Camera shootout: Can Huawei’s P40 Pro Plus beat Apple, Samsung, and Google?

The Huawei P40 Pro Plus is the most technically advanced camera phone Huawei has produced yet, and has an even more capable zoom lens system than the P40 Pro, which aced a recent test against the Samsung Galaxy S20 Ultra. Now that the P40 Pro Plus is on the scene, we have given it an even harder test.

Here, it takes on the current best camera phone you can buy, the Apple iPhone 11 Pro, along with its nemesis the Samsung Galaxy S20 Ultra, and the always superb Google Pixel 4. This is as tough as camera phone tests get. Here’s how the newcomer performs against the stiffest competition we could find.

The cameras

Before we get to the photos, here are the camera specs for each contender.

Huawei P40 Pro Plus: 50-megapixel f/1.9 UltraVision lens, 40-megapixel f/1.8 Cine Camera ultra-wide lens, 8-megapixel SuperZoom lens, and 8-megapixel Telephoto lens. 3x optical, 10x optical, 20x digital, and 100x digital zoom.

Apple iPhone 11 Pro: 12-megapixel f/1.8 standard lens, 12-megapixel f/2.4 ultra-wide lens, and 12-megapixel f/2.0 telephoto lens. 2x optical zoom and 10x digital zoom.

Samsung Galaxy S20 Ultra: 108-megapixel f/1.8 standard lens, 12-megapixel f/2.2 ultra-wide lens, 48-megapixel telephoto lens, and DepthVision sensor. 4x optical zoom, 10x hybrid, up to 100x digital zoom.

Google Pixel 4: 12.2-megapixel f/1.7 standard lens, 16-megapixel f/2.4 telephoto lens. 2x optical zoom and 8x digital zoom.

If you want to see how the iPhone 11 Pro stacks up against the Huawei P40 Pro, the Samsung Galaxy S20 Plus, and the OnePlus 8 Pro, then take a look at our previous camera test.

The test

I took a single photo with the same (or as close as I could to the same) composition using each phone, trying out various modes and lenses. I didn’t force any to focus on a particular point, and didn’t adjust any of the settings. I opened the camera app and pressed the shutter button, and left all artificial intelligence (A.I.) assistance at the default level, where appropriate. Results were not checked at the time, and there were no reshoots.

To assess the photos each was viewed on a color-calibrated monitor and compared. Images have been resized ahead of inclusion here, so do keep this in mind when viewing the expanded versions.

The car

Shot on an overcast afternoon with the sun high in the sky and with the standard camera lens, this was a challenging photo due to the lighting conditions contrasted with the white car. At first glance, the P40 Pro Plus and the Samsung Galaxy S20 Ultra take quite similar photos and struggle with exposure — the black wheels lack detail, for example.

The iPhone 11 Pro and the Pixel 4 both take much brighter photos, exposing not only the black wheels, but also the car’s grille more effectively than the other two cameras. The atmosphere in the clouds is more realistic in the Pixel 4’s photo, but there’s more detail when you zoom in on the iPhone 11 Pro’s photo. It’s hard to choose between them.

I’ll pick the photo I’d share without any editing as the winner here, and that’s the Pixel 4, due not only to the sky but also the more accurate black and white color balance on the car itself.

Winner: Google Pixel 4

Schoolhouse

A second standard camera photo, once again showing the Google Pixel 4’s superb balance and dynamic range. The clouds are gray, not blue, and the texture of the building’s fascia shows its age and patina perfectly. The S20 Ultra’s photo is a little underexposed, while the P40 Pro Plus’s photo holds masses of detail, but loses out with the coloring of the sky. The iPhone 11 Pro falls somewhere in-between the two, but the Pixel 4’s photo is the one I’d share without editing.

Winner: Google Pixel 4

Wide-angle pond

The Google Pixel 4 does not have a wide-angle camera and although its photo is excellent, it can’t win here because it couldn’t complete the test. Versatility in your camera phone is important because it makes it more fun to use. The Galaxy S20 Ultra’s wide-angle camera simply can’t cram in the detail seen in the iPhone or P40 Pro Plus’s photo, and despite being attractive, it has to be dismissed.

The iPhone 11 Pro’s wider angle shot emphasizes the clouds but again, makes them a little blue. The color balance everywhere else is superb, though. The P40 Pro Plus loses a little of the atmosphere generated in the iPhone 11 Pro’s photo, but makes up for it with detail. The still water is truly glassy while still revealing depth, while the clouds are more realistic. It could do with a little more saturation and an exposure tweak, but is still my favorite photo of the four.

Winner: Huawei P40 Pro Plus

Recommended zoom

Each camera has a “recommended zoom” setting in the app, enabling you to zoom in and take a shot without having to use the manual zoom slider. On the P40 Pro Plus it’s 3x, on the S20 Ultra it’s 5x, and the iPhone 11 Pro and Pixel 4 have 2x zooms, which means the photos here do look different. However, these are the modes many people will automatically select, and judging the results is important.

The Pixel 4 and the iPhone 11 Pro are tough to split, but the 2x setting is arguably the most useful for everyday use. Both have a lot of detail and a very similar dynamic range, even when you crop into the image. There is slightly more detail in the iPhone 11 Pro’s photo, but you have to look hard to see the differences. The iPhone 11 Pro’s photo is a little better exposed, though. Between the S20 Ultra and the P40 Pro Plus, the Huawei phone captures the atmosphere better than the brighter S20 Ultra image.

Ultimately, all four of these are excellent, so it’s going to be a draw.

