Comparison of the quality of photos taken on phones with different sensor configurations

Currently, almost every month some kind of smartphone comes out in which the next vendor necessarily makes “revolutionary” changes, starting from the appearance (material, color, shapes, dimensions) and ending with the filling (processor, display, cameras, various interfaces) . It so happened that I am a supporter of all-in-one devices if the application scenario of the equipment is not related to professional activity or does not severely limit the functionality that interests me.

One of the main characteristics in a smartphone for me is the camera. In fact, I didn’t really see anything new on the market after the Nokia Lumia 1020 appeared. Nobody could reach the level of 1020, which has a 1 / 1.5-inch matrix with a resolution of 41MP (perhaps in a number of scenarios, they cannot reach now). From year to year, all vendors produced similar devices, just slowly increasing the number of megapixels, while the physical size of the sensor remained, as a rule, unchanged, which in turn, in addition to increasing the level of detail (which, by the way, was not always high), brought a lot of minuses, for example , minimum lighting requirements, a lot of noise, distortion, etc. Since every year, processors in mobile devices are becoming more productive, smartphones are surrounded by various "intelligent" functions. Perhaps best of all, Google was noted here with its series of Google Pixel phones. The company introduced its HDR mode and is constantly improving it.

However, the situation began to change literally in the last year or two. When manufacturers came to the conclusion that one of the effective ways to improve image quality is to increase the number of sensors. One of the distinguished phones in this segment is the Huawei P20 Pro, which I am the owner of. I will not describe its features and characteristics, as it is easy to find all the available information on the network. It is worth noting that the amount of information is not so much, but even too much. For me, the difference in the photo is obvious, since I “switched” to the Huawei P20 Pro with the Sony Z3 Dual, which I purchased in 2015.

At the same time, I always wanted to somehow more fully and independently compare devices with one and several cameras within 1-2 generations. And such an opportunity turned up for me. I have one friend who is actually a fan of Sony, and who frankly does not like Chinese equipment manufacturers.

It was agreed to compare two devices - Huawei P20 Pro and Sony XZ2 in the following modes (maximum two photos in one mode):

1a) Camera test on auto settings, without any manipulation.
1b) Test the camera with any manual settings.
1c) Test the camera in maximum resolution in RAW mode with any subsequent manipulations, including in a third-party application.

2) Test the camera in burst mode when the object is moving (after searching for moving objects, we stopped on cars that ride on the road).

3a) HDR mode in the presence of dark and bright areas in the picture.
3b) HDR mode in poor lighting conditions.

4) night mode, if any.

5) macro photography.

6) zooming 3x, 5x, 10x.

7) bokeh mode.

8) Test the camera on the auto settings when walking *.

It is worth noting that the mode was actually remembered after the tests. I made only one frame from the available two without focusing, I got a blur.
After thinking about the scenario, I came to the conclusion that when driving, one way or another, a person will use "serial shooting" (which was tested) to eliminate the risk of getting a "bad shot", in the end I decided that there was no point in continuing such a test.

After the start of testing, the idea arose in parallel to check the quality of the AI, which, in my opinion, often spoils the picture rather than improves.

Test devices:
Huawei P20 Pro (CLT-L29), f / w: (C10E2R1P12)
Photo of the main camera

Sony XZ2 (H8266), f / w: 52.0.A.8.25_0_0
Photo of the main camera

Test the camera on AUTO settings, without any manipulation

Huawei P20 Pro is 10MP, while Sony - 12MP.

Huawei, 10MP Auto, without AI, ISO 50, 1/861 sec.

Huawei, 10MP Auto, with AI, ISO 50, 1/928 sec

Sony, 12MP Auto, ISO 40, 1/800 sec

Comparison 1, left Huawei, right Sony

Comparison 2, left Huawei, right Sony

The photos were very similar, the difference is difficult to see even with the approximation. At the same time, it can be seen with approximation that Sony has a bit more detail. It affects the higher resolution of the photo taken. An interesting detail is that the Huawei P20 Pro slightly “greenens” the picture, apparently this is the effect of having a filter with an RGGB circuit. In turn, Sony’s shades are usually “warmer”, and the same trees in the photo look more “autumn-like”.

When AI is activated in the P20 Pro, the colors in the photo turn out to be very juicy, but much less natural. I note that AI on the latest firmware has become much less aggressive, and in some scenarios it can even be used.

