Huawei Mate 9 camera review: Is this dual-lens Leica camera the best mobile snapper of 2016?

Huawei Mate 9 camera review: We test this second generation dual-lens Leica tech, to see if the Mate 9’s camera is one of the best smartphone snappers of 2016. Here’s our in-depth Mate 9 camera review, complete with photo and video samples.

The Huawei Mate 9 is a mighty 5.9-inch mobile that packs Huawei’s best software to date, as well as some pleasingly premium specs – all for a reassuringly premium price tag, of course. But one of the most intriguing features is the all-new dual-lens rear camera, again crafted in collaboration with Leica.

Huawei’s partnership with Leica has already resulted in the excellent camera found on the Huawei P9 flagship phone. And while that snapper wasn’t quite perfect, it held its own against the competition in almost every regard. Check our P9 camera review if you want to know more.

This time around you get a 12-megapixel RGB colour lens as well as a 20-megapixel monochrome lens, which work together to produce sharp, detail-packed photos. So is the Mate 9 one of 2016’s best mobile shooters? Here’s our full Huawei Mate 9 camera review, complete with high-res samples, to help you decide.

Read next: In-depth Huawei Mate 9 review

Huawei Mate 9 camera review: UI and camera modes

The Mate 9’s camera app is packed with features and therefore pretty dense, but it’s also quite easy to get accustomed to. The logical layout and simple gesture controls are quite refreshing, even if things can look a little cluttered.

There’s a fair bit to take in when you first boot up the camera app. On the right edge you get the shutter button, a video shortcut and gallery shortcut, while over on the left side you get several quick-access settings. These include obvious ones like a flash toggle and a button to swap between the front and rear cameras, as well as the obligatory filters. On top of that, you get Huawei’s Vivid Colours mode, which boosts a photo’s vibrancy, plus the Wide Aperture mode for beautiful bokeh shots.

That’s more than enough for the average user to contend with, considering most people are happy to simply point and shoot. However, if you flick your finger right across the screen, you open up a menu of camera modes. These include a wide range of bonus features, from a beauty mode to hide those sags and wrinkles to Huawei’s trademark Light Painting tool. You can even download new modes if desired.

Flick your finger left instead and you open the general camera settings menu. From here you can fiddle with the photo resolution, GPS tagging, timer function, object tracking and so on.

If it’s manual controls you’re after, they’re present and correct too. Flick that little arrow beside the shutter button and you’ll pull out the pro toolbar, which includes the likes of ISO control, white balance levels and even a manual focus override. If you’re a bit of a photography whizz who demands some extra control, that’ll do you nicely.

A lot to take in for sure, but everything’s pretty much where you’d expect it to be and most of the time you don’t need to flick into secondary menus to get what you want.

Huawei Mate 9 camera review: Photo quality

In good-quality lighting, the Huawei Mate 9’s camera is impressively fast and captures gorgeous, detail-packed shots.

Tap the shutter button and you get a photo almost instantly, while long-pressing the button fires out a series of snaps using Huawei’s Burst Shot mode, at a seriously impressive rate. The Mate 9 does a good job of focusing with respectable light, thanks to the smart tech working the lenses – including phase detection and laser autofocus.

The results are usually excellent when viewed back on a big screen. Colours are naturally reproduced (or given a subtle but pleasing boost if the Vivid Colour mode is activated), while everything from up-close macro shots to sweeping landscapes are crisp and detailed. Even more impressive are your depth-of-field photos, where your subject is up close and the background is blurred out. That dual-lens setup captures some truly beautiful bokeh with the Wide Aperture mode, a step above the iPhone 7 Plus for sure.

Standard auto mode:

Wide Aperture mode:

However, like the last-generation Leica lens, the Mate 9’s camera isn’t quite as strong when the lights go down. If conditions are a little dim, you tend to get grainy shots. And if your subject is in motion (common with pets and kids), then you can expect a lot of blurry results. That focus also really starts to struggle and it can take anything up to two or three seconds for a photo to be captured.

When compared with the likes of Samsung’s Galaxy S7, the Huawei Mate 9 can’t replicate that same brilliant low light quality. There’s not a massive gulf between these two snappers, but the S7 is clearly more accomplished at night. Here are two example shots, one taken on the Mate 9 and one on the Galaxy S7, so you can compare side-by-side; click for a larger view.

Mate 9:

Galaxy S7:

There is a Night Mode tucked away in the Mate 9’s settings, but this takes a photo with a very long exposure time. As a result, you’ll need to stick the Mate 9 in a tripod to get clear, detailed results. Otherwise you’re left with a nasty blur.

For a direct comparison between the Huawei Mate 9 and Galaxy S7, check out our mighty camera comparison feature.

Huawei Mate 9 camera review: Video quality

This is the first Kirin-packing Huawei phone to boast 4K video recording, complete with a special compression feature to keep your home movies from filling up the Mate 9’s storage space. You can also shoot in Full HD with optical image stabilisation enabled, to cut down on judder and hand shakes.

Video quality on the whole is fine, if unremarkable. Our HD video samples boasted plenty of detail, while the focus quickly snapped into action when moving from near to distant subjects. However, changes in lighting conditions aren’t always handled perfectly.

Likewise, the image stabilisation is weaker than some rivals such as Sony’s SteadyShot feature. There’s still quite a bit of judder when walking and shooting at the same time, and even little tremors are present when standing still and filming.

That said, the Mate 9 is still perfectly fine for shooting home movies. It’s just not as impressive as we’d hoped. Here’s some Full HD samples we shot with the Mate 9.

As for 4K footage, we shot some UHD samples which we could happily view back on the phone itself, but our attempts to copy these files off the phone were unsuccessful. We found that the files were not recognised by our computer despite showing up as MP4, possibly because of that compression technique.

The Mate 9’s software isn’t 100 per cent the finished product, so we’re hoping that some or all of these issues will be resolved by the time the phone hits market. We’ll be sure to keep testing and update this feature if this is the case.

Huawei Mate 9 camera review: Verdict

While the Mate 9 doesn’t quite take the crown of best smartphone camera of 2016, that dual-lens Leica setup is a solid all-round effort. It’s a fast and effective snapper in good light and only dim conditions prove its undoing, while video capture is good if not brilliant.

 

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