The Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra may have shot through the saloon doors last week with its dual telephoto cameras, but it wasn’t the first phone to combine 3x and 10x optical zoom in one flagship – that was the Huawei Mate 40 Pro Plus.
Unfortunately, that phone is still limited, but with our Huawei Mate 40 Pro review referring to that phone as “one of the best camera phones out there”, we were eager to reveal some secrets of this pioneer in mobile photography. What trends have led to the development of the camera technology of the Mate 40 Pro, how does Huawei decide on the ‘look’ of its photos and what is the future of camera phones?
Thankfully, Huawei answered some of those questions (and more) during our in-depth chat with Pan Chaoyue, the company’s Camera Solutions Expert. Sure, the details of future phones were off limits, but we did learn how people use the cameras on phones like the Mate 40 Pro – and why, as we argued last week, zooming will be the next big battlefield in mobile photography. .
Zoom in to grow
Smartphones are increasingly relying on multiple cameras to overcome their physical limitations – and following the recent increase in dedicated ultra-wide angle lenses, we are now seeing the emergence of dual telephoto cameras.
The Xiaomi Mi 10 Ultra and Vivo X50 Pro Plus both have two telephoto cameras, but the Huawei Mate 40 Pro Plus (and now Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra) goes one step further. Both phones have a mid-range telephoto with 3x optical zoom, along with a ‘Super Periscope Telephoto’, as Huawei calls it, which delivers an impressive 10x optical zoom.
The reason for this, Pan Chaoyue told us, is that phone users are increasingly relying on zoom to take photos. “I can share with you a trend that we can see internally – after we introduce the zoom lens, the use of zoom is getting higher,” Pan Chaoyue told us. “This is very happy for me as we try to expand the scenarios and possibilities for our consumers.”
This means it will likely be a big focus for future Huawei flagships as well, said Pan Chaoyue: “We will push for zoom – we will provide more image quality, more features and more happy things for consumers when using the zoom,” he said. he promised.
This has already been confirmed in the impressive Huawei Mate 40 Pro Plus – and even the Huawei Mate 40 Pro has a 5x periscope telephoto lens. But which of these longer focal lengths is the most popular or important according to Huawei?
“It’s like the DSLR, it really depends on the situation,” said Pan Chaoyue. “For example, 10x could be 400mm on DSLR for sports photography, 200mm could be for the concert, and 50mm or 85mm would be the portrait for your wife or son. So this is really about the scenarios. What we do when the Het R & D team needs to improve image quality at all these focal lengths, ”he said.
This means that instead of trying to cram 15x or 20x optical zoom into the next camera phones, the next step will likely fine-tune their zoom quality. This varies greatly between smartphones, with some even simulating ‘telephoto’ focal lengths using digital tricks like cropping and pixel binning from high-resolution sensors. In practice these tend to deliver inferior results than dedicated telephoto lenses, but there is certainly room for improvement on phones like the Mate 40 Pro as well.
Improving this zoom quality cannot be solved alone with impressive hardware like Huawei’s folded lens, which reflects internal light five times to squeeze 10x zoom into a smartphone.
Software is also key, especially when switching between the native focal lengths of each camera. For example, the Huawei Mate 40 Pro Plus is most comfortable with its dedicated 3x and 10x zoom lenses, but has to use digital zoom for the 5x zoom in between.
Are algorithms going to play a bigger role in creating the final image when it comes to zooming? Pan Chaoyue thinks so: “Yes, certainly. The algorithm plays an increasingly important role throughout the pipeline. Not only in terms of resolution itself, but also brightness and dynamic range, color,” he said. “So we’re putting more and more algorithms into the process. The sensor itself for the zoom, or the multi-sensors for the fusion. These are all ways we’re trying to improve the image quality,” he added.
Pan Chaoyue used a chef’s analogy to sum up Huawei’s role in the imaging process, where the hardware is the raw ingredients and the algorithm the increasingly important cooking process. “We make the food, and finally I hope the dish is delicious, but normally people don’t care what the ingredients are or how you cook, but finally that you like the dish. This is our goal. ”
But given that color science and processing can vary so widely between phone cameras, mobile photographers want to better understand that cooking process – hence the advent of features like Apple ProRaw, which encourage iPhone users to tinker more with computer photography.
So how do Huawei and its MasterAI decide exactly what makes a ‘good’ photo, is it more about accuracy or artistry? According to Pan Chaoyue, it’s a bit of both – and he gave us an interesting overview of what most of us look for with our phone cameras, based on Huawei’s research.
“Color accuracy is one side, the other is about the artistic way. These are different directions for one camera. We cannot offer them at the same time. But in our opinion the camera works as a recorder in 80% of the situations. Take the ambient light. on, the ambient atmosphere, what our eyes see. So this is the first work we’re trying to do, to improve color accuracy – like a recorder, “he said.
But a significant portion of photographers are looking for something else sheer accuracy, hence Huawei’s partnership with Leica. “Another 20% is about fulfilling the desire to create, or satisfying the desire for personality. That’s why we’re introducing three modes in a different color system: the Leica Vivid, Leica Soft and Leica Monochrom,” he said, referring to the movie modes we have available on Huawei phones since the Huawei P9.
It’s not yet clear how many smartphone snappers use these Leica modes in practice, but having the option certainly appeals to photographers. For example, one of the most popular features on Fujifilm cameras, such as the new Fujifilm X-S10, is the ‘Film Simulation’ modes, which recreate the look of the various film stocks from Fuji’s past. These can of course be applied during the editing process, but there’s something special (and useful) about having that heritage while capturing it in your photo.
Going beyond ‘scenes’ or ‘creative’ modes is certainly an added bonus for phone cameras, if it is unlikely to be used in most ‘point-and-shoot’ situations, according to Huawei’s research. But perhaps a more important factor in the color and image quality of most photos is the sensor – and Huawei remains committed to the unusual RYYB sensor used in its primary cameras.
The RYYB sensor design (red, yellow, yellow, blue) is an alternative to the RGB filter (red, green, green, blue) ‘Bayer pattern’ used on most camera sensors. In theory, the RYYB design allows the sensor to capture more light, but it can also lead to issues when editing files with RGB raw converters.
Why is Huawei the only smartphone maker to use this sensor design? “Why others can’t do this I’m not sure. Maybe it takes a lot of energy, a lot of money and a lot of people,” said Pan Chaoyue. “It’s unique and offers more benefits to consumers. And people are seeing the benefits of this, so we insist on doing this,” he added.
While we were certainly impressed with the Huawei Mate 40 Pro’s results, it’s a shame we still can’t recommend the phone due to the ‘app problem’. The Huawei ban from mid-2019 means that Google apps (including the Play Store) will not be available on this phone or on future models.
Still, we can rely on Huawei for groundbreaking camera technology, which often gives us a taste of the future of smartphone photography. And according to the insights of Huawei Mate 40 Pro and Pan Chaoyue, that future will be focused on an increasingly impressive zoom lens.