The Honor 6+ camera. Dozens of shots and some interesting conclusions

This is a post I know a lot of you have been waiting for: my first results with the Honor 6+, the high-end smartcam the Chinese Huawei sub-brand announced during the Mobile World Congress in Barcelona this year, promising amazing imaging specs. I have to admit I was very impressed by the promises made during the announcement - am I as impressed with the results?

This is an unusual post. Most shots you'll see are from the Honor 6+, but I'll add some comparisons with the Huawei P8 - and you have seen a few of the scenes already in earlier comparisons. I'm happy to be finally allowed to share the results I captured in the past weeks. For obvious reasons, Honor in the Netherlands wanted me to wait until the introduction of the 6+ over here which took place a while ago.

1. Supernight mode on the Honor 6+ (and Huawei P8)
I've been working with the Honor 6+ way before the London announcement of the Huawei P8, so I was very surprised to see a lot of the exact same camera UI in the P8 as I already knew from the 6+. Especially the fact it offers the same Supernight mode as the Honor 6+ offers came as somewhat of a shock. Why was I surprised?

Because the Huawei P8 doesn't have a dual camera as the Honor 6+ does, and I always figured the dual camera was needed for the Supernight mode... And why did I suppose so? Because Honor claimed it did, as you can see in the screenshot I made of the video I captured myself during the announcement:

Well, that's incorrect I'm afraid, as we can see in the fact the Huawei P8 doesn't need a dual camera for nightshots. To be absolutely sure I covered the lenses of the Honor 6+ and it turns out it doesn't make any difference if you cover the top sensor while making a nightshot or not, not for capturing light at least. I'm quite sure the second sensor helps in focusing when making nightshots however (see below, the second part about "wide aperture").

Then how come the Nightshots of the Honor 6+ sometimes even look a bit better than what I got from the Huawei P8? If the technique and software seem to be the same, how come I can get much longer exposure on the Honor 6+?

As you may remember from my previous post, I noticed some digital disortion in the long exposure nightshot from the Huawei P8 (ISO 100, 27 sec.)

Here's about the same crop coming from the Honor 6+, recorded the same day, ISO 100 and 33 (!) seconds.

True, the result isn't as "sharp" this time and shows more noise, but there is no digital distortion like in the result from the P8. Here's the complete scene as captured with the Honor 6+ (resized of course, you'll find all originals on Flickr).

If you want to check it against the large amount of other results I got from that collection of old phones in my basement, here's the earlier post and you'll find them  here on Flickr as well. You'll understand both the Honor and Huawei are no competition for the Panasonic Lumix DMC-CM1 at 60 seconds - that gave me a staggering result as you can see here.

Of course, I did more nightshots with the Honor 6+, I'll share those here first in order of their exposure time. First, another shot near the Old Harbour in Hilversum, at night this time: handheld (resting on the wall), ISO 100 and 14 seconds:

But hey, I brought the Huawei P8 the same night, so here's the result I got from it's direct competitor as well (ISO 100. 11,6 sec)

I could share crops from the center of the shot here, but I have so much more to share in this post - trust me: differences are marginal (and you can check both on Flickr)

Next, using a small tripod, a scene in an editing studio at work - first with the Honor 6+ on auto (ISO 100 and 0.8 secs) to show how dark it actually is with lights out, next in Supernight mode, ISO 100 and 22 seconds.


No extra lights hidden somewhere, this is what the Honor 6 will capture in 22 seconds. That day I brought the Huawei P8 as well, so here it is: ISO 100 and 20.24 seconds.

I might add you don't see any distortion in the shot coming from the Huawei P8 here either, so I guess it's safe to conclude the Huawei only has trouble with that in extreme dark circumstances.

On a sidenote: please notice the Honor 6+ has a bit longer focal length, hence you will get a bit closer to the scene you are capturing - check the sides of both shots above (knowing I didn't move the tripod).

