Valley of Fire captured with Google Pixel 3 and Huawei Mate 20 Pro phone cameras

Valley of Fire captured with Google Pixel 3 and Huawei Mate 20 Pro phone cameras

I’ve always wanted to visit the Valley of Fire State Park near Las Vegas. But somehow I never got around to it until this week, when it zoomed to the top of our daughter’s must-see destination list. So after a hectic week of CES, we headed out there for a morning, and I’m really glad we did. After tweaking my back carrying too much gear in a messenger bag at the show, I decided to travel light and simply use my two favorite smartphone cameras – a Google Pixel 3 and a Huawei Mate 20 Pro – to capture the scenery.

I love the shirt-pocket convenience and generally-excellent results in the default mode from the Pixel 3, but go to the triple-camera Mate 20 Pro when I need a wide-angle shot, a telephoto shot, or want to fiddle more with the settings. I’ll take you through how I captured the images at the end, but first, some of my favorites:

You don’t have to leave the main road to experience the awesomeness of the Valley Of Fire. The road leading to the park’s trailheads winds through colorful canyons walled with the park’s signature red rocks.
Huawei Mate 20 Pro, Night mode, 3 seconds @ f/1.8, ISO 50

A quick way to improve your composition is to have a subject in your image that isn’t just the background or middle ground. Fortunately I had one readily available on this road trip.

Both the Huawei and the Pixel feature excellent panorama modes. I shot this one vertically (to give the camera the best chance of having enough detail to stitch the sky) with a horizontal pan using the Huawei Mate 20 Pro.

One of the featured sites in the park are these “waves” of rock, formed by erosion in the sandstone of what used to be a seabed. I shot this in the default mode of the Mate 20 Pro, using wide-angle camera, but would have been better off using night mode to do a better job of rendering the tones in the rock.
Huawei Mate 20 Pro, 1/4854s @ f/2.2, 16mm, ISO 50.

You can just make out the path down through these rocks to a level area below. Amazingly, a small stone and concrete building was constructed down at the bottom and used as part of a set for a movie – The Professionals. It was hard enough picking my way down through the rocks, so I’m very glad I wasn’t carrying bags of concrete.

Colorful niches and outcroppings like these made for some very happy moments.
Google Pixel 3, default settings, 1/602s @ f/1.8, ISO 56

The 3x Telephoto on the Mate 20 Pro was generally quite good, but something failed in this case. There is way more artifacting than their should be. Not sure what happened.
Huawei Mate 20 Pro, “3 seconds” @ f/1.8, ISO 50, 81mm (the 3x Telephoto camera)

Slot canyons really cry out for a photographic subject, so you can get a sense of scale.
Huawei Mate 20 Pro, 1/668s @ f/2.4, ISO 50, 81mm

Capturing the Images


I shot using mostly the default settings on the phones, although I did choose the focus point and therefore the exposure of the shots. For comparison, I shot some images in RAW, and some with Adobe’s Lightroom Camera. Unfortunately, Adobe hasn’t added full support for the RAW mode on the Mate 20 Pro, so it wasn’t simple to correct for the usual vignetting and other issues typical of a phone camera (of course, the JPEGs have all that fixed for you in camera). So for the most part I simply used the JPEGs from the cameras. Workflow-wise, both phones automatically uploaded all the images to Google Photos, and I set up a Cloud Sync between Photos and my main Studio NAS so the images would be both available for me to work on, and archived someplace under my control (images captured with the Lightroom Camera or Auto-Imported into Lightroom Mobile also benefit from a similar feature provided by Adobe to sync them with the Adobe Cloud and desktop Lightroom).

You’ll also notice that I frequently used night mode on the Huawei (aka Night Sight on the Pixel). If you have a static scene, and can hold your phone relatively still for a few seconds, it can pump up the colors in landscapes in a fairly-natural looking way that avoids shooting RAW and doing it yourself in post processing. All in all, both phones did a pretty impressive job. If I’d wanted to step things up a notch without going to a standalone camera I could absolutely have worked harder on providing stabilization for the phones, and altering the settings in the camera app. But even at the default the images are more than usable for most casual sharing.

Notes on Google and Huawei Camera Apps

In the past I’ve relied heavily on third party camera apps, and sometimes I still do. However, those apps often can’t take advantage of the unique features of a particular phone, like the three cameras on the Mate 20 Pro, for example. So I’ve been using the Google and Huawei Camera apps most of the time. They’re both well executed, but I’ve got some gripes with each:

What I’d like to see changed in Huawei’s Camera App:

  • It needs a Sport/Action mode that optimizes for shutter speed. It has the ability to download modes, so that shouldn’t be too hard!
  • There should be a better way (besides fiddling with the zoom) to switch between the three cameras.
  • You should be allowed to Zoom even when in 40MP mode, at least by switching cameras to .6x or 3x

What I’d like to see changed in Google’s Camera App:

  • Google stashes RAW files (if you choose to record them at all) in a different folder, that is not synced with Google Photos by default. I can see some advantages to that, but I’d rather see them bite the bullet and do smart grouping of the JPEG and the RAW (.dng) and let me work on them in a unified way, rather than having them in two places.

It isn't that easy to purchase a Huawei phone in the US, as there is a lot of controversy about the company, and US carriers don't carry them. But you can get them from Huawei via Amazon, although I can't vouch for what happens if you need service. I can tell you the Huawei Mate 20 Pro is a pretty-amazing phone. .

[Image Credit for Portrait of the Author: ]