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Huawei P30 Pro smartphone hands-on review

Huawei reinforces its claim to the smartphone photography crown with the new P30 Pro

Note the square lens on the left of the three camera lens array; that’s the folded optics telephoto. The fourth ToF camera is below the triple

Key points:

  • Quadruple cameras: three photo cameras plus a ToF (Time Of Flight) 3D sensing camera
  • No more mono camera
  • Radical new SuperSpectrum 40MP camera sensor enables remarkable low light capability
  • Longer 125mm (5x) telephoto lens thanks to clever folded optics
  • Mate 20 Pro style 16mm (0.6x) ultra wide-angle lens
  • Almost 100% 6.5 inch display apart from a ‘tear drop’ style micro-notch for the selfie-camera
  • On-screen optical fingerprint sensor (don’t worry it’s better than the Mate 20 Pro’s)
  • No 3D face-sensor (Mate 20 Pro) so face-unlock will be less-efficient and less-secure
  • Mate 20 Pro style extra-large 4200mAh battery and fast 40W Supercharging
  • Mate 20 Pro style wireless charging with reverse charge mode
Notice the 10x zoom indicator.

Improving on the already remarkable P20 Pro

A year ago Huawei built on its already established reputation for photography innovation in smartphones with the P20 Pro. This was the first triple-camera smartphone, featuring a 40 megapixel sensor and a mono camera, plus remarkable low-light capabilities. It also brought AI smartness to the fore.

Today, Huawei has unveiled the P30 Pro, and what a successor it is. I’ve had the privilege of being briefed by Huawei in advance, which included hands-on use of pre-production samples, though no images taken with these were allowed to be retained.

A radical new image sensor and a cleverly implemented telephoto camera, plus a fourth ToF camera/sensor, top the list of exciting new features the P30 Pro can boast. Here’s my hands-on preview:

Seeing in the dark and that new sensor

It was widely speculated that Huawei would opt for Sony’s new 38 megapixel Exmor RS IMX607, which features a modified Bayer filter array that incorporates white, as well as red, green and blue (RGB) pixel filters. White (colourless) filters increase light transmission and the effective sensitivity of the sensor.

Using the P30 Pro to shoot in almost complete darkness and this is the result.

 

The darkness test scene taken with a Mate 20 Pro

So imagine our surprise when we were told that the P30 Pro uses a sensor that substitutes all the green filters in the Bayer array for yellow filters. Yellow filters transmit substantially more light than green filters. You could call this a RYB filter.

Huawei says this enables the effective maximum ISO sensitivity rating of the sensor to be raised from ISO 102400 on the P20 Pro and Mate 20 Pro to 409600 ISO, or two stops (EVs) extra sensitivity. That’s four times more sensitivity.

To back up this seemingly outlandish claim Huawei invited us to use pre-production P30 Pros in an almost completely darkened room. Lo and behold, the P30 Pro was able to record discernable images in what appeared to be almost total darkness.

I also tried a Mate 20 Pro at the same time and virtually nothing recorded on the image.

Under those conditions the picture quality wasn’t great but I’d certainly be thankful of being able to take a picture, without the need for flash, in certain circumstances, when a typical camera would be unable to.

I can’t wait to see for myself if the extra sensitivity of the sensor can be harnessed to improve quality in more realistic low light shooting conditions.

You might think that using yellow instead of green Bayer Filter Array pixels would be a recipe for chromatic disaster. While we were unable to bring shots taken with the pre-production sample devices away with us to show you in this preview article, examination of the P30 Pro results in-phone at the time revealed no obvious colour anomalies.

Indeed, top pro photographer and Leica ambassador, Alex Lambrechts, who has used the older P20 Pro extensively, told me the colour and tonal quality he has been seeing in P30 Pro images is discernibly better than the P20 Pro.

We just have to find out if that’s because the P30 Pro’s new 6.47 inch AMOLED display is better, or maybe the camera and the display are both improved. Alex also says the photographic aperture blur/bokeh effects are processed in a more pleasing way.

What is the ToF camera for?

We’ve already seen a ToF camera on Huawei’s sub-brand model, the Honor View20. Samsung followed this example in its Galaxy S10+.

