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Huawei P9 Leica Smart Phone Camera Review

Are Huawei really reinventing smartphone photography with the introduction of the Huawei P9? We put it to the test to find out.

| Huawei P9 in Camera Phones

Handling and Features

Huawei P9 Leica Smart Phone Camera Review : Huawei P9

Huawei is slowly but surely turning into a smartphone brand more people recognise and when the P9, we have on test, was announced earlier in April, a lot of chatter on site as well as across social media made us think it could be a smartphone more photographers pay attention to. What makes this smartphone stand out from the rest is the Leica name that sits inline with the cameras lenses and yes, we did say 'lenses' as the P9 has two rear lenses rather than the one we've grown used to seeing on smartphones. However, well-known names, quirky features and sleek designs aren't really worth talking about if what's inside the device isn't as impressive so we've put the Huawei P9 Leica Smartphone's camera and associated features to the test to see if it really is a game changer. 


Huawei P9 Handling & Features 

The Huawei P9 is a really smart looking phone that features a slim metal body that's very similar to the P8 we've previously reviewed. It's a decent size, not too heavy and available in two colours. The back of the P9 is made from aluminium unibody while the front is mostly filled with the 5.2" FHD screen, which is actually larger than the screen found on the iPhone 6S of which the P9 is a similar size to. For someone who is still using the relatively small iPhone 5S, the P9 didn't feel chunky or oversized and I actually really liked the larger size and the 1080p screen. For those who are wondering, the P9 is 145mm x x 6.95mm and weighs around 144g. 


Huawei P9 Leica Smart Phone Camera Review : Huawei P9 Front

The Huawei P9 is easy to operate, even one-handed, although when taking photos, it is best to hold the smartphone in both hands. The button placement (something we'll discuss shortly) and the introduction of a fingerprint scanner on the back also make it easier to capture images with the device. 

Android fans will be familiar with the controls and how the device runs / looks as the OS is Android 6.0 but those switching from an iOS device to the P9 will probably find the way the phone operates very different to what they're used to at first but once you've played around with the controls and options, I'm sure you'll be fine. Apps and the camera respond quickly, which is probably down to the fast processor (Kirkin 955) and aren't too difficult to use. 

Key Features

  • Dual 12Mp cameras, 1 colour, 1 black and white
  • Leica Summarit H f/2.2, 27mm equivalent lens x 2
  • Dual-tone flash, Phase Detection Auto Focus (PDAF)
  • 5.2inch screen, 1920x1080
  • GPS / Wi-Fi / Bluetooth
  • FullHD video recording
  • 8Mp front camera, f/2.4 lens
  • Fingerprint sensor
  • 'Live View' filter application 
  • 3000mAh battery

Huawei P9 Leica Smart Phone Camera Review : Huawei P9 Back

Inside the P9 on test, is 3GB of RAM and 32GB of internal memory which is definitely more than enough for a day of capturing video and lots of images. There's also a larger version available which has 4GB of RAM and 64GB of storage. If that's still not enough space, you can use a microSD card to add even more storage. 

To capture your images that you'll be storing on the generous amount of internal memory you're going to need to power the device and the P9 features a 3000mAh battery which is a slight improvement over the P8 with its 2600mAh battery. When we tested the P8, the battery life wasn't that great and even though the P9 performed slightly better, it's still not amazing. Huawei says the P9's battery will give the phone life for just over a day but after an afternoon of capturing images and video as well as editing them on-the-go, the battery soon needed charging again to top it back up. 

As already mentioned, the P9's screen is rather awesome thanks to its size and picture quality it offers. Sharpness levels are pretty good and the viewing angle doesn't let it down either. The screen's brightness level is particularly impressive and it makes the phone more usable outdoors on bright, sunny days. The phone also has an ambient light sensor which is something we're seeing more of on smartphones and the fingerprint sensor is a nice touch, particularly as it can be used as a camera shutter button which means the phone's more secure when you're taking your photos so shake won't spoil your shots. 


