Smartphones have come a long way (understatement of the year). And camera technology in smartphones has advanced so much, it’s amazing that point-and-shoot cameras still exist. That being said, it’s no surprise that smartphone makers have razor-sharp focus on camera technology and features. One such mobile brand taking it seriously is Huawei.
It isn’t about slapping on a Leica badge (that would have been easy) on a device. Leica co-engineered the entire camera experience, ensuring you get the best possible photos and videos from the unique dual-camera set-up.
First, let’s just quickly revisit what the Huawei P9 offers. It boasts remarkable craftsmanship, with a sleek, sandblasted metal unibody. It’s every bit you’d expect from Huawei, as seen on the stunning Mate 8, Mate S and Nexus 6P.
It boasts a 5.2-inch Full HD IPS panel, with 2.5D glass that keeps things smooth overall. Under the hood, Huawei’s own octa-core HiSilicon Kirin 955 processor is blazingly fast, coupled 3GB RAM and 32GB of storage. The 4G LTE dual-SIM device also boasts microSD expansion, and you’ll definitely need more storage for all those beautiful photos you’re going to be taking.
On the camera front, here’s where it gets interesting. And this is where the Huawei P9 is cutting-edge. It packs two main cameras on the back. Both are 12MP Sony IMX286 sensors with 1:25 micrometre pixels. The unique thing is that one camera captures in RGB (16.7 million colours) and the other in monochrome. The monochrome delivers ultimate details and contrast.
Via software, images from the two cameras are combined giving you exceptional detail and dynamic range.
For the front, there’s an impressive 8MP f/2.4 selfie camera.
For more detailed specs, read this.
The camera, the camera, the camera
So, enough of the spec rundown and let’s get down to business. Let’s talk about my experience using the Huawei P9. It’s going to be camera-skewed, simply because, IMHO, the camera experience is fantastic.
First thing’s first. You can quick-launch the camera by double-clicking on the volume down button or when the phone is unlocked, fire up the camera app.
If you’ve used one of Leica’s digital cameras, like the Leica T, the UI may seem familiar. It’s minimalistic, for good reason. So you can compose and fire your shot, of course!
Whether in portrait or landscape mode, swipe from the left and a menu for camera Modes will appear. I found I used only three modes most of the time: Photo (auto), Monochrome and HDR.
A tiny tab above the camera shutter button is where you can find finer controls–in Pro mode. Slide the tab up and you’ll find manual controls to ISO, Shutter Speed, Exposure, Focus Mode, White Balance.
I did find myself almost exclusively using it in auto (Photo) mode though.
Slide from the right and you’ll gain access to Settings. The great thing about the P9 camera is that it supports RAW format capture, ensuring you’ll have all the details you need when you fire up Lightroom or Photoshop for tweaks (If needed).
I like that there are assistive grids that you can turn on like a Fibonacci spiral, or a 6- or 9-box grid.
And by the way, you can turn the Leica watermark on, just so you can boast to your friends. *snigger
There’s a slight learning curve to get accustomed to the UI but overall it’s pretty slick and intuitive.
The thing about the Huawei P9 is that you can mostly ignore all the technical aspects of the camera or the phone. Just fire up the camera, compose, shoot.
It motivated me to shoot more, especially in monochrome mode (native black & white, mind you) because it’s just so good.
It doesn’t have the quickest autofocus nor shutter so it’s not suited for high-speed shots. Having said that, it’s as reliable as it gets when you’re doing street photography and needing those spontaneous, spur-of-the-moment shots. It does well in low-light too, thanks to the dual-camera setup. The dynamic range is indeed impressive and noise levels kept at acceptable level even in less than favourable lighting conditions.
Talking about street photography. It happens to be something I love to do. That, and shooting food and still life. The P9 excels in these areas, regardless if you’re shooting in full colour or native monochrome.
What would have been a great addition is an integrated physical camera shutter button. In future Leica co-engineered products perhaps?
Check out some sample shots below:
In summary, the Huawei P9 is one of the best smartphones to come out this year. In the camera department specifically, it’s a fantastic camera experience. It delivers great details and contrast, and the ability to capture in native monochrome is a huge plus. It’s made me love mobile photography even more. Your bulky DSLR or point-and-shoot? You can leave those at home, mostly. And that says a lot.
*Note: All photos are untouched aside from adding vernonchan.com watermark in Lightroom.