Can the Huawei P20 Pro’s triple cameras beat the Sony Alpha 6300 – a mirrorless camera?

At Mr. Phone, we love comparing smartphone cameras. But when a smartphone comes along with the best DxOMark score ever and the claim that it is better than DSLRs, what’s the point of comparing it with other phones? 

So, what do we do in this scenario? Compare it to a DSLR — or in our case a mirrorless – of course!

And, what better camera to compare the Huawei P20 Pro than the one we use to shoot our YouTube videos? The Sony Alpha 6300. 

See, here’s the thing, I know for a fact that no smartphone camera can actually beat a mirrorless camera with a far bigger sensor. But, it’s just that I am curious to find out how close the P20 Pro can actually get. And, who doesn’t like fun experiments?

Before we start shooting

While I decided to test the two cameras, I faced a major conundrum initially. How do I match the settings on both the P20 Pro and the A6300? To explain the confusion, we’ll have to take a look at the camera specs of the P20 Pro first. 

Like we all know, the P20 Pro has three cameras on the rear. The primary camera is a 40MP 1/1.7-inch sensor, attached to a lens with focal length of 27mm (35mm equivalent). The aperture value of this lens is f/1.8. The secondary lens 20MP lens with an aperture of f/1.6 is dedicated to monochrome shots. Whereas, the final 8MP lens has an 80mm (35mm equivalent) lens attached to the sensor, therefore helping the P20 Pro shoot 3x zoom images with little to no loss in image quality. 

In comparison, we have two lenses for the Alpha 6300, which comes with a bigger APS-C size sensor found in most entry-level DSLRs. The basic 16-50mm kit lens with a variable aperture of f/3.5-5.6 and a 55-210mm telephoto with f/4.5-6.3. After a small discussion with an industry expert Kunal Malhotra who runs The Photography Blogger, I realised that there is a crop factor of 1.5x applicable for the Alpha 6300 because the focal length measurements are not 35mm equivalents. 

Therefore, to achieve parity: considering the P20 Pro shoots at 27mmm, we had to shoot at 18mm on the Alpha 6300 to achieve the same field of view. And, when we do shoot at 3x zoom (or 80mm equivalent) using the P20 Pro, we need a lens that can achieve 53.33mm. The closest we have is the 55mm, so we are going to stick with that. 

Now obviously, none of our Sony lenses can achieve an aperture value of f/1.8. So, we will have to make do with whatever aperture value we have on our lenses. Also, this doesn’t matter in the long run because the P20 Pro’s sensor is pretty small when compared to the one inside the Alpha 6300. Therefore, you aren’t going to get a comparable depth-of-field on its f/1.8 lens anyway. 

A few important points to note for this comparison: 

  • Except for one test, I’ve mostly stuck to the Auto mode for shooting all the photos so that the camera can decide. And as far as smartphones are concerned, very few folks use the Pro mode anyway.
  • Huawei’s Master AI has been switched off for good reason. The AI is very heavy-handed and the resulting images more often than not offer over-saturated colours and blown out the highlights. 
  • By default, the Sony shoots a 3:2 aspect ratio image, which is slightly wider than the 4:3 aspect ratio that the P20 Pro uses. 

Let’s get started. 

P.S. I will strongly urge you to click on the individual images to see it in full resolution. This will help you understand the minute differences in details. 

Face the camera RAW

As usual, I made Ashish face the camera once again. I wanted to check how these cameras shoot portrait images.

For this test, I am going to compare two RAW files shot using each camera. I asked my editor to work with the RAW files captured using the P20 Pro and the Alpha 6300. All we did is export JPEGs from the RAW files without any exposure or colour correction, or noise reduction applied. 

Huawei P20 Pro

Huawei P20 Pro

On comparing the two converted JPEGs, you will notice that the P20 Pro doesn’t offer the amount of details that the Alpha 6300 does. Obviously, the APS-C sensor is at play here. But, the difference is visible only if you pixel peep. Also, on closer inspection you will see a lot of noise. Something that is not there on the Alpha 6300 RAW image. This is the difference between a professional camera and a smartphone. 

