The Huawei Nova 3 has a dual camera system on the front as well as on the back. On the back we have a 16MP f1.8 primary camera with 24MP f1.8 monochrome secondary camera. On the front is a 24MP f2.0 primary camera and 2MP depth sensor. If that sounds familiar, that's because it is the exact same camera system as on the Honor 10, save for the addition of the depth sensor on the front.
Before we get to the image quality, let's talk about the camera app. The stock camera app has its ups and down but is quite functional overall.
The app has multiple camera modes, with the main ones being spread across the bottom and a swipe away, similar to the iOS camera app. We have the main options like photo mode, video mode, portrait mode, but also options for aperture mode and the new AR lens feature, which we'll get to in a minute.
Lastly, there is a more option in the end which hides all the remaining options, some of which include the far more useful HDR mode, Pro mode and the monochrome mode that lets you shoot exclusively with the 24MP monochrome sensor. There's also panorama mode here, slow motion video, time lapse and more. You can download some more modes if you like or remove them.
The problem here is that all the useful stuff is hidden inside the more button, which requires at least a swipe and a tap to access. Meanwhile, things like Aperture mode and AR lens get prime spot, despite their dubious usefulness. Also, we are not sure why HDR is a mode and not just a setting at the top of the screen alongside the flash and other toggles.
The AI mode button sits at the top and is on by default, but you can disable it, fortunately.
Coming back to the AR lenses, these are iOS Memoji style lenses that use your facial data from the fancy new IR sensor on the front to move the 3D AR objects on screen in real time. It can detect the shape of your mouth, your eyes, eyebrow positioning and even cheeks. This gives a fair amount of likeness as it tries to mimic back all your movements.
We wouldn't really call it fun unless you're really into this sort of thing. Besides, it's not as sophisticated or well animated as Apple's much superior equivalent nor can they match Apple's character choices and design superiority, so they just come across as cheap knock-offs. For this to have its own shortcut on the mode dial and not something like the Pro mode is a really shortsighted decision on Huawei's part.
The Pro mode itself needs some work. While you get all the adjustments ranging from metering options, ISO, shutter speed, exposure compensation, focusing and white balance, the design of the UI isn't very easy to see at times and the small and fiddly dials don't feel precise to use.
In terms of image quality, we are looking at a typical Huawei camera, which means loads of over processed images. The AI mode is on by default, which is the first problem. The intelligence in this AI basically comes from over saturating colors at every opportunity it gets. It is supposed to detect the scene, which it does in some cases and does not in others, but when it does its only real solution is to oversaturate the colors almost to the breaking point and further sharpen the images. Occasionally, it will also do some dynamic range adjustments but that's really all about it.
We wish we could say that it works and you can just leave it on and expect great results but that's just not true. Even if you like punchy colors, the images here are just borderline garish with really poor taste in terms of color saturation and other adjustments. Turning it off is the best thing you can do to your images.
With the AI mode turned off, we get much more predictable results. There is still some excessive sharpening going on but it's not overbearing. There is good amount of detail in the images, the white balance is a bit on the cooler side but close enough and the colors and contrast generally look good. At first glance, the images actually look pretty good and are definitely good enough to share.
While the dynamic range in standard mode is generally quite good, the HDR mode does help boost the shadows in some cases. The HDR mode images look natural without looking overly tone-mapped. However, it does apply shadow corrections to specific parts of the image, which can be seen sometimes in the form of a glowing halo around the darker objects when they overlap more brighter objects.
Taking a look at the RAW files, we noticed some good sharpness and detail but unfortunately the dynamic range is really poor, the noise is too high even at lowest value (50) and there is very obvious vignetting. Still, in good lighting conditions and some patience, you can get better results out of the RAW files than with the JPEGs.
One aspect of the camera we quite like is the monochrome mode. This uses the separate 24MP sensor, which lacks a typical Bayer filter for colors. This means it can capture more light in the same conditions. The images out of this camera are almost always way better than from the main 16MP sensor. There is very little noise, typical for a monochrome camera and the dynamic range is also a bit better.
But what we love is that for some reason, Huawei chooses not to mess with the output of this camera, so there is no over sharpening or overbearing noise reduction, giving the images a smooth, sharp and detailed look that really looks remarkably good. It's a shame that you can't use this camera in every situation because it really is the best camera out of the four.
The video recording performance is a mixed bag. While the quality of the video itself is good, especially in 4K (dynamic range is weak, however) the complete lack of any stabilization makes the videos very shaky, even when the phone is held stationary while standing still. It was something we noticed on the Honor 10 as well and it's a shame Huawei hasn't implemented some sort of software-based stabilization yet.