Huawei nova review: Life of a Star

Life of a Star

GSMArena team, 3 October 2016.

A 12MP main camera with hybrid autofocus

The Huawei nova features a 12MP camera with F2.2 aperture, phase detection and contrast detection hybrid autofocus, and a single LED flash. The camera pixels are 1.25µm big. This is probably the same sensor used for primary photographic duty on the Huawei P9 and Honor 8.

Huawei nova review

The interface of the camera app is straightforward if a little scattered. Swiping left or right in the virtual viewfinder lets you switch between still/video, and the nice Light painting, Beauty and Time-lapse modes.

The camera UI - Huawei nova review Beauty mode - Huawei nova review Light Painting - Huawei nova review All modes - Huawei nova review Settings - Huawei nova review
The camera UI • Beauty mode • Light Painting • All modes • Settings

From the shooting modes you can select HDR, Manual (Professional) mode, Super Night, All focus, and Watermark (also available post-shot from the image editor), among others.

Manual mode - Huawei nova review Super Night shot - Huawei nova review
Manual mode • Super Night shot

The Light Painting mode shoots in 8MP and has four additional sub-modes - tail light trails, light graffiti, silky water, star track. Whatever the scene, your Huawei nova will first take a picture with the proper exposure settings and then it will capture the light trails of either cars, stars, water, or other moving objects. After you finish capturing those, the light trails will be automatically added to your picture.

This process can produce some stunning results if you keep the camera perfectly still while shooting - on a tripod or similar. Unfortunately, the focus is often hit and miss and you may need to retake a picture five or more times. Pity, the P9 and Honor 8 were experts at these scenes.

Tail Light Trails - Huawei nova review Graffiti - Huawei nova review  - Huawei nova review
Tail Light Trails • Graffiti • • Star Tracks

The Super Night mode is basically a slow shutter one, where the shutter speed and ISO are chosen automatically, depending on the scene, but you can tweak those if you like. The Manual option allows you to adjust all camera exposure settings as you see fit.

We snapped a couple of night shots for you. Those taken with the auto mode, unfortunately, turned out unusable. The focus often misses and we found ourselves taking a few test shots before the camera gets the focus right.

Using the Professional (manual) mode and a tripod allows for extending the shutter speed down to 2.5s or more, which often results in beautiful city night images. The focus issues remain, but you can always resort to using manual focus to be sure everything is tack sharp.

Night scene (auto) - Huawei nova review Super Night (auto, 19s) - Huawei nova review Night scene (manual, 2.5s) - Huawei nova review
Night scene (auto) • Super Night (auto, 19s) • Night scene (manual, 2.5s)

Let's focus on the daylight image quality now. The 12MP samples came out with plenty of resolved detail and very good dynamic range. Noise levels are below average, the colors are accurate, and generally these are some solid-looking photos, very similar to what we've seen from the Huawei P9 and Honor 8.

Huawei nova 12MP camera samples - Huawei nova review Huawei nova 12MP camera samples - Huawei nova review Huawei nova 12MP camera samples - Huawei nova review Huawei nova 12MP camera samples - Huawei nova review
Huawei nova 12MP camera samples - Huawei nova review Huawei nova 12MP camera samples - Huawei nova review Huawei nova 12MP camera samples - Huawei nova review Huawei nova 12MP camera samples - Huawei nova review
Huawei nova 12MP camera samples

Of course, you may need HDR at some point of your shooting experience. You can check the HDR samples we took below.

HDR off - Huawei nova review HDR on - Huawei nova review
HDR off • HDR on

The panorama mode is one of the better implementations on the market, switching automatically between portrait and landscape.

When shooting in portrait, panoramic images turn out just over 3,000 pixels tall and the samples below are about 30MP - not that far from a 180-degree sweep. Stitching is good, exposure is even, it's just that the captured detail and dynamic range are not quite the same as on the regular still images.

Huawei nova panorama sample - Huawei nova review
Huawei nova panorama sample

The front camera of the Huawei nova is an 8MP unit shooting images at 3,264 x 2,448 pixels. It's paired with a relatively bright f/2.0 lens. There is the obligatory beautification feature, which attempts to mask skin blemishes, but it mostly gets rid of any fine detail in the shot.

If you go for a regular photo, the resolved detail is quite satisfactory, the colors and contrast are great, too. It's one of the better selfie snappers we've seen, it also supports screen flash and shoot pleasant selfies most of the time.

Huawei nova 8MP selfie samples - Huawei nova review Huawei nova 8MP selfie samples - Huawei nova review Huawei nova 8MP selfie samples - Huawei nova review Huawei nova 8MP selfie samples - Huawei nova review
Huawei nova 8MP selfie samples

You can check out how the nova camera stacks up against the competition in our Photo compare tool.

Photo Compare Tool Photo Compare Tool Photo Compare Tool
Huawei nova vs. Honor 8 vs. Huawei P9 in our Photo quality comparison tool

4K video recording

One of the major flaws of previous Huawei smartphones is that they didn't support 2160p video recording. The Honor V8 was probably the first to offer it, and now both the Nova and Nova plus have 4K video capturing. Unfortunately, there is no 1080p video at 60fps option.

The 2160p videos come out with a bitrate of 42Mbps while the 1080p ones are exactly half that. In either case, audio is recorded in stereo at 96kbps.

The 4K videos came out rich in detail, the colors are spot-on and the contrast is very good. The dynamic range is only about average, but still enough. There isn't any annoying focus hunting.

The only real problem with the video samples is the poor audio quality of the sound that gets recorded along with the videos but oddly it actually sounds much better than the one we heard within the Nova plus videos.

Unlike the Nova plus 1080p samples, the ones taken with the Nova turned out with more resolved detail and are among the better ones you can get today. Their contrast and colors are spot on. The audio is as poor as on the 4K samples, yet better than the Nova plus samples even though it has virtually the same bitrate.

These are some 2160p and 1080p videos we uploaded on YouTube.

As usual, we've provided unedited samples straight out of the camera for you to download - 2160p@30fps (10s, 50MB), and 1080p@30fps (9s, 22MB).

Be sure to head over to our video compare tool to check where the Huawei nova stands against the rest.

Video Compare Tool Video Compare Tool Video Compare Tool
2160p: Huawei nova vs. Huawei nova plus vs. One Plus 3 in our Video quality comparison tool

Video Compare Tool Video Compare Tool Video Compare Tool
1080p: Huawei nova vs. Huawei nova plus vs. Huawei P9 in our Video quality comparison tool

Reader comments

  • Prtki

It says here that up to 256 GB of memory is allowed and in the support center they told me that it is allowed up to 128 GB. What is right?

  • Anonymous

The Huawei Nova was the very first Hauwei I have used. I LOVE the device! It is smooth to operate and hasn't given my any hassles. I am definitely sticking to Huawei from here on out...

  • AnonD-688572

FYI - not sure about the version above here but any of the ones I've seen on Aliexpress (Chinese ones anyway) DO NOT have NFC! I bought 2nd hand based on stats above and got caught out - maybe worth flagging in the stats.