Tuesday, October 04, 2016

Scott Kelby's Worldwide Photowalk 2016, Kuala Lumpur with Huawei P9

Last Saturday, I participated in probably one of the largest photowalks ever organized in Kuala Lumpur, the annual Scott Kelby's Worldwide Photowalk 2016. The photowalk was coordinated and led by a dear photographer friend, Raja Indra Putra, with locations covering Chow Kit, my favourite street hunting ground, all the way to Jalan Tunku Abdul Rahman and Jalan Masjid India. There were 50 participants that registered and I made it to the last number 50 registrant! Of course, the actual turn up was more than 50 with a lot more local supporters and photography enthusiasts who decided to just join the fun without prior registering. That was very Malaysian indeed.

Having dedicated many shooting days to do my blog review for the latest Olympus M.Zuiko lenses (25mm F1.2 PRO and 30mm F3.5 Macro), I decided to take the weekend slow and easy, and put the more serious photography tools away. Instead, I just picked up the trusty Huawei P9 and shot along the streets with the P9 throughout the entire Scott Kelby's Photowalk! I thought there would be a few more people who would shoot solely on smartphone, but I was wrong, it turned out I was the ONLY smartphone user in this particular Scott Kelby 2016 Photowalk in KL! Everyone else had large DSLR or mirrorless cameras with them. I wonder what they must have thought of me, I must be someone who did not know what I was doing, using just a mere smartphone joining such a large, internationally recognized, prestigious photography event!

So how did the Huawei P9 fare in street shooting?

I have often shot portraits of strangers, and it was no easy task shooting close up portraits with a wide angle lens (27mm equivalent focal length). Thankfully for the wide aperture mode, I could easily create subject isolation with the simulated shallow depth of field effect, blurring the background off into beautiful, creamy bokeh. While the bokeh effect is not as good as actual large format cameras with large aperture lenses, I dare say that, for a simulated effect, this is the best I have seen from any smartphone camera. It is the best option we have!

While the blurring of the edges may not look too natural, but the quality of the blurred area was quite good in the wide aperture mode. Bear in mind, this technology is still in it's infancy and can only improve over time. I seriously wonder what a few more iterations of wide aperture effect can do, and it will come to a point, in near future that this technology could even be adopted by actual cameras!

I really like how the P9 handles the color balance very well. The images come out punchy with very vivid colors, some would describe this as consumer friendly, but to me it is completely acceptable as I do not expect to do much post processing on my smartphone images. I appreciate the boost of contrast and saturation in the images, and most importantly, they still maintain a good sense of realism in the overall presentation. 

In a very well lit situation, the subjects almost "popped" out of the screen! The renderring of the image, though from a smartphone was indeed very pleasing. Perhaps this was due to the dual camera technology, with use of high quality lenses, the images just look so lively. 

For those who shoot a lot of people shots, and portraits, the wide aperture effect is a game-changer, and could be the sole reason why you would go for the Huawei P9. There are currently other smartphone cameras that can emulate this blur background effect, but honestly, if you compare the blur quality (bokeh effect), they do not even come close to what the P9 can do! 

While the camera is only 12MP, the details that the Huawei P9 can squeeze out was quite remarkable. While many gadget geeks or gear measurebators will scrutinize the paper specification and quickly be biased toward higher specifications devices, this should not be applied to the photography world at all. Everyone wants a phone with faster processor, more RAM, bigger better screen and longer battery life. However, similarly cannot be said to the camera part of the phone, more Megapixels does not necessarily mean sharper image output, better high ISO performance with lower noise floor does not guarantee overall better camera performance, and fast autofocus does not guarantee you will never miss your shots in critical shooting conditions. In camera performance and image quality, I believe real life testing in practical conditions trumps studying on paper specifications and test charts alone. Some mobile phone cameras out there may claim to have "better specifications" in imaging performance, but I strongly believe when it comes to overall camera shooting experience, on the field performance and final image output delivery, Huawei P9 is quite a difficult one to beat. 

The color rendition just ooze so much realism! The JPEG engine did an excellent job in producing faithful, true to life colors. 

