Tuesday, April 25, 2017

5 Compelling Reasons Why Huawei P10 Has The Awesomest Smartphone Camera

Huawei Malaysia has loaned me the newly launched Huawei P10 smartphone, which features their signature Leica dual camera module. Considering that I have reviewed the dual camera setup performance for the previous iterations, Huawei P9 and Huawei Mate 9 smartphones, and the fact that the new Huawei P10 uses similar setup (with some improvements of course), I shall not be doing a redundant full camera review here. Instead, I decided to spend a full day out shooting with the Huawei P10, exploring the features of the camera on the smartphone and came home with a collection of interesting images. After all, the purpose of a camera (any camera at all) is to shoot images, and from the images and my limited experience with the P10, I shall share with you why I think this P10 has an awesome camera.

Kindly take note that I do not have any further relationship with Huawei, other than being loaned the phone to do basically whatever I wanted to do with it. I am a photographer enthusiast and I shall be writing from a photographer's point of view, using a smartphone camera. I will not be discussing the technical aspects of the smartphone (the processor, RAM, battery life, screen, operating system, etc), and my focus is purely on the camera capabilities of the Huawei P10. I am sure you can find such information in many larger tech related sites and blogs out there.

I simply love the full black version of the Huawei P10. The design is beautifully modern yet subtly matching my other gadgets and items I am carrying around with me. 

Much like the predecessor P9 and Mate 9, the Huawei P10 has a dual camera setup, a 12MP full color sensor and a 20MP monochrome (black and white) sensor, with 27mm equivalent wide angle lens at F2.2 on each of the image sensor. The Huawei P10 carries the Leica branding for the lens, and boasts the image processing rendering Leica-like color profile, and of course the famous Leica monochrome black and white quality. Having a dual camera setup also has a few benefits, offering better structure and refined resolution, and a more realistic looking "wide aperture effect" with beautiful bokeh effect. 

I have written lengthily about the dual camera setup, the monochrome sensor and I have tested the predecessors Huawei P9 and Huawei Mate 9 Pro extensively. You may refer to the following links for further reading:







There are may capable smartphones with high quality camera these days, and different manufacturers are offering different set of performance and features, competing against each other in a fierce market situation. To me, it is silly to just look purely at specifications alone and call out the camera's performance based on the technical sheet. A camera, whether a proper, full camera system, or a smartphone camera will require a lot more than just looking at the megapixels or other imaging parameters. An experienced photographer will tell you that there is no one best camera, but only the one camera that suits you best and works for your photography needs. Now here is the issue, most smartphone users are not photographers, or not photography-trained, thus they do not actually know what they want to do in terms of photography and just hope for the best. 

At the end of the day, I do not really think there is a bad choice when it comes to camera or smartphones, but it is entirely up to you to make the best out of what you have. The best camera is the camera that you have with you, since we carry our smartphones with us all the time, this has got to be something reliable, and produces decent enough quality. To be entirely honest, I will tell you that I have not tried that many other alternatives: the iPhones, the Samsung S8, or any other rival offerings in the market. I cannot tell you whether this or that phone is better, that is not the point of this article, and such comparisons will see no end and achieve no meaning. What intend to do in this blog article, is to show you what a smartphone can do, in the hands of a photography enthusiast. 

Here are my five reasons why I think the Huawei P10's camera is awesome:

1) WIDE APERTURE EFFECT

Let ms be blatant about this, the wide aperture effect is nothing more than mere "bokeh simulation". In a layman's way of explanation, that simply means, artificial blurring done by the smartphone's post-capture editing to create the shallow depth of field effect, you know, the desirable blur background effect that many people spend thousands of dollars on DSLR for. 

While I do admit that the wide aperture effect is still nowhere as good as the real deal, using an actual large image sensor based camera with true large aperture lens (for example, Olympus OM-D camera and a 75mm F1.8 lens), in situations that it works, the wide aperture mode on Huawei P10 works really well. In fact, in all my encounters with any other "fake bokeh" simulations by any other phones out there, Huawei has the most convincing bokeh effect. Having the ability to create shallow depth of field can be useful in situations when you need to isolate your subject from a messy background. 

