iPhone XS Max vs. Huawei P30 Pro: Which camera is best?
Two flagship phone cameras go head-to-head. Only one can win.
Lexy SavvidesPrincipal Video Producer
Lexy is an on-air presenter and award-winning producer who covers consumer tech, including the latest smartphones, wearables and emerging trends like assistive robotics. She's won two Gold Telly Awards for her video series Beta Test. Prior to her career at CNET, she was a magazine editor, radio announcer and DJ. Lexy is based in San Francisco.
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Watch this: Huawei P30 Pro vs. iPhone XS Max camera comparison
I took both these phones to some of San Francisco's most scenic spots, including Coit Tower and North Beach, to see what they could capture, from portraits to landscapes and of course zoom.
A note on the P30 Pro.
phone isn't officially sold in the US, due to political pressures, though it is available globally. You can find the Huawei P30 Pro on B&H and
from third party sellers (buyer beware). We've included it in our camera showdown based on its prowess -- this a phone that the likes of
, Apple and
will want to beat.
For most photos in this category, the P30 Pro and
are very close and you won't be disappointed with either. Images are tack sharp and well exposed. Both have HDR modes to help boost dynamic range, called Smart HDR on the iPhone (toggle it from the settings menu) or HDR on the P30 Pro (find it in the More section within the camera app). Each does a good job of boosting the dynamic range that's captured and avoids blown-out highlights and muddy shadows.
Colors are true to life on both phones, with the exception of shooting on Master AI with the P30 Pro. This mode identifies what's in the scene, then adjusts colors and brightness to enhance the image. It can recognize scenes like flowers, skies or trees. Blue skies look really blue, while greenery and foliage look extra vibrant.
Photos look fantastic when shot in this mode, but they are more vivid and saturated than those from the iPhone XS Max which are more true to life. The white balance on the P30 Pro can also look a little warm or yellow compared to the same image taken on the iPhone, although it's not consistent as to when this happens.
As always, your mileage will vary depending on what screen you view on. If you're reviewing on the phone screens themselves, images from the P30 pop and look more pleasing than the iPhone when compared side-by-side. When viewing on a computer screen, the images from the P30 Pro look more muted, but still more vivid than those from the iPhone XS Max.
If you're a fan of having an ultra-wide angle lens to capture sweeping landscapes, the P30 Pro can't be beat in this respect. But do be aware that the photos taken with this lens can appear more saturated and vivid than those taken on the regular wide-angle lens, especially if you are using Master AI. You may want to turn off Master AI if you shoot frequently with this lens, if you're not a fan of the saturation.
The P30 Pro is the king of zoom
There's no doubt about it. If you've heard anything about the P30 Pro's camera it's likely about that crazy periscope zoom lens that offers both 5x optical and a 10x hybrid zoom. (Typically, telephoto lenses can be bulky, so the P30 Pro turns the camera array sideways so a prism bounces the light onto the sensor, just like an actual periscope.)
If that's not enough, the P30 Pro can even go to 50x with digital zoom. You'll really want to try using a tripod or some sort of stabilization here, unless you have the most stable arms, because that level of zoom really exacerbates any hand shake.
I really couldn't believe my eyes when I saw some of the 50x shots from the P30 Pro. Sure, they're not crystal clear but being able to get this close and get a fairly usable shot in daylight is pretty incredible considering this is a phone, not a standalone digital camera. Stick to the 5x or 10x shots and you'll be very impressed with the results.
The iPhone's 2x telephoto lens is no match for the P30 Pro. While the optical zoom at 2x looks sharp and offers a greater reach than the wide-angle lens, when you pinch in to 10x digital zoom to try catch up to the P30 Pro, the results are pretty muddy.
Each phone has a dedicated portrait mode to blur the background behind your subject to make them stand out.
On the iPhone, it uses both cameras to achieve the effect and you can change the blur level using a simulated f-stop slider between f/1.4 and f/16. There are also different lighting effects, including stage lighting and monochrome lighting.
The P30 Pro's portrait mode lets you choose different blur effects before you take the shot, like making the bokeh (or blur) different shapes. It also has its own version of stage lighting and a beauty mode where you can adjust the shape of your face, among other features. The default blur level is pretty subtle and you can't adjust the level of blur after the shot has been taken if you use portrait mode.
In the portrait above, the image from the P30 Pro looks much softer than that from the iPhone XS Max (yes, the white balance is a little cool on the iPhone shot, but you can make a quick adjustment in post-processing).
