iPhone 11 Pro vs. Huawei Mate 30 Pro in-depth camera comparison – CNET


Huawei Mate 30 Pro and the iPhone 11 Pro Max.


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It’s impossible to recommend Huawei’s Mate 30 Pro, but that’s not because of the phone itself. Thanks to being barred from US tech, Huawei had to launch its latest Android flagship without full Google support. No Google Play Store, no Maps, no Gmail. Not even Uber works. So no, you shouldn’t buy it. But that doesn’t mean it’s not got its strengths. Its camera, for instance, is one of the best on any phone out there. 

But is it better at photos than the iPhone for camera lovers, the iPhone 11 Pro?

Apple nailed the triple-camera setup on its iPhone 11 Pro and Pro Max phones. I preferred it over Huawei’s early-2019 flagship, the P30 Pro. But now Huawei has upped its game, combining two 40-megapixel cameras (standard and ultrawide-angle), an 8-megapixel telephoto lens and a 3D “time-of-flight” sensor that improves depth perception. Note that below we’ll only be comparing rear cameras, and only photos, not the phones’ video capabilities.

Both phones have outstanding cameras. Both have their own strengths and weaknesses, so which you prefer comes down to taste. Broadly speaking, the iPhone shoots more life-accurate photos. It’s also got a wider ultrawide-angle lens, and a more realistic Night Mode. The Mate 30 Pro has more noticeable processing, leading to more vivid and sharp shots but sometimes at the expense of detail. However its ultrawide-angle camera captures more detail, and its zoom game is incredible.

Portrait shots

Portrait shots, which use software to create DSLR-style depth of field, show some of the biggest differences between the two cameras. Huawei’s shots are more obviously processed. Sometimes this makes portraits look punchier — many people I snapped told me they preferred the Mate 30 Pro over the iPhone 11 Pro. But other times it results in brushed, “beautified” faces.

This shot of Addel is a particularly egregious example:

An example of the Huawei Mate 30 Pro “beautifying” subjects’ faces. 


Daniel Van Boom/CNET

Generally speaking, the Mate 30 Pro’s photos are cooler and the iPhone’s warmer. Contrast and background blur also tend to be heavier on Huawei’s phone. Below you’ll see Nicole’s Huawei portrait on the left looks punchier, but less tonally consistent than the iPhone portrait. Blowing the photos up to their full size, you’ll also see more fine detail, like freckles and strands of hair, in the iPhone shot.

Huawei Mate 30 Pro (left) versus iPhone 11 Pro (right).


Daniel Van Boom/CNET

Same for the portrait below of Chanho, CNET Australia’s friendly neighborhood barista. The background is more saturated in the Mate 30 Pro portrait, and its highlights more blown out. Detail on Chanho’s face and jumper are also sharper on the iPhone, but the Huawei’s shot looks more dramatic.

Huawei Mate 30 Pro (left) versus iPhone 11 Pro (right).


Daniel Van Boom/CNET

You’ll notice similar in the below photos of Tim: less detail, more contrast and heavier background blurring. The photo is also more vivid, however. I prefer iPhone portraits, but both Tim and Nicole prefer their likeness as captured by the Mate 30 Pro. 

Standard

Both phones are fairly evenly matched for standard photos, though I’d give the edge to Huawei. My critique of Huawei phone photography, as in the P30 Pro and also the Portraits above, is that they often sacrifice photo detail for vibrance. The Mate 30 Pro strikes a better balance at this than its predecessor.

Look at the granola situation below and you’ll see the Mate 30 Pro pops much more than the iPhone 11 Pro. This isn’t costless — the strawberries are oversaturated compared to the iPhone, and there’s noticeable noise reduction on the table — but the Mate 30 loses minimal detail of the subject. The iPhone 11 Pro’s shot almost looks flat in comparison.

Mate 30 Pro (left) versus iPhone 11 Pro (right).


Daniel Van Boom/CNET

In the photo below, you’ll see the Huawei produced a much more striking effort. The iPhone was actually more color accurate: The photos were taken during sunset, so the Mate 30 Pro definitely warmed the scene up. (The Huawei often cools photos down, but in general plays with white balance much more than the iPhone.) So if you’re a purist, the iPhone took the “better” photo.

In the case of standard shots, unlike Portrait ones, I found giving up a bit of life-accuracy and detail in exchange for more pleasing shots to be mostly worth it.

The flip side, however, is that iPhone photos are generally still more detailed and more consistent. The Mate 30 Pro’s more liberal manipulation of white balance and saturation can result in artificial-looking tones and overblown highlights. See the flowers below for an example of the iPhone 11 Pro capturing more detail, and the coffee to see how the Mate 30 Pro can gets its saturation and highlights all wrong.

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Mate 30 Pro. 


Daniel Van Boom/CNET

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iPhone 11 Pro. Notice the extra detail on the flower petals.


