A fabulous smartphone camera is still the most consumer desirable smartphone feature and also the most significant differentiator between a high-end smartphone and a budget offering. To reinvent its smartphone camera’s Huawei entered a strategic alliance with Leica Cameras, a very popular camera brand with lineage spanning over a hundred years, particularly adored by street and war photographers.
Leica makes some of the most expensive and consistent lenses, and together with the engineering prowess of Huawei, the partnership that covers research and development, design, co-engineering, user experience, marketing and retail distribution, has yielded the Huawei P9.
So, let’s talk about the camera technology used in Huawei P9.
The major limiting factor for a smartphone camera is compact size. Lack of space results in puny sensors, with very tiny individual pixels, and that grossly limits the amount of light captured. This is turn leads to improper metering, poor dynamic range, and insufficient details. This is also why most smartphone cameras struggle to capture a half decent shot in low lighting.
Since a camera hump or overall thick smartphone size is equally undesirable, it gets even tougher to work around these constraints.
To resolve this eternal problem, Huawei P9 employs two rear sensors to capture more light. Now, this isn’t the first camera to use dual rear-mounted sensors, but Huawei’s implementation is unique which makes all the difference.
Instead of using one low-resolution sensor for depth sensing, Huawei uses two equally potent 12MP sensors and Leica optics. The camera also features f/2.2 aperture 27mm lens, two-tone flash, and Phase Detection Auto Focus.
A camera sensor is color agnostic. Which means it can capture light, but cannot differentiate between colors (this is done by image signal processor). To record color data, a Bayer filter is used on top of camera sensors. The Bayer filter allows only Red, Blue or Green Color to pass through to one pixel. The data from 3 adjacent pixels is then used to calculate true color.
Only one of the two camera sensors on P9 has Bayer filter. This means, the light entering the secondary sensor isn’t filtered based on colors. This leads to the capture of 300 percent more light and also helps with capturing true, detailed Monochrome (black and white) images!
Its ability to capture more light is what helps Huawei P9 capture the best in class low light photographs. And since most photographs are captured indoors and in low lighting, this makes a world of difference to the overall user experience. Combining feeds from two different camera sensors can be real tricky, but the P9 camera software and dedicated ISP merge them remarkably well.
The Monochromes you capture have astonishing details. On the other hand, the color sensor allows you to shoot in three different modes – Standard (regular), Vivid (punchy colors) and Smooth (finds the middle ground between the first two).
Capturing more light from two sensors helps the camera capture mode details in shadows, have high contrast in images and render a great dynamic range. The camera works so well that you will rarely have to use HDR mode for lively and accurate shots.
The more conventional use of the dual sensor that is sensing the depth of the image to defocus background (or foreground) is also provided. Huawei P9 is the first phone that lets you see the defocus effect in real time on the view finder even before you press the shutter button (that has the Leica shutter sound). This is done with the help of a dedicated Image Signal Processor for bokeh effects.
Another major strength is the presence of a very elaborate and efficient Pro mode. You can conveniently slide controls for the pro mode from the sides.
There are various other shooting modes present in the camera app. An interesting one also allows you to capture light trails. This isn’t done by keeping shutter on for a prolonged duration. First, the camera captures a regular photo with proper exposure settings and then captures light trails and adds them to the regular shot.
As far as videos go, you can capture 1080p videos at up to 60fps with stereo sound, and also 720p slow-motion videos at 120fps.
The front 8MP sensor is paired with a f/2.4 lens and screen flash feature and shoots detailed selfies with good contrast ratio. The obligatory beautification mode to smoothen skin tones is also present if that’s your thing.
All said and done, the Huawei P9 has a very lively camera with excellent low-light performance. The interface is very intuitive and you can get used to clicking stunning monochrome and colored images in no time. Huawei and Leica have combined their expertise to successfully overcome some of the major constraints of smartphone photography.