That term has been repeated so many times. About so many phones with good cameras. And by so many people. That it has become a bit of a cliche. And like all cliches, it is only partly true. For, notwithstanding all the talk about “DSLR-like quality,” the real strength of a DSLR has been its versatility, its modularity – the fact that you could make a single device do many things by adding elements to it. Now, while mobile phone cameras over the years have improved radically, their biggest advantage over “real” cameras has been their sheer convenience and ease of use – you always carry your phone around and use it very frequently, so using its camera is far more intuitive than pulling out a gadget you use less frequently and which has only one job (taking pictures). Image quality on phone cameras has, of course, improved steadily but I have always found comparisons between a phone camera and a DSLR superfluous because DSLRs were always about flexibility and phone cameras were more about sheer ease of use and convenience. Phone cameras in the past could sometimes – not very frequently – come close to matching the image quality of a good point and shooter or a DSLR, but they could never quite match their flexibility.

A phone was great for grabbing a moment, but you wanted a good close up, a really zoomed in shot, a picture with superb bokeh with the edges of the subject left relatively intact, you went for a DSLR (with the requisite lenses) or a really good point and shooter. There was only so much a phone camera could do. And so much it couldn’t. Well, that could change with the Huawei P30 Pro.

A camera that matches a…well, CAMERA

For, let us get this clear – the P30 Pro is perhaps the first phone camera I have used that really gets into DSLR territory (and I mean a proper phone camera, not cameras that have calling built into them, like the Galaxy Zoom). I am not going to get into the hardware detailing (check here for details) but in terms of simple usage. The P30 Pro’s Leica quad camera (40, 20 and 8-megapixel set up on the back lets me take a normal shot (the 40 megapixel sensor delivers that), a wider shot if needed (courtesy, the 20-megapixel wide angle sensor), a very good portrait mode shot (with the ToF sensor), and well, even some fantastic zoom shots (that 8-megapixel camera can give you 5X optical zoom, 10x lossless zoom and a rather amazing 50X digital zoom that is good enough for social media). Need more? That 20-megapixel wide sensor also lets you take amazing close-ups from up to 2.5 cm – that is the sort of zone you cannot go into with too many cameras.

Let me do it the Steve Jobs way: A zoom. A macro. A portrait. An ultrawide. Are you getting me? And all of these in one device. Significantly, quality at no stage seems to be a casualty. Colors at times might seem a little oversaturated (we would advocate switching off AI for more realistic results), but in terms of detail and consistency, the P30 Pro is as good as (if not better than) most of the photograph flagships out there, including the Pixel 3, the iPhone XS and the Galaxy S10. No, you will not get super sharp shots at anything beyond 10X zoom, but even at 50X, the images are good enough for social networks – which tells you just how good the image stabilization on that 8-megapixel telephoto sensor is! The bokeh is very good too (that ToF sensor works), and best of all, comes into play even in auto mode if you keep AI switched on. Now, THAT’s how AI is supposed to work instead of simply oversaturating most bright colors, which was what was happening in the likes of the P20 Pro and to a lesser extent, the Mate 20 Pro. Huawei has packed in the interface with stacks of features (including a dedicated Super Macro mode), which might be a little intimidating for some users, but we would advocate simply going ahead and using it in auto mode – it is as a simple point and shooter that the phone’s camera really shines. And while some have been amazed at the low light ability of the device, I have found it to be a little gimmicky and reminiscent of the Lumia 920 and 930, which tried to see in the dark. Keep the mode normal and shoot in the night, however, and you will still get fantastic shots – something which I think purists will appreciate. (Note: Click here for full resolution versions of the below pics)

Zoom, macro, low light…the works

Speaking fo the purists, I know they will shake their heads at this, but the stark reality is simple – the P30 Pro is the first phone that can deliver photographs in a variety of situations. Whether it is a portrait of a person, a random street shot, a panorama of a cityscape, a close up of a drop of water on a glass, or even a snap of the moon we for the first time have a phone that can do it all. And do it reasonably well. The 50X zoom is, of course, the party trick feature, but even if you stick to a 10X lossless zoom, you are assured of some staggering results by not just phone but even general camera standards. I mean, we have been used to 2X zooms being called telephoto in phone camera zone, and many is the camera with a one-inch sensor that asks us to be content with a 3-4X optical zoom. Take it from me, getting this sort of capability in a phone is pretty huge.

