The Honor View 20 comes with a 48MP camera, which promises stunning photos at both daytime or nighttime.
We've already reviewed the phone in detail so we knew what to expect.
But we felt we could go the extra mile to understand where its camera excels and where it falls short. So we took the chance for a break from the bleak winter weather and took the phone for a photo shoot at a sunnier location - the French Riviera. Note that none of this was organized or sponsored by either Honor or Huawei or any their subsidiaries, though, we certainly wish it were :)
Starting with the photos taken in good light (AI On), we are happy to share the Honor View 20 got us great looking shots most of the time.
The great dynamic range was complemented by nice sharpness and colors. The autofocus was quick and always spot on.
The screen perhaps didn't do the camera justice out in the bright sun as we had a hard time seeing the full tonal range of the photos as we took them. But that was only in those situations where the sun was hitting it straight on and phones with AMOLED screens are guilty of this too.
The AI scene recognition as indicated by a set of small icons in the viewfinder, was quick and always spot on, though, we rarely noticed any significant difference to how the scene was captured. Come to think of it, that actually might be a good thing as it never went over the top with the colors or contrast.
One of the few photo situations where the phone let us down was when we shot plates of food indoors (the Mate 20 Pro's AI setup did a better job of it). Also, some of our outdoor landscape shots turned out too contrasty and a bit overexposed too - all for no apparent reason.
We also missed having a quick way to engage the camera's burst mode if there is even one (such as with a long press of the on-screen shutter). But that's nitpicking as the camera's shot-to-shot times were amazingly short and the whole experience of using it felt great.
We took all photos you see below in the default 12MP resolution as this is the mode meant to get you the highest quality shots.
There is a 2x toggle in the viewfinder which provides 2x magnification compared to the normal shooting mode. The focal length is reported as 52mm in the image EXIF tags which seems about right. Of course, the View 20 does this with a single camera so the zoom was not optical but rather a crop of the center of the 48MP camera sensor.
The produced zoomed photos are 12MP in resolution again but upon closer inspection, you can notice they are more grainy and with a higher level of sharpening applied. Still, if you only browse them on the phone's screen, they look as good as the regular photos.
The camera also provides up to 10x digital zoom but you'd have to pinch zoom on the camera viewfinder to control that, while the toggle for the 2x zoom is directly accessible.
Using its AI smarts, the camera would often turn on HDR mode, which restores the clipped highlights successfully. If it fails to pick the mode on its own, you can always force it, though the process requires a few extra taps on the screen - there is no toggle for it visible in the viewfinder. One would suggest that this should mean it's always on, but that's not the case. It just means that Auto HDR is always on.
Below you will find a few comparison photos where the camera missed engaging the HDR mode at first but then engaged it for one of the consequent shots.
Our only gripe with Huawei/Honor's HDR mode implementation is that you can see the entire captured tonal range of the photo only after it has been taken. During the process of shooting, the viewfinder doesn't show the expanded dynamic range as we've seen that on phones by other brands such as Samsung, Google, Apple, OnePlus, and as of lately, LG.
This way you can't really guess whether you have the nicely exposed shot you were hoping for without double checking the photos you just took in the gallery. We really hope that's something the company will work on improving for its future phones.
The Honor View 20 regularly provided us with great looking shots in low light even without engaging any special modes.
The white balance was always spot on, too, even in tough scenarios such as these underwater shots taken at the aquarium at Monaco's Oceanographic Museum.
A year ago when Huawei introduced its Night mode, it seemed like a game changer. The Honor View 20 makes use of the same excellent handheld long exposure photo taking capabilities as Huawei flagships.
Surprisingly though, what we've been witnessing regularly is that the cameras on all these phones can almost match the output of the dedicated Night Mode even when you shoot in the regular Auto mode. All while saving you the hassle of making sure you hold the phone steady for a few seconds.
The only difference compared to the Night mode is that you see the excellent result in the gallery only after the shot has been taken. Sure, it looks much more magical watching the Night mode do its thing right in the viewfinder. And the Night mode is not completely without its benefits - it does provide a slight boost in tonal range recovery - especially in the highlights. But really, it's hardly worth the fuss. Our advice is just to use the regular Auto mode all the times and you'll be good.
