Both Mate 20 phones pack triple-camera setups with dual-LED flash on their backs. Those four things are packed together into a square that should go down in history as the signature design feature of this Huawei Mate generation.
The setup waves goodbye to the monochrome and we won't miss it much. It was very helpful for boosting low-light performance before chipsets could do multi-frame image stacking for noise reduction, but now all it provides are slightly better artsy black and white shots and we can agree Huawei did the right thing by putting a wideangle camera instead. The setup is Leica-branded, coming with the exclusive color filters if those happen to be your thing.
Even though the Huawei Mate 20 packs a triple camera setup similar to the Mate 20 Pro (wide, regular, telephoto), none of the cameras used match. The Mate 20 has a primary 12MP 1/2.3" shooter with 27mm f/1.8 lens and an 8MP snapper with 54mm f/2.4 lens for telephoto purposes. The final camera is a 16MP one with ultra-wide angle 17mm f/2.2 lens. All of them lack optical stabilization.
As an added bonus to the ultra-wide-angle camera, Huawei says everyone will be able to shoot some impressive macro shots with it as the phone can focus from as close as 2.5cm.
Huawei Mate 20 offers only 2x optical zoom - there is no hybrid zoom nor 80mm 3x lens as was the case on the Pro. You will find 2x option in its camera app, while the wide-angle camera is called 0.6x.
The camera app is enhanced by Huawei's AI just as before. There is Master AI 2.0, which can now recognize and tune settings for up to 1,500 different scenes. Huawei has made it less aggressive on the trees and skies, after the negative feedback it received for the P20 Pro where the Greenery and Blue Sky modes were over the top. We are happy with the presets used on the Mate 20 but if you'd like to keep the Master AI turned off, the switch for that is in the Camera app's Settings page.
The camera app itself hasn't changed much since the P20 series. First off, you have a mode selector on the bottom. You swipe left or right to change modes, but you can't swipe on the viewfinder, just on the selector itself. Swiping up and down doesn't switch between front and rear camera either, you have a button for that (admittedly, it's at the bottom within easy reach). Basically, you're still wasting the viewfinder by not having gestures enabled on it, except for pinch to zoom.
As for switching between cameras, a tap on the '1x' button in the viewfinder toggles consecutively the '2x' (54mm), and the '0.6x' (17mm) cameras.
There's a Pro mode here where you can adjust parameters yourself - ISO (50 to 3,200), shutter speed (1/4000s to 30s), exposure compensation (-4 to +4EV in 1/3 stop increments), and white balance (presets and specific temperature). You can also choose the metering mode (matrix, center-weighted and spot), and the focus mode (single, continuous and manual). If the phone thinks you messed up the exposure, an icon will pop up to warn you.
The monochrome mode is still available in spite of the Mate 20 not having a dedicated B&W camera. It's in the 'More' section, where the extra modes are: Monochrome, Panorama, and HDR, among others. And while we're at it, what's with the manual HDR mode when everyone else has some sort of Auto HDR already enabled?
Since bokeh effects became all the rage, Huawei phones have had both a Portrait mode, and an Aperture mode. There's now more differentiation than ever between the two. In Aperture you can choose the simulated aperture in the range from f/0.95 to f/16. Post shot, you can change the aperture and the focus point within the Gallery.
In Portrait mode you can enable and disable the background blur (why disable it if you've chosen the mode in the first place, though), but you can also choose the bokeh shapes - circles, hearts, swirl or discs - which can produce some really cool effects! You can also opt for simulated lighting, and you can even add some beautification on a scale from 0 to 10.
The Mate 20 records video up to 4K resolution at 30fps - there's still no 4K/60fps mode, though. You can, however, choose between h.264 and h.265.
There's super slow-mo recording as well, in what's become the industry-standard 720p/960fps, as well as 'regular' slow-mo in 720p/240 and 1080p/120fps. While the regular slow-mo clips are only limited in length by your free storage, the super slow-mo clips last precisely 10s - 6s of slow-mo and two seconds of regular speed action on both ends.
