Huawei used an image taken with $4,500 worth of camera gear to promote its smartphone camera

You know the phrase too good to be true? Huawei, the massive Chinese smartphone maker, shared a post to its various social media channels that falls squarely into that category.

The company posted the above photo, along with this caption:

We managed to catch a beautiful sunrise with Deliciously Ella. The #HuaweiP9’s dual Leica cameras makes taking photos in low light conditions like this a pleasure. Reinvent smartphone photography and share your sunrise pictures with us. #OO

But, as you can probably guess, that crisp image did not come from a Huawei P9. As David Ruddock of Android Police spotted Monday, Google+ stores and displays the EXIF metadata of an image. And in this case, the metadata shows this photo came from a Canon EOS 5D Mark III with a 70-200mm f/2.8 lens — all told, about $4,500 worth of equipment.

The amazing thing here is, this photo could not plausibly have come from a Huawei P9 — or any other smartphone. Let’s count the reasons.

  1. Lens flare Smartphone cameras certainly can produce lens flares, but they don’t look like this. A lens flare is the product of light from outside the lens’ field of view bouncing obliquely into the camera, through its glass elements, and onto the sensor. Tiny smartphone cameras tend to turn up smeary blobs when this happens, whereas longer DSLR lenses produce these longer flares with lots of easily-differentiated circles for the internal elements.
  2. Depth of field

    Huawei warns you not to use wide aperture mode on subjects more than a meter about three feet away and you can see why hereRafi Letzter/Tech InsiderA photo from a Huawei P9 in wide-aperture mode at a similar distance.

    You see that nice, blurry background? That’s the result of a large lens with a wide aperture and shallow depth of field — in other words, a very small area where a subject will be in focus. Some smartphones do have wide apertures. But because their physical cameras are so tiny, the effect is only this strong when the subject is within a few inches of the device. (The P9 actually has some interesting tech for faking shallow depths of field, as I’ve written about before. But it is nowhere near good enough to pull off an image like this.)

  3. Zoom Smartphone cameras have wide-angle lenses. That’s because in most situations you want to shoot something nearby, or are able to get closer to it. But a major downside of wide-angle lenses is that they stretch and distort their subjects. The model in this portrait is not distorted at all, even at the edges of the frame. That alone tells you she was shot on a long lens, of the kind simply not available for smartphones. And the EXIF data confirms it — a 70-200mm is the longest lens most pros will use in all but a few niche circumstances.
  4. Quality This is a bit more subjective, but it’s worth noting. This image simply doesn’t look like the product of smartphone glass. Those sharp little motes of dust, the colour accuracy, the detail in the highlights and shadows are all far beyond the capabilities of any smartphone camera I’ve ever tested. Even the bokeh, or texture of the blurry bits, looks wrong. This image just looks and feels like the product of a large sensor and high-end glass. And frankly it’s a little embarrassing that Huawei would pretend otherwise.

At this point, it’s worth noting that the text of Huawei’s caption (which has since been taken down from Google+ and elsewhere) doesn’t technically claim this photo emerged from a P9. It just shares some marketing claims about the P9 alongside this image. But even those claims make no sense. Huawei says the P9 is great in “low light conditions like this” while this shot was clearly taken in the shade on the sunny day — a situation in which no camera should struggle. Also, in my test, the P9 was just ok in low light. But it was nowhere near as good as the market-leading Samsung Galaxy S7.

Huawei did not immediately return a request for comment, but provided this statement to Android Police and other publications:

It has recently been highlighted that an image posted to our social channels was not shot on the Huawei P9. The photo, which was professionally taken while filming a Huawei P9 advert, was shared to inspire our community. We recognise though that we should have been clearer with the captions for this image. It was never our intention to mislead. We apologise for this and we have removed the image.

Huawei is one of the fastest growing smartphone companies today. It had 8.2% of the global smartphone market in the second quarter of this year, behind only Samsung and Apple, according to the research firm IDC. Its phones have been well-received too, especially last year’s Nexus 6p.

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