I have one shot with even longer exposure time from the Honor 6+. The next scene was captured after 22:00. It was pitch dark except for the light of the moon - which can be pretty strong, but still: the Honor 6+ needed an amazing 54 seconds (!) on ISO 100 to capture this house.

The dots you see in the sky is no digital distortion but are in fact stars "passing". The result is remarkably clean as you will see in the original on Flickr (I'll add another version as well). I didn't have the Huawei P8 yet at the time, but I feel quite sure it would have shown some distortion. I did bring the Panasonic however - here's what it captured in 30 seconds (ISO 125):

Of course I realize the Panasonic Lumix DMC-CM1 is more than twice as expensive, this is just to show that nowadays you can actually get incredible nightshots with much more affordable devices as well these days.

Now like on the Huawei P8, as soon as you'll use Supernight mode the resolution will switch to about half its size. Thanks to a reaction on a previous post, I think it's fair to conclude the software combines pixels in this mode, so it's able to capture about twice as much light. So that's why you can't use the 13MP or 10MP resolution in Supernight mode, but you'll get either 8MP or 6MP (depending on aspect ratio).

In my post about the Huawei P8 I already wrote its software will choose 4:3 first. It's exactly the same on the Honor 6+: if you want to capture a Supernight shot in 16:9, you'll have to manually switch to the lowest resolution (6MP) before you activate Supernight. That's quite annoying and I hope an update will fix that. Just like I'd like to see the software switch back to the maximum resolution I used before using Supernight, since I captured too many shots in 6MP where I hoped to be shooting in 10MP...

2. Wide aperture
Having said that, there's an important difference with the camera software on the Honor 6+ which has to do with the dual camera and Honor calls it "wide aperture'. In fact it's very similar to what HTC has been offering on the One M8 (and is rumoured to do again on the M9 Plus): as HTC put it "the ability to choose an alternate focal point post-capture to recompose an image" (read more about HTC's duo camera tech in the press kit).

Mind you, it's different than what Nokia called Recofus, where you make a very fast sequence of five shots - in my own very best example of Refocus, you can see how it's possible to choose five different points to focus. But when you focus all, you'll see there is some movement, due to the time needed to capture the sequence.

This is not the case with the Honor 6+ - it actually appears to capture one shot you can "refocus" afterwards. I guess it works the same on the HTC One M8, which I haven't tested. Here's a shot that shows how effective it is:

Now when covering the top sensor while shooting in Wide Aperture mode, you'll get the warning "make sure you're not covering the lense before you start shooting". However, covering the top lens doesn't change much in the incoming light, whereas covering the second lens will simply blind the view.

If you keep covering the top lens however, you will be able to capture the shot, but the "wide aperture" functionality won't work: you can't refocus the result afterwards, you really need both lenses to get the "wide aperture" result. 

Now above, I already wrote that when making shots in Supernight mode, my guess is the top sensor may not capture any light but does have a function: focus. I think so because in one night landscape the Huawei P8 simply couldn't focus on a very dark scene (tried multiple times), whereas the Honor 6+ could, easily so even.

Back to wide aperture. When capturing in this mode, again the software changes to the lowest resolution, but at least you can choose to change the aspect ratio within the same mode. After making the shot (don't cover the lens! :-) you can choose multiple points where you want to focus in the shot. And you can also change the bokeh effect (or DOF) in the shot using the slider bar that "changes" the aperture.

Also, you can also add a filter that will apply a certain effect to the part you chose not to focus on, like monochrome or pencil

It all works very well, and the maximum resolution of 8MP in 4:3 certainly is acceptable I think. The only thing I miss is a "save as" option to save several edits. In other words, when you save a certain edit, it will overwrite the previous one, so if you want to save several edits, you'll have to copy (or send) the first before working on the second, etc.

That is something Honor could be looking into when improving the UI of the camera software, or they could think of a cloud solution like Nokia did for Refocus, offering the complete file and let others decide where to focus (see the example above).

