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Hands on with the Huawei P30 and P30 Pro SuperSpectrum cameras

Huawei announced the P30 and P30 Pro today in Paris. The devices are its spring flagships, replacing the P20 and P20 Pro. Naturally, I've gotten a chance to check out some of the new camera features, and there will be more to come.

Both handsets come with a 40-megapixel Leica-certified main lens. What differentiates the Pro this time around is that it has a 5x zoom lens, and Huawei says it can do up to 10x hybrid zoom.

First, let's talk about the difference between digital and optical zoom. Digital zoom works by degrading an image. A camera sensor can only see so much, and that's called the field of view. That field of view is made up of a certain amount of dots of different colors, called pixels. A 40-megapixel image has 40 million pixels. While it's easy to jump to the idea that more pixels equals a better photo, remember that it's still far higher of a resolution than the screen you're viewing the image on. A 4K monitor is about 8.3 million pixels, and 1080p is around 2.1 million.

Digital zoom is basically cropping the image. 2x zoom takes half of that field of view, and therefore half of the pixels. The more you zoom in, the lower the quality.

Optical zoom in a camera is where lenses move further away or closer together to adjust the field of view, but a smartphone is too small for that. Instead, smartphone manufacturers have come up with the idea of creating an additional lens that simply has a smaller field of view. Apple uses a 2x lens, as does Samsung. Huawei had a 3x lens in the P20 Pro and Mate 20 Pro, but now the P30 Pro has a 5x lens, which is eight megapixels.

Huawei used a new periscope zoom lens. Basically, the light is going through a range of different lenses to hit that 5x zoom.

But a 40MP is really high resolution, which means that it's good for a fair amount of digital zoom before it noticeably loses quality. That's where hybrid zoom comes in, as the two can be combined for 10x zoom. The phone will actually let you zoom in up to 50x.

There's a third lens as well, a 20MP wide-angle lens. This replaces last year's monochrome sensor.

You can see that if you zoom in the full amount, you do lose some quality, but nevertheless, the results are quite remarkable.

The new camera is what Huawei is calling SuperSpectrum. Rather than RGB (red, green, and blue), which is what everyone has used for quite some time, Huawei has swapped out the green for yellow. That's why this device was co-engineered with Leica.

According to the company, this will allow in more light. A Huawei spokesperson showed me some remarkable examples of this, taking pictures that were nearly pitch-black on the Mate 20 Pro and the same setting look like a light was on with the P30 Pro. And to be clear, the Mate 20 Pro was already awesome in low-light.

I tried to find some dark spots in the briefing area (that's why you're about to see a picture of the contents of under a hotel sink). Some were just dimly lit, where you won't see as much of a difference.

Mate 20 Pro P30 Pro

I really didn't want to include that under-the-sink shot, but I think it's probably the best example I have right now. I should have my own review unit in my hands shortly, and this is a feature that I'll be spending much more time with.

Huawei says that the ISO sensitivity of the P20 Pro was 102,400, and the P30 Pro is 409,600. That means that a lot more light is getting in. Even in the image above where it's not quite as apparent in the lighting, the P30 photos still just aren't as grainy.

As for the rest of the device, there's not much else to say. The design language is very much the same as last year, although there are new colors, including Amber Sunrise, Pearl White, Aurora, Breathing Crystal, and of course, Black. Huawei has caught attention with its gradient colors in the past, and this handset is no exception.

As I mentioned, we're going to have review units soon, so stay tuned for more.

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