After it spun out from Huawei, Honor wanted to make a splash with its first flagship, the Magic3 Pro. One of the biggest features the company boasted about was the camera, saying it was good enough to shoot a proper movie with. Armed with one, we’d all be turned into miniature Tom Cruises, shooting TikToks as if they were destined for the multiplex. Unfortunately, the phone never left its native China, but Honor is using the same pitch for its successor, the Magic4 Pro, which has arrived in Europe.
Certainly, Honor distinguished itself with the spec list, which reads like the company threw the kitchen sink, then the kitchen, then the dining room at the handset. The Pro model has a 50-megapixel primary camera paired with a second 50-megapixel ultra-wide camera with a 122 degree field of view. On top of that, there’s a 64-megapixel telephoto with 100x digital zoom and an 8x8 Direct Time of Flight sensor, giving it whip-fast focusing.
The “IMAX-enhanced” phone’s cinematic credentials go further: Honor enlisted the help of a professional colorist to devise specific hue palettes for video. Bryan McMahan created a series of Look Up Tables (LUTs) for the phone which act like an Instagram filter for your video. These range from a Sunny mode that makes your footage look like it was shot at the height of summer, and a Gloomy mode which makes everything look like it’s been through a bleach-pass. One of my favorites was Focus, which dials down all the colors except for skin tone, at least for my caucasian limbs, making everything look like an ‘80s music video.
But the phone’s real point of interest is its claimed ability to shoot in Log, which is the standard that most Hollywood movies are shot in. Now, technically, it’s a custom format – MagicLog – which Honor designed to work with mobile devices, but the point remains the same. Log is short for Logarithmic, and it’s a way of filming something that preserves as much of the dynamic range and tone as possible. It’ll preserve scenes in high contrast, as well as shadows, highlights and whites that a conventional digital camera might try to smooth out or just straight-up fail to capture properly.
Unfortunately, it has not been plain sailing by any stretch of the imagination – some of the takes I shot for my piece to camera were plagued by strobing. Which was odd, since my LED bulbs shouldn’t be strobing, and the camera only seems to pick up on it every now and again. The sound, too, leaves a lot to be desired and I had to record all of my audio on an external microphone. (Yes, this is common for most professional cameras, but the point here is that people are going to be using this as the camera for their vacation videos, right?)
Being able to shoot Log means you could also hand over your footage to a colorist and get perfect footage. In theory. The first test shots I took were very flat, and it was hard to pull out a lot of the detail and dynamic range that should be there. Now, I’m not a professional colorist but my colleague, Engadget’s Steve Dent is, so I sent him the phone, and all of my footage, for him to run his trained eye all over.
He said that there was a significant amount of clipping, which means that there’s a lot of detail in the footage that can’t be accessed. This is likely a consequence of compression since MagicLog is designed to be mobile-friendly, after all. But it means that my clips couldn’t, after treatment, get the good pops of color that we were hoping to tease out. Not to mention that Honor doesn’t appear to offer a standalone LUT for editing software, which meant that Steve couldn’t simply run it through the standard model (which is table stakes for other pro cameras).
Shooting with the Magic4 Pro is also, in Steve’s words, difficult for a couple of other fairly big reasons. First, because it clips highlights, you have to expose for them and not the shadows, which means that there’s some guesswork involved. Then there’s no easy way to tell if you’re shooting safe footage as there’s no built-in Display LUT to give you an idea of what’s coming. There’s also no video level display, so shooting in MagicLog involves a lot of hitting and hoping.
Now, that’s not to say that the Magic4 Pro is terrible, awful and a general waste of your money – because it isn’t. Shooting in the standard mode is easy enough and the results were good enough for me to use as a pro-quality video for Engadget. But fundamentally it feels like until Honor really finishes building out the Log offering, with a display LUT, video level display and making it easier for non-pros to color-correct afterward, this isn’t something novices should be playing with and expecting good results.