Ask Adrian: Our technology editor tackles your trickiest tech problems
Question: I am looking to change my phone. I'm interested in photography and have a small Canon which you recommended some time ago, but I now have a problem with my back and shoulders and can't carry anything too heavy.
So I want to get a good phone with photography in mind. You recently mentioned the Galaxy S10 and also the Huawei P20 Pro and P30 Pro. I was wondering which of the above three would you recommend? Also, what is the difference between the P20 Pro and the P30 Pro?
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- Mairead O'Hara
The three phones you ask about are all excellent: I've tested each extensively. But there are differences, not only in features but in price.
Right now, the most versatile all-round cameraphone is unquestionably Huawei's P30 Pro. That's because it's the only phone on the market with both an ultra-wide camera and a class-leading zoom, on top of the regular lens. This means that, as an 'all-rounder', it's definitely in front.
The zoom is worth elaborating on. As you'll know as someone who's interested in photography, a proper optical zoom needs a bit of space. This is the reason that zoom lenses on cameras always extend outwards. It's also the reason that camera phones haven't traditionally had proper zooms, because a phone camera has to be relatively flat and flush with the phone's casing to keep the overall shape of the handset consistent. But Huawei found a way to combine some of the space in the back of the camera with a mirror, effectively creating a hidden 'barrel' that acts as a proper optical zoom. The effect is pretty amazing: a five-times (5x) optical zoom (the equivalent to about 120mm on a DSLR camera) that lets the P30 Pro's camera reach images that no other phone can get, especially when it's enhanced with some extra digital zoom.
The nearest any other phone gets is a 3x optical zoom on Huawei's sister device, the P20 Pro. Meanwhile, 2x optical zooms are relatively common [Apple's iPhone Xs, Xr and Plus series, Samsung's Galaxy S Plus models and a few more].
The P30 Pro also has an ultra-wide camera lens [roughly the equivalent of about 16mm on a camera], which I find equally useful. It lets you capture interior photos and cityscape shots in a way you would never get with your regular phone camera.
Of course, all of this comes at a cost. The P30 Pro costs €949 if you buy it unlocked without a subsidised contract from an operator.
Now let's turn to the P20 Pro, which is Huawei's flagship phone from 2018. It's still available to buy new and costs between €649 and €749 unlocked, depending on what shop you buy it from.
It is also a truly excellent cameraphone, though not quite with the power and flexibility of the P30 Pro. For a start, there's no ultra-wide lens. And its zoom lens is 3x rather than 5x. Furthermore, while its battery and screen are top notch, they're a slight grade below the P30 Pro's equipment. I'd still recommend it, but it's no longer the best you can get.
Samsung's recently-released S10+ is generally a very, very good cameraphone, if not quite packing the versatility of the P30 Pro. Its one advantage over Huawei's flagship handset is that its ultra-wide lens goes slightly wider than Huawei's, pushing that interior architecture suitability a little bit further.
Its zoom lens, like many flagship phones, is 2x. So it has three effective rear cameras. And the results are generally excellent. But having used it a lot, I would say that there are other reasons to buy an S10+ than the camera. It's more of an all-singing, all-dancing top smartphone than the absolute top cameraphone [see my full review on Independent.ie for a more in-depth look at this particular model].
There is also one thing that the Huawei phones have that Samsung [for some reason] doesn't: a night mode. Basically, this lets you take photos of dimly lit situations with occasionally stunning results. It takes several photos over a couple of seconds at different exposures and combines the detail of each shot to give you a surprisingly well-illuminated picture. It's especially effective in outdoor night-time cityscapes.
There's only one other high-performing smartphone that does this feature well: Google's Pixel 3 XL (€919). In general, this is also a great phone, although it only has one single lens, meaning you don't get anything like the flexibility of wide angles or zooms available on the other smartphones I mention here.
Of course, there's also Apple's iPhone. Having tested the latest Xs Max (€1,279) model, I can say that its strength is portraiture and video. For some reason, the iPhone handles colour, exposure and stabilisation marginally better than any other system. That means that while you won't get the wide or long zoom of the P30 Pro, you will get slightly smoother video and arguably more balanced 'people' shots. [The same goes for the iPhone Xr (€879) and, indeed, last year's iPhone 8 Plus (€819)].
So which to choose? Honestly, any of these phones will deliver to you hitherto unattainable images. But right now, Huawei's P30 Pro comes top as the do-all, ultimate camera phone.
Recommendation: Huawei P30 Pro [€949 retail or cheaper upfront cost with mobile operator contracts]
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