Huawei Mate 20 Pro camera review: Triple-cam juggernaut

DxOMark
Mobile
109

The Huawei Mate 20 Pro is the Chinese manufacturer’s latest top-end device—one that is in direct competition with the Apple iPhone XS Max, the Google Pixel 3 XL, the Samsung Galaxy Note 9, and other heavy-hitters. Building on the P20 Pro’s camera technology, the Mate 20 Pro comes with a Leica-branded triple-camera setup, but swaps its stable-mate’s monochrome camera for a super-wide-angle module, offering a 35mm-equivalent focal length range from 16 to 80mm—the widest of all current smartphone cameras. (This said, as with other smartphones with a similar setup, we did not test the Mate 20 Pro’s super-wide-angle module, so it does not have an impact on its DxOMark scores.)

Other components housed in the IP68-rated glass and metal body are all worthy of a premium device as well. Processing and other tasks are powered by Huawei’s new Kirin 980 chipset, and users can compose and view images on a large 6.39-inch HDR OLED display with 1440 x 3120 pixel resolution. Read the full report to find out how the Mate 20 Pro performed in our camera tests.

Key camera specifications

  • Triple camera
  • 40Mp main camera with 1/1.7″ sensor; f/1.8-aperture, 27mm-equivalent lens
  • 20Mp super-wide-angle with f/2.2-aperture, 16mm-equivalent lens
  • 8MP tele with f/2.4 aperture, OIS, 80mm-equivalent lens
  • PDAF + laser AF
  • Dual-tone LED flash
  • 4K video at 30fps (1080p/30fps at default settings)

Test summary

Mate 20 Pro images show good color rendering and a wide dynamic range.

Achieving an overall DxOMark Mobile score of 109 points, the Huawei Mate 20 Pro shares the number one spot in our DxOMark Mobile ranking with its cousin, the P20 Pro. Like the latter, it delivers an outstanding still image performance, resulting in a Photo score of 114 points. At 97 points, the Mate 20 Pro’s video score is just one point lower than the P20 Pro’s, meaning that the latest Huawei flagship can provide top-quality photo and video results in almost any shooting situation.

In stills mode, the Mate 20 Pro’s triple-camera captures images with good target exposure and a wide dynamic range, recording both good highlight and shadow detail even in difficult high-contrast situations. Noise levels are well under control down to low light levels, and the camera’s white balance system and color rendering settings produce a pleasant color response in almost all circumstances. Add a fast and consistent autofocus and excellent zoom capabilities to the mix, and the Mate 20 Pro is hard to beat for stills.

Despite the well-deserved praise, there is still some room for improvement, of course. When viewing images at pixel level, we often found that the Mate 20 Pro rendered fine textures a little unnaturally, and we detected some ringing around hard edges. In images shot in bokeh simulation mode, faces are often quite soft, with low levels of detail; and the autofocus can be a little inconsistent when using the LED flash.

The camera captures good detail, and nicely renders such fine textures as the grass in this image without any over-sharpening.

But the Mate 20 Pro is not only an outstanding smartphone for still images. It’s very close to the best for video as well, thanks to a fast and smooth autofocus system with good tracking performance, accurate white balance as well as pleasant color rendering, and low levels of noise, especially in bright shooting conditions. Our testers also liked the exposure system’s ability to adapt quickly and smoothly to changes in illumination.

Video stabilization is efficient when recording while holding the camera still, but it could be better at keeping things steady while walking, especially in lower light conditions. We also saw a judder effect while panning the camera and a loss of detail on some fine textures. None of these problems are particularly intrusive, though.

Portrait mode images have a nice bokeh shape, but details in the subject’s face are often soft.
The Mate 20 Pro is one of the few smartphones that can produce usable images at long-range zoom distances.

Photo scores explained

With a total photo score of 114, the Huawei Mate 20 Pro ties the record-setting score of its cousin, the P20 Pro. The overall Photo score is calculated from sub-scores in tests that examine different aspects of its performance under different lighting conditions. In this section, we’ll take a closer look at these image quality sub-scores.

