HONOR 20 vs vivo V15 Pro vs Mi 9 — Battle of the 48MP shooters

Vyncent Chan
9 Min Read

To experience the HONOR 20 for yourself, you can also drop by the Pokde.net X HONOR Weekend Bash happening this Saturday, 22nd June!

48MP cameras are becoming ubiquitous in the smartphone industry, but as we have mentioned time and again, we are beyond hardware limitations now. So today we will be looking at the camera results of three 48MP smartphones, namely the HONOR 20, vivo V15 Pro and Mi 9. The trio are priced at RM1699, RM1899 and RM1699, respectively, so this should be a pretty fair comparison, at least from a budget perspective.

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But first, a little about the Sony Exmor IMX 586 powering the 48MP smartphones. We are looking at 48 million photosites arranged in a Quad-Bayer matrix, which is slightly different from the regular Bayer color filter. Four adjacent pixels tout the same color filter, giving you an equivalent pixel pitch of 1.6µm, which is larger than most flagship smartphone camera sensors in the market. It’s via software demosaicing that smartphone manufacturers can serve up true 48MP photos. But there’s where HONOR’s latest flagships have an edge.

True 48MP Images?

All the phones in this comparison can take 48MP shots, but the HONOR 20 takes the best 48MP shots, by far. There’s no equivalent to the 48MP AI Super Clarity on any other smartphone. HONOR started including the 48MP AI Super Clarity mode on the HONOR View20, with us really enjoying it in Paris. With some AI magic powered by the Kirin 980 chipset, HONOR takes multiple exposures to deliver a 48MP image that actually offers more details upon zooming in.

The above is a comparison of the three devices, with the appropriate watermarks applied. Without zooming in, the vivo V15 Pro’s shot looks like the best one, with stronger contrast and better saturation. However, when we take 100% crops of them into account:

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You can clearly see that the HONOR 20’s photos has better detail upon zooming in, without the oversharpening artifacts of the vivo V15 Pro and the Mi 9. It may look softer, but you can see more, which is the only reason why you would even want a 48MP mode: more detail. Even though the HONOR 20 doesn’t have dedicated telephoto optics, cropping the 48MP images can still yield very usable shots.

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Night Mode

One of the pioneers of a dedicated long-exposure handheld Night Mode in recent times was HUAWEI themselves, with the HUAWEI P20 series being the first to feature the technology. As a sister company, HONOR smartphones naturally enjoy all the perks HUAWEI has to offer. HUAWEI, and subsequently HONOR, didn’t stop there either, with a new AI Night Mode which gives you handheld lowlight shots with up to 8 seconds exposures. The competition offer similar features, but lets see if if they are as good.

At first glance, the HONOR 20 served us with a very well balanced image, with the dark areas (like the roof on the lower left corner) well exposed, and the bright streets also  you can see that the Mi 9 over-exposed the well-lit streets to compensate for better exposure in the darker areas. It paints a much more vibrant image, which can be good for social media use, but you can see that the lights are slightly smudgy due to camera shake. The vivo V15 Pro’s results are pretty good too, almost on par with the HONOR 20’s, although we see that the vivo V15 Pro’s shots are a tad softer than the HONOR 20’s once we zoom in. Here are more examples of the Night Mode shots from the three devices here.

HDR Landscape

Gone are the days where we have to manually trigger HDR mode, as most smartphones are now smart enough to take HDR photos when the scene calls for it.

Out of the three smartphones, the HONOR 20 probably has the most natural looking result. The Xiaomi Mi 9 inexplicably increased saturation for a very appealing image, but it doesn’t look anything close to natural. Meanwhile the vivo V15 Pro decided to highlight the sunset a tad too much, turning the buildings yellow.

Wide Angle

All three smartphones here feature an ultra-wide shooter, and coincidentally, all three have the same f/2.2 aperture. The Mi 9 and HONOR 20 both have 16MP sensors behind the ultra-wide optics, but the vivo V15 Pro only has a 8MP one. But we are already long past the “more is better” when it comes to resolution, so let’s take a look at the images.

HONOR applies the same level of processing for the wide-angle camera as its primary camera, as you can see that this wide-angle shot of the landscape looks pretty similar to the one taken with the primary shooter. The vivo V15 Pro’s wide-angle camera takes a much more natural looking shot, although the trees are now indistinct smudges, an inherent flaw of a lower resolution sensor. The Mi 9 once again dials up the saturation here.

Once we switch over to the wide-angle camera in night mode, we can see that the HONOR 20 takes the cake here. While the HONOR 20 opted for a cooler white balance, the overall dynamic range seen is much better than the Mi 9’s photo. The vivo V15 Pro just drops the ball here, with it being quite smudgy, over-exposed and quite visibly worse than any other smartphone we are comparing here.

Bang for buck?

In addition to the 48MP primary camera and 16MP ultra-wide angle camera, the HONOR 20 also sports a dedicated 2MP macro camera for close-up shots. It also touts a 2MP depth sensor to help you take better portraits with more accurate bokeh effects. And while it lacks the Mi 9’s 2x telephoto camera, it more than makes up for it with its 48MP AI Super Clarity mode. The vivo V15 Pro is probably the worst off here, with a 5MP depth sensor accompanying the 48MP primary and 8MP ultra-wide cameras.

The HONOR 20 also lets you take more photos with its expansive 128GB storage, while the Mi 9 offers just 64GB. The vivo V15 Pro offers 128GB too, but it is the most expensive of the bunch, priced at RM1899.

In conclusion, the HONOR 20 is one of the best buys you can have, if your primary criteria when choosing a smartphone is photography. The HONOR 20 will go on sale this 21st June 2019, so do head over to Hi HONOR or your nearest HONOR authorized reseller to pick up your HONOR 20!

This is an exclusive article for HONOR Malaysia.

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