Moreover, one thing you will immediately notice is that the Alpha 6300 offers a better depth despite using an aperture value of f/4 – compared to the f/1.8 used by the P20 Pro. Scientifically, bigger sensors and physical lenses will always offer better depth. Also note this: an artificially created portrait shot cannot really match the fidelity and accuracy of a proper mechanical lens. Which is why I haven’t used the Portrait mode on the P20 Pro for this test.

Sony Alpha 6300

Sony Alpha 6300

The first test clearly lays bare the shortcomings of a smartphone camera but I expected that. 

Pretty sunflower

This is where things get interesting. I shot a sunflower using both the cameras and the differences are barely negligible in the JPEG files at first glance. Both the P20 Pro and the Alpha 6300, expose the subject similarly. However, the colour accuracy is better on the Alpha 6300’s sample. Huawei’s camera has a tendency to over-saturate the image. 

Huawei P20 Pro

As far as details are concerned, you have to literally place your eyeball on the screen to spot any differences. There are a few areas where the Alpha 6300 offers better details. But the fact that the P20 Pro manages to produce such a clean, distortion free image is crazy achievement in and of itself. Moreover, the background defocus is near identical and the cutout looks very natural on the P20 Pro. 

Sony Alpha 6300

I am stunned, honestly. 

Shoot me wide

Now, let’s test a wide shot. This is the entrance of our office building in Gurgaon, India. As far as colour reproduction is concerned, there is literally no difference. From the reds to the blues to the greens, the P20 Pro does a commendable job of keeping up with the Sony Alpha 6300. 

Huawei P20 Pro wide 40MP

Huawei P20 Pro 40MP

However, I noticed a lot of chromatic aberration (or purple fringing) on the P20 Pro’s shot. Take a look at the green areas in the trees to see for yourself. The 40MP sensor at full resolution is not very detailed either. For example, the words Big Bazaar written in bold letters at the left hand corner looks extremely crisp on the Alpha 6300’s. It is the exact opposite on the 40MP sample of the P20 Pro. But, you will have to agree that the 10MP crop does a better job of retaining details. Take a look for yourself. 

Huawei P20 Pro wide 10MP

Huawei P20 Pro 10MP

This is the reason why – when you switch on the camera for the first time – the P20 Pro defaults to 10MP. I’d strongly suggest you stick to shooting in 10MP. 

Sony Alpha 6300 wide

Sony Alpha 6300

Run for me

This one is a stress test. Thanks to the powerful processors inside smartphones, continuous shooting is a cinch for most. The Alpha 6300 in Hi+ mode can shoot 11 frames per second. The P20 Pro tops that. But note that you are shooting 10MP images on the phone and the Sony camera is actually shooting at native 24MP. 

Huawei P20 Pro burst

Huawei P20 Pro

That fact notwithstanding, you will notice that the P20 Pro’s camera has managed to keep Ashish in focus in all the frames. We’ve just juxtaposed all the images, so that you can see it in one go. Whereas, it is blurred on all the A6300 shots. 

I am sure that the A6300 would’ve been able to do a much better job if it was shooting at the same resolution as the P20 Pro. But, I still like what the P20 Pro has managed to achieve in this test. 

burst a6300 copy

Sony Alpha 6300

Gundam chronicles

We got a new Gundam toy in office and for the very first time, we are using it as the subject. This image is shot indoors with a couple of tubelights illuminating the room. It is surprising that the P20 Pro actually does a better job here. The Sony Alpha 6300 definitely needs a better lens in this scenario for sure. 

Huawei P20 Pro gundam

Huawei P20 Pro

The details are soft in the Alpha 6300 image, whereas the P20 Pro’s sample looks crisp. Even the colour accuracy is better. This is really surprising. 

