The P20 Pro rocks. Not because it is a marketing message. Not because I was invited to France and Germany to witness the launch of the new phone by Huawei. Not because I wish to curry some favour from some people in Huawei or Leica.
The reason? That Leica and Huawei engineers have created something that really rocks your brain. They have created something that other manufacturers, not just the phone manufacturers but also the camera companies like Canon, Nikon, Sony, Fujifilm, and Olympus, should take a look. The P20 Pro has gone beyond what a photography tool is about.
To understand what I am saying, first of all, we must talk about how the camera is still mostly about sensor and lens. The camera manufacturers are not going beyond what the camera can do to help to improve the images using the data the sensor provides with the lens in front of the sensor.
I will pre-empt the argument of those who are not keen on using JPEGs and love to use RAW to ‘interpret’ the scene that they just shot. For them, I will say, “Whatever floats your boat.” There is nothing inherently wrong with hating JPEG and loving RAW file formats. So let’s not go there.
What I am saying here is there are people out there who love to shoot but hate the chore of post-processing. Some may argue that those are not really into photography…but again, let’s avoid labeling people for now and understand and accept that this demographic couldn’t care less about sensor size, dynamic range, shutter speed, resolution, and aperture but just wants beautiful picture out there.
“I just want to shoot my god-damn cat that just moves too much.”
“I just want to have a simple close-up shot of my baby’s face.”
“I just want to shoot Effiel Tower at night.”
They don’t want technical solutions. They just want the tools that help. And this demographic is still not well served… until I reviewed the P20 Pro.
Huawei and Leica have just used mathematics and Artificial Intelligence to solve some of the science that limits the physical constraints placed on small sensor shooters like those on the smartphones. Here are the main areas that in my books, really rocks.
4 Seconds Hand Held Low Light Photography
Problem: Low Light shots = long shutter speed = shaky pictures
Solution-P (according to the photographers) = tripod, low ISO, long shutter (good photo) OR super high ISO, short shutter speed (not so good photo) OR bracketing in various exposure using various ISO settings on tripod and combined it in Lightroom or Photoshop (potentially best photo but must be technically good)
P20 Pro Solution = Night mode = in that 4 seconds I have exposed my sensor to various ISO settings multiple times and then combined them together to create a well-exposed shot with as much information (dynamic range) as possible.
5x Zoom without a super duper big telescopic ‘thingie’ hanging at the back of my phone
Problem: I just want to zoom into the horizon
Solution-P: Buy a lens that can zoom that far, with large aperture and vibration reduction and maybe a monopod to help with stabilisation as well. IF you have a system camera like a DSLR and mirrorless.
P20 Pro Solution = Activate the 5x Zoom. The smartphone uses the 3x optical lens (no zoom just a prime lens) and then combine with data taken from the colour and monochrome sensors to present an image that is ‘zoomed’ in. It is hybrid zoom, a fancy name for digital zoom.
Verdict: For day shots – OMG!
Nice Portrait Photo
Problem: A nice picture of friends but I want that blur blur background that those big cameras seem to be able to take
Solution-P: Buy a 50mm or 85mm f1.4 lens. Shoot open wide.
P20 Pro Solution = Activate Portrait mode. Smartphone can use 3x optical zoom if there’s a need. Use the distance differentiation between the different cameras to calculate the related distance between subject and the background and extract the subject from the background in-camera.
Verdict: Getting better.
What I am Getting At
I think from the photos you can understand what I am trying to say here. Right now we have a phone manufacturer and a camera manufacturer, tackling some of the technical problems and difficulties associated with having a shooter on a smartphone. Their efforts in solving the problems have created solutions that are beyond just the mere interpretation of the data from the sensor and lenses.
They have put Photoshop presets into the phones. And the phone, via Artificial Intelligence, can choose the correct preset for the types of shots people want.
This is something, that camera manufacturers have tried to tackle using Scene Modes but just couldn’t get people to use it. Either the users are trained to understand how to choose the mode OR the tools they are using know what the users are shooting and adjust accordingly.
The smartphone, after a very long time, has started to become smart. Are our cameras getting smarter this way?
I am pretty sure Canon’s Digic and Nikon’s Expeed are great processors to render the images correctly. That is definitely a given. What’s missing is for the camera to become even smarter.
After looking at the P20 Pro, some commentators on some of the shots I have taken with the phone, remarked that “It is the end of DSLRs”.
Or Is it?
Smarter Cameras or Smartphones Does Not Equate to Great Photos
What the P20 Pro has done, is really about the aesthetic of it all, done automatically. What the P20 Pro cannot do as yet, is to tell you, for the most part, WHERE to point your camera. It also cannot tell you WHEN to shutter the trigger or WHEN to be at a location to get a beautiful sunset shot.
The P20 Pro will not know how to shout instruction for your subject matter to look good for the camera to take a portrait.
In short, the subjectivity of photography or the art sense still has to come from the user. Composition, the light, the shadow, the silhouette, leading lines, reflection, skies, the water…the user must know these elements of composition and put them together in a frame in such a way to be seen as ‘beautiful’. THIS the camera or smartphone cannot do by themselves.
The user is still needed. The human emotion behind the shot must still be present for the shot to emote towards the viewer.
Artificial Intelligence just cannot get Natural Emotions.
What Can Be The Future?
I am pretty sure that somehow, Leica will see some of the work done in partnership with Huawei will flow into the camera systems. Imagine having the Leica Q’s images are further improved computationally by the AI Processor.
Imagine taking a portrait shot, the AI processor can know the subject is dark skinned and apply the right colour balance to the skin so as not to make it too saturated and lightened the shadow areas around the eyes. It is happening now through face recognition in the cameras but certainly, more can be done.
What Can I Say?
The cameras are really just tools. Photography as a hobby is vast and it has different genres. A smart tool will definitely help but it still requires the user input. What would be ideal though is to help the user to get a much better aesthetics of the shot and free the user to capture more behind the camera rather than in front of the computer.
The P20 Pro, has changed the game. It has in some ways forced me to look myself as a photographer that is beyond the post-processing and focus on what is in the frame. Aesthetics can only go so far. Emotions are what we should go after…and I am starting to enjoy photography again.
Yes. P20 Pro may not have just change the smartphone game, but also the camera game.