Huawei Mate 40 Pro and Samsung Galaxy Note 20 Ultra


The Google Pixel 5 may still be the overall best camera for standard point and shoot shots, and the iPhone 12’s video performance is unrivaled, but the two most capable camera systems that can do the most are still the Samsung Galaxy Note 20 Ultra and the Huawei Mate 40 Pro.

That’s because the South Korean and Chinese tech giants didn’t just rely on software computational photography like Google (and to a lesser extent Apple). Instead, Samsung and Huawei still believe in the value of hardware prowess — that more pixels and larger sensors play a very important role alongside the software. Both devices’ approach to digital imaging is similar: each rocks a huge sensor and a Periscope zoom lens. Where they differ is in the ultra-wide-angle camera system. But which system is more capable? It’s time for a good ol’ fashioned camera shootout.

Huawei Mate 40 Pro and Samsung Galaxy Note 20 Ultra

Huawei Mate 40 Pro vs Samsung Galaxy Note 20 Ultra: Specification Comparison

SpecificationsHuawei Mate 40 ProSamsung Galaxy Note 20 Ultra
Build
  • Aluminum mid-frame
  • Glass front and either glass or leather back
  • Aluminum mid-frame
  • Glass front and back
Dimensions & Weight
  • 162.9 x 75.5 x 9.1 mm
  • 212 grams
  • 164.8 x 77.2 x 8.1 mm
  • 208 grams
Display
  • 6.76″ OLED display
  • 1344 x 2772 resolution
  • 90Hz refresh rate
  • 6.9″ OLED Display
  • 1440 x 3088 resolution
  • Up to 120Hz refresh rate
SoC
  • Snapdragon 865+ or Exynos 990
Storage Options
Battery & Charging
  • 4,400 mAh battery
  • 66W wired charging
  • 50W Qi wireless charging
  • 4,500 mAh battery
  • 25W wired charging
  • 15W wireless charging
Security
  • 3D Face unlock
  • In-display fingerprint scanner
  • In-display fngerprint scanner
Rear Camera(s)
  • Primary 50MP f/1.9, RYYB primary camera with OIS
  • Secondary 20MP f/1.8, wide-angle camera
  • Tertiary: 12MP f/3.4, 5x periscope telephoto camera
  • Laser sensor
  • Primary: 108MP, f/1.8, PDAF, Laser AF, OIS, 1/33″ sensor
  • Secondary: 12MP, f/2.2, ultra-wide-angle, 120° FoV
  • Tertiary: 12MP, f/3.0, 5x periscope zoom
  • Laser sensor
Front Camera(s)
  • 13MP f/2.4, wide-angle camera
  • 3D ToF sensor
Port(s)USB-CUSB-C
Connectivity
  • 5G: Sub 6GHz
  • Wi‑Fi 6 (802.11ax) with 2×2 MIMO
  • Bluetooth 5.2
  • 5G: Sub 6GHz
  • Ultra-Wide Band (UWB)
  • Wi‑Fi 5 (802.11ac)
  • Bluetooth 5.0
Software Android 10Android 11
Other Features

Huawei Mate 40 Pro vs Samsung Galaxy Note 20 Ultra: Camera Hardware and Design

Both the Huawei Mate 40 Pro and Samsung Galaxy Note 20 Ultra offer a refined, more polished version of a new camera system each company introduced back in spring with respectively the Huawei P40 and Samsung Galaxy S20 series. For Huawei, this includes a 50MP main camera with a 1/1.28″ sensor (the largest in the smartphone space) and a RYYB sub-pixel layout that allows the sensor to take in additional light information. For Samsung, the main lens is that 108MP sensor first seen in the Samsung Galaxy S20 Ultra, with a 1/1.28″ image sensor (good for second largest in smartphones).

The camera modules of the Mate 40 Pro and Note 20 Ultra.

The camera modules of the Mate 40 Pro and Note 20 Ultra.

The Periscope zoom lens technology on both devices is similar — 12MP, with a 5x optical zoom range and ability to go digital zoom up to 50x. As mentioned earlier, where their visions diverge is in the ultra-wide sensor. For Huawei, the Mate 40 Pro sports a 20MP “Cine Lens” that values image sharpness and ability to auto-focus over going really wide (the field-of-view is just a tad over 100-degree). Samsung’s Galaxy Note 20 Ultra, meanwhile, sports one of the widest FoV around at 120-degree, but it’s a fixed focus lens.

Both the Mate 40 Pro and Galaxy Note 20 Ultra offer a refined, polished camera setup

It’s interesting that both companies ditched that fourth ToF camera setup seen in the Huawei P40 Pro and Samsung Galaxy S20 Ultra. Instead, this has been replaced by laser autofocus to further help with the focusing speeds of the main camera. This was much needed for the Galaxy Note 20 Ultra, as the Galaxy S20 Ultra suffered from focusing issues.