Wide Aperture Effect
1/50sec, ISO125, simulated F3.5

Wide Aperture Effect (In Monochrome mode)
1/50sec, ISO250, simulated F0.95

Wide Aperture Effect (In Monochrome Mode)
1/20sec, ISO640, simulated F2

Wide Aperture Mode
1/33, ISO320, simulated F2

Wide Aperture Mode
1/24sec, ISO500, simulated F4


And the best part is, you can have the simulation done live as you are composing your image. 



2) REAL MONOCHROME SENSOR

One of the camera modules is actually a full black and white camera, using a monochrome 20MP image sensor. The logic behind having a full monochrome sensor is quite straightforward, by removing the traditional colour filters in a typical RGB image sensor, the light will hit the image sensor at full spectrum, unfiltered, allowing the image sensor to collect full information with minimal losses. This translates to images in black and white which display greater sharpness, depth and clarity, hence the claimed superiority of utilizing a full monochrome sensor.

Leica is known for their Leica M Monochrom, which also has full black and white sensor, and having a smartphone that utilizes a similar technology is a great news for black and white shooters. If you do a lot of black and white work, especially if you are a street photographer, the Huawei P10 renders black and white images expressively well, maintaining high level of clarity and graceful gradations when it comes to transitions from shadows to highlights. If you have not explored the world of black and white photography, Huawei P10 will be a good reason to start, and I guarantee you will be hooked to the Monochrome mode instantly. 

Monochrome Mode
1/25sec, ISO500

Monochrome Mode
1/345sec, ISO160

Monochrome Mode
1/60sec, ISO125

Monochrome Mode
1/100sec, ISO80


3) EXCELLENT STRAIGHT OUT OF CAMERA IMAGES

Image processing is a tricky business, and not even the camera manufacturers can get this right all the time. Most cameras have mediocre JPEG processing that leaves the photographers not much choice but to shoot their photographs in RAW and painstakingly spend awful load of time post-processing the RAW files to achieve what they want that the camera default processing could not deliver. This problem is also rampant in smartphone cameras mostly, with obvious problems of over-aggressive noise reduction, smearing of fine details, and fake over-sharpening on the images. Furthermore, white balance and color rendering are also huge concerns. 

I found the images taken with Huawei P10 to be usable right out of the camera, without much tweaking needed. The white balance is usually spot on, with a tendency toward the warmer side, which is not a big issue. The overall color reproduction is realistic and pleasing, but a tad punchy and high in saturation, which is a norm for consumer-pleasing purposes (most people prefer fake, super vivid images instead of natural, muted and pale looking images). I do think that the sharpness is a little on the high side but that can be toned down (in the settings). 

The most important thing to me, when I take a photograph with a camera (even with a smartphone), and I look at the image, I ask myself, does this image look good? This is a huge, resounding yes for Huawei P10. Having great straight out of camera images is extremely important to me, trust me you do not want to spend too much time retouching your images, you should be spending time being out there enjoying yourself shooting. 

Auto Mode
1/100sec, ISO160

Auto Mode
1/50sec, ISO125

Auto Mode
1/500sec, ISO50


Auto Mode
1/120sec, ISO64

Wide Aperture Mode
1/50sec, ISO250, simulated F7.1

Auto Mode
1/30sec, ISO200

Auto Mode
1/25sec, ISO250

Auto Mode
1/60sec, ISO50

4) VERSATILE PROFESSIONAL MODE

If you are a photographer who cares about getting the most out of the camera, you will surely want to tinker with a setting or two when shooting. I have seen many poorly implemented manual controls in high end smartphones, making important settings difficult to reach or set during the shoot. 

Huawei P10 has the Pro mode that unlocks the professional imaging features and settings. In the Pro mode, you can have full control of imaging parameters such as metering, shutter speed, ISO and white balance. You can even do manual focus if you want to. Also, shooting in RAW is available which is important when dealing with scenes with uneven lighting condition, that only extensive post-processing can save later. I like how all the important settings are lined up, just above (or next to, depending on your shooting orientation) the capture button. All these settings are just within a tap or two, without the need to dive deep into the menu. The quicker I can access the settings I want to adjust the faster I can capture my shot. 