One of the main advantage of higher end smartphones is that the cameras built in has manual controls to tinker with, allowing the photographer the versatility to create some interesting shots. Being able to slow down the shutter speed can really open up a world of possibilities in the images. 

Panning shot is possible with the Huawei P9, this was taken at 1/15sec shutter speed, but you do need a cloudy, overcast day for this shot to happen. If it was fully sunny, the image will be severely overexposed. 

While most of the people travelled in larger groups of people, I took the liberty to wander off the the more hidden parts and corners of Chow Kit streets, and went on to do what I usually do best, shooting portraits of strangers! Approaching strangers with a smartphone was quite a strange experience, usually when seen using a mirrorless Olympus OM-D or PEN, at least those were actual cameras, though not looking as serious as DSLR. Having a smartphone in hand, it was difficult to get anyone to think of me or look at me seriously. Thankfully, after my many experience of shooting strangers, I know how to break the ice, and get the look I need from my subjects on the street. It took more work than usual, I do need to chat up a little bit, but at the end of the day, the results worked just fine. 

The most awkward part about using the smartphone, was the wide angle lens. Being able to do close up portrait I do need to move the smartphone to be very near the subject I was shooting, and that could create an uncomfortable situation to some! Not all my shots came out successful, and I have often realized that shooting with 45mm F1.8 lens was just the ideal focal length for tight portraits, I get comfortable working distance that the subjects can look at me with their most natural facial expressions. 

There is just so much to say about how Huawei P9 works just fine for street shooting. The Wide Aperture effect works just beautifully for my portraits of strangers, successfully isolating my subject from the background. The PRO mode was useful in situations where I need to control the shutter speed manually, slowing down the shutter speed for panning shots, or just to capture and show motion in my shots for creative freedom. Above all, I am impressed with the JPEG processing that optimizes image quality, and producing very life-like color balance which was very pleasing straight out of the smartphone. I rarely needed to intervene and do much in post-processing. 

Being a smartphone there surely was some shutter lag to be expected, but it was minimal, and can be easily avoided by planning your shot ahead and act before the action happened. 

At the end of the day, to me, what matters the most was the quality of the images that I was able to obtain from the camera, whichever camera that I was using. In the case of Huawei P9, I could not have asked for anything better in a smartphone camera, I was thoroughly satisfied with the output. Yes, there are many things I wished that could be better, as a photographer my complains may never see an end, but hey, it is also important for me to admit that the camera on the Huawei P9 just works! 

I have blogged extensively about the Huawei P9 here, just in case you have missed what I wrote earlier:
Huawei P9 Camera Review - Is This A Photographer's Smartphone? 
Kuala Lumpur After Sundown with Huawei P9
A Full Monochrome Image Sensor Implemented in Huawei P9

Jumping off the KL Tower

I know, I know the background is overblown, but who cares about that seriously. Look at the awesome lighting on the face! That to me, is what matters and made the shot for me. 

This was one of the friendliest waiters I have ever met in my life. Simply love his smile, and I found out he was from Myanmar!

A selfie with Moon, whom I managed to catch up after the photowalk!

Raja Indra Putra (bottom left corner) was giving his speech and briefing to over 50 photowalk participants before the session started!

The official group photograph! Photo credit: Raja Indra Putra

So what do you guys think? Is the Huawei P9 a good enough tool for street shooting? Have you used the P9 for street photography, and if you have, what are your thoughts and comments?

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  1. Amazing images, really incredible. I think the results have more to do with the photographer than the camera :-)

    1. Thanks Anders! But u gotta admit you cannot do the wide aperture effect, and won't have as nice JPEG rendering with other smartphone cameras!

    2. Yes, I certainly agree that the bokeh effect and the jpg rendering looks really good.

  2. Agreed with Anders above. More the photographer. Less the camera.

    1. Cheers Haris! Awesome shots you have too from the photowalk

  3. Agree with the photographer comments but have to admit the sharpness, contrast and saturation are very fantastic. Any chance you can talk Olympus into building a smart phone?

