Huawei Mate 50 Pro review: Variable aperture really works

This isn’t talked about enough in the tech media scene, but most of the major camera features that Apple, Google and Samsung have adopted over the past three years first appeared on a Huawei smartphone. This includes using a larger image sensor for better light intake. a camera with a higher pixel density for the purpose of pixel placement. stacking images to recreate the effects of a long exposure shot. and an L-shaped camera that sits sideways inside the phone to allow for greater image magnification (zoom).

In short, before sanctions derailed Huawei’s phone development, the Chinese tech giant’s phones were at the forefront of mobile camera innovation. Huawei is trying to recreate the magic with its latest Mate 50 Pro, which comes two years after the last Mate phone, and brings a new camera system with a main camera with 10 stops of variable aperture.

These are not software tricks. Instead, there’s a natural mechanical shutter that opens wider or closes smaller (to control light intake and depth of field) around the 50-megapixel main camera. In the collage below, notice that the size of the camera shutter changes with the aperture.

Because a smartphone camera lens is still relatively tiny compared to a real camera, don’t expect changing the aperture to make drastic differences in lighting, but you can clearly see shallower depth of field at a faster stop (f/1.4 ) compared with a slower f/4.

A faster aperture also means a faster shutter speed, which is more ideal for shooting fast-moving subjects. Because this is a real physical shutter that moves, the difference in lighting, depth of field, and shutter speed also apply to video.

However, is this really necessary? We’re in an era where computational photography is the buzzword du jour in smartphone photography, with phones like the Google Pixel long prioritizing software image processing over chasing camera hardware trends.

I’ve taken dozens of photos with the Huawei Mate 50 Pro side-by-side with phones like the iPhone 14 Pro, Google Pixel 7 Pro, and Xiaomi 12S Ultra, all of which have fixed apertures, and rarely did Huawei’s variable aperture make a huge difference. I can see niche use cases where the manual stop feature would help a shot get the frame more in focus, but the smarts from Google, Apple and Xiaomi are powerful enough to usually make up for it.

But thankfully, Huawei’s computational photography is far from useless. With the Mate 50 Pro, Huawei introduces a new image processing engine called “XMAGE” and it is said to handle image processing earlier in the image pipeline process so that the final shot retains more of the integrity of the original raw data.

I can’t vouch for whether XMAGE has made any fundamental difference to how a smartphone handles image processing, but my eyes tell me that the Mate 50 Pro can take great, stunning images that often outshine the latest iPhone or Google in dynamic range. In the image below, taken against a backlit background with the indoor setup covered in shadows, notice that the Huawei image exhibits more vibrant colors with a wider range of dynamic range.

In general, the Mate 50 Pro can shoot in very strong backlight and still expose images correctly.

There was a trend a few years ago when Huawei phones were above all others when it came to low-light photography. This was due to Huawei’s use of a larger image sensor, RYYB filtering array and night mode technology. Over the years, other phone brands have closed the gap, but the Mate 50 Pro is still arguably the best low-light camera because it doesn’t really need a light mode.

The shots below were taken at 1am in the suburbs. The basketball hoop was completely dark in my eyes. I took the shots with the Mate 50 Pro and the Google Pixel 7 Pro. The former took the shot immediately, while the latter used a three-second night mode. Despite this, the results are still in favor of the Huawei shots, with more natural colors. I emphasize again – the real life scene was almost pitch black at that time.

There isn’t enough space in this article to go into detail about all the camera capabilities the Mate 50 Pro has to offer, so for those interested in learning more about the entire system, my video below shows in-depth testing, as well as sample photos with other top phones. However, the short version is that the Huawei Mate 50 Pro’s camera systems are excellent, but the variable aperture hardware is a bit of a niche feature for now.

The rest of the material ranges from good to excellent, with one notable exception. The Mate 50 Pro is a typical modern flagship phone, with a 6.7-inch curved OLED display with a refresh rate of up to 120Hz. The front glass is reinforced by this technology that Huawei has called “Kunlun glass”. Huawei claims it has 10 times more shatter resistance than “standard smartphone screens”. This is a feature I haven’t tested as I haven’t dropped the phone and don’t plan to.

The screens look almost flawless and get bright enough for outdoor use. However, there is a fairly large notch that eats up the screen, and it’s an eyesore in my opinion. Certainly, Huawei makes use of the break, housing an ultra-wide selfie camera along with a 3D face-scanning camera. But the Huawei Mate 40 Pro launched in 2020 also offered a 3D facial scanning system in a smaller pill-shaped cutout. Of course, the iPhone famously did the same this year. I’ve never been a fan of the notch and seeing it in late 2022 is annoying when almost every other phone has solved the problem.

But if you’re wondering, the Mate 50 Pro’s face scanning system works well in the dark too.

The back of the phone is covered in that textured vegan leather finish (there are other versions that use traditional glass backs) and the eye-catching gold-colored camera unit is made of pure metal for a premium and sturdy feel.

The phone feels comfortable in the hand, not too thick or heavy at 8.5mm and 209g. It has IP68 water and dust resistance, plus stereo speakers and wireless charging for that 4,700mAh battery that can last all day.

Powering the phone is the Qualcomm Snapdragon 8 Plus Gen 1, which is Qualcomm’s newest chip, but unfortunately it’s the 4G version of the chip because US sanctions prevent Huawei from sourcing 5G chips from Qualcomm.

Yes, these same penalties prevent the phone from using Google apps as well, but that’s old news. You can still access many Google services, such as YouTube through the web browser or Gmail through Microsoft Outlook, so the lack of Google apps isn’t as crippling as some might think. Otherwise, the software experience is very Android-like, although I find Huawei’s app icon aesthetic a bit old now.

MORE FROM FORBESHow to set up a new Huawei phone to work mostly normally without Google

The phone plays very nicely with the Huawei ecosystem. So if you own a Huawei PC or tablet, you can sync the Mate 50 Pro with it with one tap and control your phone on the larger computing device and move files around via drag and drop.

The Huawei Mate 50 Pro was released in China a few months ago, where it sold very well, but in Europe, it is priced at €1,300, which is very high for a phone with some notable software and connectivity omissions. Admittedly, these compromises are beyond the control of the Huawei consumer group, which makes the matter all the more frustrating. I wish this phone was allowed to run at full power where it can compete on a level playing field. In other Asian regions like Singapore, Malaysia and Hong Kong, the price of the Mate 50 Pro is a bit lower, but still higher than what Xiaomi or Google are asking for their flagships.

Ultimately, the Mate 50 Pro will still appeal to enthusiasts or fans of the brand, but for the average consumer, it’s a tough sell. The good news? There are. I’ve been asked by a number of readers and YouTube viewers how to buy a Mate 50 Pro over the past few weeks.

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