We compared the Google Pixel 3 and Huawei Mate 20 Pro in a camera face-off – and the winner is clear

Huawei and Google’s phones are both considered to have top-tier cameras. We pit the cameras on the latest models against each other to see which was better.
Sean Lim/Business Insider

It’s no secret that smartphone photography is insanely popular right now.

And as a way to entice customers, manufacturers are increasingly upgrading the lenses and camera capabilities of their phones, promising to turn even a shaky shot by the most inexperienced photographer into something totally Insta-worthy.

Among the brands claiming to have the best cameras out there are Huawei and Google. Huawei’s Leica lenses and multiple camera functions won it the title of 2018’s Best Smartphone, while the lenses on the Google Pixel 2 were considered among reviewers to be the world’s best.

Since we had our hands on the latest model from each brand – the Mate 20 Pro and the Pixel 3 respectively – we decided to pit the cameras against each other to see which was better.

Here’s how they fared:


Basic Stats

The Mate 20 Pro (left) and the Pixel 3 (right).
Huawei Facebook/Google Facebook

Both phones boast 128GB storage and were priced within range of each other. The Mate 20 Pro costs S$1,348, and the Pixel 3 costs S$1,399.

The Mate 20 Pro had four lenses: One front lens at 24 megapixels (MP), and three rear lenses at 8, 20 and 40MP. The Pixel 3 had three lenses: Two front lenses at 12MP each, and one rear lens at 12.2MP.

Both phones used brand-specific AI, machine learning and sensors to enhance the photos taken.


Portrait Mode

A portrait shot on the Mate 20 Pro (left) and the Pixel 3 (right).
Rachel Genevieve Chia/Business Insider

Portrait mode on the Mate 20 Pro was automatically activated once it sensed people in the frame (this feature can also be turned off). One thing about the Mate 20 Pro’s portrait mode is it aggressively blurred the background, causing a lot of detail to be lost. This might be useful if the background were cluttered, but it was overkill in our situation and made the photo look doctored.

For the Pixel 3, hitting the shutter button in portrait mode resulted in two images – one with a blurred background and one without. This gave users the liberty to pick which they preferred. The AI blur maintained some of the background details, and the colours were more vibrant than those on the Mate 20 Pro.

Winner: Pixel 3


Macro Shots

A macro shot of tiny leaves in the rain on the Mate 20 Pro (left) and the Pixel 3 (right). Each leaf is no bigger than a fingernail.
Rachel Genevieve Chia/Sean Lim/Business Insider

The Mate 20 Pro’s macro setting was extremely powerful. The lens was able to focus on the subject even when held very close to it, and details like tiny droplets of water looked sharp. In comparison, when we tried to take a close-up shot with the Pixel 3 (there was no macro option), the results were disappointing, and the photo was blurry.

Winner: Mate 20 Pro


Zoom Function

A normal photo (top) and photos taken with maximum zoom on the Mate 20 Pro (bottom left) and the Pixel 3 Super Res Zoom function (bottom right).
Rachel Genevieve Chia/Sean Lim/Business Insider

We turned the zoom up to maximum on both phones to compare which was better. The Mate 20 Pro’s zoom function was able to get closer than the Pixel 3, and the final photo turned out surprisingly sharp.

Despite being “created with a technique traditionally used for astronomy and scientific imaging”, the Pixel 3 could not zoom as far as the Mate 20 Pro, and the resulting photo was more pixelated.

Winner: Mate 20 Pro


Low Light Shots

A fake plant placed under a large desk (top). Low light photos of the same plant taken on the Mate 20 Pro (bottom left) and the Pixel 3 (bottom right).
Rachel Genevieve Chia/Sean Lim/Business Insider

While both phones did a great job of brightening the dark surroundings, the photo taken by the Mate 20 Pro was brighter than the Pixel 3’s. However, Google will be upgrading phones with the Night Sight function by the end of this month, meaning results from an updated phone may be different.

Winner: Mate 20 Pro


Selfies 

Regular selfies on the Mate 20 Pro (left) and the Pixel 3 (right).
Rachel Genevieve Chia/Sean Lim/Business Insider

For regular selfies, colours on the Mate 20 Pro were clearly colder and more washed out than the Pixel 3, and the images were more pixelated.

A regular selfie on the Mate 20 Pro (left) and a selfie on the Pixel 3 Group Selfie function (right).
Rachel Genevieve Chia/Sean Lim/Business Insider

The Pixel 3 had a Group Selfie mode that allowed the front camera to zoom out to a wider angle, capturing more of the subjects and background.

A selfie taken at a distance with the Mate 20 Pro (left) and the Pixel 3’s Photobooth setting (right). The sensors on both phones will automatically snap a photo when it detects that subjects are smiling.
Rachel Genevieve Chia/Sean Lim/Business Insider

Both phones had a function that took photos when we smiled, removing the need for a photographer, selfie stick, or timer. We tried making other expressions (angry, sad, surprised) to see if the photo sensors would activate. For both phones, they activated so long as you showed your teeth, regardless of expression.

In all three tests, the Pixel 3’s colours were richer than the Mate 20 Pro’s. The Mate 20 Pro’s lighting sensors also tended to severely overexpose the photo.

Winner: Pixel 3


Panorama Shots

A panorama shot taken on the Mate 20 Pro (top) and the Pixel 3 (bottom).
 Rachel Genevieve Chia/Sean Lim/Business Insider

It was easy to take a panorama shot on both phones and the results were largely similar. However, the Mate 20 Pro’s photo had slightly more depth to it. It could also capture a little more of the environment.

