The Huawei P30 Pro has a lot to live up to, thanks to its impressive family lineage. Its predecessor is the Huawei P20 Pro, a smartphone that gave the world Night mode, a monochrome lens, 3x zoom, and it’s still capable of taking some very special images. Then, the Huawei Mate 20 Pro arrived with a wide-angle lens, and more artificial intelligence to add to the creative ability of the phone.
Can the P30 Pro, with its up to 50x zoom and incredible low-light ability, surpass these two? In an effort to find out, these three phones have accompanied us over the period of a few weeks, where we took the same photo with each camera to see exactly which one performs the best. Unsurprisingly, it’s a very close battle — but there are some very interesting results.
The P20 Pro has three camera lenses on the back. The main camera has 40 megapixels and an f/1.8 aperture, and it’s joined by a 20-megapixel black-and-white lens with an f/1.6 aperture, and an 8-megapixel, f/2.4 aperture lens. It uses Huawei’s A.I.-driven stabilization system. On the Mate 20 Pro, Huawei dropped the monochrome lens and introduced a 20-megapixel ultra-wide lens with an f/2.2 aperture. The 40-megapixel main lens and 8-megapixel telephoto remain.
Things changed again for the P30 Pro. The 40-megapixel main lens is now wide-angle and has an f/1.6 aperture and optical image stabilization (OIS). The 20-megapixel ultra-wide lens has an f/2.2 aperture, and the 8-megapixel telephoto has an f/3.4 aperture and OIS too. These three lenses are supported by a time-of-flight sensor. The P30 Pro introduces Super Zoom, a periscope zoom system that gives 5x optical and 10x hybrid zoom, and swaps out an RGGB sensor for Huawei’s SuperSpectrum RYYB sensor to increase the amount of light taken in by 40-percent.
All three phones have been created with the help of Leica, which works on tuning the software and the hardware for best performance. It even includes special color modes to emulate the Leica look. On the Mate 20 Pro and the P30 Pro, the monochrome mode is a custom Leica filter, rather than a true monochrome sensor like on the P20 Pro.
There are differences between these three phones that make some direct comparisons impossible. The P20 Pro does not have a wide-angle camera lens, while only the P30 Pro can zoom in and take great pictures at 5x or 10x. For these reasons we’ve limited our test to taking standard photos in auto, in monochrome, and aperture mode, as all three share these features. For the sake of fairness, the night and low-light shots were taken without night mode.
Tour aux Figures, Paris
Jean Dubuffet’s crazy sculpture looks like nothing else around it, being totally at odds with the wonderfully green Ile Saint Germain park in Paris, so which camera would capture it best? The resulting photo demonstrates how much less aggressive the artificial intelligence has become on the Mate 20 Pro and P30 Pro, compared to the P20 Pro. The P20 Pro quickly activated the A.I. Greenery mode, and sure enough the grass is vibrant and lively. The sky and the sculpture are washed out and ugly.
The P30 Pro and the Mate 20 Pro also used artificial intelligence, but in a neutral and natural way. The resulting photos look almost identical.
Winner: P30 Pro and Mate 20 Pro
William III in St. James Park, London
Another sunny day, this time in London, and again with a lot of green to ensure the P20 Pro’s photo looks pretty bad. Yes, you can dismiss the A.I.’s recommendation, but not only will it frustratingly re-select it, but many people will take the photo without a second thought, and be left with this. It lacks detail and realism, and is not a photo anyone will want to share.
The battle between the Mate 20 Pro and the P30 Pro isn’t as close here, and the P30 Pro’s strengths are easy to see. Take a look at the plinth for the statue first, and notice the wealth of detail revealed compared to the Mate 20 Pro. It’s the same for the buildings in the background. Not only is the color more accurate, but there is texture and definition to the brickwork.
Winner: P30 Pro
The P20 Pro has a dedicated monochrome camera lens, while a Leica-tuned filter is used to take the same shots on the Mate 20 Pro and the P30 Pro. Can either keep up with the P20 Pro? The Mate 20 Pro definitely can’t match the P20 Pro, producing an image drained of emotion and detail.
