Shooting photos with the Leica-branded Huawei P10

The monochrome mode is a joy.


With the P9, Huawei made a pretty big push for the photography crowd. The company teamed up with Leica, an iconic camera brand, for a new dual-lens system on the back. It was a decent performer but far from revolutionary. So it was with great trepidation that I picked up the P10, Huawei's new Android flagship and the second to feature the Leica name. Once again, it's an attempt by Huawei to prove that it's more than a me-too smartphone manufacturer. Like Apple, it wants to be known as a company with art, design and taste at its core. But are the P10's photographs any good?

To test its imaging prowess, I took a stroll down Las Ramblas in Barcelona. Ahead of our full review, this seemed like the perfect place to dabble in some light street photography. It was, however, a pretty dismal day, with barely any sunshine piercing the clouds. At first I was a tad disappointed with my shots. They were plenty sharp, capturing some pigeons mid-flight across the Plaça de Catalunya. But most looked a tad drab, lacking color and punch. Some tinkering in Photoshop would surely remedy this, but I was hoping for a little more straight off the camera.

Huawei's P10 (and P10 Plus, which I didn't have a chance to use) has two sensors: a 20-megapixel monochrome one and a 12-megapixel RGB version. If you keep the phone on Auto, it will combine their respective images for better shots. The system works because the monochrome sensor is able to prioritize contrast and other photographic information rather than color. For the P10, Huawei is introducing "enhanced fusion algorithms," which should, in theory, produce sharper and more vivid photos. If there's an improvement over the P9, it's marginal in my opinion. While competent, I think I prefer the shots produced by Google's Pixel.

The P10 performs better, unsurprisingly, when you start using the Pro mode. It's activated through a tab in Huawei's camera app and gives you access to ISO, shutter speed and other useful settings. There's no aperture option, which is a shame, but I appreciated the extra control. If I were shooting a stationary object, such as some ice cream cones, I could keep the shutter speed low (1/60, for instance) and prioritize other settings. Conversely, if a cyclist were speeding by, I could select a faster shutter speed and still get the shot, happily sacrificing some ISO in the process.

Before too long, I popped into La Boqueria, a bustling food market filled with delicious sights and smells. Here, the P10 started to shine. The lighting was better, which resulted in stronger photos with improved contrast and color. I could have stayed there for hours, happily snapping the people who were wandering through and picking up groceries. I soon forgot about the Android spec-wars and Huawei's convoluted Dual-Camera 2.0 Pro Edition branding, focusing instead on the pure and simple act of photography. That's the biggest praise I can give this camera: Eventually, the hardware melted away and I had fun taking photos.

I finished my camera test with a walk toward the Barcelona Museum of Contemporary Art (I had a date with a robot race car). Along the way, I activated the P10's Monochrome mode and shot exclusively with the black-and-white sensor. Normally, I would rarely shoot in this manner or apply a black-and-white filter. That's because the format is often seen as an artistic crutch, used to save photos that are otherwise lacking in imagination. With the P10, however, capturing in black and white is an absolute delight. I loved the tones, contrast and detail that I was able to record outside.

On the whole, the P10's camera is a little inconsistent. Sometimes I would take a shot and be amazed by the clarity and vibrance. Other times it would fall short, with muddy saturation or overly aggressive sharpening. Some of that, of course, is down to my (admittedly average) abilities as a photographer, but I do think the phone struggles at times. I'll need to spend more than a few hours with the handset before making a final call -- we'll be doing just that in our full review, of course. But for now I'm cautiously optimistic. It makes a good but imperfect first impression.

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