Sony Alpha 6300 gun dam

Sony Alpha 6300

Zoom zoom zoom baba

Like we all know by now, the P20 Pro can do 3X lossless zoom and 5X hybrid lossless zoom. In my testing, I noticed that 5X zoom offers poor details. So, let’s stick to the 3X zoom for now. Oh and here’s the thing, you can use 3X zoom only in 10MP resolution of course. The 40MP camera works in conjunction with the 8MP telephoto lens to create a composite 10MP image with 80mm magnification. This helps in preserving more details. 

Huawei P20 Pro without zoom

Huawei P20 Pro without zoom

Huawei P20 Pro 3x zoom

Huawei P20 Pro with zoom

One look at the picture and you notice that the P20 Pro does a great job once again. While the text on the fire extinguisher is clean and crisp in the Alpha 6300 shot, the P20 Pro’s algorithm wipes out the noise. Granted it creates a sort of smudged effect, but it isn’t as bad as some aggressive algorithms I’ve seen on other phones. 

Sony Alpha 6300 without zoom

Sony Alpha 6300 without zoom

Sony Alpha 6300 with zoom

Sony Alpha 6300 with zoom

Moral of the story: use the 3X zoom on the P20 Pro worry free. 

The Dark Night

I don’t know about you guys, but I was eagerly waiting for this part of the comparison: the low light test. And the P20 Pro, like the caped crusader of the night, is truly the king of low light when it comes to smartphone cameras. Thanks, in particular to its dedicated Night Mode. Using this dedicated mode, the P20 Pro manages to stitch a clean low light image with enhanced exposure, even when the phone is held in a human hand. And you know how unstable the human hand can be.

Huawei P20 Pro night mode off

Huawei P20 Pro night mode off

Huawei P20 Pro night mode on

Huawei P20 Pro night mode on

I shot the images in Auto mode on both the cameras and the resulting samples are here for you to see. I mean look at the Night shot. It just offers a better exposure overall and you can see the seat on the left that is underexposed in the other shots, is clearer in P20 Pro’s night mode. Obviously, you don’t get the same level of details and it is slightly smudged. And, you can use the Manual mode to reduce the shutter speed for a clearer shots on the Alpha 6300. But I’m sure most people will agree that a smartphone’s capability to achieve such low light shots is stupendous for sure. 

Sony Alpha 6300 night

Sony Alpha 6300

How good is the P20 Pro?

Like I said earlier, I didn’t start this comparison expecting the P20 Pro to beat the Alpha 6300. Having said that, the P20 Pro impresses and how!

And that got me thinking about first-time DSLR buyers. Most folks don’t really need one. While an entry-level DSLR is fairly affordable these days, the bundled kit lens is generally not a great performer. Therefore, you are looking at added costs for extra lenses. I mean, don’t you think you need that 50mm prime lens for crisp portrait shots? Yup, that was a rhetoric. 

So why not buy a phone like the P20 Pro? Because for all intents and purposes, it should be more than enough for those extra likes on Instagram and Facebook. And, let’s not forget about the portability factor. Furthermore, with the power of machine learning and AI, the future of smartphone photography is very bright indeed. No pun indeed. 

And to sum it up: while the P20 Pro is no DSLR, it is definitely the best smartphone camera you can buy right now. By a long shot. 

Your turn Google. I’m keen to know what’s in store for the Pixel 3?

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Ershad Kaleebullah
ershad.kaleebullah@u2opiamobile.com

When Ershad isn't writing, he spends time killing virtual zombies on his PS4. Having worked with a slew of renowned publications like PCWorld, Channelworld, CIO, NDTV Gadgets (now Gadgets360), MySmartPrice, The Inquistr, and 91Mobiles, Ershad brings a whole world of experience to Mr. Phone. He is trying hard to convert all the team members into Apple fans but is facing a lot of resistance. Is anyone willing to help?