The P30 Pro gets closer, and while the detail is improved over the Mate 20 Pro, the P20 Pro’s monochrome photo is so crisp and sharp it embarrasses the filtered version. Look at the warning sign above the Pall Mall street sign. The P20 Pro’s photo is sharp enough to read when you zoom in, but the P30 Pro’s is blurred and distorted. This effect is seen across the photo, from the stonework to the railings. Filters are no match for the monochrome lens.
Winner: P20 Pro
Graffiti in Leake Street, London
Leake Street’s graffiti-adorned walls are located under a bridge in London, and the ceiling is covered with color-changing lights, making it an ever-altering environment. A range of photos here are needed to demonstrate the strengths and weaknesses here. However, the winner may come down to personal preference, rather than one camera being more technically impressive.
Let’s look at Mr. Burns first. The P30 Pro realistically captures the color of the wall, and pulls in plenty of detail and crucially, a lot of light too. The purple text is masked by reflection. The Mate 20 Pro has the same effect, and makes the wall considerably more grey. The P20 Pro produces a startlingly atmospheric photo. It loses out on detail, but the deep shadows and bright colors make it a photo we’d want to share immediately, because it accurately captures Leake Street’s vibe.
The P20 Pro’s treatment of the pavement scene is similar, with darker shadows adding to the atmosphere. Examine the three skulls on the pillar, each of which says, “Scrap Brexit,” and see how much deeper the black text is in the P20 Pro’s photo. Yes, the P30 Pro has the edge on detail, but it’s far too bright.
Winner: P20 Pro
Book stall in South Bank, London
Here’s a test of Aperture mode on all three. This is a close call between the P20 Pro and the P30 Pro. The Mate 20 Pro doesn’t do a bad job, but the level of detail in the text on the back of the blue book is much worse than the other two phones. The P30 Pro is the winner here, due to the Time-of-Flight sensor’s accuracy and ability. The blur is gradual as it moves into the picture, and the detail in the text remains consistent. We love it more because this can be cropped down into a beautifully usable photo, while the other two cannot.
Winner: P30 Pro
Food and Drink
These photos were all shot in auto mode, in a space with low lighting. We’re starting with the glass. The P30 Pro does a simply unbelievable job. The glass on the table is crystal clear, the brass punch bowl has detail, as does the wooden table and the wooden plate used for serving the food. The Mate 20 Pro isn’t far behind, but the P20 Pro fails to keep up.
However, the P20 Pro does a better job with the food, outperforming the Mate 20 Pro, which over-exposed (potentially as a result of the slightly different angle), while the P30 Pro got confused with the focusing. We prefer the P20 Pro’s shot, it’s not an overwhelming improvement, and can’t take the win for the category away from the P30 Pro due to the astonishing photo of the glass.
Winner: P30 Pro
Night, London Bridge
These are all taken without Night mode activated. In the portrait shot of The Shard, the P20 Pro can’t maintain the detail or clarity of either the Mate 20 Pro or P30 Pro. However, it’s very difficult to split these latter two. Both photos look great, with similarly high detail levels, and wonderful color balance. There are subtle differences. Look closely at the statue in the center of the landscape shot and you can see more definition in the P30 Pro’s shot. The Mate 20 Pro makes the statue little more than a black shape.
Winner: P30 Pro
It’s a landslide victory for the P30 Pro, and a dismal result for the Mate 20 Pro. The P30 Pro won four of the seven categories, and drew with the P20 Pro in another. The P20 Pro took the win in two categories. The Mate 20 Pro didn’t win one, which is a surprise. It took great photos, but it was outclassed by the P30 Pro, and couldn’t match the emotion conveyed by the P20 Pro’s camera.
What does this mean for you? If you own either the Mate 20 Pro or the P20 Pro, the P30 Pro — even without its special zoom and low-light features — represents a marked improvement, and is definitely worth considering as an upgrade.