Huawei P30 Pro vs. Google Pixel 3: Camera kings clash in photography shootout

huawei p30 pro vs google pixel 3 camera shootout v compare feat
Julian Chokkattu/Digital Trends

It’s the battle many are keen to see: The Huawei P30 Pro versus the Google Pixel 3, in a camera shootout. Widely considered one of the best camera smartphones available, the Pixel 3 is smartphone royalty, and excels in both daylight and low light — but what about the Huawei P30 Pro? It has astonishing low-light performance, so can it match or even exceed the Pixel 3’s ability, and snatch its crown?

We took the pair on a tour in Taipei, Taiwan to see which performed best in a variety of daytime, indoor, and low-light situations. Has the Pixel 3’s crown been snatched away, or does it reign supreme?

The cameras and apps

The P30 Pro has a 40-megapixel main wide-angle lens with an f/1.6 aperture and optical image stabilization (OIS). It’s joined by a 20-megapixel ultra-wide lens with an f/2.2 aperture, and the 8-megapixel telephoto has an f/3.4 aperture and OIS too. All three lenses are supported by a time-of-flight sensor. The P30 Pro introduces Super Zoom, a periscope zoom system that gives 5x optical and 10x hybrid zoom, and swaps out the RGGB color filter for Huawei’s SuperSpectrum RYYB sensor to increase the amount of light taken in by 40-percent.

The Pixel 3 has a single 12.2-megapixel camera lens with an f/1.8 aperture, autofocus, dual pixel phase detection, optical and electronic stabilization, and a big 1.4nm pixel size. It’s also packed full of Google software trickery for incredible low-light images — including a feature called Night Sight — and plenty more.

If the cameras are very different, the apps are too. The camera app on the P30 Pro is packed full of features, making use of the various lenses, and zoom modes, and plenty more. The Pixel’s app is more stripped out, with panorama, video, night, and portrait modes. The remainder of options are few, and it’s less complicated to learn. Both are fast under normal circumstances, but the Pixel is faster at capturing its night mode shots.

The photos

Both smartphones accompanied me on a trip around Taipei, taking photos many people would consider standard on a vacation. Auto was used every time, and only in a few photos did we deploy some of the special features, such as portrait mode, night mode, and the wide-angle lens. Let’s see how they compare.

National Palace Museum

A day out at the spectacular, and very interesting National Palace Museum in Taipei saw the cameras take both indoor and outdoor images, putting the low-light performance to the test. The first was taken on the approach up to the museum, from a low angle, against an overcast, stormy sky.

The P30 Pro’s image reveals much more detail in the trees, and in the building wall when you zoom in. The Pixel 3 brings out more color in the sky, but at the slight expense of realism, as the P30 Pro’s photo captures the atmosphere I saw more effectively. This is repeated in the second photo, showing one of the buildings adjacent to the palace. Zoom in on the P30 Pro’s photo and the amount of detail is astonishing. You can make out grills over the darkened windows, which are completely obscured in the Pixel 3’s photo. It’s brighter, less saturated, and handled the lighting conditions far better.

Our first indoor picture was taken of a famous jade screen, which is beautiful in real life. The P30 Pro failed to capture the stunning jade color, yet the Pixel captured it perfectly. While the P30 Pro’s photo is full of detail, it’s too washed out, and is rather drab next to the Pixel 3’s photo.

The same problem is not so pronounced in the second interior photo, showing a collection of artifacts behind glass, but the Pixel 3 again brings out the stunning colors that made us want to take a photo in the first place. This is the point here. While the P30 Pro has plenty of detail, it misses the very reason we chose the subject — we loved the color and intricacy, and wouldn’t want to sacrifice one aspect for another.

Yangmingshan National Park Hike

Blisteringly hot and humid as hell, some stunning, varied terrain presented a wealth of unique photo opportunities during an afternoon in the Yangmingshan National Park. The first photo shows the reflection of a hot spring spa and the surrounding foliage in a still lake. You can see the fish in both photos, but take a closer look at the reflection in the P30 Pro’s photo. The detail is superior to the Pixel 3’s, with the trees being an almost identical reproduction. It’s an overall brighter, more attractive image.

We photographed the millipede on the way up the mountain, and selected the closest part to the camera as the focal point. The Pixel 3 focused accurately, while the P30 Pro focused a little further down the body than we’d have liked. The Pixel 3’s colors are also deeper and more accurate, with more depth and emotion in the rest of the image too.

This is the same with the close up of the moss and lichen covered rock. The Pixel 3 manages color better, which adds emotion. However, the brighter P30 Pro picture reveals more detail in the body of the photo, and a combination of both photos would probably be preferable. The final picture makes use of both phone’s aperture, or portrait modes.

Both are good pictures of a statue found at a temple high up in the mountain, but the Pixel 3 is uncanny in its accuracy and detail. It recognizes edges with similar skill as the P30 Pro, but it understands the rest of the stone is part of the subject, and brings it all into sharp focus. The P30 Pro doesn’t quite manage to do the same. Add the wonderful color and contrast in the Pixel 3’s photo, and it’s a stunning image.

Fisherman’s Wharf, Tamsui

OK, we cheated with the photo of Lover’s Bridge at Fisherman’s Wharf. The P30 Pro’s wide-angle camera suited the scene perfectly, and it’s something the Pixel 3 cannot match. Aside from the grander scale, the picture itself is also vastly superior. Both used their respective night modes, and the Pixel 3 makes the sky too blue, the water too dark, and the color of the bridge too over-saturated. The P30 Pro does everything right.

Standing on the bridge, looking out over the wharf, things change. Both take the photo with night modes active, but the Pixel 3’s image is filled with detail even zoomed in, and the P30 Pro can’t match it.

Things change once more with the photo of the cute characters on the wharf. The P30 Pro in standard shooting mode is much more accurate, and handles the light better than the Pixel 3. The Pixel 3’s picture was taken without Night Sight, showing just how effective not only Google’s software is, but also how good the P30 Pro is without Night mode.

After hard work taking photos, dumplings were required. At first glance, the P30 Pro looks like the better picture, but zoom in and there is more detail in the Pixel 3’s photo, despite the color not being as accurate or as appealing as the P30 Pro’s. However, the first bite is with the eye, and we want to eat the dumplings in the P30 Pro’s photo.

Winner?

We didn’t individually score each round in this test, simply because when we did, each section came out as a draw. These two cameras are fantastic, each taking stunning pictures in situations and environments that take advantage of their individual strengths. The P30 Pro and the Pixel 3 are very evenly matched, and neither stands out as being the superior all-rounder. Choose either, and you’re going to take excellent photos. Our picks in these categories are also subjective — your verdict may be different, and that’s okay.

But there’s one thing to take into account. The Huawei P30 Pro does things the Pixel cannot. The power of the 10x hybrid zoom cannot be underestimated, and neither can the ability of the f/1.6 aperture main lens in low light. We didn’t test them here as it would be unfair, but the results are clear to see in our review. The Pixel 3 has the better software experience overall though, and benefits from regular, timely Android updates. That’s another draw, then.

That’s it. It’s a draw between the Google Pixel 3 and the Huawei P30 Pro. Strengths and weaknesses on both sides, and which one you buy may depend on which photo style you prefer. Or if you can’t buy a P30 Pro, even if you wanted one, because it’s not on sale in the U.S..

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