The Huawei P40 Pro Camera is the “tip of the spear” camera system at Huawei and is the latest in a line of very successful mobile camera. It comes with new hardware and aims to surpass Huawei’s Mate 30 Pro and Samsung’s current champion, the Galaxy S20 Ultra Camera.
P40 Pro Camera: what’s new?
What is new/better about the Huawei P40 Pro? To summarize, P40 Pro’s camera hardware should -in theory- increase the details in regular “wide” (27mm) photos, thanks to a 50 MP sensor that has nearly 2X the sensing surface of the Primary P30 Pro and Mate 30 Pro “wide” cameras sensors.
The P40 Pro’s Ultrawide camera uses a similar sensor to the Mate 30 Pro’s which we found to be the best in the industry until now (note: it has a narrower filed-of-view). So, we would expect a similar level of performance, but we will check for software/tuning tweaks.
Finally, the P40 Pro Zoom camera has a 135mm lens like the P30 Pro. The Mate 30 Pro had a shorter zoom, which made it score lower in our Camera IQ benchmark. Users tend to think of “zoom performance” in terms of “extreme zoom”, which is exactly why we measure it that way.
|Ultrawide||18mm 40-MP f/1.8|
|Wide (Primary)||27mm 50-MP f/1.9|
|Zoom||135mm 12-MP f/3.4 + OIS|
Image Quality Analysis
Important: let’s clarify some terminology we’ll be using:
- “image processing”: software work that improves the image data quality
- “image filtering”: software work that changes the style (aesthetic) of the photo.
- “context photo”: a great approximation of what we see
- Including how dark the scene actually is
- Only to provide the context of the shot.
A note about Uber-G Camera IQ Score: our camera scoring system is based on four “Pillars” sub-scores that can help tell a fuller story: Day, Night, Ultrawide, and Zoom photography.
A global camera score is clear and simple, but the pillars help tell a better story for those who want to have a more nuanced view of the camera’s Image Quality. If you want to know more about details about how the score works, head to our Camera IQ benchmark page.
- Excellent image quality
- Significant quality upgrade from P30 Pro
- HDR Picks up details in shaded areas
- Only 12 Megapixel in auto-mode
- HDR can create slightly unnatural photos
By default, the Huawei P40 Pro camera takes 12 Megapixel photos (4096×3072) and the 50MP full resolution is only accessible in “Pro” and “High Res” modes that do not contribute to our Camera IQ score.
OEMs like Xiaomi or Samsung have been integrating their full-resolution modes into the “auto” default mode, and that is how we recommend OEMs to do it. Statistically, it is very unlikely that users will switch out of “auto” mode.
Using the garden scene to stress HDR, color, and details, we can immediately see that our initial assessment on the hardware improvements was correct: even at 12MP, the P40 Pro has a significant increase in detail quality when compared to the 10-Megapixel photos of the P30 Pro.
P40 Pro is comparable in details with the 12 MP photos of the Galaxy S20 Ultra, except that Huawei’s camera a different kind of image-filtering, so the Texture appears a bit more natural upon a close inspection.
Since Galaxy S10, Samsung has a relatively strong sharpening filter that adds artifacts, visible at 12 Megapixel. Both Huawei and Samsung have low noise-levels, especially when compared to the iPhone 11 Pro.
All three cameras (P40 Pro, S20 Ultra, iPhone 11 Pro) shoot the garden scene with a low ISO (100, 50, and 32 respectively), but despite having the lowest ISO, the iPhone 11 Pro is by far the noisiest, probably due to inferior sensor technology.
However, the P40 Pro wide camera’s 12MP photos captures far fewer details than the S20 Ultra in 108 MP photos. Obviously, the difference would be lessened if 50MP was available in auto-mode, as Xiaomi’s Mi Note 10 camera’s 27MP mode has proven.
When it comes to High-Dynamic Range (HDR), none of the cameras are perfect (compared to what your eyes can see), but the ones we compared in this round did a solid job. HDR often becomes an issue as you go to lower prices, with weaker sensors.
Overall, P40 Pro is a significant improvement over P30 Pro and its contrast and HDR tuning are better than the recent Mate 30 Pro camera too, which made things “too contrasted”. That said, it will not match the Galaxy S20 Ultra in sheer details.
- Very good detail
- Almost no noise
- Aggressive noise-reduction affects details
- Colors look less natural
HDR Night Photography
In a mixed environment where there’s some light sources and shaded areas, the high dynamic range (HDR) capabilities and techniques of cameras are stresssed to the limit.
Like in daylight photography, the Huawei P40 Pro does have a visibly higher level of details than P30 Pro and Mate 30 Pro, thanks to its new camera sensor.
Users will also see a huge visual difference in brightness and contrast between what they are looking at, and what the Huawei P40 captures – yes, even more so than with Mate 30 Pro.
The P40 Pro’s camera turns a night shot, almost into a daylight shot, which is more of an aesthetic choice than a technical performance (brighter is not always better), except for the level of noise, which is extremely low. Users have to decide if they like this choice, or would rather prefer something more natural-looking.
Low noise also comes from a strong image-filtering, which can erase or attenutate fine details if you look up close. That can be important if you crop, but also contributes to a natural look which may seem less “airbrushed”. Filtering can be a force for good, but when used within reason.