Huawei P9 Leica Smart Phone Camera Review : Huawei P9 Front


Huawei P9 Camera Performace 

The standout feature on this smartphone is most definitely its camera and all of those who were excited about the 2 sensor set-up and Leica teaming up with Huawei won't be disappointed as the camera is great, although this innovative feature hasn't made it the best camera phone on the market (I still think Samsung's such as the Note are still superior) but it has improved the camera performance when compared to other Huawei phones and the images are far from disappointing.

On the back of the phone is where you'll find the 2x 12Mp sensors that work together to create images with plenty of detail and when I zoomed in, I was pleasantly surprised at the level of detail the camera captured. As one sensor is colour while the second is black and white, the P9 uses a merging algorithm to combine the colours taken by the RGB sensor with the detail of the monochrome sensor to improve image quality, Huawei says. 

In use, there are plenty of manual / pro options available but actually, you'll capture a shot that's just as good with auto mode (something I did regularly). The P9 also offers an impressive list of camera features and is capable of producing some great shots which are further enhanced with the filters available, something we'll discuss shortly. 


Huawei P9 Leica Smart Phone Camera Review : Huawei P9 Back

Even though the P9 does offer manual aperture settings, most of the time I just used the camera in its auto mode as generally, that's what most people would do and you'll be happy to hear that you won't be let down by the camera when shooting this way. Image quality is still high and overall, it performed well. 

If you're a monochrome fan, you'll probably be interested to know that you can capture images just with the monochrome sensor and image quality is still very good even when you're only using just the one sensor. If you did want to capture just in colour, you can apply one of the many built-in filters after you've captured your shot, although capturing monochrome shots in camera rather than applying a filter after did produce marginally better results. 


Huawei P9 Leica Smart Phone Camera Review : 1/829 sec | f/2.2 | 4.5 mm | ISO 50

Monochrome filter  


Huawei P9 Leica Smart Phone Camera Review : 1/1656 sec | f/2.2 | 4.5 mm | ISO 50

Monochrome lens result


As mentioned, you can take more control over the images you produce with the P9 by adjusting the shutter speed, ISO, white balance etc. manually but actually, the auto mode performs so well there's no real need to. Of course, if you want to get a little creative with blurry water shots having the option to use a longer shutter speed is a positive but again, it's probably not something the average user will be doing. Having said that, in the light painting mode there is an option for capturing silky water images which means you don't have to play around adjusting apertures. 

A really cool feature I do want to talk about is the ability to adjust the aperture on screen, in real time and see the effect it will have on your shot live. At first, it was tricky to get this spot on but after a while it soon became a doddle to use. It's particularly great for portraits, flower shots or for other images where you want the person viewing your image to focus on what's in the foreground. The wide aperture effect can not be any easier to use - simply, tap where you want focus to be, adjust the aperture slider then take your shot. 

Another cool thing about this mode is that you can adjust the wider aperture effect after you've taken the shot (as the video below demonstrates) but if you're capturing an image with this in mind, do make sure you're capturing the shot in the right mode otherwise you'll be disappointed. 



As for the rest of the camera interface, it's really easy to use and the layout will be familiar to anyone who's taken images with smartphones. Towards the top is a mode bar where you can switch the camera, choose a flash mode, access the aperture adjustment feature and an option to apply effects live. This feature I really liked as you could see exactly how a filter would change the look / feel of your shot, although there aren't as many filters in this mode as you'll find in the editor. 


Huawei P9 Leica Smart Phone Camera Review :


When in Auto, the images captured had a good amount of detail, excellent colour reproduction and good levels of contrast. Although, it did sometimes struggle with metering (reading light levels) in situations where the dynamic range (the difference between dark and light areas) varied greatly but there is a HDR mode which improves this ever so slightly. The flash performed well, bouncing light onto the face and the front selfie camera's results were pleasing.

