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Features Smartphones

Huawei P9 Camera Review: The Leica Powered Dual Lens is Magical

Huawei P9 has been one of my favourite Camera Smartphones I have tried this year. With dual lenses, the P9 does a lot more than the competition. This is the second phone after LG G5 to come with a dual lens setup this year. While on the G5, the secondary module is a wide-angle lens, Huawei’s approach is slightly different. The P9 has been co-engineered with Leica, to bring out great details and tones on photographs. Let us look through the Huawei P9 Camera Review, its Features and how you can snap great pictures with this device.

If you have already bought one or thinking about buying one, this would be useful. While the camera is the most interesting feature on this phone, the oct-core chipset, The EMUI, and a fast fingerprint scanner are worth appreciating as well. Read our full review here.

How does the Twin lens System on the Huawei P9 Camera work?

Like mentioned earlier, The Huawei P9 Camera has two 12MP sensors set at f.2.2 Aperture, where one of them shoots monochrome only. When you click a picture, the monochrome sensor gauges the picture in terms of the light thats hitting the sensor through the glass and different objects in the frame. Using all these information available, the system then adds the colour onto the picture from the other RGB sensor. Using the colour and monochrome cameras simultaneously helps in producing a superior image with deeper blacks and vivid colours than a conventional one-sensor setup.

Dual Lens on the Huawei P9

Further, Image information from both sensors makes the Huawei P9 camera 100% more light-sensitive than the competition. The Dual camera systems also enables you to take pictures with an adjustable depth of field to create background blurs. Let us look at how can you do that a little later.

Camera UI and Modes:

When you launch the camera button on the Huawei P9, you see a very simple UI which still looks very iOS‘ish. However, Swiping towards the right, brings in various modes to choose from.

Camera-Modes-Huawei-P9

One particular mode worth mentioning is the Monochrome one. The quality of the output is fantastic. The contrasts and tones are worth falling in love with. Have a look at some samples below.

While on the camera screen, when you swipe towards the left, you get these different menu options. These let you set the resolution of the photographs to either standard format or the wide-screen one. There is GPS Tag, if you like to tag your pictures to the location. Pretty useful option, if you are a traveller and want to make a summary of your route & sort at the end of your trip. There are few more straight forward options.

Huawei P9 Camera Options

Similar to Leica cameras, there is a Film Mode which gives you three options to tune your images while shooting. They enhance the colour quality of your pictures. Although, each one of us have our preferences when it comes to colours and saturation, Its still worthwhile checking out.

Leica-Filters

You also have live filters in the camera. Once you click the icon, you will be able to see all the filters in action. You can then choose according to your taste.

Camera Filters Huawei P9

Pro Mode Huawei P9 CameraMost of the settings on the Huawei P9 Camera are visible when you are on Pro Mode. To activate the pro mode, you will need to swipe up above the shutter button. Once you are in Pro mode, you will be able to adjust the focus points, shutter speed, Exposure Values, White Balance Settings and even the focus modes. Notably, it was weird not to find the option to tune the aperture settings. As a photographer, I really missed this.

Once you are in Pro mode, you can again swipe left and now you can find more options show up. The first notable feature is the option to store photos in RAW (DNG format). In a RAW mode, the pictures are captured as-in with all the information intact available for you to post process the image later. This is very nifty, if you love playing with your images on Lightroom or Photoshop. You have an option to change the camera grid, if you prefer to get some aid while composing the pictures. There is an optional level scale too!

Tap to Focus:

The Dual lens systems on the Huawei P9 Camera enables you to take pictures with an adjustable depth of field to create background blurs, what we call Bokeh. On the camera screen, once you select the Aperture icon here, you will have an option to click a picture with aperture settings and option for tap to focus; which results in specific part of the image being focused. You can also click a picture and then adjust the depth later.

Tap to Focus on Huawei P9 Leica

When you go to the gallery, you can see these images with a small lens symbol. You can then tap open the picture and adjust the settings. There is a slider which appears next to the icon. This helps you to change the width of the aperture. Wider (least the number) the aperture, greater the background blur. This way, you could tune the image to your preference – as shown below in this image.

Defocusing-on-Huawei-P9

The software Emulates as open as f 0.95. That makes the picture focus sharp at that point and everything else has this creamy blurred effect to it. Since it’s a software made, its easy to identify as the edges get very smooth.