So what is ToF? It stands for Time of Flight – think of it as a kind of radar or sonar using invisible LED or laser light, transmitted in pulses. This light is reflected back and the time it takes to return to the ToF camera sensor can be calculated in real time as a distance between the phone and whatever reflected it back to the phone.

ToF cameras are like digital cameras and they have thousands of sensor photosites and each one can record a distance value, building up a three-dimensional view of what the camera sees. And it can do this in real time.

It’s really accurate and potentially better than existing optical image-reliant measuring apps, like Google Measure. You will be able to use it to measure in one and two dimensions and also three, for volume.

ToF capability will also boost the power of AR (Augmented Reality) where 3D computer-generated animated graphics are blended with a real scene.

The Honor View20 prioritises the use of its ToF camera for gaming; you can model your own body and a game can then sense your body motion for real-time avatar control.

I understand that on the P30 Pro the ToF camera aids the optical cameras to more-precisely sense object boundaries so artificial background blur/aperture algorithms make less mistakes. I suspect that the ToF camera can also assist in focusing and object/scene sensing in dark conditions.

Folded telephoto optics

The P30 Pro’s extra-long 125mm (native optical 5x) equivalent telephoto lens camera would have required an unsightly lump in the phone’s otherwise slimline form. Telephoto lenses, by their very nature, have to be long. So Huawei and Leica went for a folded-optics arrangement.

Folded optic lenses in other more conventional digital cameras have also been around for a long time and for the same reason, to fit a powerful telephoto lens into a slim camera body.

This means the lens elements are stacked 90 degrees between the front and back of the device. A key benefit is that there is less of a compromise on the optical design forced on engineers trying to keep the optics as short as possible.

To enable the lens to see in the same direction as the other cameras, a 90 degree prism is used at the top of the lens stack, resembling a periscope. You can tell which is the tele lens because the prism is square rather than round on the camera array.

As far as I know this is a first for a contemporary smartphone. Apple did patent a folded optic layout for an iPhone optical zoom lens a couple of years back, though it hasn’t been demonstrated yet. The P30 Pro telephoto lens is a fixed-focal length lens, though seamless bybrid optical and digital zooming is possible in conjunction with the other cameras from 16mm (0.6x) to 125 mm (5x).  A lower resolution 10x tele mode is also provide and there is even a 50x mode for emergency use.

The P30 Pro’s telephoto camera has a resolution of 8MP, is optically stabilised (OIS) and has a native optical equivalence to a 125mm lens, or 5x the main 27mm (1x) 40MP camera lens. 10x and 50x digital zoom options are available. The ultra-wide camera is equivalent to a 16mm lens (full frame), or 0.6x.

There is another tweak to the main camera, which now has a faster (brighter) aperture of f/1.6 compared to f/1.8 on the P20 Pro and Mate 20 Pro.

The P30 Pro next to a Mate 20 Pro

Comparing the P30 Pro with the P20 Pro and the Mate 20 Pro

P30 Pro P20 Pro Mate 20 Pro
Screen size 6.5 inches 6.1 inches 6.4 inches
Resolution 1080 x 2240 1080 x 2240 (408ppi) 1440 x 3120 (538 ppi)
Curved edge display Yes No Yes
Camera 1 40MP SuperSpectrum 27mm f/1.6 (1x) 40MP 1/1.7” 27mm f/1.8 (1x) 40MP 1/1.7” 27mm f/1.8 (1x)
Camera 2 20 MP 1/2.7” 16mm ultrawide f/2.2 (0.6x) 20MP 1/2.7” 27mm f/1.6 MONO (1x) 20 MP 1/2.7” 16mm ultrawide f/2.2 (0.6x)
Camera 3 8MP 135mm f/3.4 OIS (5x) 8MP 1/4” 80mm f/2.4 OIS (3x) 8MP 1/4” 80mm f/2.4 OIS (3x)
ToF camera sensor Yes (back facing) N/A Front facing proximity
Selfie camera 32MP 24MP 26mm f/2.0 24MP 26mm f/2.0
Face/selfie depth sensor N/A N/A IR dot projector
Laser focusing Yes Yes Yes
Chipset HiSilicon Kirin 980 HiSilicon Kirin 970 HiSilicon Kirin 980
Battery 4200 mAh 4000 mAh 4200 mAh
Supercharging 40W 22.5W 40W
Wireless charging 15W with reverse mode N/A 15W with reverse mode
Headphone socket No No No
Fingerprint sensor In-display (improved) Front below display In-display
Water/dust resistance IP68 IP67 IP68

 

Other features

Fingerprint sensor

The in-screen fingerprint sensor on the Mate 20 Pro was a cool entry on the features list and a headline-grabber, but in reality it was slower and less-reliable than the P20 Pro’s conventional scanner built into a button-like pad below the display.

