Ever since the Huawei P20 Pro came out with its 40-megapixel main camera, Huawei has been killing it with some of the best cameras on phones since the Nokia Lumia 1020 from 2013! Huawei currently owns 3 of the 4 top spots on DXOMark’s smartphone camera rankings. The Huawei Mate 40 Pro is the latest to put really powerful cameras on a smartphone and it’s second only to its slightly more expensive brother, the Huawei Mate 40 Pro Plus. The Mate 40 Pro Plus has a different camera array on the back with a wider wide-angle lens/camera, a 5th camera/lens combo, and stabilization on the main 23mm equivalent lens/sensor combo. Still, the Mate 40 Pro is going to be pretty awesome. Let’s check it out. Or if you’re looking for a full review, click on over: HUAWEI Mate 40 Pro review: keeps getting better and better (pocketnow.com)
Main rear camera
Of course, we have to start with the main rear camera, the 50-megapixel one. It’s got a 1/1.28″ sensor with a 23mm equivalent focal length and an f/1.9 aperture. It’s also got an RYYB sensor instead of an RGB sensor. That means two out of 4 pixels are picking up yellow light instead of green light. This gives the sensor a 40% better sensitivity to light which should help a lot in low-light scenarios. The large 1/1.28″ sensor should help too as this is bigger than the smaller 1/1.7″ sensors on things like the Galaxy S20 or the even smaller 1/2.55″ sensors on iPhones (although the Nokia 808 PureView’s 1/1.2″ sensor is still larger).
Below is a grid of 100% crops of a variety of other phones and cameras. All were shot in RAW format, but some of the sensors don’t output actual RAW data but instead downsample the data in hardware. For example, the Samsung Galaxy S20 Ultra, RedMi Note 10 Pro, and Xiaomi Mi 10 Ultra all pixel-bin their sensor output to a 12-megapixel RAW file. The Xiaomi Mi 11 does the same but to a 27-megapixel file. Only the Huawei Mate 40 Pro and Nokia Lumia 1020 are outputting full-resolution RAW files (along with the dedicated camera; Panasonic Lumix G85.)
You can see that the Mate 40 Pro compares nicely to the Nokia Lumia 1020 since both produce a very large megapixel RAW file. They both appear a bit soft though, and that’s because most of the other cameras compensate for that softness by down-sampling or pixel-binning their output. So the 108-megapixel sensors are really only giving us 12 or 27 megapixels to work with.
There are some unfortunate side effects to Huawei’s special 50MP main camera sensor though. In brightly lit areas, specular highlights tend to cause major color fringing. Above is a 400% crop of some running water and there are pink and blue spots all over the place. This is an image of the RAW file, but they appear in the processed JPGs as well. It looks like Huawei’s sensor wasn’t made for really nice day photos since the bright light causes an electrical charge to overflow into adjacent photodiodes causing these aberrations. This can be fixed in Adobe Camera Raw, but you’ll also notice the structure of these pixels is very “smudgy” or “swirly”. It’s not a “natural” image structure and we don’t get the film-like grain that I love on the Nokia Lumia 1020.
That being said, at least the lens is much better than what Huawei had on the old P20 Pro and Mate 20 Pro. Those lenses had a lot of light fall-off on the corners of the sensors with required color distortion and exposure fixes in software.
Low light photography is where the Huawei Mate 40 Pro’s large sensor with lots of megapixels is really meant to shine, and that works pretty nicely, but the LED flash is kind of weak. The flash seems to occasionally bleed into the lower-left corner of the image as well, which is unfortunate. Low light photos without the flash look ok, too, unless you’re shooting RAW as I always do. There must be a lot of post-processing going into the automatic photo modes for low-light photography because shooting in RAW mode generates an extremely noisy off-color image.
Here are a few full 12-megapixel resolution JPG samples from the Huawei Mate 40 Pro’s main 50Mp camera.
Ultra-Wide Rear Camera
The ultra-wide-angle rear camera has a 20Mp 1/1.54″ sensor with an 18mm equivalent lens focal length and an f/1.8 aperture. Unfortunately, that 18mm equivalent lens certainly is not as ultra-wide as a 12mm equivalent on the Xiaomi Mi 10 Ultra or even the 14mm equivalent lens on the Huawei Mate 40 Pro Plus, but you do get a nice wide aperture for better low light exposures.
Telephoto Rear Camera
The last “real” camera on the back is a 1/3.56″ sensor with a 12Mp resolution and a 125mm equivalent telephoto periscope lens with an f/3.4 aperture. Below is a set of 100% crops of photos from the telephoto cameras on the Huawei Mate 40 Pro, Xiaomi Mi 10 Ultra, and Samsung Galaxy S20 Ultra for comparison.
The Huawei Mate 40 Pro’s 12Mp telephoto camera is pretty nice, but Xiaomi’s Mi 10 Ultra camera is just a bit sharper with a little better dynamic range. Xiaomi converts its 48Mp image data to a 12Mp RAW DNG file, while Huawei outputs actual 12Mp RAW data. Still, pixel-binning from Xiaomi’s 48Mp quad-Bayer sensor produces slightly better results. Then there’s the Samsung Galaxy S20 Ultra’s comparable telephoto lens & camera combination which turns out to be kind of a mess compared to the Huawei and Xiaomi cameras. Samsung’s is a 48Mp sensor that down-samples to 12Mp, too, so you would think it would be better than this, but Samsung doesn’t output RAW data for this sensor, so we’re stuck with an obviously-processed ugly JPG.
Fake Background Filters
The fourth camera on the back of the Huawei Mate 40 Pro is just a depth sensor that’s used to mask out the foreground in an image in order to apply blurry filters to the background.
If you look at the fake background blur photo from far away or down-sample it to a smaller size, then it might look ok.
As soon as you take a closer look at the edges though, you’ll see that the masking is very inaccurate, but to be fair all phone cameras that attempt this filter trick are very bad at it as well.
Front Facing Selfie Camera
On the front of the phone, there’s a 13Mp camera with a nice wide-angle 18mm equivalent focal length. By default, it shoots cropped in at a “1X” digital zoom ratio while the 0.8X digital zoom cropping is the actual full view of the sensor. Obviously, this doesn’t make sense, but what are you going to do? What’s even more confusing is that there are two cameras on the front of the device. So it looks like you could have one that’s one focal length and one that’s another focal length, which would be awesome… and that’s what the controls in the software look like too… but the second camera is just a crappy time-of-flight sensor used to poorly create fake background blur filtered images. Two separate focal length lenses would have been much better. Still, I love having a wide-angle selfie camera for the fun group shots while out and about.
Smartphone camera tech has come a really long way since I got my first smartphone 20 years ago and it’s clear that Huawei is leading the charge now that Nokia is no longer in the picture. Still, we’ve got plenty of room for improvement, but for now, Huawei’s camera tech is clearly the best in the business, though Xiaomi is catching up as well.