The Leica Dual Camera

The Mate is equipped with Huawei’s second-generation Leica Dual Camera system, which combines a 12MP RGB sensor with a 20MP monochrome sensor. This is quite a novel approach to the increasingly popular dual-camera concept, and it works by compositing the results of both images. The RGB sensor captures the color, and the monochrome sensor “picks out the finer details”, according to Huawei.

Huawei lists the specifications for the camera system as follows:

Main camera

  • 20MP Monochrome+12MP RGB, F2.2
  • OIS (Optical image stablization)
  • BSI (backside illumination) CMOS
  • Dual-tone flash
  • PDAF+CAF+Laser+Depth auto focus
  • 2x Hybrid zoom
  • 4K video recording

Front camera

  • 8MP AF, F1.9

The following examples were taken one right after the other, switching from stock settings to the monochrome sensor mode. For these first two examples I provide the original, untouched photo. I was not using a tripod and the photos are framed slightly differently, as I was simply holding the phone up to take the shots.

After taking this shot with auto settings, I switched to the monochrome mode. While the color shot combines information from both sensors, monochrome only uses the 20 MP sensor.

There is a depth and detail to the monochrome photo that is beyond anything I have seen from a mobile camera to date. Here is another example from the 20 MP monochrome sensor:

B&W photos taken with the monochrome sensor look very sharp and detailed, and in general produced better results than those shot in color. I found myself shooting mostly in black and white with the Mate 9, and low-light shots indoors look especially good without the usual color noise.

I took the Mate 9, Mate 8, and an iPhone 7 to the light box for a quick comparison in a controlled setting, with the results below:

The Mate 9 is on top, the Mate 8 in the middle, and the iPhone 7 is on the bottom. The iPhone 7 took the sharpest picture of this trio, and while the colors are muted compared to the Mate phones, the color detail is higher. The Mate 9 is an improvement over the Mate 8 overall, but it does not match the leaders in color quality or sharpness.

The camera app itself is very usable, with a simple interface and a good assortment of options (including full manual control, if desired).

There are of course the increasingly popular depth-of-field (DoF) effects available with the Mate 9, as with all dual-camera systems it seems, and the functionality is excellent.

First, a standard shot using the auto setting:

And then another using the maximum DoF effect:

The effect can be adjusted retroactively, with full control over the area of focus and the simulated aperture size.

Overall the camera is of very good quality (DxOMark scores it an 85 overall), though a little behind the class leaders in color quality and sharpness. It does produce exceptional photos from the monochrome sensor, however, and also provides very good focus from close range, allowing for impressive macro photos from a phone.

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