Update: Got a reaction from @AlexisHonor, Digital Marketing Specialist from Honor France, writing me "when you save a pic, there's always a copy of the pic (not editable) saved in the gallery. Only editable version overwrites." You'll find his example here. So that's a small correction that needs to be added here. I asked him his comment on the "both the lenses capture light" promise in the Honor video, but was wasn't "aware of that, you should ask one of our product managers :-) I will try to get more info too."

HDR
Of course, HDR is very effective and again doesn't give an artificial effect - just as on the Huawei P8 or the Samsung Galaxy S5 and S6 for that matter. I'll just give you one example here. I might be of interest to know that you can use the highest resolution when shooting in HDR.


Sure, the last example appears to be somewhat overexposed - and Honor (like Huawei) offer an easy way for exposure correction.

Exposure correction
The way you can achieve exposure correction on the Huawei/Honor camera UI is exactly the same you do so in the iPhone (by the way, both the Huawei P8 as the Honor 6+ do remind a lot of people of the iPhone anyway). After you focus you will see a slider with a small "sun" in your screen. Moving it up means more light, and down less. Simple as that. Works like a charm, too, as you can see in this example.
 

There is one other nifty thing in the camera UI of the Honor 6+ whicih you won't find on the Huawei P8 for some reason. When you are watching a photo or video, you can transfer the file by simply swiping upwards. The Honor 6 will automatically start Bluetooth and look for the device you want to transfer it to. Once the connection is established, you will transfer each shot you swipe. 

A few more shots
To conclude, i'll just share a few more shots in this post - you'll find the complete collection of shots I thought worth sharing on Flickr anyway. First, the keyboard you've already seen in my previous post...

Here's another shot that might look familiar to you (check this post and this one)

Just for fun: more details to admire in a shot captured inside a decoration store

And once again, my favorite model enjoying the bright late afternoon sun...

To conclude, a handheld nightshot not using Supernight mode... ISO 80 and only 1/360 sec, exposure correction +1 (not sure if I did that on purpose, it's quite a while ago). Still a remarkable result for a dark night. You'll find my conclusions below.
 
Conclusion
The most surprising aspects of the Honor 6+ are the extreme long exposure times (up to 60 seconds) and the possiblity to "refocus" using Wide Aperture.

In both cases, the second lens is used for focusing, not for capturing light. In both cases, you'll need the lowest resolution (8MP or 6MP, depending on aspect ratio). You can't change the aspect ratio in Supernight, but you can when using Wide Aperture.

Comparing Supernight on both, the Honor 6+ doesn't suffer from digital distortion in extreme dark situations, but the Huawei P8 seems to give a slightly better result. Probably thanks to the extra sensor it seems easier for the Honor 6+ to focus in very dark circumstances though.

When using Wide Aperture, you can't save different edits of the same shot on the device - a new edit will overwrite the previous one. Focal length is a bit longer on the Honor P6 than on the Huawei P8.

In general, design of the Honor 6+ looks like a pretty large iPhone 4 (like the P8 resembles later editions), and it's on the heavy side with 165 grams. We shouldn't forget the Honor 6+ is €100 cheaper than its colleague from the same Chinese factory, AND it offers very impressive specs as well, with
5.5 inch full HD bright IPS LCD display,
3GB RAM, 32GB storage + micro-SD and
a whopping 3600mAh battery.
Its octacore HiSilicon Kirin 925 processor is supposed to be a bit slower than its Chinese colleague but I didn't notice much difference there either (mind you, I'm not a gamer).

In all, you really get value for money (€399) when choosing the Honor 6+, including some spectacular possibilities for night photography, for which of course you'll need a tripod in most cases. Apart from the extra features (Supernight / Wide Aperture) given the size of its sensor, like the Huawei P8, you'll get a decent camera, but not the best one - but at €399 it would be unfair to expect that.

You'll find all shots from this post and quite a few more in this dedicated album on Flickr. Next device on my bucket list is the LG G4 which I hope to receive any day now. It's supposed to be quite a contender so I'm looking forward to test it very much. Meanwhile, please join me on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram so I can keep you posted.

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