In terms of looks, I think both designs look great. Huawei’s circular ring layout is more unique in that it differs from the sea of rectangular camera modules on the market, but Samsung’s module looks very striking, especially in this white and silver variant I’m testing. It’s worth noting that Huawei’s module doesn’t protrude nearly as much as the Galaxy Note 20 Ultra’s bulky module.

White Galaxy Note 20 Ultra and silver Huawei Mate 40 Pro

Around the front, the Mate 40 Pro has a relatively large hole-punch cut-out, while the Galaxy Note 20 Ultra’s cut-out is a tiny dot. In terms of aesthetics, it’s a clear win for Samsung here, but Huawei’s larger cut-out serves a real purpose: it includes a 3D face scanning system that in theory should be more secure than Samsung’s 2D face unlock (if you choose to turn it on). And Huawei’s selfie camera has a much wider FoV at 100-degrees, making it an excellent selfie camera for group shots or vlogs without too much movement (the lens doesn’t have OIS).

The hole-punch cutout of the Huawei Mate 40 Pro and Galaxy Note 20 Ultra

Camera Test 1: Main camera, Day shot

For this first test, we’re looking at shots captured by the main camera during the day. Both cameras produce excellent dynamic range and image clarity.

Huawei Mate 40 Pro (left) and Sasmung Galaxy Note 20 Ultra (right)

One of the first things I noticed is that Huawei’s camera tends to dial up the contrast more than Samsung’s camera, and exhibits a wider dynamic range. Shadowed areas are darker, yellows are more prominent (this may be due to the RYYB sensor too). For example, in the third set with the yellow bench, the Mate 40 Pro’s colors looked overly yellow, and likewise with the last set of photos featuring the skyscrapers.

Two samples with the Mate 40 Pro and Note 20 Ultra

Huawei Mate 40 Pro sample (left) and Galaxy Note 20 Ultra (right)

However, in this same set, if you zoom closer to 100%, the Mate 40 Pro’s shot is noticeably crisper.

Two samples with the Mate 40 Pro and Note 20 Ultra

Mate 40 Pro (left) and Galaxy Note 20 Ultra (right)

As mentioned earlier, the S20 Ultra’s main 108MP lens suffered from focusing issues due to its narrower plane of focus, and while the Galaxy Note 20 Ultra improved the issue quite a lot thanks to that laser autofocus, I still notice that if I am taking photos of an object up close, the edges still tend to be soft on details, sometimes out of focus, like the samples below.

In the second set, it’s clear to see where the Note 20 Ultra loses focus. In the first set, it’s harder to tell — until you zoom in and look at the bottom of the plant.

Note 20 Ultra suffering from focusing issues

Mate 40 Pro (left), Galaxy Note 20 Ultra (right).

The Mate 40 Pro by and large captures shots with better balance, especially in challenging scenes like the first set against heavy backlight.

Huawei Mate 40 Pro (left) and Sasmung Galaxy Note 20 Ultra (right)

Camera Test 2: Main camera, night or low light scene

With their large sensors and pixel-binning tech, both the Mate 40 Pro and Galaxy Note 20 Ultra are low light powerhouses. The below samples were captured without night mode — impressive considering the iPhone 12 Pro Max had to turn on night mode automatically for this scene.

Both the Mate 40 Pro and Galaxy Note 20 Ultra are low light powerhouses

For this next set, I went to a really dark alley, where my eyes couldn’t see much beyond the light at the end. It is here Huawei’s RYYB sensor (which when introduced with the P30 Pro dropped jaws for its low light prowess) gives it a slight edge. With the Galaxy Note 20 Ultra, it needed to turn on night mode to produce a credible shot. But with the Mate 40 Pro, the standard point-and-shoot shot looks to be just as good as the night shot. This is an interesting development that’s been the case since the P40 Pro — Huawei’s main 50MP RYYB sensor is so great at pulling in light out of nothing that it’s made the night mode largely redundant.

Camera Test 3: Ultra-wide shots

Starting with last year’s Mate 30 series, Huawei had placed great emphasis on the ultra-wide-angle camera, giving it a larger sensor and more pixels while narrowing the FoV to produce sharper images. This philosophy carries over to this year, except the sensor has been upgraded to a 20MP with larger pixels. This means if you’re judging the ultra-wide-angle cameras of these two phones by conventional metrics like photo sharpness, dynamic range, and balance, the Mate 40 Pro’s ultra-wide is going to beat not just the Galaxy Note 20 Ultra, but also every other non-Huawei ultra-wide lens in the mobile space.

However, it’s worth asking what’s the point of an ultra-wide-angle camera if it doesn’t get that wide of a shot? With the ultra-wide lens of the Galaxy Note 20 Ultra, you get that distinct wide view that offers more context and a unique perspective. Mate 40 Pro’s ultra-wide shots look like a normal photo by comparison, at which point you have to ask, why not just use the main camera then?

