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Honor 9 Camera Review: Great value dual-lens snapper?

We test out the Honor 9’s dual-lens camera, comparing it to the mobile shooter found on its predecessors, the Honor 8 and Honor 8 Pro. Here’s our full Honor 9 camera review, including an in-depth look at the camera features, photo and video quality.

The Honor 9 officially launched this week and we’ve already had a chance to test out one of the most important bits. Namely, the camera tech housed on that compact, glossy frame.

Like many other Honor phones, the Honor 9’s main camera uses two lenses at the same time to shoot sharp, detail-packed photos. One of these is a 20-megapixel monochrome lens, while the other is a 12-megapixel RGB lens which does a fine job of capturing any colour in your environment.

Huawei has, of course, stuffed plenty of camera features into the Honor 9 as well, just like its other Honor handsets. We’ll discuss these shortly.

Read next: Honor 9 in-depth review

Honor 9 camera specs: Has anything changed compared to the Honor 8 and 8 Pro?

One of the only let-downs of the Honor 8 Pro was the camera tech, which was unchanged compared with the original Honor 8.

Thankfully, the Honor 9 has been gifted the same camera tech as the Huawei P10, offering an improvement over the previous generation. You get a 20-megapixel monochrome and 12-megapixel RGB lens on the rear, as well as an 8-megapixel shooter around the front.

That brings a fair few improvements, beyond the obvious increase in detail levels (particularly handy when zooming in for a snap). For instance, the Honor 9 camera can supposedly capture photos that are 200 percent brighter than those taken by previous-gen Honors.

The portrait mode from the P10 and P10 Plus is now available on Honor too, while the Honor 9 also brings 'moving pictures' to the series. More on these later.

Read next: Honor 9 vs Honor 8 Pro vs Honor 8, what’s the difference?

Honor 9 camera review: App and user experience

When you open up the Honor 9’s camera app, not much appears to have changed for this handset. You’re once again presented with a feature-dense interface, complete with many toggles on the main screen.

This means you can add filters, turn on the obligatory beauty mode, toggle the flash and activate Huawei’s wide aperture and portrait mode features. All at a touch.

Actually, that portrait mode is an addition to the existing Honor line-up, previously only found on the Huawei P10 and P10 Plus. Like the wide aperture mode, this helps your subject to stand out against the background, using the likes of bokeh effects as well as colour manipulation.

Another addition is the Moving Pictures mode. When enabled, this apparently captures a second of video before and after your photo was taken, to bring them to life in your gallery - like the living images feature found on the recent iPhones.

I found that Moving Pictures only seemed to capture a slice of footage before each photo, or at least that's how it seemed when flicking through the Honor 9's gallery. You get a brief burst of animation, before the subject suddenly leaps ahead in time. It's slightly disorienting and not quite as smooth a transition as you'll get on the iPhone.

Note also that you can't have the Moving Pictures mode and the Wide Aperture/Portrait mode activated at the same time.

Tap the shutter button and the nippy autofocus gets to work, capturing your snap almost instantly (as long as lighting conditions are okay). You also have full manual controls available for a very exact shot. To access these, you just need to swipe right into the main Honor 9 camera features menu.

In there you’ll also find plenty of other camera modes. For instance, you can take a panorama, get funky with the light painting feature, shoot timelapse and slow-motion footage and so on.

If you want to shoot standard video, the good news is that the main camera interface offers a button for that. You can record Full HD video at 30 or 60 frames-per-second or jump up to 4K resolution footage, if you want some ultra-crisp clips of your cat licking itself.

Honor 9 camera review: Photo and video quality

It’s not really any kind of surprise that the Honor 9 captures good-looking photos in clear light. Those two lenses work together to produce detailed images, complete with accurate color reproduction. Shutter speed is pretty quick too, so subjects in motion are cleanly captured in most cases, with very little blur to speak of.

Macro shots are just as impressive. Get in close to your subject and the lens doesn’t struggle, reliably capturing even tiny details in a crisp and clean fashion.

High contrast shots are generally well produced. Shoot against a bright sky and you can expect some oversaturation of said sky, while finer details are lost in the other parts of the photo. However, compared to other, similarly-priced handsets such as the OnePlus 5, the Honor 9 holds up nicely. You can always tweak the brightness levels using manual focus and the Pro Mode controls, when needed.

However, the Honor 9 really does struggle compared with its peers when it comes to low-light shots. Try capturing a photo in dim light and you’ll have no choice but to fire up that flash. Else, your snap will be marred with ugly grain. You do get a Night Mode which basically offers a super-long exposure to brighten things off, but it’s completely useless without a tripod to keep the phone perfectly still.

The wide aperture mode and portrait mode do their thang as you’d expect, blurring the background while keeping your subject nice and sharp. It’s not really much different to the effect you get on the single-lens Samsung Galaxy S8 however, with its depth of field cheat mode activated.

Check out some more of our Honor 9 camera test photos in the gallery below.

Honor 9 camera review: Video quality

The Honor 9’s camera offers a pretty solid performance when it comes to video recording, although it’s not perfect by any means.

Quality levels are decent on the default mode of Full HD resolution, 30 frames-per-second capture. Detail is sharp enough to make your test footage look respectable when enjoyed on a full-sized TV. You also get digital image stabilisation, which effectively reduces the tremble and tremors when you’re moving and shooting at the same time. You’ll only notice a slight, sudden vibration with every step that you take.

However, jack up to 60 frames-per-second or 4K resolution and the stabiliser feature is immediately disabled. This means walking and filming is a bad idea, as you’ll get a lot of shake.

Still, at 60 FPS the resulting video is pleasingly smooth, while our Ultra HD footage was packed with detail.

The Honor 9 also offers full manual controls for video recording, so you can tweak the likes of white balance while shooting. That’s something rarely found on mobiles, so should definitely be applauded.

Check out our Honor 9 video samples below.

Note that 4K video samples on the Honor 9 are shot in HEVC format, which compresses the file size so it takes up a lot less space on your phone’s storage (without any real impact on quality). This is great news if you shoot a lot of video, although means uploading to YouTube direct is a no-no. You’ll need a program such as HandBrake to convert the video file before doing so.

Stay tuned for our in-depth Honor 9 review!

Read next: Honor launches new great-value fitness band in Berlin

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