Samsung's S7 range is not to be sniffed at either. It is, afterall, home to what the Korean manufacturer calls a Dual Pixel setup – promising crazy fast autofocusing- ripe for testing!
With a maximum aperture of f/1.7, it’s more attractive on paper than the f/2.2 we see on the P9 and Samsung claim 95% more light will hit these sensors than in its predecessor, the S6 edge and so it’ll be interesting to see the results.
Both phones have 12 megapixel sensors, but that’s where the similarities end. The P9 sees the inclusion of two lenses, one monochrome sensor which takes in 200% more light than the RGB sensor, then some clever Huawei software combines the two images to create stunning end results – or that’s how it’s supposed to go anyway.
These are the two Android camera giants of this year, so let’s put them head to head.
I’m not the guy you see on Instagram with my breakfast, lunch and dinner photographed for likes but in the name of this comparison I rushed to snap my oven-fresh chicken before it went cold. Although both phones come with a range of filters, and we all know that no self-respecting food blogger will ever post a photo without filters, for the sake of simplicity, I set both phones to auto-mode.
On the left is the photo taken on the Galaxy S7 edge and on the right is the one snapped using the Huawei P9.
The S7 is just so much brighter, the difference is tangible. The S7’s f/1.7 aperture really lets in much more light and shows my white plate as well, white – the P9 makes it look grey.
Both phones do a great job at capturing detail and they suitably blur out the background chilli grains, which nobody needs to see.
The P9 picks up points for clarity but this round undoubtedly goes to the Samsung Galaxy S7 Edge.
I took both devices to the top of the Lighthouse in Glasgow on a typical cloudy day to test out how well these two could do under less than optimal conditions. I switched on panorama mode and took these two snaps. Both phones stitched these shots together incredibly, considering my shaky hands.
Contrary to the previous round, I much prefer the P9 here. It shows more realistic colours and the clouds are suitably gloomy. Moving to the foreground and we can see the tower at the front right of my shot has been picked up much better by the P9, it’s brighter, clearer and more lifelike than that in the S7. The S7 shows more detail though, especially if we zoom in, and it picks up more of the scene than the P9.
Winner in this round is the Huawei P9. I liked that the scene was brighter and the brickwork was more accurate in the foreground - Samsung does get kudos for the crazy ability to zoom, it goes further and shows way more detail than the P9 can. You would usually associate this with a higher megapixel count but not the case here, where both phones having an identical 12MP.
The lights went down and I grabbed my piggy bank – straight out of piggy hair and makeup – to test these two out in almost complete darkness. Only the faintest of light shone through the small gap between my roller blind. Huawei claims that using two sensors lets the P9 capture 70 percent more light than a Galaxy S7, but certainly not in my scenario. The Huawei P9 produces shots that I expect from a smartphone camera – they’re dark and frankly unusable. There’s a weird blue tinge across the photo too, and things actually got worse when I switched on Huawei’s dedicated Night Mode. Night mode needs you to hold your hand steady (or use a tripod) for up to 30 seconds while it takes a variety of photos and stiches them together, but it just doesn’t work well.
The S7 edge on the other hand manages to light up the scene incredibly well. You’d be forgiven for thinking that there was different lighting in the room, it just manages to grab every single available speck of light and produces this wonderfully detailed, well-lit and clear snap. I’m bigging up the f/1.7 aperture for this one.
The Samsung Galaxy S7 edge takes this round. This isn’t a minor difference, it’s shockingly different. Samsung have set the bar for low light photography in 2016 and it’ll take something special to topple it.
Both phones have an array of manual modes for the enthusiast to dive in to. Whilst they’re probably out of reach for the average consumer, it’s nice to have the options there should you wish to use them.
First there’s PRO mode which can be found on both devices. On the P9 it’s where we see Leica’s input the most, photos taken in PRO mode are saved in RAW format by default, allowing for greater post-processing. All the sliders and toggles in PRO mode require a level of expertise (or intense experimenting) to use, but get it right and the P9 will take some seriously good photographs.
There’s no less than 14 other modes on the P9 from Panorama (used above) to the Leica Film Modes (read: Filters). There’s an INSANE HDR mode which works better than any other device I’ve used and the beautiful monochrome mode which makes full use of that other sensor, allowing you to make your shots look more artsy than any Instagram filter would allow.
Samsung have a similar setup, with Pro, Panorama, Food and 7 other modes to choose from. There’s more you can download too, providing more choices than you can shake a stick at. Pro mode is almost identical to that of the P9, and I’d even say it’s easier to use too, but it doesn’t feel as fully baked as the P9’s version. Auto mode on the S7 is spectacular though and this is what I’d leave it on most of the time during my testing. HDR is built in to auto-mode and I let the phone decide what was best most of the time - and that paid off.
In the example above, we see the Selective Focus (S7 edge) and Wide Aperture (P9) features at work. This works to blur out the backgrounds and focus on an object of your choosing. The beauty of this on the P9 is that you can change the focus after the photograph is taken, thanks to those dual lenses. The effect is more prominent on the S7 edge but the picture produced by the P9 is simply stunning. Colours are exactly as I saw them with the eye and it just looks mesmerising.
When it comes to manual modes, the Huawei P9 wins. – it gives you complete control and better results.
I went in to this thinking that Huawei would steal the show, but it wasn’t quite the case. The P9 took incredible HDR shots, and the vast array of options works well for the intermediate to expert mobile photographer but on Auto mode I was left disappointed, often asking if I was doing something wrong because my results just didn’t look that good. I found no basis in Huawei’s claims of excellent low light photography – when the lights went out completely so too did my hopes of capturing a photograph with the P9.
The Huawei P9 has a range of features to get your head around, which means a world of potentially fantastic photographs. You’ll also need to fetch yourself a tripod if you want to try take awesome photos with Night Shot, and in the right hands I have no doubt that the P9 will produce better results.
So, if you like tinkering with the settings and controlling every aspect of the mobile photography experience, you won’t find a better device than the Huawei P9.
Otherwise, stick to the best Point and Shoot in mobile photography – Samsung Galaxy S7 edge.
Low Light – 2/5
Ease of Use – 4/5
Point and Shoot – 3/5
Panorama - 4.5/5
HDR mode - 4.5/5
Filters and modes - 4.5/5
Samsung Galaxy S7 edge
Low Light – 5/5
Ease of Use – 5/5
Point and Shoot – 5/5
Panorama - 4/5
HDR mode - 4/5
Filters and modes - 4/5