Huawei P30 Pro showing in-screen fingerprint scan position

The P30 Pro also has an in-screen fingerprint scanner but I am cautiously optimistic it has been significantly improved after trying it on a pre-production device. It’s also further down the display, which – personally – I feel is a more sensible position.

 

I certainly hope my initial impressions are confirmed because the P30 Pro doesn’t inherit the 3D face sensing IR dot projector of the Mate 20 Pro, which makes that phone fast and secure at face-unlocking, even in darkness.

The P30 Pro relies solely on the selfie-camera, which is less secure and not likely to work in low light.

Power

The P30 Pro borrows all the power goodies from the Mate 20 Pro, including the huge 4200 mAh battery, 40W charger, wireless charging and reverse wireless charging so you can top-up other devices from your phone. With Huawei’s more efficient HiSilicon Kirin 980 chip-set, more processing grunt isn’t at the cost of huge battery drain.

Display

Resolution remains at 1080 x 2240 for the AMOLED screen, which is marginally larger (6.47 inches) than the P20 Pro, so you don’t get the super-fine res display of the Mate 20 Pro, but it’s an impressive looking display, nonetheless.

Huawei P30 Pro

It’s also a curved-edge display, which may polarise opinion. I like this because it makes Android Pie 9 gesture navigation from the sides of the display more comfortable. However, it will severely limit your choice of screen protector options.

Miscellaneous

The Infra red transmitter or IR Blaster has been retained, however, rumours that a headphone socket had made a return are only half-correct; the lower-spec P30 (not the Pro version) gets the headphone socket.

Huawei are constantly tempting us with mesmerising new colours and the P30 Pro has a suitably cool selection, including a pearlescent white, which is my favourite.

Initial conclusion

As a photographer, the radical new RYB sensor and the folded optics 125mm telephoto, with Leica genes, is very exciting indeed. I’ll post my feedback on using a production device as soon as possible; we’ll be provided with a production P30 Pro for testing after today’s launch event.

The loss of the P20 Pro’s mono camera will frustrate some. It’s a polarising issue, but my personal view is that I can convert colour to mono effectively in post-processing, with especially good results when shooting RAW. Therefore, the ultra-wide camera, first introduced with the Mate 20 Pro, is very much worth the change. But I do concede this view is not universal.

The fact that the P30 Pro gets much of what was, until now, exclusive to the Mate 20 Pro is also very welcome.

I’m also looking forward to finding out what the fourth ‘camera’ – the ToF camera/sensor contributes and if it makes noticeable improvements to the photographic capabilities of the P30 Pro.

There’s so much to report back on! Watch this space.

 

 

Gitzo Mini Traveler tripod

200 Euros price tag for a Gitzo mini tripod?

When we heard that Gitzo, the Italian manufacturer of premium tripods and accessories, was showing a 200 Euro mini tripod at Photokina we just had to see it for ourselves. The Gitzo Mini Traveler Ball Head is, indeed, gorgeous can carry a full frame DSLR and only weighs 265g, but is it worth the price tag? A Gitzo mini tripod would always be special, but how special?

The Gitzo mini tripod is already available for pre-order in the UK via dealers for around £189. It uses the same kind of carbon fibre leg construction as its bigger counterparts in the Gitzo stable. It has a neat patent-pending  mechanism for switching each leg between standard and low positions. There is no thumb-wheel to tighten the tripod screw, unlike its Manfrotto Pixi cousin, but it’s lighter, smaller and stronger.

The aluminium ball head can safely carry an attached load locked in position up tp 3kg in weight, though there is no quick-release option. To unlock the ball head you rotate a collar at the base of the head. It’s available in grey and black.

The engineering, materials and design all look superb as you can see in our pictures. But it costs 200 Euros.