Winner: Draw

10x zoom clock

The Google Pixel 4 could only manage an 8x zoom here, but it’s still in contention for the win, as is the iPhone 11 Pro which could only make the 10x shot with its digital zoom feature. The S20 Ultra uses a hybrid zoom at this level, while the P40 Pro Plus uses its optical zoom. Very different systems, so how different are the results?

They’re also very different. Let’s zoom in on the clock face and look at the “English Clock Systems” text. The iPhone’s digital zoom does its best, but the results are very pixelated. The Pixel 4’s 8x zoom shot is better than the iPhone 11’s 10x shot, with clearer details throughout. However, it doesn’t get close to the S20 Ultra or the P40 Pro Plus.

This is a serious battle. The P40 Pro Plus is far more detailed when you zoom in, but the photo is a little soft overall, letting the S20 Ultra take the win with its more impressive textures and color balance.

Winner: Samsung Galaxy S20 Ultra

10x zoom duck

Let’s have another 10x zoom test, this time with a moving subject in very different lighting conditions due to reflection from the water. The Google Pixel 4 and the iPhone 11 Pro’s photos are not too bad looked at individually, with some impressive detail and texture even when you zoom in on the shots. But as before, they can’t get close to the 10x zooms on the S20 Ultra and the P40 Pro Plus.

It’s extremely hard to choose between the two photos. Leaving aside composition, as the duck kept moving about, the S20 Ultra’s brighter shot has more processing around the duck itself when you zoom in, compared to the P40 Pro Plus’s shot. The texture and color in the P40 Pro’s photo is more pleasant and there’s no obvious sharpening or edge processing when you zoom in, while the glassy water has less reflection and more depth.

The P40 Pro Plus shows why an optical zoom and cutting-edge A.I. matters, especially in images like this, by producing a more natural, detailed, and atmospheric picture.

Winner: Huawei P40 Pro Plus

Bokeh mode

All four cameras generate a blurred background effect but call the feature something different. On the Huawei, I used Aperture mode for this shot, Portrait mode on the Pixel 4 and the iPhone 11 Pro, and Live Focus on the S20 Ultra. Let’s start with edge recognition. The subject is obviously the entire end of the log, and all but the iPhone 11 Pro recognizes this, putting it out of the running already.

The Galaxy S20 Ultra is next to go. While the photo looks good, the edge recognition is messy at the top of the log and makes the effect look too fake. The Google Pixel 4’s photo is great, but it’s low on detail, an area where the P40 Pro Plus’s photo excels. Zoom in on the center, and the Dancer inscription remains astonishingly sharp, as does the texture of the log itself. Combine this with the very natural bokeh blur, and it takes the win.

Winner: Huawei P40 Pro Plus

Indoor Night mode

Taken at 10 p.m. indoors with the curtains closed and only ambient light from outside, all the cameras recognized the shot should be taken with Night mode. This was an onscreen prompt and the feature needed activating manually on all but the iPhone 11 Pro, though. Due to the way the test is carried out, I took one photo with each camera and didn’t adjust any settings, or manually chose the focal point. The iPhone 11 Pro decided to focus on the background rather than the figure, so it fails before we start.

The Galaxy S20 Ultra doesn’t brighten the image as much as the P40 Pro Plus or the Pixel 4, but still has excellent color balance and plenty of atmosphere, but the speaker in the background simply becomes a big black mass, rather than showing the definition visible in the other two photos.

The brightness, color balance, and detail in the Pixel 4’s photo is fantastic. The room was almost entirely dark when these photos were taken, yet the Pixel 4’s photo looks like it was daylight. However, while it’s excellent, it can’t replicate the detail in the P40 Pro Plus’s photo, which results in a fabulously sharp image even when you zoom in. It’s very close between them, but the P40 Pro Plus’s photo just edges the win.

Winner: Huawei P40 Pro Plus

Close-up

None of the phones have a dedicated macro mode, but the Huawei’s A.I. understood we were shooting a close-up shot and adjusted accordingly. This photo is of a fallen tree in late afternoon when the sun as getting lower. The phone was rested in the same position, with no suggestion made on where to focus.

The Google Pixel 4 struggles and the focus is haphazard. The Galaxy S20 Ultra picks up some lens flare and also doesn’t seem to focus on anything in particular, while the iPhone 11 Pro does better with excellent dynamic range. But it’s the P40 Pro Plus that creates a photograph. It doesn’t just take a picture, it has assessed the scene and taken the photo most of us would have wanted to take, making sure focus is in the center of the image, picking out detail perfectly.

Huawei’s extensive and long-running work on photographic A.I. clearly pays off in this shot, and it’s the easy winner.

Winner: Huawei P40 Pro Plus

Conclusion

There are nine categories with the Huawei P40 Pro Plus winning five, the Google Pixel 4 winning two, the Samsung Galaxy S20 Ultra winning one, and one being an overall draw. The biggest surprise is the iPhone 11 Pro not taking a single win here, but coming close in several. While the iPhone 11 Pro’s camera is solid in many situations, it can’t compete against optical zooms and managed to fail in the Night and Bokeh category. That puts Apple’s phone at a disadvantage in this comparison.

I was also surprised by how well the Google Pixel 4 still performs as an everyday camera since it’s the oldest smartphone in the test. It took solid shots, coming close to a win even in categories that rely on special features. It’s a testament to Google’s expertise in computational photography, and evidence you don’t always need complicated cameras to take amazing photos.

It’s a decisive win for the Huawei P40 Pro Plus. Our review of the phone is ongoing, but even at this stage, it’s clear the camera is the best you can get on an Android smartphone, and it’ll likely get even better after some software improvements.

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