Video recording with the Honor View 20 is a joy - much like taking photos. The stabilization in 4K is really good and you can use the 2x zooming during video recording with an acceptable quality penalty.
Other than that, we appreciate the videos for their wide dynamic range, the high level of resolved detail and the nice color reproduction.
Now, you may be thinking - all this talking about the back camera - but what about the front-facing one? Well, for one, we're not really the selfie type and secondly, the image quality of the selfies was not as inspiring as that by the main camera. So after firing a few test shots on a couple of occasions, we completely disregarded this feature over the next couple of days so you'd have to excuse the small number of selfie samples.
Our initial verdict on the selfie camera is that it offers good exposure metering and overall nice colors, but the dynamic range is less than stellar and skin tones, well they are not as flattering as I would like.
At least we can testify that placing the camera inside a punch hole in the screen has not affected it negatively.
As on all other Huawei devices which use the same camera hardware, sharpness hugely depends on how far you've stretched your selfie arm as there is a pretty specific focus sweet spot distance (about half an arm's length). We've tried to showcase that below - if you zoom in, you will see that the closer the face is, the more detail there is. At a full arm's length, it's already out of proper focus.
That's not to say the Honor View 20 selfie cam is bad. It's largely uninspiring, but isn't that true for any selfie camera? No matter how many megapixels they manage to cram in there, image quality still reminds us of what phone camera were like say, 10 years ago.
No camera comparison would be complete without a small showdown. A comparison between two matching devices is always welcome to add context.
For this particular occasion we had the OnePlus 6 handy so we shot all the comparison shots with it. Although it's a year-old model by now, it has an identical camera to the OnePlus 6T, which is a more recent competitor to the Honor View 20 so you can use the OnePlus samples below as a reference for both OnePlus devices.
As a general conclusion for the shots taken in good light - the OnePlus definitely holds its own in exposure metering, white balance, and dynamic range. But for us pixel-peepers, the 12MP photos captured by the 48MP camera of the Honor View 20 have better levels of resolved detail than the ones by the 16MP camera of OnePlus 6T.
Also, due to the HDR image stacking algorithms of OnePlus which are almost always on, many daylight photos taken with this camera have less than stellar sharpness due to imperfect stacking - largely because of camera shake. But camera shake is not something a user should concern themselves with in bright day, so that's definitely an area where this camera might use improvement. Also, the shot-to-shot times by OnePlus 6's camera was slight longer. The Honor View 20 just felt more responsive when you had to take a few shots in rapid succession (an no, we are not referring to burst mode).
In defense of the OnePlus camera chops, we'd have to say that it always delivered a stellar dynamic range and best of all, the HDR tonal range was visible in the viewfinder before the photo was taken making for a much nice user experience. That's something which the Honor View 20 can't match. Also, the photos taken by OnePlus frequently looked nicer on its AMOLED display - as we've said before - perhaps the LCD screen on the Honor View doesn't do its camera justice.
Regarding low-light photos, the Honor View 20 clearly has the upper hand by delivering cleaner and more detailed photos. However, there were a few occasions where the OnePlus 6 delivered nicer colors. And also, if you are not the type of person to examine photos at pixel level, the photos by these two may look quite identical in tonal range so you would be happy with either one.
Overall, we're quite happy with the Honor View 20's main camera and its image quality. We enjoyed using it as our go-to cameraphone day in and day out and didn't encounter any bugs. And the photos we got in the end, are certainly Insta-worthy.
Our personal preference, however, still goes to phone cameras which are capable of showing the entire tonal range in the viewfinder before or while the photo was taken. Some of those (think OnePlus) don't have the awesome low-light performance of the Honor View 20, but others do (Samsung, Apple, and Google) so Honor would not have it easy in terms of competition.
It's a good thing that the camera game of the top phone makers has reached a stage of technological maturity in the past couple of years, making camera performance less of a deciding factor in your purchasing decisions (with a few niche use cases being the exception). The high-end smartphones now all take great photos, so you are finally able to make your decisions based on other factors without so much of a... well, focusing... on the camera.
I want to see the camera of this Honor being compared to Nokia Lumia 1020 (or possibly Nokia 808 PureView). So far, not even the Mate 20 Pro can leave the Lumia 1020 in dust.
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