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Smartphones

Apple iPhone X and Huawei Mate 10 Pro camera comparison: point-and-shoot prowess versus Instagram-ready punch

Premium smartphones show their strengths and weaknesses in our daylight, low light, night and bokeh photography tests, and in video shooting

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 25 November, 2017, 11:33am
UPDATED : Sunday, 26 November, 2017, 7:13pm

Whether fairly or not, every new iPhone that hits the market immediately becomes the de facto official device against which top Android smartphones are compared. While there is no shortage of powerful flagships on the market right now, Huawei, as usual, has been doing the most trash talking against Apple in recent weeks.

So we figured we’d pit the two company’s flagships – the iPhone X and the Mate 10 Pro, released just a week apart in most parts of the world – against each other for a good ol’ fashion camera shoot-out.

Before we ring the bell let’s get the tale of the tape: both devices sport a 12-megapixel “main” rear camera, but each handles the secondary rear camera differently.

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Huawei’s second shooter is a 20-megapixel monochrome sensor that the company says helps the Mate 10 Pro take in more light information for post-shot processing. Apple, meanwhile, flanks the iPhone X’s main lens with a secondary 52mm telephoto lens that has a longer focal length, which effectively magnifies images.

Daylight images Let’s begin with the most common photography situation – outdoors, in broad daylight. This first set of photos was shot outside the Anaheim Convention Centre in California on a very sunny day. Both Huawei and Apple’s cameras produced superb exposure and contrast, but the Mate 10 Pro’s image suffered from a slightly cool tone that made the sky and clouds less vibrant than in the image shot using the iPhone X.

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When zooming in on the banners on the side of the building on a large monitor, the Mate 10 pro’s image showed finer lines and a bit more detail, however.

In the second set of images, of Hong Kong high-rises, the Mate 10 Pro’s Leica-crafted algorithm kicks in, punching up contrast and dynamic range for an eye-catching, yet unrealistic, show. The image shot with the iPhone X image is a lot more realistic. Which you prefer is up to you: some of you will value colour accuracy above all else, while others just want the coolest looking photo.

Macro images For close-up shots the iPhone X’s camera in point-and-zoom auto mode focuses on the object slightly more quickly. But because the Mate 10 Pro – like many top Android handsets – offers a manual mode with adjustable focus, I was able to get a much closer and more detailed impression of the coin and the texture of the plant.

Night images

The images of the fountain outside Hong Kong’s International Finance Centre are both excellent, and it was almost impossible to determine a winner when viewed on the handsets’ screens. But when I blew up both images on my 40-inch monitor, I noticed less noise and a bit more detail in the Huawei shot.

Also, notice the Standard Chartered building on the right of the frame; the iPhone X camera overexposed the bank’s main logo and entrance sign, washing out the colours of the former and making the latter illegible. On the Mate 10 Pro image, you can see the signature green in the bank’s main logo and see clearly that the sign reads “Standard Chartered”.

Moving on to another set of night shots, this time taken from the Central Ferry Pier, and the one taken with the Mate 10 Pro comes out on top again. While the iPhone X camera produces a more natural representation of the lights of Kowloon’s International Commerce Centre on the left of the frame, the right side of the photo is a mess: the ferry and the water it sits on look blurry and mushy.

The ferry is a lot more crisp and detailed in Huawei’s shot; this may have something to do with the phone’s NPU (neural processing unit) that can recognise scenes and bump up the camera’s shutter speed accordingly.

Very low light images

When it comes to really dark shooting situations – such as inside an aeroplane cabin during an overnight flight – the Mate 10 Pro can produce a brighter image but at the expense of colour accuracy.

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The iPhone X produced a shot that’s much closer to how the scene looked in real life. But I think most of us would sacrifice colour accuracy to get more details when taking photos inside a dark pub.

Bokeh images

While many attribute the rise of smartphone “Portrait” photography – images taken with the depth-of-field bokeh effect – to the iPhone, it was actually Huawei that did it first (the Huawei P9 beat the iPhone 7 Plus to the market by almost half a year). Still, these two companies were definitely ahead of the game, as every phone maker, with the exception of LG, has since jumped on the bokeh bandwagon.

In both cases the software that produces the bokeh effect did an admirable job of developing that artificial blur around my friend’s profile, especially considering that the photos were taken at night. But Huawei’s post-image processing went a bit overboard, resulting in a highly artificial photo. Apple’s take is a bit more natural and less garish.

Selfies As I mentioned in my iPhone X review, Apple’s approach to selfies runs counter to Chinese and South Korean companies, which tend to “beautify” subjects with digital skin smoothing and wrinkle removing. The results are often artificial and unnatural, like in the Huawei-shot selfie (above, right). I much prefer the iPhone X’s shot, simply because it doesn’t make me look like I just had plastic surgery. Both selfies were shot with bokeh effect turned on, and in neither does the effect look great.

Videography

Both devices can shoot videos up to 4K resolution, but the iPhone X can do so at 60 frames per second, while the Mate 10 Pro is stuck at 30 fps. The difference is noticeable, as the iPhone X’s video, when panning, is noticeably smoother. OIS (optical image stabilisation) on both phones works well – notice neither videos feel jittery despite me walking and shooting at the same time.

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Apple wins the slow motion video battle, too, as the iPhone X can shoot at a stellar 240 fps while the Mate 10 Pro shoots at a lesser (not specified) rate. Notice the whipping ropes flow more smoothly on the video shot on the iPhone X than in that shot using the Mate 10 Pro.

Conclusion

Overall, the iPhone X tends to place emphasis on colour accuracy and finding the right balance, even if at times it leaves the photos a little dull. The Mate 10 Pro goes for vibrant, punchy shots that look better on Instagram but which photography purists may consider artificial. Apple’s device wins hands down in videography, but Huawei’s phone offers manual controls which allow it to capture some shots the iPhone simply cannot do.

These different approaches to photography are an apt metaphor for iPhone and Android as mobile platforms: if you want something that just works well with minimal tweaking, go with the iPhone X; if you want more control over what you do, even if it sometimes results in more bugs, go with the Mate 10 Pro.