Narrowing the gap between phone cameras and dedicated cameras
Huawei and Leica bring professional photography to consumer pockets
Promotional Feature by Huawei
Technological advances and the rise of the Internet have led to consumers increasingly wanting on-the-go photography. Phones have a natural advantage as lightweight and easy-to-operate devices, and the image quality of photographs taken by phone cameras is improving every year. This has blurred the line between phones and dedicated cameras, making many people content to use their phones to take and share quality photographs.
With this blurred line has naturally come a higher demand for photography from consumers, resulting in both a challenge and an opportunity for Huawei. Beyond just being a handset manufacturer, Huawei is made up of mobile photography enthusiasts always striving to improve the quality and capabilities of mobile photography.
Since creating its first flagship phone, the company has continuously pursued breakthroughs in mobile photography. From the Huawei P6’s 4 cm shooting distance, to the Huawei P7’s low-light photography capability, to the Huawei P8’s light painting mode and the Huawei Mate 8’s quick focus, Huawei’s engineers have poured their hearts into making products that enable users to easily take professional-quality photos with their phones.
MAKING BREAKTHROUGHS WITH THE RGB+MONOCHROME DUAL CAMERA
As the technology behind mobile photography has developed over the past several years, it has also encountered bottlenecks. Huawei previously faced a major question: Given limitations on smartphone dimensions, how could a mobile image quality be achieved that was comparable to dedicated cameras?
Photography is the art of light and to a certain extent, the amount of light admitted determines quality. The best method to increase the light admitted is to use a lens with a larger aperture and a larger sensor. This is the advantage dedicated cameras have over phones, and also explains why the body of a dedicated camera is so big.
Phones are now becoming thinner and thinner, and weight and grip must be considered when phone height and width increase. Seeing that larger lenses and larger camera bodies couldn’t be relied on to enhance photography performance, Huawei faced a challenge in figuring out how to catch up with massive imaging systems. Some manufacturers choose an external camera module, but adding this module results in bulkiness, which clearly would not resolve the problem of maintaining portability and a light weight.
To avoid sacrificing compactness, Huawei opted for a dual camera design. By adding a secondary lens to increase the sensor area, more light is admitted. The two lenses first divide the work, before working together to produce a higher-quality photograph.
To further increase the light admitted, Huawei opted for an RGB and monochrome dual camera design modeled after the imaging principles of the human eye. The RGB lens is equivalent to cone cells, used for capturing colour information, while the monochrome lens is equivalent to rod cells, used for distinguishing shading and definition. This distinguishing capability is especially outstanding in low light
When the colour information from the RGB lens is combined with the shading and definition information from the monochrome lens, the result is an image with both realistic colour and rich details, just like the imaging of our own eyes. The monochrome lens cancels out the RGB lens’ colour filter array, making every pixel admit light three times that of the colour sensor. Based on this, the dual camera can obtain a higher amount of light admitted in low light environments, without extended exposure time.
WITH A DUAL CAMERA DESIGN AND WIDE APERTURE, BOKEH PHOTOGRAPHY IS NO LONGER A DREAM
The dual camera design also has another advantage: the ability to produce a bokeh effect. Similar to the imaging principles used by the human eye, the distance between the left and right lenses can be used to calculate an object’s spatial depth through triangulation.
The bokeh effect is introduced through a sophisticated image process algorithm, which produces results similar to those of the wide apertures of traditional cameras. To determine distance, Huawei incorporated an embedded independent depth-calculating processor. This processor can quickly obtain depth information about every part of the image, distinguishing between foreground, middle ground and background.
Only with two eyes can humans truly sense the real 3D world around them. Traditional cameras only have one “eye”, so they can only capture 2D information. However, by combining the dual lenses of the Huawei P9, Huawei Mate 9 or Huawei P10 artistically blurred photos can be achieved with only a few button taps.
