Huawei Mate 20 Pro vs Pixel 3XL vs iPhone XS vs Note 9: Which shoots the best photos?

While the Huawei Mate 20 Pro comes out on top, it's evidently clear that every phone has its strong points.

Now that our review of the Mate 20 Pro is out. It’s time we took a long, hard look at how Huawei’s Mate series smartphone’s camera compares with rest of the premium segment.

The Huawei Mate 20 Pro is one of the last premium flagship smartphones to be launched in India this year (at least we hope so), but the long wait for fans of the brand may seem well worth it. The device is turning out to be one of the best smartphones of 2018 and now it also appears to have one of the best camera hardware, even if the Pixel 3XL goes a step further with software.

The Huawei Mate 20 Pro has a lot of competition, in all shapes and sizes. Image: tech2/ Omkar Patne

The Huawei Mate 20 Pro has a lot of competition, in all shapes and sizes. Image: tech2/ Omkar Patne

While I praised the Mate 20 Pro for the variety of lenses it provides, it also packs great software processing that does wonders in low light photography.

As for the competition, we have Google’s best smartphone with the Pixel 3XL that has been the best Portrait shooter so far.

Every premium flagship smartphone packs in very capable camera hardware. Image: tech2/Omkar Patne

Every premium flagship smartphone packs in very capable camera hardware. Image: tech2/Omkar Patne

Our next contender is the Apple iPhone XS that has excelled in the video department, but not so much when it comes to photos since the last iPhones.

And last, but definitely not the least is the massive Samsung Galaxy Note 9 which is the best we have from Samsung so far with its unique dual aperture camera system.

So let’s take a look at how it fares when pitted again the competition.

Portraits

Clicking photos of my colleague Sneha Sharma using all of our four contenders saw the best results coming from the Google Pixel 3XL with the Mate 20 Pro coming in at second and the iPhone XS at third. The Galaxy Note 9 clearly shot the worst Portrait images, but this not something new and we have seen such blurry results since the Galaxy S9.

Portrait Mode comparison. L to R: Mate 20 Pro, Pixel 3XL, iPhone XS, Note 9

Portrait Mode comparison. L to R: Mate 20 Pro, Pixel 3XL, iPhone XS, Note 9

The Google Pixel 3XL thanks to its synthetic fill flash exposed Sneha’s face really well. It had the most accurate colours, got the edge-detection right, and did not simply round it off like the Mate 20 Pro did (tidying up Sneha’s hair by giving her a virtual haircut).

Portrait Mode crop. L to R: Mate 20 Pro, Pixel 3XL, iPhone XS, Note 9

Portrait Mode crop. L to R: Mate 20 Pro, Pixel 3XL, iPhone XS, Note 9

While the Mate 20 Pro produced a really sharp image, the separation was a bit too extreme and looks a bit artificial in my opinion. The Mate 20 Pro also seems to have cleaned up the subject’s face a bit even though Sneha liked the Mate 20 Pro the best. The iPhone XS showcased a heavy yellow cast and just kept her face in focus with her hair and body out of focus.

Selfie Portraits

Moving to an awkward lighting condition with a strong backlight on a sunny afternoon, I took a Portrait selfie using all the four smartphones.

Selfie Portrait Mode comparison. L to R: Mate 20 Pro, Pixel 3XL, iPhone XS, Note 9

Selfie Portrait Mode comparison. L to R: Mate 20 Pro, Pixel 3XL, iPhone XS, Note 9

As expected the Google Pixel 3XL aced it with an almost unreal and professionally exposed face against the strong backlight. In second place was the iPhone XS which produced a more natural-looking selfie with sharper details on my face. In third place, is the Mate 20 Pro which surprisingly fell short of details and the Galaxy Note 9 in the last place.

Indeed, there’s competition when it comes to clicking Portrait photos, but the Pixel 3XL not just gets it right, but thanks to machine learning it gets you a professionally edited photo every single time.

Landscapes

After spending the working day at the office, shooting humans, I decided to head out and capture the golden hour at Mumbai’s Marine Drive, hoping to see a good sunset.

