A close look at the Huawei P9's dual-lens camera

The Huawei P9 has a rear camera that uses two separate lenses. We take a close up look at what this idea is all about.

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Huawei's new flagship smartphone, the P9, packs a whole heap of high-end tech, but in this article I specifically wanted to talk about its unusual camera.

Huawei has partnered with Leica for the P9's shooter. Leica is one of the most respected names in photography circles, with its own cameras renowned for elite-level performance. While Leica hasn't provided any hardware for the phone, Huawei has said that the overall quality is sufficient for Leica to "certify" the phone.

Sure, it's not an actual Leica camera, but it bodes well for the phone that Leica is willing to put its good name on it. Let's take a closer look.

The first thing you'll notice about this phone is that it has not one, but two cameras on the back. No, that's not an error in quality control, they're there for a good reason. While they both have 12-megapixel sensors, only one of the sensors shoots in colour, the other is for black and white.

This is for a couple of reasons. First of all, Huawei reckons this will let you snap much more natural-looking black and white shots than simply using a black and white filter. Indeed, I've been very impressed with the monochrome skills of this phone so far.

Huawei P9's black and white mode (click to see full size)

Andrew Hoyle/CNET

The black and white sensor serves a second purpose though. Huawei claims that it's able to capture better detail and contrast than a colour sensor, but by working in tandem with the colour sensor, the P9 can shoot vibrant colour pictures with high contrast.

Having two lenses also allows the phone to make a decent judgement at how far away an object is. This allows the phone to pick out a subject from its background and then artificially blur the background. It's designed to mimic the shallow depth of field effect that you can normally only achieve with a dSLR and a pricey lens with a wide aperture.

You can alter the amount of depth of field you want after you've taken the image too, along with being able to refocus the shot and selectively apply filters to the subject in the foreground.

You'll find a variety of other shooting modes on board as well, including HDR, panorama and a manual mode that lets you set your own shutter speed. There's also a beauty mode for the 5-megapixel front-facing camera, which artificially lightens your skin, widens your eyes and slims your face, turning you into something more akin to an alien.

Huawei P9's depth of field mode (click to see full size)

Andrew Hoyle/CNET

The camera interface is neat and easy to use. A swipe in from the left brings in the menu to change shooting modes, while swiping in from the right gives you access to general camera settings.

Video is shot at 1080p resolution, rather than the 4K video you can snag on the iPhone 6S, Galaxy S7 or LG G5. Still, you at least have options for slow motion and you can shoot time lapses too.

It's early days yet, but I've already been impressed by some of the results I've got from the P9's camera. Selling your phone on the merits of its camera is a risky move by Huawei, when so many other phones can take stunning shots, but the two lenses at least give this phone a novelty factor.

I'll be doing more photo tests over the coming days, so make sure to keep your eyes peeled and look out for the full review soon.