Auto Focus could’ve been even better. Although, the above mentioned software focusing options does come to rescue at times.

The Video mode gives you some options for manual controls as well. The video quality is decent and the colours looks good too. The P9 only records upto a 1080p and doesn’t support the 4K resolution output. Further, Lack of Optical image stabilisation also means, you may face some issues in low-light conditions; or if you want great quality, I recommend using a tripod.

I hope the latest version of the software, EMUI 5.0 with Nougat, would bring in even better camera software optimisations as well.

Summary:

The Huawei P9 camera maintains a good exposure regardless of the conditions you shoot. Highlights are just about right. The noise levels are impressive too.The camera also bumps up the details in some of the photos especially in the low light scenarios making the picture look neat.  Food pictures look great too. The camera adds the right amount of contrast and saturation to make the picture pop and appealing. The highlights are well separated from the shadows.

HDR is pretty good as well. It brings down the shadows and increases the colour saturation. The dynamic range of the images are pretty good. The two cameras working in conjunction definitely helps the device click great pictures. The pictures look even more good when you have a high dynamic range in the scene.

The option for RAW file processing might really impress people who love tweaking their images. Something I really miss on this phone is a hardware camera button. That would’ve been a nifty addition.

I recommend using the monochrome mode when you have too much of dark zones in your scene. That makes the contrast of the images look Magical.

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Smartphones

Huawei P9 Review: A Smartphone every Photographer would Love

Smartphones have always tried to replace our cameras. In true world, it does make sense, as you don’t carry your camera wherever you go unlike your mobile devices. While some companies claim to make camera phones, that would replace a DSLR, its nothing but just a joke. Each have different purposes and it would be wiser if we do not compare these two. However, on a regular daily usage you do not need a DSLR for everyday pictures; it would be nice to have a good portable Smartphone that couples as a camera which clicks quick and great pictures.

Huawei announced its flagship, the Huawei P9 today in India. The phone will be available for 39999 INR on Flipkart. The Huawei P9 is one of the best phones the company has every made. It is targeted at people who love creating photographs. Especially, with its association with Leica, it makes it even more worth looking at. I have been using this phone for over a couple of weeks and I am very impressed. Let us look at a detailed Huawei P9 review in this article. If you are keen on the camera review, read it here.

Hardware, Look and Feel:

The Huawei P9 is made up of aerospace-class unibody aluminium and a 2.5D glass with a brushed metal effect for a smooth look. The edges are flat and straight design makes the device easy and comfortable to hold.

The phone is very light and feels great to carry along. Might feel slightly slippery. The back is quite ergonomic and the rear flows very well to the front. A protective case will still be a good idea.

Huawei-P9 rear antenna

The power button and volume rockers are placed on the right side which feels vey neat and also offers a good amount of tactile feedback. The power button also have a textured feel to it making it more comfortable to use.

The left side is for the SIM and SD card slots. There is a single slot with a dedicated SIM and a Hybrid slot. You could either pop-in two SIM cards or use one for a expandable micro-SD card.

The phone is powered with an octacore Kirin 955 chipset (This octacore processor comes with 4 x Cortex A72 cores clocked at 2.5GHz and 4 x Cortex A53 cores clocked at 1.8GHz), Mali T880 GPU, faster EMMC 5.1 and 3GB RAM. The Huawei P9 is the first phone with a processor, that has a Depth Image Signal  Processor onboard.

The phone has a onboard 32GB ROM, expandable upto 128 GB. The phone doesn’t support adoptable storage though.

There is a very slight lag on the app-load when you launch 3rd party apps; its certainly not a major deal breaker. Probably, it would’ve been better on a 4GB/64 RAM model. However, the Emotion UI makes the OS much user friendly and optimises the OS with a good RAM management.

The OS also provides some good tweaks that help in better performance when compared to other phones in  this segment. The Gaming performance on this phone is very impressive as well.

The rear of the phone sports the camera and the finger print sensor. The Leica branding on the rear adds to the premium feel to the phone. Although, I still wonder why the SUMMARIT H1:2.2/27 ASPH was needed. They could’ve just kept it subtle with just Leica.

Huawei P9 Dual Camera Leica

The finger print sensor is an impressive feature on this phone (or in any Huawei phone in that matter). The finger print reading is fast (the company says 0.5 seconds to unlock) and also, has worked well all the times for me. When compared to other phones, the accuracy is pretty neat.

