A friend of mine buys a new camera every couple of years.
The camera happens to be part of an Android phone, but he doesn’t worry about
the rest of the phone. It’s the camera part that motivates him. Indeed, the
phone camera seems to be element in phones in which development is most
vigorous, and the differences are the greatest.
Here I’m taking two of the best and putting them head to head. You can read about the rest of the Samsung Galaxy S10 here in our review. And you can read more about the Huawei P30 Pro here and here, along with our first play with its camera here.
Both phones have three cameras on the back (the Huawei also
has an extra “Time of Flight” camera which it uses for some modes). Both have an
ultra-wide-angle camera, a standard camera and a telephoto camera. Yesterday I
took these two phones and a tripod and tried them out in some picturesque
Samsung, it seems, doesn’t quite realise how interested camera photography enthusiasts might be in the facts and figures. So it doesn’t bother to put the camera specifications on its Australian website. Fortunately the global website has the details.
Phone Camera Details
Samsung Galaxy S10
Huawei P30 Pro
12MP, Dual Pixel, OIS, f/1.5
and f/2.4, 26mm-equiv
40MP, OIS, f/1.6, 27mm-equiv
16MP, f/2.2, 12mm-equiv
20MP, f/2.2, 16mm-equiv
12MP, 2x, OIS, f/2.4, 52mm-equiv
8MP, 5x, OIS, f/3.4,
The Samsung phone camera has an excellent innovation on its
main camera: dual aperture. That’s the size of the iris which permits light to
enter. Phone camera makers have been striving to go bigger in order to let more
light in, thus improving the sensitivity of their cameras. But that can be
limiting in bright situations and can lead to a shallower depth of field.
Samsung has a super large f/1.5
aperture, but it can stop down to f/2.4.
The dual pixel sensor lets it gather more detail for creating the output.
The main camera on the Huawei is 40MP, but in most cases the
output images will be 10MP, slightly lower resolution than the Samsung’s 12MP.
The table below shows the output resolution of the various cameras. The Samsung
matches its output to the sensor size. The Huawei does the same for the
Ultrawide camera. It generates a one quarter resolution image with the Main
camera unless you change the settings. And it upscales the telephoto 8MP sensor
The 5x telephoto camera in the Huawei phone camera is
achieved by a periscope arrangement. This turns the light by 90 degrees so it
can travel along a larger dimension inside the phone. The physical focal length
is 14.46mm. This camera also has a slower
than usual f/3.4 aperture. That’s the
price you pay for telephoto. Obviously 5x gives a lot more reach than the 2x of
At the other end, the Samsung phone camera has a
significantly wider ultrawide camera (12mm equivalent) than the Huawei (16mm
equivalent). So, if you’re constantly confronted with taking photos of large
things close to you, the Samsung might work better.
Output image size
Samsung Galaxy S10
Huawei P30 Pro
4032 x 3024
3648 x 2736
4608 x 3456
5120 x 3840
4032 x 3024
3648 x 2736
First, let’s look at a standard shot with the standard camera.
Here’s the Samsung Galaxy S10:
And here’s the Huawei P30 Pro:
It looks to me that the Sammie does a better job of
balancing the brightness, albeit with a slightly greener look to the water.
However, I suspect it’s more accurate. I think the Huawei phone camera may well
have recognised that it was water in the front, and blued it up a little.
Now let’s look at the boat. Here I’ve cropped out the boat
from each at original resolution and put them side by side. Look closely at the
images and see which you prefer, left or right. I don’t think there’s much in
it when you look closely at the front boat, but clearly the one at the right
has more detail on the sail of the rear boat. And look at the foliage. Again,
the photo on the right is clearly better, with more and finer detail.
It’s the Samsung to the left and the Huawei to the right.
Note, the Samsung stopped down to f/2.4
for this image, which should have given focus an optical boost.
What about telephoto? Here’s the same boat with the 2x
camera on the Samsung:
And with the 5x camera on the Huawei:
Clearly the latter gives you a closer look, although I felt
the detail was more natural on the Samsung and the colour a little better. But
the problem with a big zoom is that often it can be too much. What if you want
the Huawei to do 2x? Easily done with a pinch of your fingers. It’s not clear
whether this is a hybrid image, drawing from the main and the telephoto camera.
I think it is. Anyway, inspect the following. Samsung is left, Huawei is right.
The 2x Samsung is clearly more natural and detailed than the 2x Huawei:
Now, to establish the scene, here’s the glorious monstrosity
that is the National Museum of Australia from the south side of Lake Burley
Griffin. This one was taken with the Huawei phone, but it doesn’t really
matter. I just wanted to show where we are:
Now we’re focusing on that orange loop protruding above the
building. And not at 2x, nor at 5x but at 10x. That’s the highest preset on the
Huawei, and it’s called a “Hybrid” mode. It’s unfair to compare the Samsung,
but I do want to illustrate how important optics are compared to even very
Any phone camera has weaknesses and strengths when it comes
to darker environments. The small sensor is a weakness. They are noisier and
can gather less light than large sensors. But the processing power in a phone
is much greater than that in a camera, so it can do some pretty heavy-duty
I decided to use an exhibition inside the National Library
of Australia for this comparison. It was darkish, so as to preserve the
valuable historical documents and artefacts.
First, let’s get a sense of the width of the ultrawide modes
in both phone cameras. Here’s the Samsung:
And here’s the Huawei phone camera:
You can see that the Samsung is noticeably wider, grabbing
more of the scene.
Now, having taken a similar shot with the standard camera
for both, I’ll crop down on one element of the scene:
To the left, as usual, is the Samsung. It went for a darker
result. The Huawei routinely brightened dark scenes more than the Samsung. Overall
I preferred the Samsung approach, but not so much in this case.
There’s considerably more noise visible with the Samsung
shot than with the Huawei. Not, I think, because of any difference in sensor
quality. It’s most likely that the Huawei phone camera applied a heavier dose
of noise reduction. What’s interesting is that it seems to have been able to
pull this off without doing the much damage in smearing detail. Overall, I’ve
got to give this to the Huawei phone camera. Just look at the eyes of the bust,
the clarity of the portrait behind the bust, the woodgrain on the hat.
Which is it?
Both camera phones have got a bunch of useful or otherwise features. The Samsung pips the Huawei with raw video power: it can do UltraHD at 60 frames per second. The Huawei is limited to 30. The Huawei has a crash hot “Night” mode, which I’ve previously explored. It also has a “RAW” mode, which the Samsung lacks. Both units are incredibly clever.
And both of these phone cameras are at the top of the heap
compared to just about all the competition.
But, overall, given the choice, and based on
camera quality alone, I’d choose the Huawei P30 Pro camera. Er, I mean phone.