Huawei P20 Pro has one of the most unique cameras we've ever seen in a smartphone

Huawei P20 Pro has one of the most unique cameras we've ever seen in a smartphone
Dual cameras have been the rage these past two years, with more and more companies adding a second main shooter on their phones. With the P20 Pro, however, Huawei's gone for the triple kill.

Yes, that's right, the P20 Pro sports three cameras on its back – an ultra-high resolution main color camera, paired with a monochrome and telephoto shooters. But what makes this setup unique is not just the number of lenses or their focal length. There's much more than that. In fact, the Huawei P20 Pro has so much going on in that department, that it is definitely one of the most unique smartphones we've ever seen, as far as cameras go.

The largest smartphone camera sensor since the Lumia 1020

Starting with the P9, Huawei teamed up with Leica to bring a true monochrome camera to a smartphone. Unlike RGB (color) sensors, monochrome sensors are capable of capturing all incoming light at each pixel, regardless of what color the light is. This not only allows a monochrome sensor to capture richer detail, but also makes it up to three times more sensitive to light than an RGB sensor of the same size. Of course, the obvious "issue" with monochrome sensors is that they produce black and white images, and the average smartphone user does not like black and white pictures. Period. However, Huawei opted to use the two cameras on the P9 in tandem and combine their strengths to deliver better results in color. The same formula was used in the Huawei P10, but with the P20 Pro, things change quite a bit. Where do we begin?

The Huawei P20 Pro has the biggest camera sensor in any smartphone since the Lumia 1020. The main color camera on this phone has a 1/1.7" sensor with a whopping 40MP resolution. That means 22% larger pixels than the Galaxy S9 and S9+. To put things into perspective, let's see how P20 Pro's sensor stacks up against Samsung's latest and greatest, as well as a dear oldie:

40MP main camera and DSLR-level ISO settings

The main color camera of the Huawei P20 Pro not only has a big sensor and big pixels, but also a whopping 40MP resolution. How well this resolution will work on a 1/1.7" sensor remains to be seen, but it does look promising. Furthermore, the P20 Pro will be able to go as high as ISO 102,400. Yes, you read that right, ISO 102,400. This is insane for a smartphone. We're not expecting amazingly clean-looking images at this high of an ISO value, but we're sure that Huawei will be throwing in a lot of noise reduction and other tricks to produce at least usable results. But aside from the insane ISO, the size of the sensor and pixels alone promises greatly improved results in low-light situations, which is one of the areas that smartphone makers have been trying to improve on over the past years.

The aperture of the main 40MP camera may seem like a step down from the f/1.5 aperture of the Galaxy S9, but remember – the P20 Pro has larger sensor with larger pixels, which means that it will also be more sensitive to light, despite the deceivingly smaller f-stop number.

We're also interested to see how Huawei will make the three cameras work together. As noted in the table above, the telephoto camera has a surprisingly low resolution of 8MP. However, Huawei intends to use the three snappers together to deliver 3x optical and 5x hybrid zoom. We're eager to see how this pans out. Apparently, the main 40MP sensor has a Quad Bayer pixel structure that outputs data binned 2 × 2 pixel units, which results in a 10MP image by default. You can change the shooting mode to 40MP, but you'd be losing a great deal of the processing that makes smaller, 10MP images look better. This holds especially true for night-time shots, which look much cleaner and brighter in the default, 10MP mode.

Related phones

P20 Pro
  • Display 6.1" 1080 x 2240 pixels
  • Camera 40 MP / 24 MP front
  • Processor HiSilicon Kirin, Octa-core, 2360 MHz
  • Storage 128 GB
  • Battery 4000 mAh(25h talk time)



1. Clars123

Posts: 1078; Member since: Mar 16, 2015

That's actually pretty cool..considering there isnt a massive camera hump. Can't wait to see images from it.

12. scarface21173

Posts: 661; Member since: Aug 17, 2014

Looks like we have a new camera king on the block.

19. bucknassty

Posts: 1326; Member since: Mar 24, 2017

this is surely impressive... but looking at examples on dxomark, i still think pixel 2 is the one to beat in a lot of situations... maybe it has the pixels number at night

23. BlackhawkFlys

Posts: 908; Member since: May 07, 2014

I also checked the DXOMark pictures and I think Huawei nails it in every picture. There is no noise, no grain. Huawei pictures are very well lit compared to the iPhone X and Pixel. The details are amazing even after a lot of zooming. have you checked the full-size images?

30. bucknassty

Posts: 1326; Member since: Mar 24, 2017

Yes i did check the full-size images and i definitely agree with you on the noise, i just feel like the pixel reproduced some better shots in some brighter scenes. i wish they would give a nice DSLR picture to compare to on camera reviews.

28. worldpeace

Posts: 3129; Member since: Apr 15, 2016

They already snatch 1st and 2nd place on DxOmark, with a whopping 10 score difference with the old 1st (S9)

2. surethom

Posts: 1669; Member since: Mar 04, 2009

Very nice but why do only the Massive phones have the ultra high specs, what about all this in a 5.7" screen mobile thats now overly wide aswell.

10. Bondurant

Posts: 780; Member since: Jun 04, 2014

because not enough space in a typical 5inch screen size phone to squeeze in a 4000 mah battery and triple camera. Than ofcourse the "pro" tag and price factor Huawei has done more to differentiate from the non-pro which was a complaint when the Huawei Mate 10 series was released.