Another, quite amusing, feature of the front camera is the beauty mode and if you've not used a Huawei phone before it'll probably bring a smile to your face the first time you use it. It basically smooths your skin, removed blemishes, makes your eyes bigger and in some cases, slims your face. There's a scale from 0-10 which allows you to pick how strong you want the effect to be but 10 is a little extreme. In the comparison shots below you can see how beauty mode's smoothed my skin and decided that my face was a little too long and round for its liking. I personally didn't take the mode very seriously but if you're an avid selfie taker, perhaps you'll think the mode's a great way to improve your shots. 


Huawei P9 Leica Smart Phone Camera Review : Outdoor Selfie
Outdoor Selfie
Huawei P9 Leica Smart Phone Camera Review : Beauty mode
Beauty mode


Huawei P9 Leica Smart Phone Camera Review : Beauty mode
Beauty mode


There are other useful and interesting features built into the camera but finding them isn't easy. In fact, I only found them by accident when I caught the side of the screen. By swiping from the right you can access 'settings' and from the left, the various camera modes become available but as said, they're not the easiest menus to find, even more so when compared to the LG G4 and iPhone 5S layout. 

Camera grips can help with composition, 'Capture smiles' takes a photo when your subject smiles (this works really well), you can tell the phone to track an object after you've focused on it and there's even a burst mode you access by pressing and holding the shutter button. 

Stand out modes include the Monochrome mode already mentioned, light painting and slow-mo video which is just a lot of fun to play around with. Although, they're not as easy to upload sites such as YouTube as these types of video from other Smartphones, like the BQ Aquaris X5.


Huawei P9 Leica Smart Phone Camera Review :


Auto white balance performed extremely well but if you do find you need to cool or warm the tones in an image, other white balance settings are available. As with any type of camera, the lower your ISO setting, the less grain / noise you'll have in the image and the P9 is no different.


Huawei P9 Leica Smart Phone Camera Review :


As well as using the custom shutter button on screen to capture a photo you can also use the volume control found on the side of the P9 or the fingerprint sensor which is a nice touch as sometimes, reaching for the on-screen shutter button can be a little awkward when you're trying to keep the phone as still as possible to reduce the chances of shake spoiling your shot. You can also quickly double tap the volume control when the phone is locked to capture a quick snapshot. 


Huawei P9 Photo Editing

The Photo Editor is actually really good and there's plenty of options to play around with built in.  You can apply various filters, add frames, crop the image and adjust other options such as exposure, vibrancy, shadows and more. You can also play around with selective colour, create mosaics and add 'graffiti' (drawing over the photo). There's an 'undo' button to remove changes and edits aren't saved to the original shot so you don't have to worry about making and saving changes that'll permanently change your original shot. You can also compare 'before' and 'after' editing by clicking the compare button. The filter selection is worth a separate mention because there are plenty of them to choose from which is something Instagram fans will no doubt be impressed about. 


Huawei P9 Leica Smart Phone Camera Review :


Huawei P9 Digital filters


Huawei P9 Panorama 

Panorama panning is smooth, the phone has no trouble keeping up and a line with an arrow offers guidance from the start to the end of the panorama capture. The results are compiled pretty quickly, are stitched well and they're actually pretty good quality, if a little oversaturated. 


Huawei P9 Leica Smart Phone Camera Review :


Huawei P9 Photos

Portraits are pleasing and the P9 can also produce excellent landscape shots as well as great macro photos of flowers and other objects. Filters also make it easy and quick to change the look / feel of shots and further improve their appearance, plus the ability to adjust aperture live so you can see the background become more / less blurry is a neat little feature that's really great for capturing creative shots. 


Huawei P9 Leica Smart Phone Camera Review :


Huawei P9 Sample Photos


Huawei P9 Video 

Video footage is of a decent quality, although on sunny days colours can look a little over saturated. Having said that, the colours aren't as over saturated as they appear on the footage captured on the LG G4 camera. The sound from the P9 is good although footage is a little wobbly.