Exposure (95)

The Huawei Mate 20 Pro camera achieves an outstanding score for exposure, thanks to very good target exposure in almost all situations and a very wide dynamic range that ensures good highlight and shadow detail, even in difficult high-contrast scenes. In the high-contrast comparison scene below, all the cameras offer similar levels of highlight detail, but the Mate 20 Pro squeezes noticeably more detail out of the shadow areas than the P20 Pro and iPhone XS Max.

Huawei Mate 20 Pro, high-contrast scene
Huawei P20 Pro, high-contrast scene
Apple iPhone XS, high-contrast scene

Compared to the P20 Pro, the Mate 20 Pro improves slightly on target exposure in backlit scenes. In the sample shots below, you can see that the Mate 20 Pro has exposed the subject slightly more brightly than the P20 Pro. The iPhone XS exposure sits between the two Huawei smartphones.

Huawei Mate 20 Pro, backlit scene
Huawei P20 Pro, backlit scene
Apple iPhone XS, backlit scene

The Mate 20 Pro camera also performs impressively well in very-low light conditions and is capable of producing good exposures down to 1 lux. This makes the new Huawei an interesting device for anyone who must occasionally capture images in very dim conditions.

Color (87)

The Mate 20 Pro also performed very well in our color tests. Color rendering and white balance are good in all conditions, and there aren’t any real color issues to report on. As with the P20 Pro, saturation tends to be a touch more natural and therefore lower than for some competitors’ smartphones. In the comparison below, you can see that the iPhone XS image is noticeably more saturated and vibrant than the two Huawei devices.

Huawei Mate 20 Pro, outdoor color
Huawei P20 Pro, outdoor color
Apple iPhone XS, outdoor color

We observed some very slight color shading towards the edges of the frame in some images, but the effect is hardly noticeable most of the time. We also found that the Huawei’s auto white balance system works particularly well in portraits and improves over the P20 Pro, producing generally warm and pleasant skin tones in most outdoor situations. On the downside, we observed low levels of skin tone saturation in some indoor portraits.

Texture (74) and Noise (78)

The Mate 20 Pro’s image processing finds a good compromise between detail retention and noise reduction. In terms of image detail, the new device performs on a very similar level as the P20 Pro, but applies less sharpening, making images look a little less crisp but more natural when viewed at 100%. The iPhone XS also applies a little stronger sharpening than the Mate 20 Pro, resulting in good edge detail, but overall, the Mate 20 Pro is the best device for rendering fine low-contrast textures, such as the grass in this scene, in this comparison.

Huawei Mate 20 Pro, outdoor detail
Huawei Mate 20 Pro, crop
Huawei P20 Pro, outdoor detail
Huawei P20 Pro, crop
Apple iPhone XS, outdoor detail
Apple iPhone XS, crop

In low light, the Mate 20 Pro is capable of distancing itself slightly from the competition, visibly delivering the best detail in our 20 lux comparison. As you can see in the crops below of our lab chart, fine textures in the subject’s skin and hat are slightly better preserved in the Mate 20 Pro image than in either the P20 Pro or the iPhone image.

Huawei Mate 20 Pro, 20 lux
Huawei Mate 20 Pro, crop
Huawei P20 Pro, 20 lux
Huawei P20 Pro, crop
Apple iPhone XS, 20 lux
Apple iPhone XS, crop

The Mate 20 Pro produces good image detail across light levels, and is at the same time capable of keeping image noise low. In bright outdoor shooting conditions, noise is pretty much unnoticeable. In lower light, some fine luminance noise becomes visible, but is still always well under control. In the image of our studio chart captured at very low light (5 lux), the Huawei models are very close, and both capture a noticeably cleaner image than the iPhone XS.

Huawei Mate 20 Pro, 5 lux
Huawei Mate 20 Pro, crop
Huawei P20 Pro, 5 lux
Huawei P20 Pro, crop
Apple iPhone XS, 5 lux
Apple iPhone XS, crop

Autofocus (99)

The Huawei Mate 20 Pro’s autofocus is fast, accurate, and repeatable across all light levels, earning itself an excellent score of 99 points. As you can see in the graph below, even at a low light level of 20 lux, the AF locks on instantly after pressing the shutter, and consistently delivers sharp results. The system is not quite perfect, however. In some low-light and indoor scenes, we saw the AF lock onto the background rather than the main foreground subject. Hopefully this can be fixed at some point via a software update.