Huawei is offering the so-called HiVision smart assistant as part of the camera app. It's basically an alternative to Smart Lens, automatically recognizing landmarks, art, and food. Some of the smart functions include text translation and calories count.
While the 0.6x mode isn't the default one when you start the camera, we figured it's the right place to start with the examining of the Mate 20's image quality.
There is plenty of resolved detail in the photos we took with the ultra-wide-angle camera. The color rendition is excellent, true to life, the noise levels are very low, and the dynamic range is often superb, probably due to the multi-stacking magic.
There is corner softness, but it is much less evident than on what we observed on the Mate 20 Pro pictures. The chromatic aberrations, which are expected with such a wide lens, are also rarer on the Mate 20 images than on the Pro's.
The ultra-wide-angle cam can also do for macro shots. These are quite good in quality and will do for the occasional shooting of flower petals, bugs, and other tiny peculiar things. Yes, chromatic aberration is noticeable here and there, but it's not too bad.
Moving on to the regular photos. Those come from the 12MP sensor with the bright f/1.8 lens. There is one easy rule with the Mate 20 - if the ultra-wide-angle camera didn't take it, then it's a 12MP photo. That's right; even the 8MP telephoto camera spits out 12MP images.
Anyway, the regular camera photos in good light are great. There is plenty of detail, impressive dynamic range, lively and accurate colors, superb contrast, and, overall, very mature processing rendition. The foliage presentation sometimes has the painfully familiar oil-painting look, but we guess this is the price to pay for the frame stacking. It's not always that bad, not at all, but some of the greenery could have looked better.
So, the 12MP regular viewing angle photos are great looking and we are confident most users will be happy with them.
The 54mm tele camera is only 8MP, but the photos we get out it are 12MP, so we suspect the 12MP one lends a hand through some image stacking because when there's enough light the per-pixel detail is close to what the main camera produces. The upscaling artifacts are there, but they are really hard to spot. The color, contrast, and dynamic range are good, although the noise levels are a bit higher.
Remember the overly aggressive Master AI on the Huawei P20? Good news, folks, version 2.0 has been reworked, and we no longer get over-the-top Greenery and Blue Skies photos. If the phone recognizes a Blue Sky or Greenery scene, the algorithm applies only a minor contrast boost and very slight extra saturation of the blues or greens. But nothing over the top as on the P20.
Now, it's time to move to those low-light scenes. For the sake of consistency, we started from the wide-angle camera once more.
The 16MP camera has f/2.2 aperture and isn't optically stabilized. The image quality turned out abysmal - the resolved detail is very low, the noise levels are extremely high, and you can barely see what's on them. Unlike the Mate 20 Pro, the Mate 20 ultra-wide-angle camera isn't fitted for low-light shots.
Luckily, this is where the Night mode comes in. It will produce quite usable wide-angle pictures, even if it has its limitations. It creates pseudo long exposures by stacking multiple frames gathering light along the way. We're talking three-, sometimes five-second-long hand-held exposures which would otherwise result in a blurry mess. Those are not always keepers and you still need to have a reasonably steady hand, but you'll be getting usable photos in situations you'd otherwise get none. The phone also does a remarkable job of retaining color where others would lose saturation.
The 12MP low-light photos we took with the main camera are very good. It has bright f/1.8 aperture and even though it lacks optical stabilization, the shutter speed won't go lower than 1/25s, so blurred images are highly unlikely.
And the pictures are great - plenty of detail, nice exposure, excellent contrast, and some very nice-looking colors. If Master AI is enabled, it will rarely use the Night Mode when using the regular camera. The noise is well managed, although the Mate 20 Pro still has an edge there.
The Night Mode produces brighter images and pops more detail in both shadows and highlights. Moving subject will get blurred, but other than that - those turned out to be some impressive photos.
Finally, Huawei Mate 20 won't use its telephoto camera at night, just like many other flagships do. Instead, it will crop and digitally zoom from the regular 12MP camera and the quality is, understandably, very poor.
We also experienced this stunning sunset, while working on the review so we decided to take a shot with each camera. Enjoy!
And here you can see how the Mate 20 cameras compare against other snappers in our extensive pixel-peeking database.