There may be many factors that come into play when choosing your next smartphone. Absolutely, you’re concerned about battery life or build quality, the presence (or absence) of a headphone jack or whether it has a certain variety of produce on the back. True. But if we’re going to be truly honest with ourselves, two factors have clearly risen to the top: screen and camera. All else equal, we want to take some amazing photos and we want to view them on a great-looking screen. The Huawei P30 Pro aims to deliver just that. But does it?

Huawei P30 Pro Tech Specs

Before we get around to the camera tests, here’s a quick summary of what you get when you pick up the Huawei P30 Pro:

  • Huawei Kirin 980 octa-core processor
  • 6.47 OLED FHD+ (2340 x 1080 pixels) display
  • In-screen fingerprint reader (optical)
  • 6 GB RAM + 128 GB ROM or 8 GB RAM + 256 GB ROM
  • 4200 mAh battery
  • Huawei SuperCharge (Max 40W) + Wireless Quick Charge (15W)
  • IP68 certified

And then you get a total of five cameras: four on the back, and the one front-facing selfie camera.

  • 40 MP main camera (f/1.6, OIS)
  • 20 MP ultra wide angle (f/2.2)
  • 8 MP telephoto (f/3.4, OIS)
  • Huawei Time-of-Flight (TOF) camera for depth perception
  • 32 MP front camera (f/2.0)

AI Camera: Food Mode

Truth be told, I’m one of those people who has to take (and share) pictures of every Insta-worthy meal. Sorry, not sorry, but camera eats first. Among the numerous AI camera modes on the Huawei P30 Pro is “food” mode. To this end, I pit the P30 Pro against the Google Pixel 3 XL in a couple of polls through my Instagram Stories to see what my followers thought.

That’s the P30 Pro on the left and the Pixel 3 XL on the right. The difference isn’t quite as pronounced here, though it does seem like the P30 Pro dials up the contrast a touch. The whites are brighter and the blacks are darker. However, you can really see the difference in this second pair of shots.

Again, the Huawei P30 Pro is on the left and the Google Pixel 3 XL is on the right. The processing by the Huawei is decidedly more intense, really trying to amp up the HDR-like effect. The Pixel 3 image is much flatter and warmer (the restaurant had warm lighting), while the P30 Pro image is sharper and cooler. The overwhelming majority of Instagram followers (96%) preferred the P30 Pro.

Here are a few more food pictures under slightly different lighting conditions. In all cases (with perhaps the exception of my oysters and chips), you can see that Huawei’s algorithm prefers “punchier” pictures overall with higher sharpness and more intense contrast.

Front-Facing Camera: Selfie Test

Second perhaps only to food pictures (and memes, I guess), the ever-present selfie is easily one of the most popular photos shared on social media. And while we know that the rear cameras on smartphones generally take better pictures, the overwhelming majority of selfies will be shot with the front camera.

As above, this comparison once again has the Huawei P30 Pro on the left and the Pixel 3 XL on the right. Both of them were set to portrait mode, but I found that the P30 Pro is not nearly as aggressive in applying the faux bokeh effect here as the Pixel, even though the P20 Pro before it does apply that effect quite heavily (at least with the rear camera). You could likely achieve more of that “blurred background” with the aperture mode on the P30 Pro, but these two photos were taken at default settings in portrait mode using the front camera.

Whereas the food comparison on my Instagram poll tilted heavily in Huawei’s favor, the response to these selfies (sorry for not using a more attractive subject) was much more mixed. In the end, the Pixel 3 XL edged out the P30 Pro by the narrowest of margins, earning 54% of the vote. You’ll also notice the difference in color science here; the Pixel 3 has an almost purplish hue to it, whereas the P30 Pro has a more natural skin tone. Your mileage may vary, of course, as will your results based on lighting conditions and other factors.

Huawei Night Mode vs. Pixel Night Sight

When I first got to use Night Sight on the Pixel 3, I was blown away with the results. Huawei claims they have a number of advantages over competitors like Samsung and Apple, including higher ISO possibilities. That’s on paper. And you may have seen some of their own test shots being shared around online too, but how does the night mode on the P30 Pro stack up?

This is under very dim conditions in my living room with the phone held on a tripod. The P30 Pro is on the left and the Pixel 3 XL is on the right. In this pairing, I’d give the edge to the Pixel. It’s brighter, sharper, and cooler overall.

When I virtually eliminated almost all light from the room (I turned on the light in a room some 15 feet away and only cracked open the door a smidge), the difference in results is much more startling. For some inexplicable reason, the P30 Pro decided to cast a deep red tinge over the photo, whereas the Pixel retained a more natural color. The P30 Pro does appear sharper, however, though it had a much longer exposure time.