Huawei Mate 20 Pro, AF performance at 20 lux

Artifacts (71)

We found a range of artifacts in the Huawei Mate 20 Pro image output. However, the good news is that none of them are very strong and you have to look quite closely to spot any of the imperfections.

When viewing at 100%, you can see ringing around some hard edges on some occasions, especially in indoor conditions. On closer inspection, we also found some moiré in fine patterns and very slight ghosting on some moving subjects in high-contrast scenes. An aliasing or “jagged line” effect is often noticeable on diagonal lines in the image, such as on the building in the sample below.

Huawei Mate 20 Pro, aliasing on diagonal lines
Huawei Mate 20 Pro, crop

Flash (92)

The Huawei Mate 20 Pro is capable of achieving very good flash results for a smartphone camera. When using the flash in complete darkness, images show good target exposure and a decent compromise between texture and noise. There is some color shading and color quantization visible on skin tones, however, and we also saw some slight focus inconsistencies between shots in a series.

When mixed with low 5 lux tungsten light, flash images tend to show a slight yellowish color cast as well as color shading and noticeable light fall-off towards the edges of the frame. We also observed a red-eye effect in some images, but the camera captures good levels of detail while keeping noise down.

Huawei Mate 20 Pro, flash at 0 lux
Huawei Mate 20 Pro, crop
Huawei Mate 20 Pro, flash at 5 lux
Huawei Mate 20 Pro, crop

Zoom (70)

Thanks to its 3x optical zoom lens, the Huawei Mate 20 Pro is one of the best performers we have seen in the zoom category, but not the best. In the comparisons below, you can see that at both short- and medium-range zoom, the Mate 20 Pro is noticeably better than the iPhone XS, but in terms of image detail, it is not quite on the same level as its Huawei stable-mate, the P20 Pro—likely due to the fact that the company replaced the P20 Pro’s high-resolution monochrome image sensor with a super-wide-angle variant on the newer model. The P20 Pro is a little noisier, though.

Huawei Mate 20 Pro, short-range zoom
Huawei Mate 20 Pro, crop
Huawei P20 Pro, short-range zoom
Huawei P20 Pro, crop
Apple iPhone XS, short-range zoom
Apple iPhone XS, crop

The differences between cameras become even more obvious at medium-range zoom distances. Although not quite on the level of the P20 Pro, the Mate 20 Pro’s detail is very good, with noise well under control in both outdoor and typical indoor conditions when zooming. This said, however, fairly strong desaturation is visible in some images. We can also see a color artifact in the Mate 20 Pro image below: notice how some high-contrast edges are completely desaturated. The same effect is also visible in the P20 Pro image.

Huawei Mate 20 Pro, mid-range zoom
Huawei Mate 20 Pro, crop
Huawei P20 Pro, mid-range zoom
Huawei P20 Pro, crop
Apple iPhone XS, mid-range zoom
Apple iPhone XS, crop

Bokeh (60)

The Huawei Mate 20 Pro achieves good bokeh simulation results in its Portrait mode, although the quality has decreased just a touch when compared to the P20 Pro. The newer model shows a few more depth artifacts under closer inspection, but the differences are quite small, and subject isolation in general is quite accurate on the Mate 20 Pro.

Bokeh shape and spotlight rendering are fairly good, and the Mate 20 Pro not only blurs the background, but also objects in the foreground, achieving a more natural effect than some competitor devices. On the downside, subjects are often a touch soft and sometimes even out of focus.

