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Huawei P30 Pro camera tops Galaxy S10 Plus pictures two ways in our early tests

Which phone takes the better pictures? We headed to the streets of Paris to find out.

Angela Lang / CNET

Huawei may have just announced the P30 Pro, which has four cameras on the back, but we've already had hours to put this new Android phone's photography skills to the test. What better a foil than the Galaxy S10 Plus, Samsung's flagship phone for spring, which has three very good rear cameras of its own. There are some important differences here that were apparent from the very beginning, and that's what has so far given the P30 Pro the upper hand in two important areas: low light shots (and night shots) and zoom.

The P30 Pro is outfitted with a 40-megapixel main camera, a 20-megapixel wide-angle lens and an 8-megapixel zoom lens with 5x optical zoom. Finally, there's a 3D sensor that is meant to improve bokeh mode. That's the depth effect used in portrait photos. There's a low light/nighttime camera mode you can launch that will take dark photos over a period of 4 or 5 seconds. The results are impressive.

Now playing: Watch this: P30 Pro and Galaxy S10 cameras compared
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Meanwhile, the Galaxy S10 Plus has a 12-megapixel main camera, a 16-megapixel wide-angle lens and a 12-megapixel telephoto lens for 2x zoom. There's no standalone low light mode. While the Galaxy S10 Plus has a lower megapixel count, keep in mind that pixels don't indicate higher quality photos, so this camera test starts with both phones on equal footing.  

What we really wanted to know is how well the Huawei P30 Pro and Galaxy S10 Plus takes those day-to-day photos of architecture, food and low-light situations? When you're wandering the beautiful streets of Paris, which of these two phones will you want by your side? I took both of the new phones through the City of Lights to see which is the superior shooter.

Read now: Huawei P30 Pro vs. Galaxy S10 Plus: A close race for top Android phone?

Willow tree

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P30 Pro

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Galaxy S10 Plus

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Both phones have captured a vibrant image underneath this willow tree but the P30 Pro took much more detail in the shadows from the tree trunk itself.

Notre Dame

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P30 Pro

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Galaxy S10 Plus

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This wide shot of Notre Dame is a bit punchier on the S10 Plus, and the phone's wider-angle lens captured more of the scene compared to the P30 Pro.

But it's the zoom that really sets these two phones apart.

Zoom, zoom, zoom

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P30 Pro 5x zoom

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P30 Pro 10x zoom

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Galaxy S10 Plus 2x zoom

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While the S10 zoom's 2x zoom helps close in on the details of the building, it's no match for the P30 Pro's 5x optical zoom or its huge 10x hybrid zoom, a mix of digital and optical, which let me get right up close to the Notre Dame's front. Even if I digitally cropped into the S10 Plus's zoomed shot of the building so it matches the Huawei's zoom, it loses so much information that all the details become rather mushy. The P30 Pro's zoom keeps a lot of that detail, resulting in a much crisper shot.

It's genuinely impressive that a phone camera is able to achieve this level of zoom and still produce a usable image.

Wingspan

Later on, I found this cormorant drying off its wings, and again this is where the P30 Pro's zoom comes into its own.

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P30 Pro 10x zoom

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Galaxy S10 Plus 2x zoom

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I was able to zoom right into the bird and capture a dramatic wildlife image with the P30 Pro. The S10 Plus wasn't able to get near enough at all, even at its full 2x zoom.

Testing color capture

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P30 Pro

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Galaxy S10 Plus

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P30 Pro

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Galaxy S10 Plus

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Exploring Paris with the phones was great fun and I started to notice the key differences in the ways these phones take photos. The S10's shots are much punchier, with highly saturated colors.

Eclair, anyone?

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P30 Pro

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Galaxy S10 Plus

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This image of a delicious eclair for example is vibrant when shot with the S10 Plus, but it has a much more natural look on the P30. Which you prefer is often down to taste.

Too much drama?

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P30 Pro

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Galaxy S10 Plus

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Personally I think some of the S10's shots add drama that isn't there on the P30 but overall I feel the S10 can be heavy-handed with the saturation.

A wide-angle look

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P30 Pro

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Galaxy S10 Plus

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Inside this shopping arcade I wanted to use the super wide-angle lenses of both phones to get a shot that captures all the detail in the floor and the glass roof. The S10 Plus played a blinder here, capturing tons of details in both the shadows and maintaining a rich blue sky above as well. The P30 Pro wasn't able to balance the exposure as well, resulting in a blown-out sky.

Low-light and night shots

The P30 Pro, like the P20 Pro and Mate 20 Pro before it, is apparently well equipped for low-light shots, so I was keen to see how the two phones stacked up when darkness fell.

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P30 Pro

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Galaxy S10 Plus

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In normal shooting mode, the P30's shot of these board games in a bar doesn't look much different from that of the S10 Plus. They're both bright, have good colors and don't suffer much from image noise.

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P30 Pro, night mode

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The P30 Pro's night mode boosts shadows and adds more pop to the image. 

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P30 Pro night mode

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Galaxy S10 Plus

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This old shop front has been captured fairly well on the S10 Plus, but again the P30 Pro's night mode wins out. The orange color cast in the scene is reduced, shadows are brighter and there's more clarity in the image. That helps bring out the details on the sign lettering and on the brickwork of the building.

Now playing: Watch this: Huawei P30 Pro's low-light photo skills are truly superb
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We're not yet done

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P30 Pro night mode

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Galaxy S10 Plus night mode

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Similarly, the P30 Pro's night mode succeeds in getting the better shot of this vibrant restaurant front. The S10's shot isn't bad, but it lacks the brightness, detail and overall punch that the P30 Pro's night mode is able to achieve.

Will the real statue please stand up?

It's the same story with this statue...

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P30 Pro night mode

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Galaxy S10 Plus night mode

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...and on these nighttime street shots:

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P30 Pro night mode

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Galaxy S10 Plus night mode

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The S10 Plus is just no match for the P30's night mode.

Bringing the camera home

I'm delighted with the shots both phones have been able to take and it's difficult to declare an overall winner, as each phone has its strengths. The S10 Plus is better with HDR, it can balance bright skies and shadowy foreground better than the P30 Pro and its colors are certainly more punchy, if not a little over the top.

But the P30 Pro has two aces up its sleeves with the huge 10x zoom and the night mode, neither of which the S10 Plus is able to keep up with. Which phone is better for you will probably come down to which shooting style you prefer.

This is an early test and we'll be doing a lot more with both phones over the coming weeks, so keep your eyes peeled for more.

Now playing: Watch this: Huawei's P30 Pro boasts cameras galore
3:34

Published: March 26 at 7:01 a.m. PT
Update, 10:17 a.m. PT: Added links

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Huawei P30 (128GB, black)
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