Rebelote for Huawei: for the second year in a row, the Chinese champion is in first place – as well as second with the P40 Pro – in our annual top 10 of the best smartphones in photos. The “king” of the year is the P40 Pro +, Huawei's top-of-the-range device. At the heart of its success, tailor-made components and performance superior to the rest of the competition. Unlike Google, which sees everything in terms of generic hardware backed up by cutting-edge algorithms, Huawei always emphasizes cutting-edge hardware. And it pays off.
The triumph of non-standard components
In the hardware-to-software war, hardware has not had its last word. The P40 Pro + thus combines the largest sensors – ultra wide-angle and wide-angle – and the powerful telephoto lens of the competition. Electronic and optomechanical parts that are exclusive to it – sensors developed with Sony, optics probably with a Chinese or Korean partner.
Judge for yourself: the ultra-wide-angle module's sensor is x4 to x6 (you read that correctly) larger than the sensors of competing modules. That of the main camera module is the largest in the industry (almost x3 bigger than that of the iPhone 11!) And the maximum telephoto lens is x2 to x4.5 more powerful than those of the competition.
If the different players manage to impose their skills in different areas – Apple and Google for colors, Google and Sony in autofocus – the fact remains that Huawei's arsenal makes its P40 Pro + a real tank that rolls over the competition.
Always the king of low lights
Whether in ultra wide-angle or wide-angle, the P40 Pro + is the "king" of low lights. On the one hand, there is still the large size of its sensors which logically collect more light than the smaller sensors. But there are also the prejudices as to the quantity of photodiodes (improperly called "pixels"), their nature and their arrangement.
As for the ultra-wide-angle sensor, its 40 Mpix are organized in groups of 16 units, which allows to create "super pixels" collecting a lot of light. The algorithms grind the information from these 2.5 million "super pixels" to create 10 Mpix images, the quality of which simply overwhelms the competition. While classic ultra-wide-angle modules use tiny 1/4 '' type sensors, this giant sensor allows the P40 Pro to produce shots several notches above the competition, both in broad daylight and 'in low light.
One only needs to look at the images at 100% to see that the P40 Pro +’s ultra-wide-angle shots look like images coming out of a real camera, while the competition has a level of detail equivalent to an (old) compact.
On the side of the main wide-angle module, if the sensor retains a classic arrangement of photosites, the green diodes give way to yellow photodiodes to collect even more light (the yellow filter lets more photons pass than the green). This makes it possible to physically collect more light. Even if Huawei has yet to fine-tune its color treatment, with some shots looking a little too purple, the details are there. Even without going through night mode.
This super main sensor is one of the main reasons for the domination of the P40 Pro + telephoto lenses in low light. Indeed, the two telephoto modules – 80 and mm and 240 mm equivalents – produce better images when photons are scarce, because they rely on some of the information collected by this giant sensor.
It challenges expert compacts… and threatens bridges!
The P40 Pro + is the archetypal device that kills (to death?) Cameras. Faced with an expert compact type RX100 Mark VI, the P40 Pro + has two “giant” sensors almost as large as the 1-inch model of the Sony champion. As for the zoom power of our smartphone, it is more than 50% higher! The Sony device retains the advantage in the richness of detail with its 20 MP, but when it comes to rendering, the P40 Pro + often produces photos that have more punch.
While its RAW (and JPEG a fortiori) files are certain to have less leeway in developing images a posteriori, the 18-23mm image quality level is clearly at the level of a compact expert – and it's even better in very low light, thanks to the power of the image processor (ISP).
When it comes to zooming power, the Huawei terminal marks a big step in the history of smartphotography by giving you a 240mm which gives you a 13x zoom equivalent in your pocket!
Something to forget about compacts or even old small-sensor bridges. Only the honor of Sony (RX10 Mark I, Mark II, Mark III and Mark IV) and Panasonic (FZ1000, FZ2000 and FZ1000 Mark II) bridges is saved, thanks be given to their large 1 inch sensor and their high-end optics. range. But they weigh up to 1 kilogram when the P40 Pro + fits in your pocket …
Still room for improvement in color management
Since the P20 Pro, Huawei has improved its color management a lot… which does not mean that the score is perfect.
On the good side of the Force, there is a drastic reduction in images with aberrant colors as was the case with the first RYYB matrix sensor of the P30 Pro. By day, the colors are generally beautiful and rather faithful.
Indoors, the P40 Pro + handles white balance much better with two different color temperatures, which is a great step forward.
On the dark side of the Force, the Chinese are still criticized for the sometimes too variable colors between two shots taken with the same module two seconds apart. In question: the colorimetric mill which sometimes takes one or two seconds to "settle" on the right temperature (and the right shade) of colors.
A bias which leads to the second defect, less significant than in the past, but still present, namely the random colorimetric continuity between the different camera modules. Even in broad daylight, algorithms can get their feet wet and interpret colors in the same scene differently. Even on a blue sky!
Huawei is working and progressing, but Google and especially Apple (which manages up to three focal lengths) are still ahead when it comes to colors. The good thing for Huawei is that everything here is software and therefore easier to correct than the inherent responsiveness or digital noise of a sensor. We are therefore expecting great updates from Huawei …
2021 target: autofocus
Without being slow, the P40 Pro + is not the fastest terminal in the competition either. This is again a matter of ISP. The image processor on Apple Snapdragon and Ax chips is (really) very fast, and triggering is often instantaneous.
Added to this is a much slower interimage time than at Google, for example, where snapshots are captured instantly, without slowing down or losing the display of the current image. If it’s not a calf, the P40 Pro + isn’t a big jerk.
Hopefully Huawei improves its ISP for the 2021 generation of its SoC in order to stick to the performance of Qualcomm and Apple. Finally, if Huawei finds factories to manufacture its future chips, TSMC having indeed ceded to the American government by cutting points with the Chinese juggernaut …
Huawei or not Huawei? That is the Google
Before testing the P40 Pro + and choosing to integrate it – or not – in our 2020 edition of our top 10 best smartphones in photos, we asked ourselves this question: the fact that it is deprived of Google's services. does it condemn to be removed? The answer was quite quickly "no", because we are talking here only of photo, of image quality.
In addition, if the target is now reduced – difficult to advise a neophyte a terminal that requires to go through APK downloads, logically more risky than Google Play – the fact is that yours truly has been able to install many important programs (Office, Evernote, OneDrive, Komoot, etc.). With a few exceptions: Strava point for example. As for Google's programs, Gmail and other Google Maps remain accessible via web shortcuts. And credible alternatives are out there – Here is a really good charting service for example.
Finally, we cannot spend all our time inviting our readers to question the domination of Google and encourage the public to seek alternatives to its services, while screaming when such a terminal requires this approach.
The P40 Pro + is the Rolls of photophones of the moment and it will go down in history as the one that shattered all records for telephoto power – and quality -. Its 13x optical zoom power is unheard of in the field, its ultra wide-angle module produces images eons of the competition, its main module remains very good, it progresses in color management, is very well stabilized, and black does not scare him.
In terms of image, its only limitations are average autofocus and color management not yet at Apple's level. But its real weaknesses are the high price and the lack of Google services. Without doubt the most serious obstacle to buying in our western latitudes.