Huawei Mate 20 Pro, foreground blur in bokeh mode
Huawei Mate 20 Pro, crop
Huawei Mate 20 Pro, segmentation artifacts in bokeh mode
Huawei Mate 20 Pro, crop

Video scores explained

The Huawei Mate 20 Pro achieves a very good Video score of 97 points, just one point below the P20 Pro. Its only real weak points are the stabilization that generates a noticeable drift, and noise in low light. We calculate the overall video score using the following video sub-scores: Exposure (84), Color (90), Autofocus (98), Texture (58), Noise (78), Artifacts (84), and Stabilization (92).

Video footage recorded with the Mate 20 Pro generally shows good target exposure, with good exposure transition under changing light levels and good exposure down to light levels as low as 5 lux. Dynamic range is not as good as the best in class, but it’s on a very similar level to that of the P20 Pro. Some clipping is noticeable in high-contrast scenes in both highlight and shadow areas, and we also observed some exposure instabilities during recording.

Huawei Mate 20 Pro, video target exposure across light levels

Color in video is generally good, although there is sometimes a slight desaturation visible on very fine details. We also saw some stepping in white balance transitions. In low light, the white balance can produce a slightly pink cast, but footage remains usable, and the white balance system performs well overall.

Compared to its stable-mate P20 Pro, the Mate 20 Pro comes with a slightly less happy compromise between texture and noise when shooting video. Detail is pretty much on the same level, but the Mate 20 Pro footage shows higher levels of noise, especially in low light. Things look better in brighter conditions, though. Footage is pretty clean in outdoor conditions, and in indoor conditions, noise is not too coarse. We also see some noisy edges in low light; other artifacts we found in the Mate 20 Pro footage include a judder effect when panning, color quantization in the sky, and compression artifacts.

Huawei Mate 20 Pro, video acutance by light level
Huawei Mate 20 Pro, video noise by light level

Just like in stills mode, the autofocus performs well for video. We did not experience any focus failures and tracking during our testing; moreover, focus transitions are accurate and smooth. One minor point of criticism is a slight loss of focus in some macro scenes.

The stabilization system has some room for improvement, as it isn’t very efficient when walking or running, with a lot of high-frequency camera motion noticeable in the footage. Overall, however, the Mate 20 Pro is an excellent device for mobile video recording.

Conclusion

The Huawei Mate 20 Pro is a super-phone in every sense, and that is especially true when looking at its camera. The triple-lens setup is capable of producing excellent photo and video results across all shooting situations and deservedly shares the top position in the DxOMark Mobile ranking with its slightly smaller sibling, the P20 Pro, outperforming prominent competitors such as the iPhone XS Max, the Samsung Galaxy Note 9, and the HTC U12+. It’s worth keeping in mind that the Mate 20 Pro comes with a super-wide-angle lens that does not have an impact on our score, but compared to the P20 Pro and other devices that don’t have this feature, the lens offers an added degree of flexibility that could be very important to many photographers.

Still images show pleasant colors, good exposure and dynamic range, and a well-balanced approach to detail retention and noise reduction. Thanks to its 3x optical zoom lens, the Mate 20 Pro is also one of the best smartphones for zooming. Videos display many of the same characteristics as still images. Stabilization isn’t terribly effective while walking, and we observed a few video artifacts, but those are all relatively minor quibbles. Overall, the Huawei Mate 20 Pro is an easy recommendation to pass on to both mobile photographers and video shooters.

109
DxOMark mobile
Huawei Mate 20 Pro
114
photo
Huawei Mate 20 Pro
97
video
Huawei Mate 20 Pro

Photo pros

  • Well-controlled levels of image noise, even in low light
  • Good target exposure and wide dynamic range
  • Pleasant white balance and color rendering
  • Fast and repeatable autofocus in most conditions
  • Good zoom

 Video pros

  • Fast and smooth autofocus with good tracking
  • Efficient stabilization when holding the camera still
  • Accurate white balance and pleasant colors
  • Low noise levels, particularly in bright light
  • Good exposure adaption to changing light conditions

Photo cons

  • Unnatural rendering of fine details
  • Loss of fine detail on faces in bokeh mode
  • Autofocus inconsistencies when using flash
  • Ringing

Video cons

  • Camera shake when walking while recording, especially indoors
  • Lack of fine detail
  • Judder

In the Press

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