Over the past two decades, one of the most interesting developments in the world of photography lies in the evolution of mobile phones. Let us take a moment to think this through. Firstly, mirrorless cameras have lost its innovative intrigue. Secondly, very rarely do we find new technology that is truly ground-breaking built into DSLR cameras. The air around the conventional tools of photography has gone stale as we seem to be stuck in an era of improvements and upgrades rather than ground-breaking ingenuity.
And then, almost out of nowhere, came the worldwide phenomenon of camera mobile phones.
A Brief History of Camera Mobile Phones
According to Digital Trends, the first camera mobile phone was, arguably, the J-SH04 created by Sharp in late of year 2000. Priced at 400 USD, the phone boasted a 0.11-megapixels camera. ASTONISHING.
The market of camera mobile phones would soon be taken by storm by the Nokia N-series. Among the more memorable models was the N93 which was the incredible successor of the already wildly successful N90 and N92. One of its appeals, apart from the technology it was packed to the brim with for its time, was how much it resembled a typical digital camcorder.
We all know what happens next; brand after brand, camera mobile phones took enormous technological strides, and almost 20 years later, taking the manta of Smart Phones, there is still no stopping the evolution.
The image capturing and video capabilities of smart phones today rivals some of the more advanced consumer-grade DSLR and Mirrorless cameras. This has led to the rise of mobile phone photography. What had started out as a tool to easily take lifestyle pictures has now become an art form and, to some extent, a cost-effective business essential. We even have several prestigious international mobile photography competitions and organisations!
In an interview with the FSTOPPERS, Lara Aucamp, an Instagram Photographer, aptly captures the core of what mobile photography is about:
Photography is a form of self-expression. I'm not a professional, and I don't even own a real camera. I really only got into photography after I got my iPhone. I find the format of mobile photography liberating and empowering - I have my iPhone with me wherever I go, and can easily edit and share photos on the go. The convenience of it is perfect for my busy lifestyle.
The Huawei Mate 20 Pro
In October 2018, Huawei broke the Internet announcing its latest (and greatest) creation, the Mate 20 Pro. Partnering with Leica once again, the phone has a triple-lens system: a 40-MP main (f/1.8), an 8-MP telephoto (f/2.4) and, a 20-MP ultra-wide (f/2.2) lens. It is powered by Huawei’s Kirin 980 which, according to the Huawei website, is the “ultimate engine to power next-generation productivity and entertainment applications” delivering “75% more powerful” CPU and “46% greater graphics processing.”
Despite popular believe that Huawei Technologies only makes “cheap phones”, it comes with no surprises that the Chinese company has created what seems to be the best smart phone in the current market given that they are, as of the second-quarter of 2018, the second-largest smart phone developers in the world by overtaking Apple. According to The Guardian, this is the first time in seven years that any company has managed to split the top two developers, Samsung and Apple. Business and tech watchdogs are going so far as to say that 2018 is the year of Huawei Technologies.
A one-line description by Digital Trends says it all:
We’d say it’s 2019 and beyond. Such is the technical prowess of this astonishing phone.
I had initially suggested that I try filming with the phone to test its inbuilt cinema-style filters but because my time with the phone was limited, I, regretfully, was unable to push its core systems to the very end of its limits. However, I did take the phone out for a spin and had tested its camera’s capabilities under some very challenging conditions with whatever I found interesting in my house.
The 40-MP main lens is a details monster. Given that we are talking about a phone sensor, it was expected that there would be some grain showing up in any image shot under low-light conditions. The grains did not distract me away from the crisp sharpness of the silhouette of the dark buildings I was trying to put into contrast with the backdrop of the evening skies. This gave me an overall sharp subject and just the right amount of silky-blur to the rest of elements in the frame.
While taking this shot, the phone’s AI had been activated and guided me on which was the best lens to use and what were the best settings I needed to make the best of my shot. It blew me away that the AI was working nearly independently, almost like as though it had a brain of its own. Neither did it require voice commands nor did I need to tap on anything else for the AI to be activated, this was something right off the movies.
Purists may call blasphemy on this because part of the enjoyable experience of taking pictures is the photographer figuring out what settings would suit his or her scene best. However, I am keeping mainly enthusiasts in mind because they make up the largest contributors of mobile photography in general. If I were taking pictures on the go just for Instagram, I would want a device that is exactly or closely similar in capabilities as the Mate 20 Pro.
For the next image, the idea was to get as much bokeh (or background blur) to surround my subject as possible. Of course, it would have been ideal to have shot this with the 40-MP f/1.8 lens again because of the wide aperture but, since the objective here was to test each lens in different conditions or with different subjects, I decided to give the 8-MP telephoto f/2.4 lens a try.
8-MP may not sound appetizing to many amateurs and enthusiasts out there, however, it is important to note that it is the processor of the phone and quality of the lens that would ultimately maximize on the quality of the picture. This is also why we do not see Canon or Nikon updating their professional-level flagship cameras with high pixel counts.
The Mate 20 Pro is powered by octa-core (2x2.6GHz + 2x1.92GHz + 4x1.8GHz) processor and it comes with 6GB of RAM. In layman’s terms, it is powerful enough to compensate a low pixel count camera inbuilt in to the phone. Also, the signature balance between the dreamy-luxury-feel and overall clarity of a Leica system was evident in the pictures I took with the phone.
I saved the third lens of the Mate 20 Pro for a shot that would be challenging for any phone’s camera no matter what their processor or lens: Wide-Angle Macro. Wide-angle macro photography seeks to add close-up impact by telling an overall story of not just the subject alone but by also featuring the surrounding of the subject. It is most popular among wildlife photography but from time-to-time we see the technique appearing in fine art portraiture work as well.
Do keep in mind that in testing the Mate 20 Pro camera’s capabilities I am not trying to create aesthetically pleasing works of art. My main focus is to have the camera fail on me. In this case, as seen in the picture, the lens held its ground. The picture turned out beautifully with just the right balance of background blur to keep my subject as the main focus without compromising on the story-telling as a whole.
Huawei’s Mate 20 Pro is a mobile photographer’s dream come through. Everything from Leica’s beautiful lenses, the AI, down to the OLED screen makes the phone a perfect device for mobile photographers who are stepping up their game. I did find the pictures to be naturally on the warmer side but this was easily worked around in Photoshop Mobile where I could color-correct my pictures to exactly how I wanted them to be colored. My time with the Huawei Mate 20 Pro also made me realize the impact mobile photography has made over the years and why this would compel Huawei to create what I believe is the greatest smart phone yet. I find myself being attracted to mobile photography more because, while as great as the Mate 20 Pro may be, it just seems that we have only touched the surface of an ocean of possibilities with mobile photography and, as an artist, that intrigues me a lot.