one step further, as it has a third lens to provide views three times that of the other two cameras on board the handset. The Google Pixel XL 2 doesn’t even have two cameras, but does have RAISR (Rapid and Accurate Image Super-Resolution), which Google says “incorporates machine learning in order to produce high-quality versions of low-resolution images.”
The biggest challenge for effectively all types of photography is low lit and darker scenarios, with few smart phones able to avoid the inevitable image noise that happens when amplifying the signal to produce exposure from these dark places. However, these two rivals are the best in the market for these dark situations, with only the Galaxy S9+ really capable of challenging for the title. They both have optical image stabilisation which aids handheld shots when a longer shutter speed is needed. Out of these two competitors, the Huawei is top dog, producing images that are consistently cleaner and just better looking than that of the Pixel XL 2.
The Huawei P20 Pro also offers a wider dynamic range (known as HDR – High Dynamic Range) in low light photos, giving less blown out highlights with more balanced exposures. HDR is also available on the Google handset, but the Huawei seems to do a better all-round job of utilising the feature. The P20 Pro is far ahead in terms of balancing the exposure in its images.
Another big trend in camera ability at the moment is Portrait mode, with the purpose of locating a subject and blurring the background – this is the bokeh effect – using software on the devices. As of yet, no smart phone producers have yet to perfect this feature, with errors appearing in most images when using this Portrait mode. There are often incorrectly blurred edges of the subject, with hairlines causing many issues especially. The features normally mistake foreground for background too, and no one seems to be getting close to a faultless feature to rid of these issues.
With Huawei P20 Pro though, due to its rocking two lenses, it has the ability to garner depth data from the set of lenses for much more accurate depth layers and this helps to implement this effect. This unfortunately is still not the answer to all these issues, as it is not accurate all of the time, even though it has automatic face detection and 4D focus. Now, the Google Pixel XL 2 only has one lens for its version of Portrait mode, with it already being a step back in this respect, its images are still decent to say the least. Huawei partnered up with the camera giants Leica though, and they developed an Aperture mode that is able to recreate the ultra-wide aperture lens found only in professional cameras. It has a f/0.95 aperture that is able to go down as far as f/16, with the smaller the number meaning the greater the blur.
Along with the triple lens aspect, the next big selling point on the Huawei P20 Pro is the Artificial Intelligence that has been integrated into the camera. The Kirin 970 chipset on the device has a NPU (Neural Processing Unit) in it, which enables the machine to learn from your image taking behaviours. The machine has been fed millions of images, and this helps the machine learn to differentiate between subject and scene types, like a dog in a field for example – this is known as Dog Mode on the device. If you don’t like this and keep selecting the option to not use it, as it is default, then the app will recognise this and offer the option to disengage the specific AI scene mode permanently.
The Google Pixel XL 2 takes a different approach, as it also features AI tech, but it works behind the scenes and is often quiet about its business. The AI here can boost image colour and contrast where necessary, and can handle touch ups with colour and exposure. Overall the Pixel takes a more classic approach with its AI tech, and it will rarely tell you when and how the AI is working with your images.
Overall, the Huawei P20 Pro has the best camera – but it doesn’t blow the Pixel XL 2 out of the water by a long shot. Sure the P20 Pro produces better results in most cases, but Google’s approach to image processing is more subtle than the route Huawei took, with daylight images from the Google device being easily comparable with that produced by the Huawei handset. In fact, Huawei’s use of AI sometimes causes problems, with over saturation and scene-recognition evident in some images.