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Huawei P30 Pro's biggest camera weapons: Night mode, 3D lens and zoom

How good are the pictures from Huawei's new flagship phone? I took it around Paris to find out.

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The Huawei P30 Pro has four rear cameras, including a 3D sensor on the back. 

Andrew Hoyle/CNET

The Huawei P30 Pro has not one but four cameras on the back, including a super wide-angle lens and a prism-based periscope allowing for 5x optical zoom and a huge 10x hybrid zoom. There's also a 3D time-of-flight sensor that's meant for better portrait mode shots.

But do more camera lenses result in better photos? I took the phone out for an early spin around Paris to see how well this thing can take pictures. 

Read moreHuawei P30 Pro vs. Galaxy S10 Plus camera comparison

Conditions were good and as I started capturing Paris, the P30 was already impressing.

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Andrew Hoyle/CNET

This riverside shot has a great exposure balance between the bright sky and the shaded buildings on the left. There's plenty of detail too.

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Similarly, there's a good overall exposure on this wide shot of Notre Dame Cathedral. The super wide-angle lens provides a dramatic view.

But it's the zoom options that really stand out on this phone.

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Andrew Hoyle/CNET

As well as being able to get right into the scene with this 5x zoom (above) the P30 Pro uses a prism periscope lens system to give a whopping 10x lossless zoom (below) which gets right up close to the subject and still maintains a decent amount of detail.

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Andrew Hoyle/CNET

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

The zoom helped out later when I found this cormorant drying off its wings.

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Andrew Hoyle/CNET

I was able to zoom right into the bird and capture a dramatic wildlife image. If you crop in yet further, it's possible to see that the image doesn't have loads of detail -- it certainly doesn't seem as sharp as taking the image using the standard camera lens, but it's perfectly sharp enough to be usable and I didn't imagine this sort of wildlife image would be something I could capture on a phone camera.

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As I wandered further around Paris, the phone continued to take well-exposed shots with good colors that thankfully weren't overly saturated, giving a natural look. before long, I needed to refuel with a bit of local patisserie and a good coffee.

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I'd hoped that using the Aperture mode on the P30 Pro would allow me to get some more attractive depth of field in the coffee. The P30 Pro even has a time-of-flight sensor that captures depth information to help achieve this effect, but it's done little here to change the image. I'll be putting this feature to the test in the full review.

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Andrew Hoyle/CNET

Here, I wanted to capture a long exposure effect to blur some of the motion of the water. It's usually the sort of shot you'd have to use a tripod for with a regular camera, but Huawei boasts that the AI and in-camera stabilization is good enough to shoot it handheld. However, after several attempts, I still found that the overall image was slightly blurry, so I'd still have to stabilize the phone somehow to get a sharp shot.

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Andrew Hoyle/CNET

Inside this shopping arcade I wanted to use the super wide-angle to get a shot that captures all the detail in the floor and the glass roof. While there's plenty of shadow detail to be seen, the P30 Pro has lost some detail in the blown out highlights in the sky, which is disappointing.

As night fell, I was keen to see what the phone is capable of. Both Huawei's P20 Pro and Mate 20 Pro are excellent low-light shooters and Huawei promises that the P30 Pro is even better.

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Starting with some Scrabble, the standard camera mode did a decent job of capturing the vibrant colors of the board games without much in the way of low-light image noise.

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Turning on the night mode, however, made the image really pop. Shadows came up, bringing a clarity to the image that really boosts it.

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This river scene with the Eiffel Tower's beam in the distance looks good too. There's detail in the shadows and the beam has been captured nicely. I don't like that there's a dark halo around the domed building on the left though, as that's the sort of artefact you'd get if you just cranked up the shadows in Photoshop, and it's the sort of problem I'd usually like to avoid.

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Andrew Hoyle/CNET

This old shop front has been captured well, however, with really crisp detail around the lettering and the brickwork.

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Similarly, this old restaurant front is bright and sharp, and maintains very natural colors.

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In the standard shooting mode, the vibrant front of this restaurant has been captured pretty well.

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But again, things look even better with the night mode enabled, with both more detail in the shadows and more controlled highlights from the neon signs.

Overall I'm satisfied with what the phone can do. That zoom mode is seriously impressive and it's something I've not seen to this extent on any phone before. Is it really something you'd necessarily want to use all the time? Possibly not, but the P30 Pro does zoom better than any other phone when you find you do need it.

For general tourist photos, the shots are good and don't boost the colors to the point of looking unnatural, and like Huawei's previous phones, the night mode really stands out with its ability to capture crisp details even in dark scenes.

This is an early look at the phone and we'll be doing more testing for the full review.

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