    I use a Panasonic CM1 with a 1" sensor and Leica branded lens and I would say the P9 is laying a licking on me. My feeling is Huawei's image processor and dual camera trick is really working for them. I bought the Panny for variable aperture but close focus and lens flare (really pronounced dispersion) disappointed. Panny said there would be future Android products but haven't seen any sign of life. The way phones are killing compact cameras, I'm surprised camera companies haven't tried to create more and better products like the CM1.

    1. Hi Kevin,
      I don't think Olympus will venture into smartphone territories anytime soon! I have not personally tried the Panasonic CM1, and am quite curious about it too. Nonetheless, I think partnering with another phone manufacturer sounds more feasible than building a smartphone from ground up.

    2. Sadly, I think you are right. Camera companies seem to sluggish to consider the phone market on their own. While the enthusiast and pro markets that camera companies seem to have resigned themselves to are higher margin, the high volume consumer market is a valuable part of the ecosystem. It's an easy extrapolation that the phone's domination of the volume business will have a very negative impact on the future innovation of proper cameras.

      The CM1 is okay but is more compelling on paper than in use. I like mine but with the P9, iPhone, LG G5, etc. the CM1 can be ignored with confidence that you aren't missing much. I'm not sure if they tried to do too much with a small lens and a big sensor, but when the conditions get out of it's sweet spot, it goes bad very quickly.

  4. Whilst the photo's themselves are very well done - framing, composition and subject matter, I simply don't like the fake isolation and bokeh rendition. It's a personal preference, and looking at it on my monitor really highlights the flaws along edges and fine detail like hair. It actually detracts from the important aspects of the image, like the subject itself or certain lighting. The fake bokeh bleeds into the sharper areas and pulls your eyes away easily. From what I've seen so far, the Iphone 7 easily trumps this (I'm a android user myself, so no apple bias whatsoever) - but it beggars the question; for the cost of the phone, a smaller camera like a RX100 would be better suited - and a hell of a lot more versatile.

    1. Thanks for the kind words, appreciate them.
      I have to disagree with the comment on fake bokeh on iPhone 7 being better. From the many sample images I've seen I have not come across any sample that trumps the Huawei. In fact the rendering of out of focus area on Huawei is by far more "believable" and natural. Of course, I do agree with you there is still plenty of room for improvement

    2. To be fair I've not tried the iPhone 7 so before jumping into conclusions I should at least give it a try first!

  5. The first shoot is very good, the second one is terrible regarding the fake bokeh ( the double portrait too is so weird ). If someone is not interested in photography why not use a smartphone they are better and better otherwise... I agree with Christian Clowes ( except Iphone 7, not interested ). IMO

    1. If someone is not interested in photography, they should not be shooting at all. Whether it is a smartphone or a camera.

  6. Interesting Robin. The best shots here? The straight ones without a doubt. You have a real talent for street. (love the headless man in the globe!!!) But the fake DoF is just that - fake. And using a wide angle lens to get close head shots adding in weird distortion to the mix seriously doesn't help. This gimmick is FINE for snapchat or instagram. I guess. Best place for it. But the phones ability to get half-decent images (and lets face it, that's all the IQ really is) is it's real trick. If your camera isn't readily available, the phone can stand in at a pinch. A severe pinch perhaps, but a pinch. Just leave out the image fakery. Unless snapchat's your thing.

    1. hi Peter, I think you are putting too much expectations from a phone. I did say it is "simulated", while most of us photographers are used to seeing actual results from large aperture lenses, no one would have dreamed or imagined the possibilities of doing this with just a smartphone. I agree that the simulation could be improved, you must also understand that this is the first iteration from Huawei with this technology, Who is to say how much improvement we will be able to see given enough time for development? I would not dismiss this too quickly. Imagine the versatility and how useful this could be!

  7. Robin, your shots with a camera phone simply prove (again) that good photography is about 10% equipment and 90% the hands of the photographer. Well done.

  8. Fantastic blog you have here. You’ll discover me looking at your stuff often. Saved!

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