Specifications:

Safety Payload Weight 3 kg
Min Height 12.5 cm
Maximum Height 17.5 cm
Closed Length 22 cm

The remarkable Epson FastFoto FF-680W photo print scanner

Chuck in a bundle of assorted size photo prints and the Epson FastFoto FF-680W scanner does the rest

There is no need to carefully sort and separate different sized prints

The Epson FastFoto FF-680W is a very clever solution to a familiar old problem. What are the odds that you have a box (boxes?!) or a drawer full of odd-size photos lying about the house? Wouldn’t it be great to scan them so you could share them conveniently via the cloud or social media?

But have you tried scanning dozens or more old prints? It’s a thankless task and it takes ages. A quick demo of Epson’s new and unassuming-looking FastFoto FF-680W scanner at Photokina genuinely wowed onlookers.

Unfussy

The FF-680W’s feeder is remarkably unfussy; you can place a wad of of different size prints up to A4 dimensions into the feeder and they will processed by the scanner without any fuss, one by one, at a rate of about one print per second.

The companion software then automatically crops the prints and even scans the back of each print to detect written or other notes, which are also scanned and saved as images linked to the front image.

You can configure the software to automatically upload the images to Google Drive, Microsoft OneDrive or DropBox. For a stack of, say, 30 prints, the whole process takes literally no more than a couple of minutes. You really have to see it working to appreciate how clever the Epson FastFoto FF-680W is.

The Epson FastFoto FF-680W looks like a business sheet-feed document scanner but it’s designed specifically for scanning photo prints

Too good to be true?

So is the Epson FastFoto FF-680W too good? in a sense, some will think so once they learn the prospective price, which is around €600. The FF-680W is not aimed at household consumers. Instead, Epson hope you will see them in retail locations for customers to use as a service and for other companies to offer photo print digitising services.

Touching Photokina anecdote

A rather lovely anecdote shared with me by the Epson staffer, Julian Maddock, demonstrating the FF-680W on the Epson booth here at Photokina was that an elderly gentleman produced a Photokina pass and ID from way back in 1954, In fact the person first started attending Photokina in 1950. Of course, the precious souvenir from 1954 was duly scanned by a FF-680W for posterity.

You can even scan items as tiny as stamps using a supplied carrier sleeve.

The Epson FastFoo FF-680W in America and will start shipping it in Europe at the end of the year.

You can find more information on Epson’s website.

 

 

 

ARRI Edition AV PRO AR 256 CFast 2.0 Memory Card

Press release issued by Angelbird:

ARRI and Angelbird introduce CFast™ 2.0 Memory Card

Lustenau, September 28, 2018 – ARRI is introducing the ARRI Edition AV PRO AR 256 CFast 2.0 card by Angelbird. The card has been designed and certified for use in the ALEXA Mini and AMIRA camera systems* and can be used for ProRes and MXF/ARRIRAW recording.

ARRI has worked closely with Angelbird Technologies GmbH, a hi-tech company based in Vorarlberg, Austria. Angelbird is no stranger to film production, and some of their gear can be found at ARRI Rental European locations. The company’s young yet experienced team has a passion for quality and great attention to detail.

“Many of the CFast cards we tested delivered good results, but it usually takes the manufacturers a few attempts to stabilize their performance for high data-rate write patterns,” says Oliver Temmler, Product Manager for Storage Media at the ARRI headquarters in Munich, Germany. “Angelbird really stood out—they listened to us closely and quickly determined which parameters they had to tweak.”

For the ARRI Edition CFast card, the Angelbird team did not want to settle for “good enough” but went straight for “the very best.” They developed an ARRI-specific card that uses a combination of thermally conductive material and so-called underfill, to provide superior heat dissipation from the chips, and to secure the electronic components against mechanical damage.

The result is a rock-solid 256 GB CFast 2.0 card, with super-stable recording performance all the way across the storage space, making it the perfect addition to an ALEXA Mini or AMIRA camera setup.

The ARRI Edition AV PRO AR 256 memory card by Angelbird is available exclusively from ARRI and other sales channels offering ARRI products.

*Support for new CFast 2.0 cards is currently not planned for ALEXA XT, SXT(W), and LF cameras.

Angelbird