And boy was I wrong! All the pollution accumulated during the day meant that the sun was barely visible through the thick smog that settled over the island city.

Evening Landscapes. L to R: Mate 20 Pro, Pixel 3XL, iPhone XS, Note 9

Evening Landscapes. L to R: Mate 20 Pro, Pixel 3XL, iPhone XS, Note 9

So I made the most of it by clicking a few shots of the bland landscape and it kind of looked interesting thanks to the low tide and the exposed rocks and tetrapods.

Evening Landscapes. L to R: Mate 20 Pro, Pixel 3XL, iPhone XS, Note 9

Evening Landscapes. L to R: Mate 20 Pro, Pixel 3XL, iPhone XS, Note 9

Out here, the Google Pixel 3XL produced the most unreal and contrasted photos, that looked nothing like the scene in front of me. Here, I preferred the output from the Mate 20 Pro, that produced sharp photos with less noise and was closest to what the scene looked like. Second in place would be the Galaxy Note 9 and in third place was the iPhone XS. While some may prefer the over contrasted image that the Pixel 3XL produced, it was not sharp and did look a bit blurry.

Once the sun had almost set and the buildings around Marine Drive switched on their lights, I pointed the cameras inwards towards the bay.

Sunset Landscapes. L to R: Mate 20 Pro, Pixel 3XL, iPhone XS, Note 9

Sunset Landscapes. L to R: Mate 20 Pro, Pixel 3XL, iPhone XS, Note 9

With wind speeds now picking up the haze finally began to clear up a bit, I quickly snapped pictures of the Air India building and the Trident hotel pointing towards Nariman Point.

Out here, The Mate 20 Pro once again produced some sharp and natural-looking images, while the Google Pixel 3XL magically removed the haze (like it was Bruce Almighty). The iPhone XS’s results looked a bit too noisy while the Note 9 lost out on details (the Trident logo looks distorted) with the haze.

Sunset Landscapes crop. L to R: Mate 20 Pro, Pixel 3XL, iPhone XS, Note 9

Sunset Landscapes crop. L to R: Mate 20 Pro, Pixel 3XL, iPhone XS, Note 9

By now, the sun had set so I walked all the way the other side and reached the Gateway of India and it looked glorious with the lighting on.

Standing at Apollo Bunder, I pointed all four cameras to get what I could scavenge from the low light scene with just the Gateway monument that was lit up in the distance.

The results were quite surprising.

Low Light Landscape. L to R: Mate 20 Pro, Pixel 3XL, iPhone XS, Note 9

Low Light Landscape. L to R: Mate 20 Pro, Pixel 3XL, iPhone XS, Note 9

The Mate 20 Pro clicked the sharpest images which the Pixel 3XL just could not match. The iPhone XS was far from the competition while Note 9 managed better with a slightly overexposed image that was low on details.

Low Light Landscape crop. L to R: Mate 20 Pro, Pixel 3XL, iPhone XS, Note 9

Low Light Landscape crop. L to R: Mate 20 Pro, Pixel 3XL, iPhone XS, Note 9

The Mate 20 Pro produced a capture with the lowest noise. The Pixel 3XL produced a soft image and all of its machine learning chops just could not help out. I must note that Mate 20 Pro’s camera does bump up the saturation levels, but again, that’s only in some scenarios and not every shot.

Food Low Light. L to R: Mate 20 Pro, Pixel 3XL, iPhone XS, Note 9

Food Low Light. L to R: Mate 20 Pro, Pixel 3XL, iPhone XS, Note 9

And after a day of hard work, it was a glass of beer and some sausages at a local pub. To the waiter’s surprise, I suddenly pulled out the four phones out of my bag and quickly clicked the platter or sausages and fries I had ordered.

The Mate 20 Pro again produced the best-looking photo here thanks to its naturally sharp processing with the front area of the plate in focus, while the Pixel 3XL preferred the fries over the sausages and decided to focus on them instead. The iPhone XS was low on details being a dimly lit pub. The Note 9 did produce a surprisingly good “food photo” but it was a bit too saturated almost making me peep over the phone and look into to my plate to confirm that my dinner looked like that.

