Huawei Mate 50 Pro review: variable aperture really works

It’s not talked about enough in the tech media scene, but most of the key camera features adopted by Apple, Google and Samsung over the past three years were first seen in a Huawei smartphone. This includes using a larger image sensor for better light intake; a more pixel-dense camera for the purpose of clustering pixels; stacking of images to recreate the effects of a long exposure; and an L-shaped camera that sits on the side inside the phone to allow for stronger image magnification (zoom).

Long story short, before sanctions derailed the growth of Huawei’s phone business, the Chinese tech giant’s phones led the pack in mobile camera breakthroughs. Huawei is trying to recreate the magic with its latest Mate 50 Pro, which comes two years after the last Mate phone, and brings a new camera system with a main camera with 10 stops of variable aperture.

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

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

A faster aperture also has a faster shutter speed, which is more ideal for photographing fast-moving subjects. As this is a real physical shutter that moves, the difference in lighting, depth of field and shutter speed also applies to videos.

However, is it really necessary? We’re in an age where computational photography is the buzzword in smartphone photography, with phones like the Google Pixel that have long prioritized software image processing over chasing hardware trends. ‘camera.

I’ve taken dozens of photos with the Huawei Mate 50 Pro side-by-side against phones like the iPhone 14 Pro, Google Pixel 7 Pro, and Xiaomi 12S Ultra, all of which have a fixed aperture, and Huawei’s variable aperture has rarely been made a huge difference. I can see niche use cases where the ability to manually stop would help a shot focus better, but smart software from Google, Apple and Xiaomi is powerful enough to usually compensate for that.

But thankfully, Huawei’s computational photography is no slouch either. With the Mate 50 Pro, Huawei introduces a new image processing engine named “XMAGE” and it is supposed to handle image processing earlier in the image pipeline process so that the final shot retains more image quality. integrity of the original raw data.

I can’t guarantee if XMAGE has made a fundamental difference to the way a smartphone handles image processing, but my eyes tell me the Mate 50 Pro can capture gorgeous, stunning images that often beat the latest iPhone or Google. in dynamic range. In the image below, taken against the light with the interior decor covered in shadows, note that Huawei’s image features more vivid colors with a wider dynamic range.

Generally, the Mate 50 Pro can shoot with very harsh backlighting while exposing images properly.

A few years ago, Huawei phones were above everyone else in terms of taking low-light photos. This was due to Huawei’s use of a larger image sensor, RYYB filtering network, and night mode technology. In the years since, other phone brands have closed the gap, but the Mate 50 Pro is still arguably the better low-light camera because it doesn’t really need light mode.

The pictures below were taken at 1am in the suburbs. The basketball hoop was completely black to my eyes. I took the photos with Google’s Mate 50 Pro and Pixel 7 Pro. The former immediately took the shot, 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 stress again – the real life scene was almost pitch black at the time.

There isn’t enough space in this article to go over all the camera features offered by the Mate 50 Pro, so for those who want to know more about the whole system, my video below below shows extensive testing, along with sample photos against other top phones. But the short version of the story is that the Huawei Mate 50 Pro’s camera systems are great, but the variable aperture hardware is a bit of 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 which Huawei has dubbed “Kunlun Glass” . Huawei claims it is 10 times more shatter resistant than “typical smartphone screens”. This is a feature I haven’t tested, as I haven’t dropped the phone and don’t plan on doing so.

The screens look almost flawless and get bright enough for outdoor use. However, there is a significant notch that eats away at the screen, and it’s an eyesore in my opinion. Of course, Huawei uses the cutout, housing an ultra-wide selfie camera as well as a 3D face-scanning camera. But the Huawei Mate 40 Pro released in 2020 also offered a 3D face scanning system in a smaller pill-shaped cutout. Of course, the iPhone did the same this year. I’ve never been a fan of the notch, and seeing it in late 2022 is shocking when almost every other phone has fixed the issue.

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

The back of the phone is covered in that textured vegan leather finish (there are other versions using traditional glass backs), and the eye-catching gold-colored camera module is crafted from pure metal for premium and rugged feel.

The phone is comfortable to hold in the hand, neither too thick nor too heavy at 8.5mm and 209g. It features IP68 water and dust resistance, plus stereo speakers and wireless charging for that 4,700mAh battery that can last all day.

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

Yes, those same penalties also prevent the phone from using Google apps, but that’s 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 might think. Otherwise, the software experience is very reminiscent of Android, although I find Huawei’s app icon aesthetics a bit long now.

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The phone plays very well with Huawei’s ecosystem. So if you have a Huawei PC or tablet, you can sync the Mate 50 Pro with it with just a touch and control your phone on the larger computing device and drag and drop files around.

The Huawei Mate 50 Pro was launched in China a few months ago where it sold very well, but in Europe it is priced at €1,300, which is very high for a phone with software omissions and notable connectivity. Admittedly, these compromises are beyond the control of the Huawei Consumer Group, which makes the matter even more frustrating. I wish this phone could be allowed to run at full power where it can compete on a level playing field. In other parts of Asia like Singapore, Malaysia and Hong Kong, the Mate 50 Pro is a bit cheaper, but still higher than what Xiaomi or Google are asking for their flagships.

In the end, the Mate 50 Pro will still appeal to enthusiasts or fans of the brand, but for the average consumer, it’s a tough sell. The good news? They exist. Several YouTube readers and viewers have been asking me how to buy a Mate 50 Pro over the past few weeks.

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