The elegant bokeh created via the new depth-of-field algorithm found in Huawei P10 is not only available in color but also for monochrome mode in its native form. This allows for authentic images together with the ability to refocus after the image is taken.
CLOSE COLLABORATION BETWEEN TECHNOLOGY AND EXPERTS IN OTHER FIELDS
After delving into the study of photography, Huawei gradually discovered that what mobile photography needed was not just hardware or digitally managed technology, but also enhanced optics capabilities and a connection to photographic artistry. Coming from a technology-oriented perspective, the company was well aware of its lack of experience in photography and optics. To close the gap between mobile photography and professional photography, addressing this shortcoming was a must.
For this reason, the company consulted with Leica Camera AG, the optics master of the 20th century, which had long had its eye on mobile photography and was hoping to bring its photographic technology to mobile devices. Perhaps because of the companies’ similar experiences, pursuit of excellence, eye for technological transformation and desire to explore new possibilities, Huawei chanced upon this opportunity to collaborate with the leader in optics.
FIRST-GENERATION LEICA DUAL CAMERA: IMPROVED IMAGE QUALITY THROUGH OPTICS CAPABILITIES
After meeting the Leica team, Huawei immediately began uniting its R&D departments with the aim of “making mobile cameras more like dedicated cameras”. To facilitate closer collaboration, Leica established a special lab in its German headquarters.
The two companies’ close collaboration first began with optics capabilities and image quality. Optics capabilities are a measure of how good, or bad, a dedicated lens is. The Huawei P9 features first-generation Leica lenses, specifically 12MP RGB and 12MP monochrome sensors. In the beginning, expecting Leica lens quality from a mobile camera might have seemed to be borderline insanity. Mobile camera lenses are much thinner than traditional camera lenses, but aperture size and field of view requirements remain the same. Decreased thickness is a major challenge for lens designers, but Huawei was determined enough to take on the challenge.
In addition, the Huawei P9’s Leica dual camera was created in adherence with the protrusion-free design concept of the P series with lenses that sit flush with the back cover. This also made it more challenging to design and manufacture than other phones. Even with updated camera hardware, the Huawei P9 did not compromise design.
The quality acceptance criteria for this kind of camera are also extremely high. Leica’s optical engineers subjected Huawei P9 lenses to very strict screening criteria. This careful assessment ensured that every lens possessed noticeably superior clarity compared to ordinary phones.
From the perspective of image quality, Leica was also involved in algorithmic depth calibration. Thanks to Leica’s years of experience in the camera industry, the Huawei P9 saw significant improvements over previous models in clarity, richness of detail, noise level and colour rendering.
As one of the best camera and optics manufacturers in Germany and the world, Leica recognizes the importance of emotional expression through colour, and relies on strong optics capabilities to perpetuate the renowned oil painting and three dimensional look often associated with Leica images. The “Leica look” is reminiscent of fine wine — rich and timeless, with subtle red highlights and blue undertones. Colours are highly saturated with natural transitions between colours with no spillover. This gives photographs an oil painting-like effect. The core algorithm for the “Leica look” is used in the Huawei P9 and calibrated by Huawei and Leica, giving every Huawei P9 photo the Leica touch.
SECOND-GENERATION LEICA DUAL CAMERA: BREAKTHROUGHS IN ZOOM TECHNOLOGY
Not satisfied with the Huawei P9’s breakthroughs in optics capabilities, image quality and colour styles alone, Leica and Huawei decided to continue their collaboration and create the second-generation Leica dual camera . This time, it was hoped to make breakthroughs in the important area of mobile camera zooming, improving image quality, aperture size and low-light photography all at once. The result was the innovation of Hybrid Zoom for the dual camera.
