I spent two weeks taking photos with the AI-powered Huawei P20 Pro – here’s what it was like

A newcomer to the smartphone camera arena, the Huawei P20 Pro will face an uphill battle competing with its more iconic peers.
Business Insider/ Jonathan Loh

Finding a smartphone with the best camera in town can be an utter conundrum.

With iconic brands from the likes of Apple’s iPhone and Samsung’s Galaxy series constantly pushing out devices with state-of the-art camera technology and functionality, it can be quite a headache to decide which device is the best fit.

This is especially so for smartphone photography enthusiasts such as myself who uses, well, an iPhone 5s, which is admittedly a tad bit outdated but still highly functional.

To those on a quest for a smartphone that would take their photography to a whole new level, you may want to consider the Huawei P20 Pro, the latest addition to the P20 series.

The Huawei P20 Pro launched in Singapore on April 7, 2018 at a price of S$1,148 ($864.93) and is touted as being able to deliver “an intelligent and unparalleled photography experience”.

Boasting a Leica triple camera with the highest pixel count on modern smartphones and three wide aperture settings that capture “crisp, clear details with perfect clarity” among other offerings, who could resist such an allure?

Not me.

I took a bold leap of faith leaving behind my beloved iPhone 5s for two weeks to try out a P20 Pro on loan to see for myself if it really delivers on its promises.

Here’s what was like:

1) Letting AI take the reins

With artificial intelligence (AI) becoming an integral part of modern-day technology, it wouldn’t be surprising to know that the P20 Pro’s camera has a brain of its own.

The camera has AI-powered scene and object recognition with the ability to identify 19 types of scenarios and objects, automatically adjusting its settings to produce images that fit the theme.

Within seconds of aiming my camera at this bunch of flowers for a photo, a notification popped up to indicate that the camera had turned on its “Flowers” mode, giving me a more vibrant picture. Certainly a well-welcomed touch of convenience there.

The notification even states the kind of effect the respective mode has on the resultant photo.

Thanks to the power of AI, my flowers look much more lively.
Business Insider/ Jonathan Loh

I tried taking a photo of the sunrise to see if the camera could recognise such an event. Impressively, it did.

A stunning photo of the sunrise is a great start to any day.
Business Insider/ Jonathan Loh

2) Learning to take photos like a pro with “Pro” mode

Let’s face it, there are times when you’d want to check your camera settings without having to awkwardly move your hands and fingers to tap the relevant options on your screen.

With “Pro” mode, all settings such as ISO, shutter speed and exposure value can be viewed onscreen, removing the need for all that unnecessary fumbling.

The camera still automatically adjusts settings in this mode but I was able to change them manually and seamlessly thanks to the non-intrusive interface, allowing me to keep a steady hand and focus on the shot.

As a person who likes to tinker with his smartphone camera, “Pro” mode allowed me – an amateur – to have a smooth time experimenting and honing my technical photography skills.

All settings were conveniently displayed onscreen as I readied my camera for another shot of the glorious sunrise.
Business Insider/ Jonathan Loh

However, with the plethora of professional camera apps available in the market right now, it would take more than just a “Pro” mode for the P20 Pro to break new ground.

3) Performs better than its peers under natural light

I did a comparison of shots taken with the P20 Pro and an iPhone X to see which one outclassed the other with regards to photo quality.

Settings on both devices were set to “automatic” to ensure fair competition.

It was a mixed bag of results.

The P20 Pro camera creates milder pictures while the iPhone X produces brighter and more vibrant images under the same lighting.

Light sources are less glaring and overpowering on the P20 Pro camera but are prone to conspicuous jagged edges. Surrounding objects are more uniformly lit compared to the iPhone X.

Take the following comparisons for example:

The photo taken by the iPhone X (left) had a yellowish tinge but was more vibrant than the one taken by the P20 Pro.
Business Insider/ Jonathan Loh

The glaring lights are the focus in the photo taken on the iPhone X (left) while the P20 Pro spreads out the brightness.
Business Insider/ Jonathan Loh

Where the P20 Pro truly outshines the iPhone X is under natural lighting – no pun intended.

Compared to the iPhone X, the P20 Pro is able to generate images that are clearer and more refined with deeper colours.

The P20 Pro (right) faithfully reproduces colours and detail, almost as if I was looking at the scene with my very own eyes.
Business Insider/ Jonathan Loh

As a bonus, I pitted my iPhone 5s against the P20 Pro too – a David versus Goliath battle, I know.

This time, the subject was my Instagram-worthy lunch and again, the settings were on “automatic”.

My iPhone 5s produced a slightly more muted image while the P20 Pro had a better lit one. I prefer the photo taken by my iPhone as the textures and colours were more true to form and appealing.

But the P20 Pro’s photo has greater sharpness and looks more crisp.

My iPhone 5s produced a duller image (left) while the P20 Pro was more generous on the lighting this time.
Business Insider/ Jonathan Loh

4) Gorgeous low-light photos

If there is one thing that the P20 Pro excels at, it’s low-light photography.

Many other smartphone cameras tend to succumb to “smoothening” effects when capturing images of objects with little light cast on them.

However, photos of objects – including light sources – captured by the P20 Pro in such conditions maintain a high degree of sharpness. I was pleasantly surprised by this.

Staring at the clearly defined bulb sometimes puts me in a trance.
Business Insider/ Jonathan Loh

5) Struggles with a lot of detail

No matter how many megapixels a smartphone camera comes with, snapping a perfectly clear photo is still a pipe dream.

But even with the abundance of megapixels the P20 Pro has, it sometimes falls short on quality when there’s too much detail onscreen for it to absorb.

Particularly for photos of crowds, people in the background – and at times even in the foreground – looked like they were dropped straight into the uncanny valley.

Objects further into the background quickly lose clarity and become “patchy” instead of grainy which is usually the case for other devices, making the photo become akin to a matte painting.

This wouldn’t be a big deal if the effect wasn’t so jarring as compared to that of other photos I’ve taken on other smartphones.

The P20 Pro sometimes gets stumped when there’s too much going on in the scene.
Business Insider/ Jonathan Loh

Amateur smartphone photographers may consider the P20 Pro to be worth getting their hands on.

With a great amount of opportunity for experimentation and copious photo options powered by AI, it would serve as a good launchpad for newbies to start their photography journey.

But for the professionals, the AI system may seem gimmicky and the on-and-off consistency in photo quality could be a drawback.

The P20 Pro camera may be a neat piece of hardware but it’s just not for everyone.