Kuala Lumpur After Sundown With Huawei P9

This is a continuation from the Huawei P9 camera review I posted here a few days ago. Kindly do read that original full review for photography if you have not, as I have covered all the important highlights and my opinion on the P9. This particular blog entry serves as an extension to the original review, with one particular capability put to test: long exposure shooting.


Long exposure photography to me is extremely enjoyable, it requires opening the shutter for an extended period of time, typically more than half a second long, to perhaps minutes or even longer to capture more light into the sensor. Slow shutter speed is one important aspect of photography, typically setting up the camera on a tripod (or non shaky/moving steady surface). Having more light exposing the image sensor means that we can afford to use lower ISO setting on the camera, ultimately producing clean, noise free, and sharp images. Therefore, to shoot beautiful images of city landscapes and building lights at night, long exposure is the best way to go. Furthermore, allowing the camera to capture the light for seconds also means that it will record all motion and light trails, which can create very exciting effect in the end result. Light painting, fireworks, car light trails, all can be produced from long exposure photography.

However, long exposure photography is difficult to be performed on most smartphone cameras, mostly due to the lacking of full manual control of the imaging parameters. In order for long exposure to work, we need to have access to control of shutter speed and adjustments of ISO sensitivity. Huawei P9 has both these controls, allowing shutter speed adjustments from 1/4000th of a second to the slowest exposure of 30 seconds, which is very generous and flexible enough to use for a wide variety of long exposure situations. ISO can be set from 50 to 3200, and believe me, in long exposure, the lower the ISO, the better the image quality, so ISO 50 was a great starting ISO. In case those of you are not aware, the aperture is fixed at F2.2 (there is no moving aperture diaphragm to stop down further), and there is no mechanical shutter mechanism, thus electronic shutter is used.


My set up for this round of shooting session, typically:
Huawei P9 on PRO mode (full manual control)
Shutter speed varying from 1/2 second to 5 seconds, adjusted as necessary
ISO fixed at 50, for cleanest, best looking image.
Self-timer set at 2 seconds to prevent the phone being shaken from the tap of the screen to start shooting.
Camera was mounted on tripod, via a cheapo clamp bought from Daiso (RM5.30)

Huawei P9 mounted on a tripod. Waiting for the light to go down, overlooking KL City Skyline

Adjustment of shutter speed is crucial for long exposure photography. Huawei P9 allows adjustments from 1/4000sec to 30sec. 

5sec, F2.2, ISO50, on tripod

0.5sec, F2.2, ISO50, on tripod

1.6sec, F2.2, ISO50, on tripod

1.3sec, F2.2, ISO50, on tripod

8sec, F2.2, ISO50, on tripod

Crop from previous image
Plenty of detail, and image appearing sharp. Very impressive coming from a smartphone!

0/5sec, F2.2, ISO50, on tripod

4sec, F2.2, ISO50, on tripod

3.2sec, F2.2, ISO50, on tripod

I am very impressed with the long exposure output from the Huawei P9. Images come out with no trace of hot pixel, which I think was deleted off in the image processing. There was no dark frame subtraction method used (since the camera did not take double the time to shoot an image) and just by software processing, to be able to maintain such high amount of detail is quite incredible for such small image sensors used in the Huawei P9. The sharpness is well maintained and there is plenty of fine details. Also worth noting, is the good handling of dynamic range. Yes, you can observe some blown out highlights there and here, which is normal, but the overall image looks rather balanced and the clippings were not intrusive at all. The colour balance is also very well presented, even in artificial and difficult lighting conditions. 

I did not use the built in "Light Painting"mode for a few reasons. I did try them out, all different modes (tail lights, light graffiti, smooth water, etc) and did not like the output of these modes. First of all, when light painting is engaged, I have no way to fine tune or further adjust the exposure, resulting in severely underexposed images with too much blacks in the frame, yet the light trails captured looked overblown. Secondly, when light painting is engaged, I need to start and subsequently stop by tapping the screen. Tapping the screen is a big no no in long exposure photography, as it will shake the phone, thus creating camera shake, resulting in soft, blurry outcomes. 