Mobile cameras like the Galaxy S20 Ultra, or the iPhone 11 tend to go for a more natural-looking aesthetic. However, the iPhone’s noise level is very high for this price-category and the level of detail is visibly lower.
Non-HDR Night Photography
Without huge contrast differences to deal with, cameras engage in different strategies, and the Huawei P40 Pro sticks to the Huawei choice of making things “brighter”, while Samsung tries to capture the scene “as your eye” see it.
The advantage of Huawei’s choice is that some users love the eye-candy and there can be a “wow” effect. The downside is that it may alienate photographers who want to capture a specific mood which is now gone, probably forever.
This is not a new conundrum and we have seen this with previous generations. In the past, Huawei had a huge camera hardware advantage and enjoyed a favorable gap in details and overall quality, while Samsung had excellent colors, but lower details and higher noise – mainly because of a sensor size+quality difference in favor of Huawei.
With the S20 Ultra and its huge sensor, that hardware gap is now small enough that Samsung can clinch a narrow victory in this area. It is easy to brighten the S20 Ultra photo, but it is much harder to make P40 Pro capture match the scene’s original mood.
Huawei has less noise partly because of stronger noise-reduction filters, but noise-reduction also partially damages fine details, including shapes and colors.
Night-Vision (~0.005 LUX)
Night-Vision photography, as we measure it, happens when your eyes have difficulty seeing details and colors and right at the edge of the sensitivity of our lightmeter. It is an edge use-case worth looking at.
Huawei has invented this category and still leads in it. As of late, it has been challenged by phones such as the 108-MP Xiaomi Mi Note 10 Pro (read our camera review).
Interestingly, Samsung does not enable Night-Vision, even though the S20 Ultra has an even more powerful sensor than Xiaomi’s. Instead, Samsung only focuses on capturing what your eyes see and therefore cannot score high in this category.
Again, users will have to choose what they like best, but here are the highlights, using a close crop of our bottles scene:
- High-powered zoom
- Excellent detail in general
- Image filtering can affect text legibility and exaggerate texture appearance
The Huawei P40 Pro long-zoom camera module of 135mm paired with a 12 Megapixel sensor was designed to improve upon the P30 Pro zoom (135mm/8MP), thanks partly to a significantly larger sensor surface.
The comparison with P30 Pro is mixed: on one hand, the P40 Pro’s zoom camera can sometimes better pick-up high-frequency details, thanks to its higher resolution and less aggressive noise-reduction.
On the other hand, the “superzoom-style” sharpening can damage things like fine text, which didn’t happen with P30 Pro. The same filter can also exagerate the texture of things such as roof shingles or other textures, if you look closely
Overall, and because text legibility is less important than general Texture preservation, P40 Pro’s zoom capabilities are only slightly better than P30 Pro but much better than Mate 30 Pro (80mm zoom) in the context of extreme zoom.
- High level of details
- Very good low-light performance
- Significantly narrower Field of View vs. Competitors
Our internal data shows that the P40 Pro’s Ultrawide camera hardware is slightly less powerful than the Mate 30 Pro’s, mainly due to a small downgrade of the camera sensor (and probably the lens quality as well). We were curious to see how that would impact image quality.
When it comes to details, the P40 Pro Ultrawide camera compounds two factors. 1/ the narrower field of view 2/ the much larger camera sensor with a surface 4X larger than the iPhone 11 Pro’s UW camera, and almost 2X larger than the S20 Ultra UW camera.
Daylight Ultrawide Photography
Cloudy scenes like the one above can be very difficult to deal with for cameras. The P40 Pro’s ultrawide camera has noticeably strong image filtering with both strong HDR and sharpening set to high values.
That said, the P40 Pro UW camera tuning is better than Mate 30 Pro and P30 Pro as both had excess contrast that would make the image too dark when compared to the user’s perception of the scene.
When the sun is out, the colors are more pronounced, and excess HDR can make the scene look unnatural, and it is quite difficult to balance HDR tuning, but for scenes like this, both the iPhone 11 Pro and the Samsung Galaxy S20 Pro do a better job when it comes to lighting, and color.
Night Ultrawide Photography
Review of both the Huawei Mate 30 Pro and Galaxy S20 Ultra Ultrawide cameras showed that the Mate 30 Pro was a better shot in Ultrawide low-light, so we wondered how much better if at all, the P40 Pro is.
Just like our Camera Hardware analysis suggested, the P40 Pro’s ultrawide image quality is slightly lower than the Mate 30 Pro’s in low-light situations when the camera hardware is stressed.
Generally, the color capture, is now more realistic without a red-ish tint that was observed with its predecessors. The saturation and noise-reduction filter have been reduced as well.
The Huawei P40 Pro Mobile Camera system is one of the most powerful camera hardware setup, only second to the P40 Pro+ according to our hardware data analysis.
As such it is not surprising that it ranks really well and is the second phone to break the 200-mark in our Camera IQ camera benchmark, right behind the Galaxy S20 Ultra.
The P40 Pro is a significant improvement upon the last year’s P30 Pro, but also the Mate 30 Pro launched in December 2020. The camera tuning dials back the color modifications, and brings HDR/contrast improvements over previous Huawei phones.
It would have been nice to see a higher (than 12MP) resolution option in the auto-mode as it could have helped with daylight photos, but it might still come out as a software update some day.