Daniel Van Boom/CNET

Apple’s ultrawide-angle lens is really wide

Apple made ultrawide-angle cameras cool, as this was the hero feature of its iPhone 11 line. Huawei beat Apple to the punch when it came to these lenses, equipping its Mate 20 Pro with one last year. The Mate 30 Pro has a huge 40-megapixel ultrawide angle sensor, double the 20 megapixels on the P30 Pro.

iPhone 11 Pro Max. It shoots a much wider field of vision.


Daniel Van Boom/CNET

The Mate 30 Pro, as a result of a more narrow field of vision, has less noise in its ultrawide-angle photos.


Daniel Van Boom/CNET

It’s actually difficult to compare these two fairly, because the iPhone’s ultrawide-angle lens shoots much wider photos. It has more of a fish-eye thing going on. In general, Huawei’s ultrawide-angle photos have far less noise — notice the fuzzy trees on the left of the above iPhone shot — but the iPhone captures a far wider field of vision.

I’d call this a tie. The iPhone’s ultrawide-angle lens is so wide that it provides you a distinctly different photo format. The Huawei Mate 30 Pro’s ultrawide-angle camera isn’t as distinguishing, but is wide enough to be useful and captures photos with less noise and more detail.

For what it’s worth though, the iPhone’s software makes taking ultrawide-angle photos easier. In iOS, the camera app has three options at the bottom of a photo frame: 0.5x (ultrawide), 1x and 2x. The Mate 30 Pro has more of a slider situation, from ultrawide to 30x. Not a big deal, but Apple wins, as is often the case, when it comes to software simplicity.

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Sydney’s Queen Victoria Building shot ultrawide-angle on iPhone 11 Pro.


Daniel Van Boom/CNET

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And again on the Mate 30 Pro. It doesn’t even seem ultrawide in comparison, but it’s still super-useful.


Daniel Van Boom/CNET

Night

I’m torn over the Mate 30 Pro’s Night Mode. It’s technically impressive, lighting the hell out of dark scenes. But it’s often overkill, as the software processing on standard shots is already more than good enough. As a result, Night Mode can get you some nifty artsy shots, as it ups the exposure and sharpness of a scene. But it also makes it very difficult to shoot a dark photo if you want to, because the default mode already lights things up so much.

Compare the two photos below. Both are standard low-light shots, with Night Mode turned off on both. The iPhone’s picture is far darker, and the Huawei impressively bright. But it almost already looks like the Huawei has Night Mode turned on.

Here’s what happens when you turn Night Mode on. The Mate 30 Pro overdoes it, brightening areas too dark to capture detail on in real life, as in the case of the wall on the left below.

Technically speaking, the Huawei does more heavy lifting. But it makes the scene look artificial. This is especially true in photos that contain a light source. The house decorated in Christmas lights below was shot by both phones with Night Mode turned on. Because the Huawei works so hard to brighten up everything, the lights themselves lose their illuminating effect. The tree on the left is particularly overexposed.

There are going to be people who prefer an overdone Night Mode, but for my money the iPhone does Night Mode just right: Light enough that you can see what you need to see, dark enough to know that it was shot during night time.

Zoom

Huawei is the undeniable victor when it comes to zoom. It offers 3x optical, better than the iPhone 11 Pro’s 2x, and up to 30x digital. While 30x zoom is overkill, the Huawei consistently did better with 3x and 5x zoom shots.

In the below 3x-zoom photo of Jackson, our extremely extra science editor, you’ll see the Mate 30 Pro keeps more detail in The Hound’s helmet, and is overall sharper and more crisp.

Bump it up to 5x zoom and the gulf between phones becomes even greater. The Mate 30 Pro remains remarkably sharp in the graffiti photo. It does suffer from some more noticeable graininess in the fountain shot, but not as much as does the iPhone. Zooming in also throws the iPhone’s saturation off; it overdoes saturation in the first photo and slightly underdoes it in the second.

So which phone is better at photos? Hard to say. I personally prefer iPhone portraits, as well as its Night Mode. I’d give the Mate 30 Pro a slight edge for standard photography, and both phones shoot comparable — but different — ultrawide-angle shots. Huawei, as noted, scores a clean W for zoom.

It also depends on what type of photographer you are. If you tend to shoot one photo, the iPhone is more consistent and will almost always give you something solid. The Mate 30 Pro has a flair for processing and light manipulation, so its results can be a little less consistent. But when it hits, it hits hard.

The Mate 30 Pro houses an improved camera setup over the P30 Pro, which I thought got served a loss by the iPhone 11 Pro. But whether you prefer the Mate 30 Pro over the iPhone 11 Pro once again comes down to the question of how much you care about life accuracy. The iPhone recreates scenes far more realistically, while the Mate 30 Pro tries to make images as vivid and dramatic as possible.

Originally published Dec. 23, 2019.
Update, Jan. 16: Adds Huawei Mate 30 Pro video review. 

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