The Huawei Mate 9 may have two cameras, but its implementation is arguably the best of the bunch.
Dual camera setups on smartphones are growing in popularity, not only with device makers, but with users as well. Each manufacturer tries to set itself apart from one another. The likes of Apple, OnePlus, Motorola, Huawei, and more recently, Samsung, have all released devices with two camera modules.
Apple's Portrait Mode uses both lenses to add depth to a photo, resulting in a blurry background commonly referred to as a bokeh. The OnePlus 5 has a similar feature, with a similar camera setup.
With the Note 8, Samsung is quick to boast about both cameras being equipped with optical image stabilization, or OIS. Typically, only the wide angle camera on most devices has OIS, while the secondary — most commonly a telephoto lens — lacks the feature. A telephoto lens lends itself to a true 2x zoom, before digital zoom takes over and often wreaks havoc on your photos.
Then there's Motorola and Huawei, who use a traditional camera, and a second monochrome camera. That is, a camera dedicated to only capturing photos in black and white. I know what you are probably thinking — Wait, what? There are at least a million filters and editing apps, each one doing a fine job of faking the monochrome look.
Indeed, there are, and purists will celebrate the ability to capture true black and white photos, similar to how our ancestors captured memories years ago.
But it turns out, there's a legitimate advantage to a monochrome camera on a smartphone: A monochrome camera captures more light, which leads to sharper, more realistic photos.
For devices such as Motorola's Moto Z2 Force, which has two 12-megapixel sensors, one color one monochrome, the second lens is used for depth effects or for black and white photos. When a standard photo is captured in a well-lit environment, only the color camera module is used. Dimly lit situations will trigger both cameras to ensure as much light as possible is captured.
Huawei's Mate 9, which also has one color and one monochrome camera on the back of the phone, goes about things a bit differently. The color camera is 12-megapixels, but the monochrome camera is 20-megapixels.
In designing the camera setup on the Mate 9 with Leica, a company known for its iconic monochrome cameras and the shots captured with them, Huawei relied on Leica's expertise. Upping the megapixel count on the monochrome camera ensures the device is able to capture as much information, or resolution, as possible.
Unlike Motorola's approach, where both cameras are used only in certain scenarios, every photo captured with the Mate 9 uses the pair of cameras. Software then takes the two photos and using "advanced image fusion technology" combines the colored version of the photo with the details and lighting of the monochrome photo. (The P10, P10 Plus, Honor 8 and Honor 9 use this method, too.)
The end result is more realistic, colorful photos without the user having to worry about using a certain shooting mode to get the shot he or she wants.
The bokeh effect
With the extra lighting information, the Mate 9 is able to better differentiate between the subject and its surroundings.
Additionally, the added lighting information is then used to add a bokeh effect, or depth, to photos when photos are captured with wide aperture mode enabled. It's part of the reason why the Mate 9 has adjustable f-stops ranging from an insane 0.95 to 16, with the lower the number indicating the more bokeh is used. Sure, some of this is due to software tricks, but it's also due to the hardware configuration.
With the extra lighting information, the Mate 9 is able to better differentiate between the subject and its surroundings. So instead of taking a photo where the subject is in focus and a semi-blurry halo surrounds the subject because the software can't figure out exactly where the background starts, the Mate 9 should do a far better job of distinguishing between the two.
Taking a real black and white photo on the Mate 9 is as easy as a swipe to the left on the screen, and selecting Monochrome. We've already covered how to take the best photos possible with the Huawei Mate 9 with a roundup of solid tips, so I'll spare you from going through individual modes and settings. There are, however, a few settings and tricks worth pointing out. For starters, there's an Automatic mode and a Pro mode. Each mode has its own independent settings pane.
Getting the right shot
By default, the Mate 9 Camera app opens in Automatic mode. Swipe to the left across the screen in the app to view its Settings, which range from size of photo to smile capture. Pro mode is activated by swiping up on the small handle located just above the shutter button. With Pro mode activated, a row of tools for adjusting settings like exposure, ISO, and shutter speed will show up. Tap on one of the settings to disable auto and fine tune exactly how you want the camera to capture a shot. Furthermore, with Pro enabled, a swipe to the left on the screen to view the Settings pane, now with a few new options.
Most notably, there's now an option to enable RAW image capture. For those unfamiliar, the RAW file format is for unprocessed image files. Because the data captured by the camera is still, well, raw (har har), users can manipulate and edit the photo to his or her liking. One downside to shooting RAW photos is the amount of storage space each one requires. A JPG image is roughly 7MB compared to 23MB for the same photo captured in RAW.
When shooting photos in wide aperture mode, RAW mode is disabled regardless of your preference. Also, don't fret about getting the aperture just right before pressing the shutter button. You can go back and edit the f-stop used on the photo, and then save and share. Lastly, any edits you make to the photo are not permanent. You will always have the option to go back to the original photo, should you decide you don't like the way your edit came out, or want to experiment further Despite seeming like a gimmick on paper, having a monochrome camera on a smartphone can have a big impact on overall camera performance. For companies like Huawei and Motorola, who are fighting for every customer, especially in the US, small features like this are what set them apart from the competition.