Thankfully, there is PRO mode, allowing full manual control over shutter speed and ISO. Having some basic knowledge in photography, it is not difficult to figure out just what settings to use and set for the Huawei P9. It is just like any other camera! This is the reason why I have described that this Huawei P9 is the camera for photographers. 

Apart from taking long exposure shots, I have also taken random, low light photos just for the fun of it. 

1/33sec, F2.2, ISO200

1/25sec, F2.2, ISO320

1/25sec, ISO400, Depth of Field Control at simulated F2

Crop from previous image

1/25sec, F2.2, ISO500

1/33sec, F2.2, ISO400

Want to shoot like a PRO? Then get a tripod, and learn photography the traditional way. There is no shortcut. 

Seriously, if you have not explored long exposure photography, I urge you to pick it up. And now you do not even need to buy a DSLR or an advanced camera to do this, even high end smartphones come with this feature, and the image output from my test is nothing short of amazing. Also, you will learn more about basics of photography, which will benefit you in getting better images in your day to day shooting tasks. 

2sec, F2.2, ISO50, On tripod

Next up to review for the Huawei P9, shooting in monochrome, and I am thinking having a full shutter therapy on the streets with the Huawei! I just can't wait already. 

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  1. Do you agree with two camera module = more light income can replace OIS? Watch the link below.
    Honor 8 is coming soon. I hope you will make the camera review for the "poor man" version of P9 too in the future. KEEP PRAYING NOW
    BTW Nice review!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

    1. Hey Nick,
      No I do not agree that dual camera module can replace Image Stabilization. For example, some of the shots above were taken with half a second shutter speed, I probably can hand-hold the P9 without using a tripod if IS was built in. While having capability to capture more light is important, image stabilization can work hand in hand for more flexibility.
      I am not connected to phone manufacturers in any way, I would probably not be able to get future phones for review. I got P9 because it was photography-oriented device.
      Thanks for the kind words!

  2. Wow i'm impressed on how well you've used the phone camera meanwhile the masses just P&S :)
    ? ...7th image down, "what is that modern-building bottom left corner?"


    Wonderful post for all the aspiring phone-cammers out there

    1. Thanks for the kind words John. That building could be an MRT station, but I could be wrong. Still under construction.

  3. Just bought a P9 based on your review and wow results are stunning (Used in restaurant last night) for ISO800. Auto white balance and focusing is so sure too. Going to do some testing of my own over the weekend including looking at DNG (Will buy a micro SD card) as the Jpegs are a touch oversharpened for my taste and some detail smeared out (Probably for consumers) Also going to do some street photography next week in Brighton. Thanks for the reviews Robin as other reviews had put me off this device but I am so impressed. Hope you have fun yourself on the streets this weekend

    1. Hey Martin,
      Glad you have got yourself a Huawei P9! And I see that you are already having fun with the P9, I'm sure you will take tonnes of great images with it. I'm currently still shooting with the Monochrome and should be updating my blog soon.

  4. The dynamic range from the dual cam is impressive. I wouldn't have believed these are from phone cams.

    1. I think the image sensor technologies are getting better and better. We already know Sony is making some if the best image sensors out there!

  5. Have you considered sticking (make a plan) an ND filter over its lens to get smoother water or even more light trails. I'm sure one could make a plan quite inexpensively. I must have a look and see what can be done with current iPhones. Never thought of exploring long-exposure photography with a smartphone. Nice pics!

    1. I did try that by sticking an actual ND400 filter on the Oneplus one before, results did not come out good, mainly because there is a gap between the lens and the filter (filter ring gap). Hence reflection inside the filter created really weird results. Nonetheless the concept is a good one and I'm sure some DIY trick will do it!

  6. Got the phone as well. I am learning to shoot manually. I work at a mine and planning on taking snaps of the open pit during night shift

  7. Hi, would you mind to tell me where is the location of taking these photos? I am looking for a higher place to take KL images too.

  8. Hi Robin. Would you recommend the P10 over the S7 Edge? My main consideration is the camera; and the prices are roughly the same now.