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Huawei P9 Leica Dual Camera

Huawei P9 Leica Dual Camera

I'm not going to give the Huawei phone a hard time, in this review. There, I said it. It's a phone. It's not going to take amazing pictures. It has a measly sensor, and it has a couple of very small lenses. I mean, you shouldn't expect so much from a phone.

But when compared to other phones, the Huawei P9 Leica Dual Camera should be in a class of it's own - or at least it should be on paper. After all, Leica has put it's stamp of approval on it. So there will be some level of expectation for this camera phone to perform.

And yes - because this is a phone, I have to also talk a little something about it being a smart device. I'm going to be straight. I'm an iPhone guy. I carry two iPhones with me. This will be a third phone. I'm not unfamiliar with Android OS, but I always return back to the iPhone after becoming frustrated with syncing issues between my Macs and Android phones.

With that said, I have to say that the P9 feels exceptionally good in hand. It feels more solid and more substantial than the iPhone. You feel like you're getting your money's worth with it. The Android OS works well. I don't know which version it is, nor do I really care. But it is smooth in operation.

What I really like about the P9 is the two SIM card tray. So for all you world travelers, you can have two working phone number and data network at the same time. To me, that alone was almost worth considering leaving the Apple ecosystem... well... almost.***

Enough small talk about the phone. You're probably wondering about the camera.

First shot of the day. I shouldn't be surprised, but I found the lens to be generously wide - too generous, if you know what I mean. In order to get a pleasing shot of Anna, I asked her to bring her torso forward, for a more agreeable photograph of her. Otherwise, she would look too bottom heavy - which is never good.

For this review, I had initially intended to use only exported JPGs from DNG files. However, I didn't find the raw files to be significantly better than the in-phone JPGs. To be fair, the dynamic range is better with the DNG files. But it's not amazing enough for me to go through the extra step of post in Lightroom. As such, I decided not to use the raw files and went straight to the JPGs. Besides, only with the JPGs can you get that wicked Huawei P9 Leica Dual Camera watermark!

But there were also other reasons why I did not use the DNG exports. I had expected all the other cool functions of this camera phone could be captured as DNG image files. However, I was wrong. Monochrome capture seem to only work on JPGs... and that also goes for the manual aperture setting (for when you want to shoot at f/0.95). 

That was a real disappointment for me. I had wanted a phone that could shoot well in raw format. I mean, I already had the Windows phone that shot in raw at over 40 Megapixels - and that was a disappointment - given the shutter lag (and of course the Windows OS).

If I'm going to shoot JPGs, I might as well have some fun with the pictures - I figured. So I decided not to take it so seriously with how I photographed Anna.

Fun shots - I asked Anna to kick her legs up. You can set the shutter speed on the camera app, so you can freeze action on the P9 better than the current iPhone 6.

Just a quick click to capture the goofy moment. The P9 was great in evaluating exposure. If only the M240 could be as good.

With a full body shot, you will begin to notice the limitations of the measly phone image sensor. If you could increase magnification, you will notice just how unsharp and pixelated Anna's face is. However, looking at it in it's current screen size, the image looks better than good enough.

Color is rendered with a nice amount of saturation, while skin tones are optimized to look smoother, and with a touch greater luminescence. The outcome of this algorithm in digital rendering is a more contrasty image, without being less forgiving to skin tones.

It was around this point of the photo walk that I wanted to be adventurous, and fiddle around with a sample of the camera application's other functions. It has a beauty mode, monochrome mode, and it can shoot wide open at f/0.95. However, as I have already spoiled it for you early on in this writeup, the P9 can't do any of those special functions in DNG mode.

Just to be straight with you, I did not read the instruction manual for this phone. And to be perfectly honest, I don't know what I did with it. In my exuberant unboxing, I might have left it in a pile disposed by my office custodial staff. In any event, I'm pretty sure that those special functions cannot be done in DNG mode, because I couldn't find any DNG image files in the Android file management system.

The first thing I tried out was the fill flash. I was not happy with it. For some reason, the lighted area from the flash renders more pixelated? I don't know why, since it makes no sense. But from a Leica M photographer's perspective, aren't all Leica's suppose to be shot with natural light? LOL!

Then I tried to shoot at f/0.95. To do that, you had to not shoot in professional mode - which is the mode that shoots in DNG. Frankly, I do like the way it renders bokeh - especially when shot at closer distances to the subject. But what I cannot understand is the discrepancy in aperture information between the selected f/0.95 and the EXIF data, which was stated at f/4.0? Maybe this has already been touched on by Leica or Huawei, but it seems to me that this rendering of bokeh is digital and not optical.

Still, I found the bokeh to be very nice at f/0.95 - even if it were a digital rendering. 

As for the in-device monochrome JPGs, I also found the rendering to be very pleasing. I just wished it was in DNG, so that I could further lift details out of shadows and highlights.

I found the fill flash to be awful. And although this image doesn't show it, the fill flash can blow highlights, if the subject is wearing white.

This is when I first tried the f/0.95 function. It really does look great, in rendering that classic Leica look. At this distance to the subject, it does look very sharp, while the background blur is rendered smoothly.

I do like the rendering of the monochrome JPGs. Just wished it could be captured as a DNG file, so I can better optimize details in highlights and shadows, when exposure is off.

More gratuitous bokeh at f/0.95. I love how that looks. I don't think I've seen another smart phone camera that can produce an image like this.

More gratuitous bokeh at f/0.95. I love how that looks. I don't think I've seen another smart phone camera that can produce an image like this.

Overall, I find the P9 to be an exceptionally good phone. As a camera, I also liked it very much. I think that the digital algorithm in converting the optical capture into JPG image files purposely optimizes the rendering of skin tones. It was exceptional remarkable how smooth it makes skin look - especially at f/0.95. In fact, I would go out on a limb and say that at f/0.95, the P9 does successfully render that classic Leica look. I know it does, because Anna really likes it. I have never seen any other smart phone with that capability.

I really like the P9. I like the second SIM card tray (which could also be used as an SD storage destination). I love the f/0.95 rendering of the classic Leica look. And I like the overall feel of the device. It's really good. The only thing I have against it is the P9's incompatibility with the Apple OS X and iOS ecosystem. Not being able to airdrop or use the various services offered by Apple through iCloud makes the P9 less desirable than the iPhone.

Other than that, I can even forgive the P9's limitation in DNG image capture. As much as I would like a smart phone that could shoot DNG with as much versatility as a real camera, it actually makes more sense for a smartphone to optimize JPG capture, for the sake of sharing. Still, being able to save a DNG copies of monochrome capture seemed reasonable to expect. I just don't understand why the P9 can't do that.

Next to come: How the P9 camera phone compares to the newly announced iPhone 7!

This is how I'm pretty sure that the P9's f/0.95 aperture setting is a digital algorithm and not optimally rendered. Although I'm somewhat close to Anna, I'm not close enough to create the nice creamy bokeh in the background of this image.

Final shot in monochrome. I wanted to shoot at f/0.95, but that only seemed to work with the color camera.

All Images were shot in JPGs, so I didn't do much in Lightroom. I tweaked exposure and contrast a little. But that was it. The P9's Leica camera rendered colors pretty well. None of the images has been cropped, which is obvious, from the consistency of the watermark, on the bottom left hand corner.

*** It should also be noted that I am aware that many Android devices do support dual SIM technology. It's just this is my first time using it... which is awesome!

Thank you Anna - it was a lot of fun!

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