In contrast to zooming by switching between two cameras, Huawei used dual camera zooming technology in the new Huawei Mate 9, upgrading the monochrome lens from 12MP to 20MP. The black-and-white sensor with 20MP resolution provides detailed raw data. When the colour data is overlaid on the detailed raw data, the phone’s Hybrid Zoom function achieves sharper images, a much greater dynamic range and low digital noise. The second-generation Leica dual-lens camera also features an optical image stabilizer (OIS) that improves stability and picture quality. Furthermore, it has a powerful 4-in-1 Hybrid Auto-focus system featuring laser focus, phase detection focus, depth focus and contrast focus. Depending on environment and subjects, the camera automatically chooses the best and fastest focus mode and always delivers fast and steady focus performance.
If focal length is too short when shooting a portrait, the image’s edge will be distorted, causing the subject to appear with an elongated face. In the photography industry, 50 mm to 85 mm is considered the best focal length for portraits. The Huawei Mate 9’s dual camera with Hybrid Zoom has focal length equivalent to 54 mm, which falls in the ideal length range for portrait photography. Through this method, the Huawei Mate 9’s doubled focal length helps achieve better portrait photos. Following are specific outputs of features of the Huawei Mate 9 Leica dual camera, helping users achieve professional-quality mobile photography.
Better image quality. The 20MP monochrome lenses provide more imaging information, outlining the image’s contour details and then merging them with the rich colour information results in a more stunning image. This gives photos more accurate edge definition, clearer and brighter lens flare, and a stronger sense of depth. Overall, images are more lifelike and refined.
Wide aperture 2.0. For the Huawei Mate 9, the company used a depth ISP processor in the SoC for the first time. Its capabilities show a 125 percent improvement compared to the previous generation depth ISP. This provides many advantages, including more efficient use of algorithms, handling the layering of multiple photos faster and reducing noise in low-light photos.
High-clarity image quality maintained in low light. The Huawei Mate 9’s dual camera uses unique pixel binning to double the brightness of photos. In contrast to single-lens pixel binning, dual camera pixel binning can double image brightness while maintaining high image resolution. The camera also supports optical image stabilization (OIS), allowing for nighttime photography.
LEICA DUAL-CAMERA 2.0: BREAKTHROUGHS IN PORTRAIT PHOTOGRAPHY
Building on the incredible success of the Huawei P9 and Huawei Mate 9 dual cameras, Huawei P10 introduces all new Leica front and rear cameras with cutting-edge portrait features. The devices’ new portrait mode offer an auto-sensing algorithm that allows anyone to recreate the beautiful lighting effects of professional studio portraits and enables you to make subtle enhancements to ensure your subject always looks their best.
The Huawei P10’s Leica Dual-Camera 2.0 and Huawei P10 Plus’ Leica Camera 2.0 Pro Edition feature a 12MP RGB sensor, 20MP monochrome sensor and enhanced fusion algorithms. When paired with the dual camera OIS solution and the industry’s first dual camera pixel binning technology, the Huawei P10 and Huawei P10 Plus offer superior night shot capabilities.
Further, both devices are the first to include precise 3D facial technology, portrait enhancements and dynamic illumination. This allows for more natural-looking photos than ever, elevated with professional studio-like re-lighting capabilities to add artistic flair to portraits. The Huawei P10 and Huawei P10 Plus also include the world’s first 8MP front camera and all-new sensor that captures more light and improves selfie image quality in low-light environments.
The Huawei P10 Plus is even better in low light situations, as it carries new SUMMILUX-H Leica lenses with a larger f/1.8 aperture.
THE FUTURE WILL BE EVEN BETTER
Huawei’s commitment to transforming smartphones into portable cameras finally came to fruition after multiple designs and tests with the Huawei P9. Even with the development of the Huawei P9’s dual camera, the company’s dedication to consistent improvement was proven with the 20MP monochrome upgrade in the Huawei Mate 9. Then, the Huawei P10 delivered the world’s first Leica certified front camera, as well as advanced facial recognition and studio-level portrait enhancements. Through its valued partnership with Leica and the expertise of its engineering team, Huawei has created a revolutionary camera design that will continue to raise the bar for today’s smartphone technology.