In smartphone zoom race, it's image bending without breaking

ABS-CBN News

Posted at Jun 25 2020 11:36 AM

MANILA -- The specs war for Android kings has shifted to camera zoom after trying to outdo each other with computational photography. 

Huawei's P40 Pro+ combines artificial intelligence with its twin zoom lenses that max out at 10x optical zoom to deliver a hybrid 100x. The challenge is how much AI can bend the hardware without breaking image quality.

Samsung was first to market with 100x "space zoom" on the Galaxy S20 Ultra as it sought to outdo the excellent 50x zoom on 2019's P30 Pro.

Huawei stuck with its timeline and unveiled the P40 Pro+ in the middle of 2020. How does the new penta camera array fare? We spent 2 weeks with a review unit and here are some sample shots.

IT GOES REALLY FAR

Perched on a rooftop, we shot photos of Miss Universe 2015 Pia Wurtzbach (coincidentally, a P Series influencer) on EDSA.

Without zoom, you wouldn't know Queen P was on the billboard unless you are familiar with the area. Zoom 10 times and it's clearly Pia. Zoom 100 times to see the smouldering gaze that elicited a fangirl tweet from "smize" creator Tyra Banks.

A billboard of Miss Universe 2015 Pia Wurtzbach is shown in this photo taken using the Huawei P40 Pro+. ABS-CBN News
A billboard of Miss Universe 2015 Pia Wurtzbach is shown in this photo taken using 10x zoom on the Huawei P40 Pro+. ABS-CBN News
A billboard of Miss Universe 2015 Pia Wurtzbach is shown in this photo taken using 100x zoom on the Huawei P40 Pro+. ABS-CBN News

IT CAN GET BLURRY

The 100x zoom is powerful and fancy but images can get blurry. The P40 Pro+ captured the chairs and the ferry station signage on the Pasig River, but it will look out of place in a carefully curated Instagram feed.

Try the 50x zoom and images are much better, like the shot of barges at dawn. The P40 Pro+ captured the soft waves on the water, the uneven paint on the watercraft and the man in a yellow shirt on the pier.

A river ferry station is seen from the top of a building in this photo taken using the Huawei P40 Pro+. ABS-CBN News
A river ferry station is seen from the top of a building in this photo taken using 100X zoom on the Huawei P40 Pro+. ABS-CBN News
A barge on the Pasig River is seen in this photo taken using the Huawei P40 Pro+. ABS-CBN News
A barge on the Pasig River is seen in this photo taken using 50X zoom on the Huawei P40 Pro+. ABS-CBN News

THE SWEET SPOT IS 10X

As in relationships, bending too far risks breakage. For the P40 Pro+ the happiest compromise is 10X, the maximum optical capacity of the Leica lens array.

The shot of buildings at sunrise captured much detail of rooftop construction sites as well as the outline of mountains and the Laguna Bay.

The sunset shot captured the amber hue of the sky while preserving details of the houses below.

Without zoom, the scene is just empty restaurant tables. Zoom 10 times and the neon signage is whole new image. It's a new perspective with just one tap on the screen.

Mountains are seen in the foreground of BGC skyscrapers in this photo taken using 10X zoom on the Huawei P40 Pro+. ABS-CBN News
The sun sets with buildings in this foreground in this photo taken using 10x zoom on the Huawei P40 Pro+. ABS-CBN News
Tables and chairs are shown in a pancake restaurant are shown in this photo taken using the Huawei P40 Pro+. ABS-CBN News
A neon light display in a pancake restaurant is shown in this photo taken using 10x zoom on the Huawei P40 Pro+. ABS-CBN News

WHAT ABOUT THE ULTRA?

We had a commercial Samsung Galaxy S20 Ultra unit for a few weeks as well and tested it against the P40 Pro+. Like the Huawei flagship, the sweet spot is 10x zoom and the 100 "space zoom" also gets blurry.

Both Huawei and Samsung offer users a viewfinder within the viewfinder when using 100x mode to guide users as to where their camera is pointed at.

Makati buildings at dusk are shown in this shot using 10x zoom on the Samsung Galaxy S20 Ultra. ABS-CBN News
The moon is shown in this photo using 100x zoom on the Samsung Galaxy S20 Ultra. ABS-CBN News

IT TAKES FOOD, NIGHT SHOTS TOO

Take out the monstrous zoom, the P40 Pro+ is right up there with the iPhone 11 Pro Max, S20 Ultra and Pixel 4XL when it comes to food and night shots. And for those who prefer rich, Instagram-ready colors, it could be the best choice.

Colors pop in shots of lockdown food, even if the subject is a plain pancake. Leftover pizza and beer looked better than it tasted.

At night, the P40 Pro+ captured varying shades of yellow and orange glows on the streets and faint cloud formations in the sky.

The rear module has a 50 megapixel wide angle camera with OIS and f/1.9 aperture, a 40 megapixel ultra-wide with f/1.8, an 8 megapixel 10x optical zoom with f/4.4 and OIS, and 8 megapixel 3x optical zoom with f/2.4 and a 3D depth-sensing camera.

A plate of pizza and noodles and a can of beer are shown in this photo taken using the Huawei P40 Pro+. ABS-CBN News
A plate of pancakes is shown in this photo taken using the Huawei P40 Pro+. ABS-CBN News
The Makati cityscape at night is shown in this photo taken using the Huawei P40 Pro+. ABS-CBN News
The Makati cityscape at night is shown in this photo taken using the Huawei P40 Pro+. ABS-CBN News