The Mate 20 & Mate 20 Pro Review: Kirin 980 Powering Two Contrasting Devicesby Andrei Frumusanu on November 16, 2018 8:10 AM EST
Camera Video Recording
Video recording have traditionally been a great weakness for Huawei, and the Mate 20’s feature the same type of issue that also plagued past Mate and P-series phones: the lack of OIS on the main camera modules. Furthermore, I was surprised to see that the video encoding block of the Kirin 980 caps out at 4K30, far lower than the competition from Qualcomm and Samsung.
Because the Mate 20’s feature wide-angle camera modules, this essentially doubles the amount of video samples we have to analyse. In terms of recording modes Huawei offers a slew of resolution from 720p to 4K30 – we’ll be limiting ourselves to the more popular 1080p30, 1080p60 and 4K30 modes. Video recording can be done either in H264, or H265, and the phone defaults to H264 for better file compatibility.
Mate 20 Pro:
On both the Mate 20 and Mate 20 Pro, the one thing that immediately stands out from past Huawei devices is that the video is a lot more stable. Both in 1080p30 and 4K30 (in which previously EIS wasn’t available on the Kirin 970), we see some really good results considering the fact that the phones don’t have OIS. Here Huawei and HiSilicon are obviously using a different EIS algorithm that is much more performant, and the phone actually this time around doesn’t let you disable it. What is interesting to see is that here and there there’s still a jutter in the image, and when this happens we see the very edges of the video sometime warp for a few frames. This is an indication that the EIS algorithm is quite lax in following the camera frame, and in sudden movements tries to compensate and stabilize the recorded video frame by warping the existing camera frame along the edges when necessary. The only real negative of this implementation is that the actual video recording is delayed by a split second, something that plainly visible when panning around – in practical terms this shouldn’t be an issue.
Where things break down is in the 60fps mode: Here there’s no stabilisation and the result is what you’d expect from a non-OIS phone. I do find it weird that Huawei stabilises 4K30, but not 1080p60, as the larger resolution mode should in theory represent a more difficult workload. Here it’s likely that the new EIS is latency rather than throughput bound at some point in the pipeline, either by the sensors, or maybe even on the SoC side.
Video recording in 60fps is also not optimal, here I think Huawei was far too conservative in terms of video encoding bitrate as the resulting video is of much less quality than the 1080p30 mode. Also weird is that in 60fps mode, the phone will now do to the telephoto lens, only allowing digital zoom. However, switching over to the wide angle lens works.
4K30 is of great quality on both phones: This is an immense upgrade compared to the previous generation Huawei devices, and although it doesn’t quite match the quality of say the recent iPhone XS’, video recording is no longer a thorn in the side of the phones.
Recording video on the wide angle lenses is a great experience: It feels a bit less stable than o the primary lens (The EIS has more actual distance to compensate), but overall this is something that I’ve been a great fan of in LG phones, and should be definitely something that I recommend many users to try out.
Exposure and dynamic range is good on both phones and both modules, again something that’s seen immense upgrades compared to past Kirin 970 devices. It’s only when switching between the modules that it seems like it’s necessary to readjust the exposure sometimes. In terms of switching between the modules, Huawei is still a bit slow in this regard. Apple and other Snapdragon devices are able to do this almost instantly, however it still takes a few seconds for the Mate 20’s, especially switching to the zoom modules.
Overall, Huawei’s video recording quality on the Mate 20’s has seen a significant jump. The most glaring issues of stabilisation and lack of dynamic range (HDR recording) have been mostly fixed, and while it’s still not quite the best of the best, the end result is now no longer a big negative for the phones.