Winner: Mate 20 Pro


AI animation

Animation features on the Mate 20 Pro’s AR lens (top) and the Pixel 3’s Playground function (bottom).
Rachel Genevieve Chia/Sean Lim/Business Insider

The Pixel 3 had a function called Playground, and we added animated sprites, like Marvel superheroes, to a photo. The animations interacted with each other.

The Mate 20 Pro was supposed to have a similar function, but the feature hadn’t been updated into its phones yet. What it did have was an Augmented Reality lens, which mapped facial expressions to an animated emoji. Choices included a chameleon, a cherry and a panda.

Winner: Pixel 3


Photo Filters

Photo filters on the Mate 20 Pro (left) and the Pixel 3 (right).
Rachel Genevieve Chia/Sean Lim/Business Insider

A black and white image using the Monochrome setting on the Mate 20 Pro (left) and the Eiffel filter on the Pixel 3 (right).
Rachel Genevieve Chia/Sean Lim/Business Insider

For ease of comparison, we opted for a black and white photo.

For the Mate 20 Pro, the Monochrome setting was selected, while for the Pixel 3, a normal photo was first taken, then a filter added on afterwards.

While the Mate 20 Pro made it easy to see what the final photo would look like, the resulting image was not as well-exposed. While we liked the final look of the Pixel 3’s image more, photographers going for less contrast might prefer the Mate 20 Pro.

Winner: Tie


Videos

Videos shot on the Mate 20 Pro (top) and the Pixel 3 (bottom) with autofocus enabled.
Rachel Genevieve Chia/Business Insider

Both phones had autofocus, which we tested on a moving subject. While the blinds in the background still posed a major problem for both videos, it was less pronounced on the Mate 20 Pro.

Winner: Mate 20 Pro


Slow-Mo videos

Slow-motion videos shot indoors on the Mate 20 Pro (top) and the Pixel 3 (bottom).
Rachel Genevieve Chia/Sean Lim/Business Insider

Both phones made it easy to shoot slow-mo video. The Mate 20 Pro slowed down the video a lot more than the Pixel 3 did, resulting in a more satisfying effect.

One major problem with both videos: the slowed recording caused the flickering of the indoor lights to become extremely obvious, though the effect was far more pronounced on the Mate 20 Pro. The Pixel 3 had a flicker sensor that reduced the effect.

Winner: Pixel 3


AI subject identification

AI subject identification of a terrarium the Mate 20 Pro (left) and the Pixel 3 (right).
Rachel Genevieve Chia/Sean Lim/Business Insider

AI subject identification of a fittonia plant on the Mate 20 Pro (left) and the Pixel 3 (right).
Rachel Genevieve Chia/Sean Lim/Business Insider

It seemed like the Mate 20 Pro was the clear winner for this one: the Pixel 3 could not identify the terrarium, or the plant (though it did suggest the right sort of similar product). Both phones were unable to identify the plant’s exact species (fittonia).

Winner: Mate 20 Pro


Translation

The translation functions in action on the Mate 20 Pro (top) and the Pixel 3 (bottom).
Rachel Genevieve Chia/Sean Lim/Business Insider

Both phones had camera tech that let them translate in-frame text, and both required an Internet connection to work. For the Chinese phrase we tried, the Mate 20’s translation was more accurate.

However, the Pixel 3 had an unique function that allowed the text to be copied to the clipboard. This did not require an Internet connection, and could be handy to use while overseas by pasting the selected text into a translation app with languages pre-downloaded. In other words, it might be possible to get offline translation using the Pixel 3. This feature might also be useful for copying email addresses from business cards and other documents.

Winner: Pixel 3


Additional Camera Features (Mate 20 Pro only)

A long exposure taken on the Mate 20 Pro Light Grafitti setting (left) and a regular shot on the Pixel 3 (right).
Rachel Genevieve Chia/Business Insider

A long exposure taken on the Mate 20 Pro Silky Water setting (left) and a regular shot (right).
Rachel Genevieve Chia/Business Insider
A time-lapse video taken on the Mate 20 Pro.
Rachel Genevieve Chia/Business Insider
A video taken on the Mate 20 Pro’s AI Colour setting.
Rachel Genevieve Chia/Business Insider

The Mate 20 Pro had a number of long exposure settings not available on the Pixel 3. This included the ability to capture light and traffic trails, running water, and stars in the sky. Additional video functions included various settings that changed the colours of the video, as well as a timelapse function.


Overall Winner: Mate 20 Pro

For the categories we considered, the Mate 20 Pro came out slightly better off than the Pixel 3, beating its competitor in six areas, compared to the Pixel 3’s five.

Our advice for people picking between the phones is to consider what kind of photos are most important to you.

For people whose take more photos of food, landscapes or macro shots, the large range of features makes the Mate 20 Pro a great camera, and we can imagine it as a pretty decent alternative to toting around a DSLR around while on holiday. However, do note that you might find yourself downloading an additional app to tweak the colour, exposure and contrast of the photos, as the AI doesn’t always make the right decisions.

However, for those whose shots mostly feature people – yourself, family, or friends – the Pixel 3’s better selfie and portrait functions will result in nicer photos. The AI is also better at tweaking colour, contrast and the degree of background blur, meaning just a camera pic should be good enough to use.

Read also: I pitted the spanking new Huawei Mate 20 Pro against my ancient Samsung Note 5 – and the results were surprising