The Huawei P9's Mad Dual Cameras Were an Absolute Bitch to Make

By Aatif Sulleyman on at

Huawei last week followed Samsung and LG by unveiling its 2016 flagship, taking the wraps off the Huawei P9 at an event in London. The 5.2-inch Android handset is a snappy-looking thing, featuring a trim and pretty metal unibody, a USB Type-C port and a fancy dual-camera setup around the back.

The thing stares out at the world with a pair of googly sensors, one of which is RGB, the other monochrome. As well as allowing you to shoot in either black-and-white or colour, you can also readjust the focus on images after you've snapped them. Simply put, even lousy photographers have no excuse to snap shitty pictures.

We grabbed a seat with Yonggang Wang, Huawei Consumer Group's product line director for handsets, to gain a deeper insight into the work that went into creating the P9's special rear cams.

"Looking back, I should say that it was a pretty tough journey," he said. "We began our communications with Leica two years ago. Back in 2013, we launched the P6, and at that time we aimed to collaborate with high-end companies in the domain of photography. In 2015 we launched a product team to work on the collaboration. We spent more than one year on the design and optimisation."

According to Wang, Leica was keen to sample life in the consumer electronics lane, but didn't seem entirely convinced by the P9 project at the start of the partnership. "At the very beginning, Leica was pretty cautious, because as a professional camera company, they didn't fully believe smartphone producers could reproduce and imitate the effect of a professional Leica camera," he explained. "As our collaboration went on, Leica had more and more confidence, and they began to share more with us."

Something the two firms definitely didn't see eye-to-eye on was colour reproduction, with Huawei favouring vibrance and Leica insisting on accuracy. "During our collaboration, we found that westerners and easterners have different perspectives on good photography. For example, when the Huawei team thought it came up with very good photo effects, the Leica team didn't think they were authentic enough, [saying] they should be true to the original colours.

"Some eastern brands like Samsung focus more on sharp colours, because easterners prefer sharp colours, but the westerners think that the more original, the more authentic, the better. We [now] have a better understanding of the aesthetic tastes of both westerners and easterners."

However, that was the tip of the iceberg. As well as a specially-created Depth ISP chipset, which Huawei describes as "the first of its kind", the P9 uses a pair of six-layered camera lenses, designed -- but not manufactured -- by Huawei and Leica, and Wang told us that an astonishing 90% of them failed to make the grade when the smartphone first went into production.

"Only 10% of the camera [lenses] could be selected to be used on the Huawei P9 [at the beginning]," he said. "That means that 90% of them fail our quality standards." Wang, no doubt prompted by the looks of shock that greeted this statement, was keen to assure us that the yield rate has "seen a lot of improvement" since. I should hope so too -- the thought of a mass lens graveyard fills me with a curious feeling of immense sadness.

Read More: Huawei P9 Hands-On

Regardless of improved production processes, manufacturing costs would still appear to be rather high. "There is a minor problem with dual cameras, because we need to ensure that they absolutely share the same access, otherwise there will be deviations on the images," said Wang. "We have to fix the two cameras on one single board. Such a manufacturing technique will cost a lot."

Huawei's clearly thrown a lot of effort (and cash) into the P9, and my early impressions of its camera credentials are definitely positive. The phone hits the shelves on April 16th.