The Kirin 955 chipset also helps with silicon-chip level protection. There is a dedicated security module within the silicon chip that ensures user security, handling key information like fingerprints, keypad, and voice.

The phone has a 3000 MAH battery which offers a decent battery life of around a day. The charging speed isn’t one of the best either. Considering the phone to be a flagship, the battery life could’ve been better for sure. However, With Emotion UI, there are tons of more customisations which you can apply, to make your phone even better in terms of battery saving. Thanks to the patents Huawei has on the same.

With triple Antenna, the call drops are fairly less. Also, you don’t need to worry about your hand position under different signal conditions. Better RF performance- system automatically switches to the antenna with the best signal to prevent dropped calls.

Huawei P9 Leica Dual Lens back rear

The call quality is very impressive and the volume is good too. The Wi-Fi+ 2.0 automatically connect to the strongest available Wi-Fi network. The phone ranks the Wi-Fi hotspots, and prioritises the best connection.

The combination of beautiful design, powerful hardware, and a great camera gives this phone an edge when compared to the rest of the competition.

Display

The Display is very impressive and sharp. I find it to be one of the real good features of the phone. Its a 5.2″ FHD display with 96% colour saturation and high contrast. The quality and the details are neat. Images aren’t over-saturated or too warm/cold. the colours are vibrant and the brightness on the screen is impressive as well.

The LCD ensures blacks are nice and deep. It’s quite good even in a broad day light. Reading text on the phone is pretty good. I like the fact, it isn’t too sharp giving a realistic clear text.

Huawei P9 EMUI

If you want to nit pick, the display brightness could still look slightly low when compared to other flagships who offer Quad HD displays and much brighter nits. Huawei has managed to offer a better battery life with a full HD display here.

Software, User Experience:

The Huawei P9 runs Android 6.0 Marshmallow out of the box with the customised version. These days, Every company have their own android skins for their phones. Out of all, my personal favourites have been the Flyme OS, MIUI and Emotion UI. They are not just basic customisations, but give users few features which are actually worth trying.

This phone offer Emotion UI 4.1, featuring Marshmallow.  There are few software features which makes the phone pretty good. My personal favourite is the notifications window. They show a lot more detail on a timeline about the app notifications and your system.

Shake to re-align icons is cool as well. Themes would also fancy some people for sure. I also like the screenshot gesture, where you just have to knock the screen.

step counter emui healthI love the Health App; that little notification on the lock screen is super cool. This version of EMUI also brings in some performance improvements.

The emotion UI provides you way more options to further make use of the finger print sensor, than to just unlock your phone. Gestures help you do that. For e.g.: Swiping up on the finger print scanner shows the recently used apps. Swiping down brings in the notifications page to quickly read through and toggle settings. A tap can be configured to take you to back screen or even click a picture while you take a selfie. You can even take a call, or use it like a home button with customisations available.

Camera:

With dual cameras, the P9 does a lot more than the competition. This is the second phone after LG G5 to come with a dual lens this year. While on the LG G5, the secondary module acts as a wide-angle lens, Huawei’s approach is different here.

With being, co-engineered with Leica, The Huawei P9 has a 12MP RGB main sensor and accompanied by a 12MP monochrome chip on board. The Huawei P9’s merging algorithm, intelligently combines the colours taken by the RGB sensor with the detail of the monochrome sensor.

Huawei P9 Dual Camera Leica

According to Huawei, the image information from both sensors makes the P9 camera 100% more light-sensitive than other smartphone cameras. Further, using the colour and monochrome camera simultaneously helps in producing a superior image with deeper blacks, vivid colours, and natural looking depth of field. Read our in-depth camera review here.

The Dual Lens on the Huawei P9 also helps in simulating shallow depth-of-field.

The camera is powered with a 12MP sensor, a f2.2 aperture, 22mm Leica optics, which does allow a lot of light and a dual tone LED flash to use in low-light conditions. The device doesn’t have an optical stabiliser though.

In outdoors, the camera performs very well and is quick. The quality of pictures is fantastic and the details are sharp with colours being good as well. The bokeh (background blur) is natural unlike the other phones in this segment. Thankfully, the software doesn’t over-sharp the images and hence, images feel realistic. Emotion UI also offers a great camera software which gives DNG Raw capture and other modes.

