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Huawei Mate 10/Mate 10 Pro Camera Review: A lot to Leica

Huawei Mate 10/Mate 10 Pro camera review: The Mate 10 and Mate 10 Pro are Huawei’s feature-packed new flagship phablets and their Leica-branded dual camera setup is unquestionably one of the biggest highlights.

Whilst Leica’s level of involvement is still questionable, the Mate 10 and 10 Pro both appear to possess a serious imaging setup. Similarly to last year’s Mate 9 and this year’s P10 and P10 Plus these phones pack in a 12 and 20-megapixel dual sensor arrangement on the back with an 8-megapixel front-facer, sporting an f/2.0 aperture.

For our in-depth thoughts on the new Huawei Mate phone, head to our Mate 10 Pro review.

The SUMMILUX-H lenses on its main camera have been completely reworked to boast the widest aperture of any smartphone around at an impressive f/1.6, promising exceptional low light performance. The 12-megapixel RGB sensor also leverages optical image stabilisation (OIS), whilst the secondary 20-megapixel monochrome camera is in place to add additional detail and depth to shots.

Huawei Mate 10 Pro camera review: Phone back with camera

The new Kirin 970 processor Huawei’s set inside the Mate 10 and 10 Pro is also the first chipset to feature a Neural Processing Unit (NPU) – hardware dedicated to AI-related tasks like speech input and, in the case of the cameras, machine vision. It works in conjunction with new features baked into Huawei’s latest EMUI 8.0 user experience to theoretically help the camera take better shots by having an understanding of what it is shooting.

To top off the camera hardware there’s also a 4-in-1 focus system, combining phase detection, contrast data, depth data and a laser array for fast and reliable autofocus in any condition. Whilst Huawei hasn’t gone the route of the iPhone 8 Plus or Galaxy Note 8 with a secondary telephoto lens, the Mate 10 and 10 Pro do also promise up to 2x lossless digital zoom too.

Huawei Mate 10/Mate 10 Pro camera review: UI and features

If you’ve used a Huawei or Honor phone in the last few years you’ll be familiar with the basic three-screen layout that the company instigates for its camera experiences. That said, with all the features packed into the Mate 10’s setup there’s a lot to learn and experimentation is, as ever, the key to fully understanding what this phone’s snappers are capable of.

A swipe right offers up a list of thirteen different still and video shooting modes with the ability to download more directly from Huawei if desired. It’s here that you’ll find options like HDR capture, which unfortunately isn’t enabled by default, as well as more advanced capture modes like Night Shot and Light Painting.

Swiping left grants you control over resolution, GPS data, timers, capture methods, object tracking and more, as well as offering up different options depending on whether you’re shooting stills or video when it comes to aspects like resolution. Things can get confusing with elements like filters which are accessible from both the mode selection screen and the viewfinder directly, as well as the fact that there are two different watermark tools that stamp different things on your photos.

Huawei Mate 10 Pro camera UI: Viewfinder

The viewfinder itself is also crammed full of options. We like the convenience of being able to swipe directly into Pro mode for manual control, but it’s unclear why the rest of the controls, positioned on the other side, don’t also come with dedicated shooting modes and only appear here.

To take the fight to the likes of Apple there are toggles for motion photos, which behave much like Live Photos, as well as a portrait tool, which similarly to the upcoming iPhone X, isn’t just confined to the phone’s main camera, adding in background blur and beauty tools with impressive fidelity.

Huawei Mate 10 Pro camera UI: Wide aperture mode near focus Huawei Mate 10 Pro camera UI: Wide aperture mode far focus

Huawei’s wide aperture mode also makes a return, letting you refocus and adjust the amount of bokeh in shots after the fact. It’s not perfect but it’s the best iteration of the software feature yet, producing some of the most accurate results we’ve seen from a current-generation smartphone camera.

Huawei Mate 10 Pro camera UI: AI scene settings
The Mate10/10 Pro can distinguish between the following scenes: Text, food, stage (if you’re watching a show), outdoor landscape, snow, water, cat, low-light, sunset, plant, portrait, flower and dog

You’ll also notice the machine vision element of the phone’s hardware coming into play when using the camera, signified by a little icon appears in the bottom right corner to confirm what sort of the scene it detects and is optimising its shooting settings for accordingly. In our tests, it seemed both impressively quick and accurate, distinguishing between landscapes, plants, pets and people faultlessly.

Huawei Mate 10/Mate 10 Pro camera review: Photo quality

Based on first impressions, there appeared to be a notable uptick in general shot quality versus last year’s Mate 9 and the more we used the phone’s cameras, the more we were impressed by their versatility.

Flashy shooting modes aside, general image quality is excellent and even when using the supposedly lossless digital zoom, we were impressed with how the Mate 10 Series holds up against leading rivals like Samsung’s Galaxy Note 8, even if grain is more noticeable at 100 percent crop.

Huawei Mate 10 Pro camera review: Lossless zoom sample vs Samsung Galaxy Note 8

There’s clearly post-processing sharpening work that in some scenarios seems a tad heavy-handed but for the most part, shots look appealing and come accurately coloured too.

Dropping the lights is far less of a problem this time around, not only thanks to that super-wide aperture but also as a result of a more competent night mode, handling of the flash and manual exposure control that lets you leave the shutter open for up to a whopping 30 seconds.

HDR shots do unquestionably look better than the Mate 10’s default shooting mode too, but for the privilege, you have to be prepared for fractionally longer shutter lag, which is a bit of a shame with so many rivals now offering snappy HDR capture by default.

As for the front 8-meg snapper, there’s a pleasant amount of detail in-frame and the portrait mode is incredibly powerful, despite only relying on a single sensor. The beauty mode is simple, effective and not to be abused if you don’t want to end up looking deformed, whilst the screen-based flash is necessary if you don’t want to lose out on fine-detail, which fades as the lights get dimmer.

Huawei Mate 10/Mate 10 Pro camera review: Video quality

The Mate 10 family also brings some fairly respectable high-end video chops to the table. General quality is great from Full HD shooting at 30fps, through to 60 and up to 4K resolution, but don’t expect quite the same experience as Samsung or Apple’s latest snappers at their highest resolution.

The video stabiliser, which is very effective, is inaccessible at anything over 1080p at 30fps, leaving us to assume that the OIS system is all that’s left to keep footage steady. Video still looks good, but it’s obviously not quite as smooth if you do plan on jacking up the frame-rate or resolution.

On the plus side, for a Huawei device, the void between still and video detail is smaller than ever, whilst focus hunting has been dramatically reduced too. You can expect, snappy autofocus and auto-contrast adjustment, decent stereo audio recording and only the slightest vibration from the stabilisation system.

It’s worth noting that, like the P10 and P10 Plus, the Mate 10 series uses HEVC compression for its 4K video files, which is great for saving space on your phone but right now tricky to work with if you’re one to spend time editing your clips after shooting. Support for the standard is growing, just slowly.

Huawei Mate 10/Mate 10 Pro camera review: Verdict

There are still clear areas for improvement, such as better video stabilisation at any resolution and the need for HDR shooting by default, but this is, unsurprisingly, the most complete and competitive camera experience we’ve seen from a Huawei phone yet.

Its busy and confusing UI can only be tamed with time and experimentation but once achieved, there’s a lot to like about the distinct, and in some cases, unique talents the Mate 10 camera experience offers up too.