Camera test with any manual settings

In this scenario, I used the “Pro” mode, choosing a resolution of 40MP. I did not do other manipulations, parameters ISO, shutter speed, EV, etc. were on AUTO.
The owner of the Sony XZ2 device also chose max. resolution and lowered EV, judging by the properties of the image.

Huawei's 40MP mode is, in my opinion, the device's most controversial mode. On the one hand, a higher resolution should give higher detail on the output and in addition there is the opportunity to get a picture in RAW. And on the other hand, the regime has significant limitations and shortcomings.

  1. Perhaps the most important minus is physical limitations. The 40MP sensor is limited by a relatively simple lens, which in turn eliminates the advantage of high-resolution images, while adding chromatic aberration. Although, again, the latest firmware shows very good progress in eliminating the distortion problem.
  2. Higher requirements for the presence of light sources (which is logical), and as a result a large number of noise, with its lack.
  3. Strong compression in the 40 megapixel mode, which actually makes this mode pointless in a number of scenarios. On the latest firmware, the situation was significantly improved, which pleases, however, sometimes 40 MP photos are compressed to 7-8 MB in JPEG. It remains a mystery to me why the manufacturer did not add adjustment of the compression ratio.
  4. Inability to fully utilize RHDR technology. Sometimes “gluing” is nevertheless activated with large differences in light and shadows (in AUTO mode), but the result is inferior to how it is implemented in 10 MP mode.

Since habrastorage has photo size restrictions, I posted links to photos on my Google drive.

Comparison 1, left Huawei, right Sony

When creating the photo, the owner of the Sony Xperia XZ2 apparently decided to get a “light picture” and more natural shades to focus on the dark area, and compensate for the light with the “-0.33 EV” correction. The photo turned out to be really more natural, but a clear light is visible.

Comparison 2, left Huawei, right Sony

Comparison 3, left Huawei, right Sony

Comparison 3, left Huawei, right Sony

Despite the darker picture, the details of Huawei are slightly higher, various inscriptions are visible more clearly. However, with more than 2 times the difference in photo resolution, the differences in detail are not large. The design features of the lens and strong compression significantly reduce the camera potential of Huawei.

As in the previous mode, when AI is activated in P20Pro, the colors in the photo turn out to be very juicy, but less natural.

Test the camera at maximum resolution in RAW and compression through Adobe Lightroom CC

Due to the limitations in the 40MP mode of the P20 Pro, there would be no sense in using this mode if it were not for the opportunity to get photos in RAW format. The main advantage of which is that the picture is very easy to edit with third-party applications. One respected user under the nickname AS4U on the forum created very high-quality profiles for the Huawei P20 Pro, which can be used in Adobe Lightroom CC. Despite the small number of profiles, they cover the main shooting scenarios.

I used the “AS4U P20 Pro 25 OneClick” profile in Adobe Lightroom CC, raised a bit of detail, sharpen, contrast, slightly shifted the tint and significantly increased clarity. It took me less than one minute to edit. Then I did the compression in JPEG with the highest quality.

I am sure that if you experiment with quality, it is possible to achieve better results.

Comparison 1, on the left, Huawei compression through the native application, on the right, Huawei compression and add. processing through Adobe LightRoom

Colors after RAW processing through Adobe LightRoom are less vibrant, but significantly more natural.

Comparison 2, on the left, Huawei compression through the native application, on the right, Huawei compression and add. processing through Adobe LightRoom

Detailing is also slightly higher when compressed through Adobe LightRoom.

Test the camera in burst mode when moving an object

Burst shooting is a very effective tool for taking photos in those conditions where the likelihood of "blur". For example, when the object that the device is focused on is moving, or when the person with the device moves to hold the object in the frame, or a combined scenario.

In this case, smartphones detected cars and accompanied them so that the vehicles were always in the frame.

Huawei, 10MP Auto, Burst, without AI, ISO 100, 1/900 sec.

Huawei, 10MP Auto, Burst, without AI, ISO 100, 1/900 sec.