Extreme Low light

And since I was outdoors at night, I decided to shoot images using the Pixel 3XL’s Night Sight and the Mate 20 Pro’s Night Mode.

It extremely dark scenarios like the shot of the boats at Apollo Bunder, the results were better on the Mate 20 pro with slightly sharper images that were in focus, as opposed to the Pixel 3XL’s blurred results with loads of noise. The Pixel 3XL did manage to produce better colours overall in these extreme low light shots.

Huawei's Night Mode vs Google's Night Scape

Huawei's Night Mode vs Google's Night Sight

Next, I decided to click a street lit scene and noticed that the Pixel bumps up the colours a bit too much. The Huawei while over-sharpening things in the same scene did produce a more natural-looking image. But the Pixel’s Night Sight wins here because Huawei’s Night Mode turned the photograph into a painting.

Huawei's Night Mode vs Google's Night Scape

Huawei's Night Mode vs Google's Night Sight. One detail to notice here is how both Night Mode and Night Sight could not capture moving vehicles.

The bottom line is that most of us will rarely end up using the photos shot in these modes unless you have a static scene like the street lit scene above.

Huawei's Night Mode vs Google's Night Scape

Huawei's Night Mode vs Google's Night Sight

Google’s implementation of Night Sight is a bit better than Huawei’s since it delivers sharper looking photos in low light (not extreme low light) scenes. But then again, you will not need to use to Night Mode of the Mate 20 Pro as the Auto mode will be enough in such low light shooting scenarios. So for general low light shooting, the Mate 20 Pro is a better choice.

The Mate 20 Pro vs the Google Pixel.

The Mate 20 Pro's Night Mode vs the Google Pixel's Night Sight.

While clicking photos of subjects seated up to two metres away in a dark room, the Pixel (right) clicked better photos as compared to blurry and flat shots produced by the Mate 20 Pro.

Zoom

Since I was out in the field, I also decided to put the Pixel 3XL’s Super Res Zoom up against Huawei’s optical and digital zoom chops.

Mate 20 Pro (L) vs Google Pixel 3XL (R) Digital Zoom.

Mate 20 Pro (L) vs Google Pixel 3XL (R) Digital Zoom.

To my surprise, the Mate 20 Pro’s Zoom not only goes farther up to 10x (digital) but also produces cleaner images that don’t look like painting as on the Pixel 3XL. The Mate 20 Pro also has a macro mode that lets you click subjects as close as 2.5 cm from the lens.

You can check out all the camera samples in this comparison in our Flickr album by clicking here.

Conclusion

While all the four smartphones in the comparison pack in impressive camera hardware, there’s simply no beating the Mate 20 Pro with its arsenal of lenses and equally capable software that are built to tackle almost any lighting situation and produce good-looking images. Add to this the attractive pricing, that gets you a bigger display, better design, better battery life, SuperCharging and 128 GB of internal storage at Rs 69,990 is a cherry on the top. 

The Huawei Mate 20 Pro comes loaded with an arsenal of lenses which actually add value to your shooting experience. Image: tech2/ Omkar Patne

The Huawei Mate 20 Pro comes loaded with an arsenal of lenses which actually add value to your shooting experience. Image: tech2/ Omkar Patne

The Pixel 3XL at Rs 83,000 for the 64 GB model is still my favourite when it comes to Portrait photos, but that’s about it. Its charging speed is lousy and in my opinion, it does look a bit boring with its oversized display notch and uninspiring design despite the stock Android software.

The iPhone XS’s strong point is its video capabilities that simply cannot be matched by any of its rivals and while it shoots great photos in daylight, its Portrait mode and low light shooting is not up to the mark.

And this leaves Samsung’s Galaxy Note 9 in a really tough spot despite being the only smartphone to feature a dual aperture system. Samsung really needs to up its camera game as the competition has moved way ahead!

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