Whereas the Pixel 3 shot at ISO 2858, f/1.8, for exactly 1.0 seconds, the P30 Pro shot at ISO 200 (???), f/1.6, for 45 seconds. The super long exposure of 45 seconds is a bit of an anomaly, but I did notice the Huawei want to stretch that exposure time much longer than the Pixel. Even in the dimmest of conditions, the Pixel only exposes for about a second; the P30 Pro was seeking 15, 30, and yes even 45 second exposures. Needless to say, that wouldn’t be very useful handheld.

Up to 50x Zoom?!

In addition to the multiple cameras, several AI camera modes, and the highly touted night mode, the Huawei P30 Pro also proudly boasts up to 50x zoom… sort of. Through its unique “periscope” technology, the telephoto lens on the P30 Pro can provide 5x optical zoom compared to the main wide-angle shooter. Coupled with some AI improvements, this can be pushed to 10x hybrid zoom. Beyond that, it’s all digital, though with specialized stabilization in an attempt to make it more useful. And then you’ve got the ultra wide angle lens for an effective 0.6x zoom compared to the main camera.

Here’s the spectrum from a recent concert, starting with the regular 1.0x on the left, then progressing through 5x optical zoom, 10x hybrid zoom, 25x digital zoom, and 50x digital zoom.

I was able to steady the camera somewhat on a barrier, so that definitely helped in such a dark environment. The 10x zoom was surprisingly usable, the 25x zoom got quite “blocky” and 50x zoom may as well been potato cam quality. No real surprise there.

The slideshow below depicts performance under better lighting conditions, starting from 0.6x super wide angle, and moving through to 1.0x “normal” view, 5x optical zoom, 10x hybrid zoom, and finally 50x digital zoom.

The image quality on the 50x zoom is hardly ideal, and understandably so, but it is still remarkable how much that is able to achieve. This could be really good for reading faraway signs and making out smaller details, under the right circumstances.

And really, the right circumstances are important here. In the hotel conference room where the Huawei P30 series presentation was held, I took two quick shots of the room. The first is the regular 1.0x view from my seat, and the second is the 50x zoom of the back of the projector. Again, the 50x shot is grainy and murky and nowhere near the best, but you can read all the words, something I could not do with the naked eye from that distance.

What About Video?

Of course, cameras aren’t just for taking pictures. We use them to shoot videos too, especially in this age of YouTube, TikTok, IGTV, Facebook Live, and all the rest of it. I don’t have too much in terms of complaints with regards on shooting video on the P30 Pro, aside from maybe they’re a touch too dim by default.


In chatting with some other users, one area of disappointment is the lack of manual controls when in video mode, particularly in regards to frame rate. There is a “Pro” mode in the camera app for taking stills, where you can really play around with all the manual controls you’d desire, but there is no equivalent mode for pro video. While you can always turn to 3rd party apps for that, given how much Huawei has crammed into this phone and its default camera app already, tossing in a pro video mode seems like a glaring omission.

Is It the Best Smartphone Camera?

Go to the official product page for the Huawei P30 Pro and you’ll see that the phone boasts a DxOMark mobile score of 112, the highest of any smartphone (to date). On a purely objective basis, playing to the standardized tests and benchmarks, we should conclude that the P30 Pro is indeed the best smartphone camera. Or cameras, rather, given that there are five of them here.

In practice, your experience may vary, just as mine did. It’s absolutely true that the P30 Pro can take some really stunning photos, and the periscope technology for 5x optical zoom (and up to 10x hybrid zoom) is to be commended. Absolutely. It’s also true that some of these shots can be a bit hit-and-miss, depending on circumstances. Having a great night mode sounds great, except the phone often asks for really long exposure times. Up to 50x digital zoom sounds tremendous, until you realize you probably need a tripod and you’ll end up with potato cam anyway at that range.

For my part, there’s a lot to like about the P30 Pro and its cameras, and Huawei should be applauded by such an ambitious take on smartphone photography. The super fast charging, sleek design, tiny notch, and ear speaker-free technology (the screen vibrates instead) are great. That said, the optical in-screen fingerprint reader isn’t the fastest or most responsive, the UI skin isn’t as clean as it could be, and the single speaker on the bottom is easily blocked by accident when holding the phone in landscape.

All in all, it’s a good phone. Great even, despite its shortcomings. But if we go back to beginning and prioritize the screen and camera(s) above all else, you’ll find a lot to like about the Huawei P30 Pro. And you’ll probably take a lot more photos with it too.

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