Why is the Professional mode so important? You know how people complain about terrible, full of grain looking image in low light condition? Then use a tripod and force the ISO setting to as low as possible, and the issue of high ISO noise is prevented. That kid is running too fast and you shot a blurry mess? Then crank up the shutter speed and make sure that it is fast enough to freeze the motion! There is just so much more beyond what the Automatic mode can do, and if you want to take your smartphone photography to the next level, I suggest you start paying attention to the Pro mode!

PRO Mode turned on, making all the important settings accessible within a tap or two. 

PRO mode
forced at ISO500 to get adequate shutter speed, yet still having a clean image. Things could get ugly if left at default ISO of 800 or higher. 


PRO Mode
Manual Focus was done in this shot, to achieve the pin point accurate macro focus. take note that this was not shot in wide aperture mode, the bokeh in this shot is real. 

PRO Mode
Forced ISO to 100 to maximize the dynamic range captured, and image was shot in RAW, and post processed to taste to bring out a well balanced, and vivid looking result. 


5) THE FUN FACTOR

This is often the underestimated, but the most crucial factor when it comes to using any camera. 

You may have a camera with the highest megapixel count, having the fastest burst rate, highly capable in handling low light shooting, and looks just right on paper specifications. However, it does not have the warm inviting charm to nudge you to pick it up. It does not get you all hand itchy and wanting to shoot more images. What is the point of having the best camera if you do not even feel like using it? 

The question I urge you to ask yourself, are you having fun with your smartphone camera? If not, can you identify what the reasons are? I can almost guarantee it has nothing to do with megapixels or low light shooting or autofocus, or anything technical. It just does not give you the positive vibe. It just does not feel right, using a smartphone to shoot. 

The point of photography, for most photography enthusiasts (I am not speaking about professional photographers of course), is having fun. The fun is in the process of creating images. Choose the camera that has soul. Choose the camera that gets you, and gives you the itch to keep on shooting. Choose the camera that makes you want to go out and have an adventure. The Huawei P10 does all that! 

Wide Aperture Effect
By using the bokeh simulation, it added plenty of depth and dimension into an otherwise flat and uninteresting looking image. 

Auto Mode
The default color profile on the Huawei P10 is already so good that I rarely found myself the need to tinker further with the image colors. 

Monochrome Mode, and Wide Aperture Mode

Monochrome Mode

Wide Aperture Mode

I shall still have the Huawei P10 with me for a little white before I return it to Huawei Malaysia. Do let me know what you want to see me do with the P10. For sure, there will be a few more shutter therapy sessions with the P10, and I look forward to the next one already!

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Monday, April 17, 2017

Short Adventure in Pudu

It was a lazy Sunday that I kicked myself out of bed because I knew I needed to satisfy the itch of my fingers for some shutter action. I loaded the Olympus OM-D E-M10 Mark II into the bag along with some small prime lenses, the M.Zuiko 25mm F1.8, 45mm F1.8, and of course the newest addition the Panasonic 14mm F2.5 pancake lens. I did not exactly have anything planned out in mind, no specific objectives, but I knew if I went out even just for a short stroll I will come across some interesting moments and subjects on the street that will be worth shooting. The trick is just to get out and start observing, the photography opportunities will manifest. After all, it was a Sunday, so I was keeping things slow for the day.

I finally ended up at Pudu wet market, but explored the streets around the main market. It did not took long for interesting moments to appear. Lighting was glorious for the morning, intense directional sun light, and the sky was clear, creating bold and high in contrast image output. I think it was an hour and a half quick walk, I have gathered some images, and I thought I should call it a day. Solo photowalks are always faster and more efficient, as I got to go to the locations that I wanted and less waiting around.

Portrait of a Stranger 
Saw this dude waiting outside the staircase entrance and thought the bold red shirt he was wearing matched the blue painted walls on the back nicely. He was friendly too and we had a little chat. 

Tuesday, April 11, 2017

The Lazy Weekend

It has been a terribly long week, so when the weekend came, I decided to take it slow this time. There were a few errands to run and important events to go to, but I basically let the weekend drift and made sure I had plenty of rest. Went to several locations to get some shots that I have had in mind, and I treated myself to some good coffee and comfort food. We deserve to pamper ourselves once in a while.

