Huawei Mate 50 Pro review: Variable aperture really works

Huawei Mate 50 Pro review: Variable aperture really works

This isn’t talked about enough in the tech media scene, but most of the major camera features that Apple, Google, and Samsung have embraced in the last three years were seen for the first time on a Huawei smartphone. This includes the use of a larger image sensor for better light intake; a more pixel-dense camera for the purpose of clustering pixels; image stacking to recreate the effects of a long exposure shot; and an L-shaped camera that sits on its side inside the phone to allow for greater image enlargement (zoom).

In a nutshell, before sanctions derailed the growth of Huawei’s phone business, the Chinese tech giant’s phones were leading the pack in advances in mobile cameras. Huawei is trying to recreate the magic with its latest Mate 50 Pro, which arrives two years later. the latest mate phoneand brings a new camera system led by a main camera with 10 steps of variable aperture.

This is not a software hack. Instead, there’s a physical mechanical shutter that opens more or closes smaller (to control light intake and depth of field) around the 50-megapixel main camera. In the collage below, notice that the camera shutter changes size depending on the aperture.

Because a smartphone camera lens is still relatively small compared to a real camera, don’t expect the aperture change to cause drastic differences in lighting, but you can clearly see a shallower depth of field in one more stop. fast (f/1.4) compared to a slower f/4.

A faster aperture also has a faster shutter speed, which is more ideal for shooting fast-moving subjects. Because this is an actual physical shutter that moves, the difference in lighting, depth of field, and shutter speed also apply to videos.

However, is this really necessary? We’re at a time when computational photography is the buzzword in smartphone photography, with phones like the Google Pixel having long prioritized software image processing over camera hardware trends.

I took dozens of photos with the Huawei Mate 50 Pro in parallel with phones like the iPhone 14 Pro, Google Pixel 7 Pro and Xiaomi 12S Ultra, which have a fixed aperture, and Huawei’s variable aperture was rarely done. a big difference. I can see niche use cases where being able to stop manually would help a shot bring more of a frame into focus, but the software intelligence from Google, Apple and Xiaomi is strong enough to make up for that.

But luckily, Huawei’s computational photography is no slouch either. With the Mate 50 Pro, Huawei is introducing a new image processing engine called “XMAGE” and is said to be handling image processing earlier in the image pipeline process so that the final shot preserves more data integrity. raw originals.

I can’t guarantee if XMAGE has made a fundamental difference in the way a smartphone handles image processing, but my eyes tell me that the Mate 50 Pro can capture beautiful, impressive images that often outperform the latest iPhone or Google in Dynamic range. In the image below, taken against the backlight with the indoor environment covered in shadows, notice that Huawei’s image exhibits more vibrant colors with a larger range of dynamic range.

Overall, the Mate 50 Pro can shoot against really harsh backlighting and still properly expose images.

There was a stretch a few years ago when Huawei phones were head and shoulders above all others in terms of taking low-light photos. This was due to Huawei’s use of a larger image sensor, RYYB filter array, and night mode technology. In the years since then, other phone brands have closed the gap, but the Mate 50 Pro is arguably still the best low-light camera because it doesn’t really need light mode.

The following shots were taken at 1 am in the suburbs. The basketball hoop was completely dark to my eyes. I took the photos with Google’s Mate 50 Pro and Pixel 7 Pro. The former took the photo immediately, while the latter used a three-second night mode. Despite this, the results still lean in favor of Huawei’s shots, with more natural colors. I emphasize again: the real life scene was almost completely black at the time.

There isn’t enough space in this article to thoroughly go over all the camera features offered by the Mate 50 Pro, so for those interested in learning more about the entire system, my video below shows in-depth tests, as well as photo samples against others. top phones. But the short version of the long story is that the Huawei Mate 50 Pro’s camera systems are excellent, but the variable aperture hardware is a niche feature for now.

The rest of the hardware ranges from good to excellent, with one notable exception. The Mate 50 Pro is a typical modern slab flagship phone, with a 6.7-inch curved OLED display with up to 120Hz refresh rate. The front glass is reinforced with this technology that Huawei has dubbed “Kunlun glass.” Huawei claims that it is 10 times more shock resistant than “typical smartphone screens”. This is a feature I haven’t tried as I haven’t dropped the phone and don’t plan to.

The screens look almost flawless and get bright enough for outdoor use. However, there’s a sizeable notch that eats up the screen and it’s an eye-sore in my opinion. Sure, Huawei makes use of the cutout, housing an ultra-wide selfie camera alongside a 3D face-scanning camera. But the Huawei Mate 40 Pro that came out in 2020 also offered a 3D facial scanning system in a smaller pill-shaped cutout. Of course, the iPhone did the same thing this year. I’ve never been a fan of the notch, and seeing it in late 2022 is jarring when almost every other phone has solved the problem.

But if you’re wondering, the Mate 50 Pro’s face-scanning system works well, and in the dark.

The back of the phone is covered in this textured vegan leather finish (there are other versions that use the traditional glass back), and the eye-catching gold-colored camera module is made of pure metal for a premium feel. and resistant.

The phone feels comfortable to hold in your hand, not too thick or heavy at 8.5mm and 209g. It has IP68 water and dust resistance, as well as stereo speakers and wireless charging for that 4700mAh battery that can last you all day.

The phone is powered by Qualcomm Snapdragon 8 Plus Gen 1, which is Qualcomm’s newest chip, but unfortunately it’s the 4G version of the chip, because US sanctions prevent Huawei from getting 5G chips from Qualcomm.

Yes, those same penalties also prevent the phone from using Google apps, but this is old news. You can still access many Google services like YouTube through the web browser or Gmail through Microsoft Outlook, so the lack of Google apps isn’t as crippling as some may think. Otherwise, the software experience is very reminiscent of Android, though I think Huawei’s app icon aesthetic is a bit long now.

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The phone plays very well with the Huawei ecosystem. So if you own a Huawei PC or tablet, you can sync the Mate 50 Pro with one touch and control your phone on the larger computing device and move files via drag and drop.

The Huawei Mate 50 Pro was launched in China a couple of months ago where it sold very well, but in Europe it is priced at €1300, which is very high for a phone with some notable software and connectivity omissions. Of course, these compromises are out of the control of the Huawei consumer group, which makes the matter more frustrating. I wish this phone was allowed to run full force where it can compete on a level playing field. In other Asian regions, such as Singapore, Malaysia, and Hong Kong, the Mate 50 Pro is priced slightly lower, but still higher than what Xiaomi or Google are asking for their flagships.

Ultimately, the Mate 50 Pro will continue to appeal to enthusiasts or fans of the brand, but for the average consumer it’s a tough sell. The good news? They exist. Several readers and YouTube viewers have asked me how to buy a Mate 50 Pro in recent weeks.

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