Huawei P9 Value For Money

The Huawei P9 can be purchased sim free for around £449.99 which when compared with the popular Apple iPhone 6s at around £539 and the Samsung Galaxy S7 at around £569.99, is a little cheaper. Other smartphones available around a similar price point to the P9 include the Microsoft Lumia 950 XL, Samsung Galaxy Note 4 and Sony Xperia Z3 Plus. Have a look at more smartphones in our Top 10 Best Camera Phones for Photography guide.


Huawei P9 Verdict 

Huawei's smartphones seem to be getting better with every model they release and the P9 is no exception. For a relatively new smartphone, the sim-free price is reasonable, although some might argue that the 'premium' devices offered by Apple and Samsung are still superior and as such, the price point of the P9 is slightly high.

The P9 looks great and for the most part, performs really well. The camera produces great results and it's actually bursting with features (once you find them). Those who use their smartphones for taking photos regularly, particularly selfies, will find the auto mode really easy to use and will be more than happy with the shots it produces. Plus, if you do want to dabble with a bit of manual photography, there are the options to do so.  

Colours are good and the filters on offer in the Photo Editor help further enhance images, something, as I've said, Instagram fans will really love. Plus, the ability to change the focus of an image after it's taken is both cool and actually a really helpful feature that can also show those who aren't necessarily into photography how changing apertures can really improve a photo. The panorama mode is good and the slow motion function is great to use with friends. 

Overall, the Huawei P9 produces pleasing images, is easy to use and actually, offers those who aren't necessarily fans of photography a great introduction to the genre thanks to all of the modes, options and things you can learn from using the phone as a camera. Happy to Recommended it. 

Huawei P9 Pros

Pleasing image quality
Simple to use
Great screen
Fun features 
Great photo editor 
Slow Motion Capture 
Aperture adjustments in real time
Adjust focus after taking a shot
High quality black and white photos

Huawei P9 Cons

Can struggle with scenes with a high dynamic range and at night
Video can be over saturated 
Doesn't record 4K video



Huawei P9 Leica Smart Phone Camera Review :

The Huawei P9 has a great camera and lots of fun features that can be used to grow someone's interest in photography.


Huawei P9 Specifications

Front Camera
PixelsNo Data
Max ApertureNo Data
Smartphone Cameras
Smartphone Cameras
    Additional CamerasNo Data
    Max Aperturef/2.2
    35mm equivalent27mm
    Optical Zoom0x
    Image Sensor
    Pixels12Mp (Megapixels)
    Pixels (W)4000
    Pixels (H)3000
    Sensor TypeBack-lit CMOS (B.S.I.)
    Sensor SizeNo Data
    Sensor Size (width)No Data
    Sensor Size (height)No Data
    Aspect Ratio
      LCD Monitor
      LCD Monitor5.2in
      Screen resolution1920x1080
      Touch ScreenYes
      Focusing modes
      • Autofocus
      • Face Detection
      • Touch AF
      Exposure Control
      Shutter speeds shortestNo Data
      Shutter speeds longestNo Data
      ISO sensitivity100 - 3200
      Movie modeYes
      Video Resolution
      • 1920x1080 FullHD
      Video FPSNo Data
      Stereo SoundNo Data
      Other Features
      Image StabilisationNo Data
      USBUSB 2
      Internal MemoryNo Data
      Power Source
      Battery Type3000mAh (Typical)
      Box Contents
      Box ContentsNo Data

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      31 Aug 2017 9:44PM
      Nice phone, cannot fault screen quality, battery life, speed, reliability and overall quality. However don't expect any updates from Huawei because they are shockingly appalling in making updates available. It's 1/2 way through 2017, Oreo has been announced yet Nougat is not available for UK users at all. The Hisuite application for UK users does not show any updates, it's not downloadable from their website although ironically a rollback package is ! There's been no announcements for uk users but huawei support insist it's being rolled out in the uk and you're one of the few who doesn't have the update. Maybe they think the public are droids and robots who will accept any old trashy statement but it's plainly obvious on twitter and facebook it just hasn't been rolled out in the UK. So great phone but bad support with zero updates from Huawei.

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