Huawei Mate 40 Pro (left) and Sasmung Galaxy Note 20 Ultra (right)

I think the Galaxy Note 20 Ultra’s shots are more striking and visually appealing — if I’m looking at them on a phone or in shrunken form. But if I zoom in and pixel peep, Huawei’s photos are clearly sharper.

Huawei and Samsung ultrawide

A closer crop of two Huawei and Samsung’s ultra-wide angle shots.

Two cropped images of Huawei and Samsung's ultrawide shots.

Mate 40 Pro (left) and Galaxy Note 20 Ultra (right)

Huawei’s decision to put extra effort into its ultra-wide camera is even more noticeable at night. Again, the Galaxy Note 20 Ultra’s shot is much wider, offering a more sweeping view, but the Mate 40 Pro’s shot is better lit, and if you zoom in, it’s not even close.

The Mate 40 Pro’s ultra-wide lens has one more trick up its sleeves: it has auto-focus, whereas the Galaxy Note 20 Ultra’s ultra-wide lens is fixed focus. This allows the smartphone from Huawei to take photos with focus honed in on a specific subject, with the rest of the frame getting that natural creamy bokeh.

So you need to figure out what exactly is the purpose you want out of an ultra-wide-angle. Huawei has a definite edge in quality, but if you need the shot to be ultra-wide, the Galaxy Note 20 Ultra offers that but with trade-offs.

Camera Test 4: Zoom shots

During the day, both the Mate 40 Pro and Galaxy Note 20 Ultra produce excellent zoom shots, with anything 10x and below looking crisp and virtually lossless. Once I dial the zoom up to the maximum 50x, however, then it becomes a crapshot: sometimes the Note 20 Ultra’s 50x look far superior, other times the Mate 40 Pro’s 50x wins. See the samples below for what I mean.

Let’s start with this reference shot. I’m going to zoom into the red square:

A reference shot to show zooming prowess

Reference 1x image.

Next set:

Reference image

Reference image, 1x

Another set:

Reference shot of the Hong Kong skyline

A 1x reference shot.

It’s tough to pick a winner between the Mate 40 Pro and Note 20 Ultra when it comes to zooming, but one thing’s for sure: both of these phones would easily defeat the iPhone 12 Pro Max or Google Pixel 5 in zoom shots.

Camera Test 5: Selfies

By and large, I find the Huawei Mate 40 Pro’s selfie camera superior — not only does it produce better lit selfies in dark scenes, it also has an option for a very wide (for a front-facing camera) 100-degree FoV without losing much details. It also doesn’t help that Samsung’s very heavy-handed skin-smoothing, skin-whitening beauty feature strikes again, which isn’t my cup of tea.

Mate 40 Pro (left) and Galaxy Note 20 Ultra (right)

Camera Test 6: Videos

Starting with last year’s Huawei Mate 30 Pro, Huawei made the decision to have its ultra-wide-angle camera as the default video camera. Now, as mentioned in the ultra-wide section, Huawei has put a lot of effort into making its ultra-wide camera as good as the main sensor, so videos during the day look as good as the Galaxy Note 20 Ultra’s videos captured with the main camera. In fact, I even prefer the more contrasty colors of the Mate 40 Pro’s videos. However, at night, Samsung’s superior stabilization kicks in and produces a more fluid, less noisy shot.

Conclusion: The two most capable and diverse camera setups

I’ve been doing a lot of camera tests lately — Pixel 5 vs iPhone 12, iPhone 12 Pro vs 12 Pro Max — and one of the things I’ve been impressed by is how much Apple and Google’s computational photography and software prowess can make up for inferior hardware. The Pixel 5’s camera sensor is four years old and yet it held up well against the iPhone 12, and the iPhone 12’s night shots hold up well against the iPhone 12 Pro Max too.

However, there are some things that hardware can ultimately pull off that software can fake. Because the Galaxy Note 20 Ultra and Mate 40 Pro sport such large sensors, they pull in a lot of light in dark scenes without needing night mode. Both cameras will also produce a natural and creamy bokeh effect when shooting close to a subject/object. And both camera’s 10x zoom look so clean, they’re Instagram-ready.

It’s worth mentioning that most of these camera hardware power moves — the Periscope zoom camera, using a larger sensor, using a higher pixel sensor just for pixel-binning — were started by Huawei first over the past couple of years. In many ways, Samsung’s 2020 smartphone cameras are simply following Huawei’s playbook.

Regardless, both of these cameras are highly versatile and will serve practically any general need. If you have a specific requirement, say a better perspective warp on the ultra-wide-angle sensor, then you need to figure out the option that plays this out as its strength. For the most part, you aren’t going wrong with either as far as the camera is concerned.

    Samsung Galaxy Note 20 Ultra
    The Samsung Galaxy Note 20 Ultra has one of the best screens and best cameras on the market. It’s 108MP camera can produce sharp and brightly lit photos, while that Periscope zoom lens can get up to 50x.



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