Sony, 12MP, Burst, ISO 40, 1/400 sec

In this case, the “soap picture” of Sony is visible even without an increase. It is worth noting that perhaps this is just not a very successful sample from the owner of the Sony XZ2, they chose it rather quickly. But in my opinion, Huawei has a significant advantage due to the large 1 / 1.73 "matrix and 2x2 binning mode. As a result of these features, the shutter speed was 1/900 sec. Vs. 1/400 sec., Which significantly reduces the likelihood of getting “Grease.”

With an increase, the difference is already obvious.

Comparison 1, left Huawei, right Sony

Comparison 2, left Huawei, right Sony

The owner of the Sony XZ2 insists that blurring is an “artistic effect," but I believe that blurring is primarily due to the physical limitations of Sony's smartphone. In the end, I decided to add a comparison of the same car, which was "tracked" when shooting.

HDR mode in the presence of dark and bright areas in the picture + night mode

Perhaps one of the most relevant modes for me. Very often I come across a situation that there are some sources of light on the stage (the sun, a lamp, a reflection from the object, etc.) or different areas have a big difference in lighting (the scene is in the room opposite the window during the day). Of course, I would like to compare Huawei with Google Pixel. But I and my friends, unfortunately, do not have such a device.

Features of the HDR modes of the Huawei P20 Pro
I note that the P20 Pro actually has three HDR modes:

  1. HDR as an optional extra. In my opinion, the most unnecessary mode, which seems to work at the software level. In a number of scenarios, there is no sense in him.
  2. RHDR, works only in automatic mode. Significantly more effective for compensating dark / bright areas compared to the previous one. I believe that in this mode, the device makes gluing of 2 frames with different shutter speeds. The downside is that it does not always work, so sometimes you have to change the EV to "force the inclusion" of RHDR. Most often, I use this particular HDR mode.
  3. The “Night” mode is perhaps one of the main advantages of the latest Huawei devices. With this option it is possible to get an acceptable picture in the absence of any light sources. The downside is that the process of obtaining gluing from several frames takes 5 seconds, which essentially eliminates the possibility of shooting moving objects. For example, I will also post photos in this mode.

There is another feature that in RHDR and Night modes, the device creates a picture with saturated colors and overshadows at the border of objects. But this feature is characteristic of many smartphones that I have seen.

Huawei, 10MP Auto / RHDR

Sony, 19MP

Huawei, 10MP Night

This is the case when the difference can be easily seen with the naked eye.

Comparison 1, left Huawei, right Sony

In this case, Sony has a clear glare and a less high-quality study of the shadows.

Comparison 2, left Huawei, right Sony

It is easy to see the difference in the correct display of colors, as well as the clouds are clearly visible.

Even after watching the tests with HDR in DxOMark, I immediately saw poor working out of HDR. I thought it was false information, or just a bad photo. But when I saw the results with my own eyes, I was convinced that the dynamic range is a weakness in Sony smartphones.

HDR mode in low light mode + night mode

In this mode, a comparison was made between the Huawei P20 Pro (RHDR and Night) and the Sony XZ2 virtually at night.

Huawei, 10MP Auto

Sony, 19MP
Due to limitations, 5000px posted a photo on Google

The difference can also be seen very clearly.

Comparison 1, left Huawei, right Sony

Comparison 2, left Huawei, right Sony

Comparison 3, left Huawei, right Sony

The “Night” mode of the P20 Pro allows you to see what is inside the trams.

Huawei, 10MP Night

Sony 12MP

Comparison 4, left Huawei, right Sony

Macro shot

Unfortunately, it was difficult to find something sensible for macro photography, as a result, we decided to take pictures on leaves, on a tree branch.
I decided to apply the “Aperture” (for experiment) and “Auto” modes with AI turned on at 10MP.

Huawei, 10MP, Aperture 0.95, ISO 400, 1/900 sec

After playing with the aperture after creating the photo, I realized that for shooting objects close up, it is actually useless. Even if you set the option to 0.95, the blur will be stronger than regular Auto.

Huawei, 10MP Auto, with AI, ISO 400, 1/900 sec

Perhaps this is the rare case when AI really made the picture more “interesting”, albeit less realistic.

Comparison, left Huawei, right Sony

In this photo, Sony’s picture turned out to be more realistic and a little more detailed (primarily due to higher resolution).

I decided not to take photos in 40MP mode in this scenario, relying on a wide dynamic range of 10MP and it turned out the way it turned out. I note that on Huawei it is also convenient to make macro using 3x optical zoom, the picture is very detailed. I used it repeatedly for work, for example, to get markings of small parts on the board. But for the scenario of shooting a leaf on a tree, this mode is not suitable enough.