Unlike the iPhone which can take portrait mode photos of any subject, the P30 Pro can only take portraits of people. I managed to trick it with a human sculpture, but if you want to capture flowers or pets with that blurred background effect, you'll want to use aperture priority mode instead. This mode will also let you adjust the depth of field and point of focus after the shot has been taken.
When you do use portrait mode, the iPhone captures more facial detail. Edge detection is good on both so neither really gets it wrong when it comes to identifying hair or where to start blurring the background, but faces on the iPhone XS Max generally look sharper and more in focus than the P30 Pro. Even if you use aperture priority mode with a shallow depth of field on the P30 Pro, it still doesn't give as sharp a result as the iPhone's portrait mode for faces. The P30 Pro also struggles with its portrait mode in low light situations (surprising given the camera's strength in night mode as outlined below).
While the P30 Pro has a manual mode (called Pro mode) in the default camera app that gives you control over exposure variables such as ISO, aperture and shutter speed, the iPhone doesn't give you that same control in the standard app. Instead, you'll need to use a third-party app.
Get ready for your selfie closeup on the P30 Pro
Want to capture your visage in 32 megapixels? Get the P30 Pro. Apart from its over-the-top resolution, the front-facing camera captures more detail on photos than the iPhone. It also has a wider perspective to get more in the shot. Both selfie cameras have portrait mode as well and do a good job of identifying your face from the background.
Smart HDR on the iPhone evens out shadows and highlights so the lighting looks less harsh on the iPhone, but I like the images from the P30 Pro more as they're sharper and more vibrant.
Note that there's no autofocus on the P30 Pro's selfie camera but I didn't find it was a significant downside, even when filming video.
Night mode on the P30 Pro is amazing
Slide across on the main camera interface to night mode and you'll capture details in the dark that you can hardly see with the naked eye -- or the iPhone. Similar to Night Sight on
phones, this mode lengthens the exposure time and reduces ISO to cut down on noise. It even produces a great result when you have a light source in the frame as it brightens the scene and makes for a more even exposure.
The iPhone doesn't look bad by comparison when there is a light source in the photo, but it just can't keep up compared to what the P30 Pro produces. Images don't look as sharp or as vibrant.
When the lights get even lower, the iPhone XS Max does show a lot of noise and loses detail in the image, especially as the ISO climbs. As for flash photos, both do a good job. The iPhone XS Max definitely illuminates the scene more, but I prefer the look from the P30.
Want the best video on a phone? That's the iPhone XS Max
Video has always been the iPhone's strong point and it's no different here. Where the P30 Pro excels in still images, the iPhone is ahead for video. The image on the P30 Pro can look oversaturated, especially on the red channel like you can see in the
in the video on this page. Dynamic range on the video image is also not as wide as on the iPhone XS Max with some shadows appearing a little muddy.
Here's what else you need to know about video on both:
Video stabilization: Optical image stabilization (OIS) is on the P30 Pro's wide and periscope lens, but not on the ultra-wide lens. The iPhone has OIS on both lenses. Both perform well and motion is smooth. But you only get the benefit of electronic and optical stabilization on the P30 Pro when you shoot at 1080p.
Low light recording: Both do well, but again the P30 Pro's image looks overly saturated and red. It has more noise than the iPhone.
Frame rates: Only the iPhone records in 4K at 60fps, while the P30 Pro is limited to 30fps at this resolution. The iPhone also has a mode called auto low light FPS which drops the frame rate automatically from 30 to 24fps to get a better exposure when the camera detects there isn't enough light.
Dual-view video: The P30 Pro lets you take video from the wide and telephoto lens at the same time.
Audio quality: Both sound rich and full thanks to stereo microphones.
Slow motion: Available at 240fps on both, but the iPhone is full HD while the P30 Pro is only 720p. It's much smoother and more in focus on the iPhone at this resolution. You can also hit 960fps on the P30 Pro but at that setting, I could never get a usable video.
So which phone has the best cameras?
The P30 Pro is the clear winner for still images, especially at night and with zoom. But the iPhone excels with its portrait mode and is the winner for video recording. I like the selfies taken on both but think they pop just a bit more from the P30 Pro. If you're a keen photographer you will be very happy with either phone and of course, selecting a phone is more than just choosing a camera. I found myself picking up the P30 Pro when I knew I was going to need a camera to take me from day to night with ease. But I did miss the simplicity of the iPhone XS Max. Apple's phone is physically easier to photograph with as sometimes the curved edges on the P30 Pro meant I accidentally swiped to an incorrect setting, and the design is also more slippery when using without a case.
Video correction: The labels for the selfie video are the wrong way around at 5:00. The iPhone XS Max is on the right, while the P30 Pro is on the left.