The thought of making a photobook has always been at the back of my mind. This was an experimental print I did for a compilation of of my street photography shots. I still want to produce the photobooks and make it available for sale but I think the biggest challenge is to make it affordable or at the price point that everyone agrees with. By keeping the price down, I do need to restrict the number of photos in the book and also compromising print quality. This photobook idea will be shelved for this moment. 

Wednesday, April 05, 2017

Revisiting Panasonic Lumix 14mm F2.5 Pancake lens

Recently I have re-acquired the often underrated Panasonic 14mm F2.5 pancake lens, and naturally it became the most frequently used lens for my latest shutter therapy session. I brought along the Panasonic 14mm F2.5 pancake lens alongside Olympus M.Zuiko  45mm F1.8 to Chow Kit, which was my favourite street hunting ground for a much needed street photography session last Saturday. I had Van, Robert and Sim joining me for this session.

I genuinely love pancake lenses, and I think Olympus and Panasonic should produce more pancake lenses. We already have compact and superbly sharp F1.8 lenses, why not create pancake lenses of respective focal lengths, but instead of F1.8, make them F2.8? I can totally imagine having 25mm F2.8 and 45mm F2.8, and perhaps a 12mm F3.5 (since it is more difficult to do a pancake design for wide angle lenses) but keeping everything in slim, pancake design. Yes, F2.8 means we are losing some light or having more depth of field but imaging the lens being so slim and compact! I can live with the aperture brightness compromise, as long as the image quality is still decently sharp and technically well controlled. Give us more pancake lenses, make them ultra portable, and most importantly, reasonably priced (oh make them cheap that we do not even have to think twice to buy).

I am falling in love again with the Panasonic 14mm F2.5 lens. I simply love the 28mm focal length (equivalent) perspective, which is rather wide and produces different coverage than what I normally do with 25mm F1.8 and 45mm F1.8 lens.

All images were taken with Olympus OM-D E-M10 Mark II with mostly Panasonic 14mm F2.8 and a few shots with M.Zuiko 45mm F1.8

Oh yes, I test printed a photo-book, just to see how the print quality is. Was also toying with the idea of making a photobook for sale to my blog readers. This idea will have to remain an idea for the time being. 

Sunday, April 02, 2017

KL Tower Series: Doing Similar Shots Differently

I have often been asked, why do I walk along the similar shooting routes on the street since I have been there so many times everything would look the same and I will obtain similar photography output?

My answer to the above question:

1) I have not shot the "best" photograph yet. In fact, every single time I walk on the same location, shooting the same subjects and scenes, I am getting better, even if the incremental improvement is so marginally small. Over time, I can see my growth.

2) Different time, different moments. It is nearly impossible for the same moment to repeat itself again, but we can always hope and anticipate new and perhaps more interesting moments to happen, if we put ourselves out there enough to be ready to capture them.

3) Different vision, and different way of seeing things. Every time I go out I try to put on a fresh perspective, I always asked myself - if I have done this before, how can I do this differently this time, and certainly, how can I make this shot better? Perhaps, a use of different focal length, shifting shooting position, or more dramatic composition choices? The possibilities of producing different outcomes of the similar subject or scene are endless.

For example, the prominent Kuala Lumpur Tower (as well as the even more popular KLCC Twin Towers) has been shot like a billion times over by locals and tourists, why would anyone bother to add to the internet junk collection? Surely there would be no way anyone can outdo anyone else, and should not we consider doing something more original, less popularly photographed, to stay ahead in the game?

Then my sincere advice, is that there is no game. Because there is no finishing line when it comes to photography, and it is ok to shoot what everyone else is shooting. You just have to tell yourself that you can create your own photographs based on your own vision.

So here, I present to you, the collection of KL Tower shots that I have accumulated, with different point of view, composition, and ideas behind the shots.


Since the KL Tower is a prominent landmark, it is a great backdrop for street subjects. Here I was emphasizing on the pigeons in flight, but utilized the KL tower to establish the sense of location of this image.