The monochrome pictures out of the Huawei P9 are worth falling in love with!

The Huawei P9 also offers manual shooting controls (professional mode) for people who like to create photographs. Here are some of the pictures I clicked with this camera over the past 2 weeks.

Pros and Cons, Value for Money:

In the past two weeks, I have been using the Huawei P9 as my primary phone, and I am very impressed with it. To begin with, the phone feels great on hands, software is optimised, the images aren’t too saturated; the colours and details feel real etc.

The Huawei P9 has been my favourite Smartphone, not just for the fantastic camera capabilities, but for a great User Experience.

Well, at this price, although it looks quite expensive, we need to consider that, this is a device from Huawei (not Honor, which has been making the budget phones) and they are competing it along with other flagships in the market. The company seems to be aggressive in getting out the brand Huawei in the country and they would like to keep it at a premium point.

While the camera is the most interesting feature on this phone, the oct-core chipset, The EMUI, and a fast fingerprint scanner are worth appreciating as well. Something I really miss on this phone is a hardware camera button. That would’ve been a nifty addition. The phone is perfectly sized, feels premium and the software is top-notch as well.

If you are behind the latest and greatest of hardware, you may see various other options in the market. However, if you love clicking pictures and value great user experience than hardware, then Huawei P9 is the camera phone for you. Like I mentioned the, photos are great and the monochromes are something worth falling in love with. The P9 is one of the best phones Huawei has ever made.

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Explainer

How PDAF Technology helps Cameras to focus fast.

The camera has become more and more important in smartphones and people have higher requirements for its focusing speed. A lot of methods to assist focusing are available in the current market, including laser, infrared, and phase focusing. Focusing is the process whereby a motor moves to bring the subject into focus. Focusing algorithms are divided into contrast detection and phase detection auto focus (PDAF). Let us look into detail on how PDAF Technology works.

Nexus 6P

In contrast focus (traditional auto focus systems), the moment you start your camera app, a lot of calculations are done by the processor to achieve the correct focus. First, the camera software triggers the lens to move and scan through its entire range of possible focus points, then it returns to whichever settings that provides the sharpest focus. Contrast detection requires the motor to move to different positions until the image displayed on the viewfinder shows the highest contrast. Contrast detection achieves precise focusing but takes a long time because the motor has to keep moving to find the highest contrast.

Phase detection is the process whereby the phase difference of the subject at the imaging plane is calculated to determine the distance between the motor’s current position and the position required for bringing the subject into focus. The motor then moves to this position.

Phase detection takes a short time, but the phase difference is easily affected by various factors such as noise. Therefore, phase detection is not suitable for focusing at low luminance, in a flat area, and on parallel patterns.

PDAF Technology uses paired masked pixels on the image sensor that are engineered to work just like your eyes; your left and right eye are separated by a distance, just like these paired pixels.

As shown above, the dark points represent the PD pixels. The phase information read using the PD pixels can be used to determine the corresponding focal length. After the GPU receives the focal length information, it can swiftly drive the lens to move to a position with the optimal focus.

PDAF Technology increases the focusing speed using planar image phase detection. This technology was first applied to the Interchangeable Lens Digital Camera, which allows the user to keep taking HD photos of fast-moving objects (children, pets, or cars) using autofocus. Compared to traditional focusing technology, the PDAF focusing speed has been greatly improved.

Traditional focusing technology had to detect image quality step by step until it achieves the clearest possible image with an optimal focus. PDAF focusing can detect the phase difference in an image and enable the motor to reach the correct position for the optimal focus in a single movement, eliminating the need to repeatedly check the image quality.

While PDAF technology is particularly effective in bright environments, for darker environments, Laser Auto Focus can save the day. As the name suggests, the smartphone has an infrared laser emitter and receiver built in. When you aim at an object, the smartphone blasts out a series of laser beam pulses. When the beam bounces off the object, the processor can then calculate the time of travel to the object and back, and then determine the distance. Laser Auto Focus is especially effective for shooting in low light since it’s usually too dark for the image sensor to see anything.

PDAF focusing technology, however, is not applicable to all scenarios because there is a lot of room for error. Therefore, hybrid focusing systems are commonly adopted with phase focusing used to find the correct position and contrast focusing used to achieve the optimal focus.