3. Humanoid

Posts: 1226; Member since: Dec 11, 2017

How can pixels be 1.55 micron? The old imx204 has same 1/1.7" and 20MP. Pixels are 1.43 micron.

11. Hollowmost

Posts: 421; Member since: Oct 10, 2017

The main camera sensor uses a Quad Bayer structure with a total pixel count of 40Mp. It outputs data binned in 2 × 2 pixel units, resulting in 10Mp image output.

15. Humanoid

Posts: 1226; Member since: Dec 11, 2017

I hate downscale, just cheap trick to reduce noise. Sony did that before Z5. All were locked at 8MP on auto mode.

26. rsiders

Posts: 1935; Member since: Nov 17, 2011

They also have an option to take the full 40mp pictures as well though. I'm just so intrigued by this.

22. yalokiy

Posts: 961; Member since: Aug 01, 2016

Could be that the old imx204 had more space left in between the pixels? It's a good question. I bet there must be an answer to it. Don't think they lie about it as anybody can take off the lenses and take a look at sensor with microscope.

36. michalm

Posts: 3; Member since: May 15, 2018

I don't think that's the case. I'm not sure what they mean by pixel size, but if pixel pitch figure it's, afaik, a distance from a left side of the one cell to the left of the next one (so it includes the gap). If they meant the pixel area, that afaik includes gaps as well, although the unit is wrong as it should be μm squared.

34. michalm

Posts: 3; Member since: May 15, 2018

Very good question, Humanoid. I noticed sth else. The EXIF data (on pictures both from dxomark and from another website) say it's taken with 3.95mm lens having 35mm equivalent of 27mm. That's 27 / 3.95 ≈ 6.8 crop factor - in between of 1/2.6" (Galaxy S6) and 1/3" (iPhone 5S). If 1.55 micron refers to the binned pixel size (those making 3648 x 2736 = 10MP picture), it's only 1.55μm * 3648 ≈ 5.65mm wide by 4.24mm high rectangle being used, or slightly more than 1/2.6″ sensor area. Either both EXIF data and pixel pitch of 1.55μm are wrong specs or this phone uses only part of a sensor which is about 1/2.6" and figure of 1/1.7" is nothing but a marketing hype. That'd be pretty bold. I have a Lumia 1020 which doesn't use it's whole 41.3MP either, but 38.2MP in 4:3 aspect ratio and 33.6MP in 16:9. That makes perfect sense, as the sensor is in 3:2 aspect ratio and 16:9 picture uses sensor's whole width (and 81% of sensor's height) and 4:3 picture uses whole height (and 93% of sensor's width). In Huawei? If it's 1.55μm 1/1.7" inch sensor, that'd be about 17 - 18MP of which only 10MP are being used (or ~70MP of unbinned pixels, which is bonkers).

4. Einstein333

Posts: 146; Member since: May 22, 2012

The DXOmark results! The p20 pro achieves 114 points! That's way more than Samsung and Apple!

7. Xperia14

Posts: 1208; Member since: Sep 01, 2015

Damn.. It beat the X and Pixel 2 by a big margin...Especially the night photos, look at the incredibly low noise levels: P20pro: X:

13. NateDiaz

Posts: 1087; Member since: Mar 03, 2018

Damn! Just look at the details WOW

14. bucknassty

Posts: 1326; Member since: Mar 24, 2017

s9 didnt last too long lol

21. Lanx1998

Posts: 59; Member since: Mar 06, 2017

Pretty sure Samsung is going to throw some major hit in camera department otherwise, like previous year they are gonna sit behind Pixel but this time there will be one more with Pixels (assumption) the P20.

5. Hollowmost

Posts: 421; Member since: Oct 10, 2017

The comparison VS the S9+ on the event was misleading lol On p20pro the exposure was 30 seconds and iso 3200 at f1.6 , on the s9+ the exposure was 10 seconds and iso 800 at f1.8 ?? 1) why not using same exposure ? 2) why not using same ISOs ? 3) f1.8 on the s9+ ? ???

6. w1000i

Posts: 242; Member since: Jul 22, 2015

That was the max of each phone

16. Humanoid

Posts: 1226; Member since: Dec 11, 2017

They use default settings only. No manual mode. S9+ works 1.5 or 2.4 only, no value between .

8. Xperia14

Posts: 1208; Member since: Sep 01, 2015

Damnnn this camera trumpsall other flagships! This is incredible!

9. pixelated

Posts: 108; Member since: May 03, 2015

I'd really like to know about the technology working behind 40 MP camera of P20 Pro. Nokia explained their technology when they announced Nokia 808. Is Huawei's tech same or different.

17. youssef44

Posts: 547; Member since: Apr 29, 2014

very good job Huawei ! go goo we want more in next Mate version

18. Sparkxster

Posts: 1214; Member since: Mar 31, 2017

Very impressive dxo mark score! 114pts!! Wow!!!

20. Lanx1998

Posts: 59; Member since: Mar 06, 2017

Well, this means that we are going to watch lots of heat between Note 9, iPhone X (2018), Pixel 3s and P20 in the camera department. This phone has once again fanned a spark for megapixel count and quality race.

31. fyah_king unregistered

They ain't gonna beat the p20 pro this year. It's camera is like 2 years ahead of Apple and a year ahead of the S9+ and pixel 2 XL.

24. SebastianFox

Posts: 21; Member since: Oct 17, 2014

This is just misleading, the s9/s8/s7 sensors all have a pixel size of 1.4 -1.44 um.

* Some comments have been hidden, because they don't meet the discussions rules.

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