The Honor 9 does an admirable job of shooting in low-light environment, preserving detail and, to a certain extent, color. But that's only true if you shoot evenly lit close-ups as is the case with our Picture Compare Tests. If you are going for landscape photos, the dusk photos are fine, but the night images quite often lack sharpness due to either focusing issues or camera shake. This is even though the Honor 9 is equipped with plenty of tools to help it get it right.
And now check the night shots.
Using the manual mode and a tripod makes wonders, though. If you lock the ISO to 100 and use the longer shutter speeds, you can get some stunning long exposure shots.
In full-on Night mode, you can manually select a shutter speed up to 32s with ISO up to 3200. The viewfinder image will change as the exposure develops, so if you figure you've gathered enough light you can stop at any time.
Then there's the Light painting mode, which includes four sub-modes: Car light trails, Light graffiti, Silky Water and Star track. You'd need to fix the phone to some stable support, like a tripod or a beanbag, in order to shoot in these modes, as these extremely long exposures can't be done handheld without camera shake.
The panoramic shots taken with the Honor 9 are excellent. They use the full vertical resolution, and at about 3,100px tall there's plenty of pixels. Detail is on par with still images; stitching shows no obvious issues, and exposure variation is handled smoothly. The dynamic range once again deserves praise.
Thanks to the depth information the Honor 9 can gather from its two cameras, it can try and reproduce the blurred background of a proper portrait lens. The feature is accessed from the Wide aperture mode toggle and lets you simulate apertures from f/0.95 to f/16.
As with all such implementations, it works weirdly more often than it does well, so it's only now and then that you end up with some good portrait shots like those below. They wouldn't hold up to closer scrutiny, but they are still good enough.
The new Portrait Mode is available on both the main and selfie snappers. It combines the Variable Aperture with Beautification and should offer Portrait shots with beautified faces and bokeh background effects.
You can adjust the level of beautification, while the bokeh strength stays the same across all shots. The blurred background is indeed nice, but the beautification may smear away some of the fine detail from your face so we turned it off. We'd rarely choose this mode instead of the Variable Aperture though.
The real strength of the 8MP selfie camera (fixed focus, sorry) should be the trendy Portrait shots with simulated bokeh effects.
The regular daylight samples turned out great with plenty of detail, pleasing colors, and also quite good dynamic range.
The Portrait Mode simulates bokeh, while it also applies beautification effects on your face. Unfortunately, those things might have sounded great on paper, but the software algorithm that applies the background effect isn't that smart, and the beautification is not something us grumpy guys would have on. Most of the samples we took were more miss than hit, so don't get your hopes as high as Huawei's marketing would like you to.
And here is how the beautification feature works (hint: it doesn't like beards).
The Honor 9 captures 4K videos, but just like the P10 it is using the H.265 codec. The consequences are two-fold. On the positive side, the bitrate of 30Mbps is very low for 2160p footage, and hence files take up less space (compare that to the ~50Mbps MPEG-4 4K videos of most competitors). The downside is that YouTube still doesn't offer support for this standard, so we've uploaded the test samples on Vimeo instead.
1080p videos use MPEG-4 compression, so they're YouTube-friendly.
The 1080p/30fps videos have a rather standard bitrate of around 17Mbps, while 1080p/60fps is exactly double that. Surprisingly, you'd get larger files per second of footage from the P10's 1080p/60ps mode, than from its 4K mode. But that's expected as the 1080p videos use H.264 video encoding.
Audio is recorded in stereo at 192kbps, which is great.
The camera also supports capturing 720p videos with variable aperture. Just like with the still images, you choose an f number between 1 and 16. The videos turned out quite awful though and we doubt anybody will use this feature. It's just a gimmick and nothing of a real value.
4K videos are sharp and detailed and exhibit good contrast and pleasing colors. The dynamic range is quite decent, too.
As it happens all too often, the 1080p footage is just okay, nothing spectacular. The good thing is that the smoother 60fps mode doesn't come at the expense of detail, though there is noticeable oversharpening everywhere.
One limitation the Honor 9 enforces on you is that video stabilization only works in 1080p resolution, only at 30fps, and not in 2160p. The digital stabilization does a fine job, but comes at the expense of fine detail, sharpness, and narrower field of view.
And here's the promised video compare tool, where we've pitted the Honor 9 against the Huawei P10 and Oppo R11. We observed some minor compression artifacts when we examined the Honor 9 videos of our lab test charts. In the real-life footage, however, we didn't notice any issues. Apparently, the algorithm doesn't like stationary uniformly gray objects. So while we do suggest you check out the video compare tool below, be aware that it's not strictly representative of real-world scenarios.