Huawei Mate 9 Review: A Well-Appointed Android Device, At A Bargain Price

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Huawei Mate 9 Review: Camera Performance

Let’s talk about the fun stuff. The Huawei Mate 9 sports a dual-camera with a 12MP RGB sensor and a 20MP mono one, both with f/2.2 apertures and Optical Image Stabilization, which uses digital post-processing to help those with shaky hands get clearer pictures (ideally).
mate 9 cam optics
The phone’s camera software overflows with features. You get a standard filter set -- monochrome, beauty filter, time lapse, slow-mo, etc. -- although we prefer these as post-shot effects rather than pre-applied settings. Then there are the “pro” features, which allow you to modify ISO, shutter speed, exposure value, and auto-focus. There’s also a setting to save photos in RAW format simultaneously with a JPEG version.

Beyond this, some of our favorite features include burst shooting, where holding down the capture button takes multiple photos in quick succession to capture moving objects. Speaking of objects, the phone’s “object recognition” feature allows you to tap an in-frame object and have the camera continue to track it for focus and metering. While these are great features, the Mate 9’s high dynamic range (HDR) capability, wherein multiple exposures are combined in software to a single image with superior detail, falls surprisingly short. As you can see in the images below, the Mate 9’s HDR gives images a rather washed out look rather than the vibrance and additional detail one normally expects.


These HDR results echo the Mate 9’s camera performance in general. Expect to see better results in contrast and low light than in color reproduction and vibrance. As with prior dual-camera models, Huawei made this prioritization to align with the human eye, which has far more sensing capability for light contrast (as manifested in black and white) than in color differentiation. We might be aesthetically drawn to colors that pop and complement, but we’re hard-wired to prefer contrast. For a mid-priced phone, we’re generally happy with the Mate 9’s overall camera performance. It's just not stand-out versus many of today's high-end phones.

Compare the following two shots to see how the Mate 9 stacked up against a Samsung Galaxy S8 in capturing a picture on a bathroom wall with only a bit of light coming in from under the door.


As you can see, the Mate 9 does a much better job with gathering light, preserving detail, but at the expense of additional noise. This ability does have its limits, though, as we found the camera tended to overexpose whites in sunlight, even when spot-metering on them. Huawei does make some amends with its 4K (16:9) video shooting capabilities, which come accompanied by five-axis image stabilization. The OIS isn’t going to replace a Steadicam, but it’s a lot better than nothing.

stairs and hair Note5vsMate9

In the above and below images, we compared the Mate 9 (right) against a Samsung Note 5, holding both phones side-by-side and shooting both at once. The image of the girl on the stairs was taken with most illumination coming from an overhead skylight. We selected ISO 400 for these moderate conditions and had both cameras fire with center-weighted exposure metering. This resulted in the Note 5 taking a slightly slower capture -- 1/11 second compared to Huawei's 1/15 second. However, the results were the opposite of our expectations. The Mate 9's capture (2448x3264 compared to Samsung's 2988x5312) is slightly blurry, which we might have attributed to hand shaking had we not been holding both phones together, and the overall image quality is muddy.

tree bark Note5vsMate9

The story is much the same with our tree bark photo taken in hazy sunlight conditions at ISO 100. Only in the Note 5's version (left) can you tell that some of the black dots on the left are ants. If Huawei's dual-lens design is, in fact, prioritizing contrast (which seems dubious given our samples), then perhaps those resources might be better spent addressing resolution and sharpness. Or perhaps we received a slightly miscalibrated unit. It wouldn't be the first time this author has had issues with Huawei camera quality.

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