Zoom: 3x, 5x, 10x in the daytime

Perhaps, almost all modern smartphones have at least 2 sensors on the back. One of them most often is a telephoto lens with an increased focal length, making it possible to obtain better images of objects at a remote distance.

The Huawei P20 Pro has 3 sensors: Main 40MP, 8MP telephoto lens with 3x optical zoom, b / w 20MP.

Sony XZ2 has only one 19MP sensor, which greatly limits the capabilities of the device.

Huawei, 10MP, 3x optical zoom, ISO 40, 1/1131 sec

Huawei, 10MP, hybrid mode, 5x magnification, ISO 50, 1/902 sec

Sony, 12MP, 5x digital zoom, ISO 40, 1/800 sec

Comparison 1, left Huawei, right Sony

Huawei, 10MP, hybrid mode, 10x magnification, ISO 50, 1/803 sec

Sony, 12MP, 8x digital zoom (maximum), ISO 40, 1/250 sec

Comparison 1, left Huawei, right Sony

In the pictures above, you can clearly see the difference between Sony and Huawei.

Interesting observation related to a telephoto lens
Many people will probably think why they need a telephoto lens with a fairly low resolution of 8MP, which is 5 times less than the main one! The physical dimensions of the matrix in the telephoto lens are also very modest - 1 / 4.4 "versus 1 / 1.73" in the main one. If the phones would have lenses, like full-fledged cameras, then perhaps there would be no difference in similar conditions between the digital and optical magnification 3. But in all scenarios, the telephoto lens was better than the crop from a 40MP picture with 3x digital zoom.

Bokeh mode

In my opinion, this is one of the most controversial modes in any smartphone.

Huawei, 10MP Bokeh, ISO 50, 1/500 sec

Sony, 8MP Bokeh, ISO 40, 1/476 sec
When you publish an image to habrastorage, the photo is displayed rotated.

Comparison, left Huawei, right Sony

In the photo, Sony noticeably more “sharpe” and more “warm”, less natural shade.

Huawei, 10MP Bokeh, ISO 50, 1/253 sec

Sony, 8MP Bokeh, ISO 40, 1/175 sec
When you publish an image to habrastorage, the photo is displayed rotated.

Comparison, left Huawei, right Sony

I decided to conduct a small experiment, did not begin to remove the settings for "beautification" and disable AI on Huawei. In my opinion, the result was very good!
The photo taken on Sony in this case is more natural, while the software did not quite “blur” the background. Apparently, the presence of only one sensor affects.

Brief conclusions:

  1. Modern smartphones with high-resolution sensors do not get a significant advantage in terms of detail, primarily because of the physical limitations and dimensions of the phone itself.
  2. Pixel binning technology shows very good results in low light conditions and generally improves the wide dynamic range of the picture.
  3. The presence of a telephoto lens in modern smartphones can significantly increase the quality of photos in those scenarios where there is a need to use zooming.
  4. The presence of add. sensor (in this case B / W) allows you to get better effects blur the background. If you close the B / W sensor with something, then a number of effects will be physically inaccessible.

Personal observations:

  1. Наличие Ч/Б сенсора позволяет ощутимо снизить шумы и немного увеличить широкий динамический диапазон. Недавно воспользовался возможностью сравнить фото, которые были получены с помощью Huawei P20 Pro и Huawei Mate 20 Pro. Конфигурация сенсоров идентична кроме Ч/Б сенсора, который был заменён у Mate 20 Pro с целью получения широкоугольного обзора. На мой взгляд, замена Ч/Б сенсора — решение весьма спорное.
  2. В который раз убеждаюсь в том, что по возможности лучше всегда фотографировать в RAW формате с последующей обработкой и пересжатием в Adobe. К тому же через Adobe легче компенсировать промахи софта с избытком зелёного оттенка от применения фильтра Байера RGGB.
  3. Despite the progress in improving the work of AI at Huawei, in most cases the picture is quite “poisonous” in color. The good news is that the function can be disabled, unlike the same Sony.

UPG: corrected a few grammatical errors and added a photo with the car during serial shooting, where it is possible to compare the same parts of the tracked moving object. Also added a photo of the devices themselves upon request.

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