Most people who follow smartphone news are likely aware that Huawei introduced the first mobile triple camera system last year, and that device, the P20 Pro, also pioneered the AI-boosted long exposure “night mode” that has since been adopted by Google and other Chinese competitors.
But what has been lost in the smartphone evolution history books is that Huawei can also claim to be the first phonemaker to offer a bokeh portrait shooting mode—that would be 2017’s P9. But back then, Huawei devices didn’t get nearly the same attention, and so many erroneously credit the iPhone 7 Plus (which arrived months later) as the innovator of the now ubiquitous feature.
The point I’m trying to make is that Huawei’s P series has been pushing computational photography trends for a few years now, and the just-announced P30 series is likely to do the same with zoom photography.
Both the standard P30 and the superior P30 Pro sport a new periscope-like telepoto lens that can shoot photos at 10x optical zoom. I tested both phones briefly ahead of their launch today, and while I wouldn’t call the shots “lossless zoom” the way Huawei’s marketing will, I can see that the P30’s 10x shots are significantly sharper and cleaner than the same shots captured by the other two big dogs right now, the iPhone XS and the Samsung Galaxy S10.
How does the P30 Pro pull this off? The telephoto lens is now an L-shaped lens that pulls light in and directs it through a series of mirrors before reaching an image sensor that’s perpendicular to the main camera module. This, along with additional image information provided by the main 40-megapixel sensor, gives Huawei’s image processing algorithm enough information to piece together one image that’s sharper than usual.
This is tech that Oppo is also working on. In fact, Oppo announced this system at last month’s Mobile World Congress, but Huawei has beat its rival to the punch.
The telephoto lens is not all that’s changed with the camera modules. The aforementioned 40-megapixel main camera has also been re-engineered by Huawei. Instead of using a traditional RGB sensor, Huawei has built an RYYB sensor. As the initials suggest, an RYYB sensor picks up red, yellow (twice) and blue colored pixels, as opposed to traditional sensors that focus on red, green and blue. Huawei says its two yellow sensors can also pick up green and also some more red, with the latter a key factor in determining light. Huawei says this RYYB sensor allows the P30 phones to be more sensitive to light than any phone before, and supposedly the P30 Pro can reach a peak ISO of 409,600.
I only got to demo the phones in a small room with lots of light, so I wasn’t able to test the phone’s low-light capabilities. But considering that the P20 Pro was easily the best low light camera around, I think it’s safe to say Huawei wouldn’t make empty promises with the P30.
The wide-angle sensor remains largely unchanged from the Mate 20 Pro, offering a field of vision of 109 degrees. And new to the P30 Pro is a fourth rear camera: a TOF (time-of-flight) sensor that acts as a depth sensor to help bokeh shots.
Around the front, both the P30 models carry a 32-megapixel selfie camera. So going by numbers alone, these P30 phones are almost unnecessarily overpowering.
In terms of overall build and design, the P30 Pro looks like a blend of the P20 Pro and Mate 20 Pro: It has a 6.5-inch curved OLED display with an in-display fingerprint scanner. The glass back has the same gradient finish that Huawei is so fond of. The smaller P30, meanwhile, has a 6.1-inch flat display that’s not curved at all, but it is also OLED.
In terms of in-hand feel, the P30 Pro feels very similar to not just the Mate 20 Pro but also Samsung’s Galaxy S10+. It’s a premium-feeling device, albeit not too original. Personally, I would have preferred the P30 phones went with a hole-punch display cut-out instead of a notch.
On the battery front, the P30 Pro of course packs huge cells as is usual from Huawei. There’s a 4,200 mAh inside the Pro, and 3,650 in the standard model. In terms of features, the top tier Pro ticks every box. There’s literally not a thing Apple or Samsung or anyone else offer that can’t be found here.
We know the 10x zoom is legitimate. If the P30’s low-light capabilities are as impressive as Huawei is advertising, then the P30 Pro will probably finish among the very best of the year again. Pricing and availability weren’t available as of time of publication. But I’m guessing the phones will be similarly priced to Apple/Samsung, so expect around $1,000 for the Pro and about $900 for the standard P30.