What is equally important, however, is just how smoothly all this works. Yes, we could do a lot of near “real” camera level magic with the likes of the Nokia PureView in the past and the Pixel series in the present, but there were always irritants, bugs, and lags. Huawei seems to have ironed those out with a vengeance. And the result is that using the P30 Pro in camera mode is an incredibly smooth experience. Even the slight lags in processing the images – those occasional “sharpening, please steady your device” might make grammar nazis frown, but are not as obtrusive as they were in the P20 Pro, and anyway you can continue snapping away even while the “sharpening” is on. If there was a slight wobble in the camera custard, it was the video, which while being very good, was a notch below what we have seen on the iPhone XS Max – there is no shame in that, but then those still cameras are SO good that we were expecting some sort of video magic too. In fact, even the very good 32-megapixel selfie camera in that drop notch in the display gets sidelined in all the insane rear camera magic.

AND a great phone as well

The camera may be in focus (pun intended) but the P30 Pro delivers a flagship level performance in almost all departments. The P30 Pro comes loaded with top-notch hardware, including a HiSilicon Kirin 980 processor, 8 GB RAM and 256 GB RAM (expandable memory using Huawei’s nano-memory card), which ensures that it handles everything from PUBG at maxed settings to some heavy duty video and image editing (there is an onboard video editor) without breaking into a sweat – the 6.47-inch AMOLED full HD+ display serves up a great viewing experience. There are some nifty high-tech features too, including an in-display fingerprint scanner that works briskly (not as fast as a conventional fingerprint scanner but then we never expected it to) and we love the fact that Huawei has placed the earpiece beneath the display, further cutting bezels in what is already a very svelte design (read more about it in our first cut here). Ironically, audio is one department where some might find the P30 Pro lagging a little, as there are no stereo speakers and while sound on earphones is superb, there is no 3.5 mm audio jack – it is not a deal breaker by any standards but those used to over expecting the stunning sound on the Galaxy S10+ and the iPhone XS Max, will feel let down. The massive 4200 mAh battery is capable of reverse charging and will also generally last a day and a half of normal usage. And well, while the presence of most connectivity options (4G, Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, etc.) is expected, we were delighted to see an infrared port as well. On the software side, we do think EMUI is in danger of getting slighted bloated in some regards but it remains one of the best Android overlays, alongside MIUI in terms of features and consistency – the phone runs on Android 9, incidentally.

All of which makes the P30 Pro is perhaps the first phone I have used which comes with an exceptional camera without compromising on phone performance – a charge that can be levelled at many of the “camera disguised as a phone” brigade, including the Nokia PureView series, the Galaxy Zoom series and of course, even the last two editions of the Pixel. The P30 Pro is a great camera. And a great phone too (trust Huawei to ensure call quality is very good). You can leave home without it…a “real” camera, that is. The big question is of course whether all this is worth the Rs 71,990 at which the Huawei P30 Pro is available (definitely on the premium side). The answer is simple: it all depends on how much you value those cameras. For, while its price might place it in the range of the likes of the Samsung Galaxy S10+, the Pixel 3 XL and the iPhone XR, the fact is that the Huawei P30 Pro is a very contrary beast. Yes, it is an Android flagship in the purest sense of the term. Yes, it is a premium phone in terms of design and performance. But you know what it really is? It is the phone that lets you leave your DSLR behind. Well, for a while anyway. Really. And if that does not tell you everything about the Huawei P30 Pro, nothing will.