Another day, another camera comparison proves to us that high-end modern smartphones take great pictures. And on top of that, the shootout makes it painfully obvious that finding a way to stand out from the rest is getting ever more difficult.
We thought (and Huawei did too) that a 3x zoom on the P20 Pro will do the trick. And for the most part it does make a difference, but it's not the gamechanger we initially pegged it to be. You see, it turns out that phones with a 2x camera, like the Galaxy S9+ for example, can take half-decent 3x photos too, they just don't have the '3x' button in immediate reach.
And before you assume we're saying the P20 Pro is a bad phone - we are not. And it isn't, we think we've managed to carry that across already. The 2 fewer MP it has, compared to the S9+, don't really mean much. It takes great photos in pretty much all conditions, and its multiple camera setup brings versatility no other existing phone can quite match. If for no other reason, then just because of the monochrome cam.
We're particularly fond of its Night mode that brings out detail from shadows lost to human eyes and is capable of creating lively colorful images from scenes others will render dark and dull. And its plain Photo mode night photos are plenty awesome too.
One positive side effect of the P20 Pro's 3x camera is portraits at... appropriate distances. 80-ish millimeter equivalent focal length is just about right for head-and-shoulders shots and having it natively on the P20 Pro comes with an inherent advantage of some actual background blur before we get to the synthetic stuff. Both phones do a reasonably good job with subject separation, but the Galaxy's portraits do end up sharper.
But the P20 Pro fails to impress in video, and does so in multiple areas. No stabilization in 4K video means jerky handheld clips bordering on unusable, while the (admittedly very smooth) EIS in 1080p leaves vids softer than your average FullHD. And for all its zoom creds, the P20 Pro can't get anywhere near to the Galaxy's video quality at 2x and 3x magnification.
We've known this all along, but more is not necessarily better when it comes to megapixel count and another example comes when comparing selfies. The P20 Pro's 24MP front-facing cam is capable of resolving tons of detail, but its fixed focus means we need to stick our faces in the phone to get all those wrinkles in sharp focus. Arm's length doesn't work.
In the end, both these phones will satisfy your cravings for high-quality photos, and each will do something slightly better than the other. Well, alright, the Galaxy is the obvious choice for video and selfies, while Huawei needs a little more work on the former and, the way we see it, a conceptual redesign of the latter (lower pixel count, autofocus). We've given you the samples, check them against your priorities and take your pick.