Honor 9 Review: Light Catcher: Camera, Pt.2: Low-light, Portraits, Selfie, Video Recording

By 06:38 Wed, 18 Aug 2021 Comments

Low light

The Honor 9 does an admirable job of shooting in low-light environment, preserving detail and, to a certain extent, color. But that's only accurate if you shoot evenly lit close-ups as is the case with our Picture Compare Tests. If you are going for landscape photos, the dusk photos are fine, but the night images quite often lack sharpness due to either focusing problems or capturing camera shake. This is even though the Honor 9 is equipped with plenty of tools to assist it acquire it right.

12MP color dusk sample • 20MP monochrome dusk sample • 12MP color • 20MP monochrome

And now check the night shots.

12MP color night sample • 20MP monochrome night sample • 12MP color • 20MP monochrome

Using the manual mode and a tripod makes wonders, though. If you lock the ISO to 100 and utilize the longer shutter speeds, you can acquire some stunning long exposure shots.

12MP tripod night, 2.5s • 12MP tripod night, 4s

In full-on Night mode, you can manually select a shutter speed up to 32s with ISO up to 3200. The viewfinder image will change as the exposure develops, so if you figure you've gathered enough light you can stop at any time.

Then there's the Light painting mode, which includes four sub-modes: Car light trails, Light graffiti, Silky Water and Star track. You'd need to fix the phone to some stable support, like a tripod or a beanbag, in order to shoot in these modes, as these extremely long exposures can't be done handheld without capturing camera shake.

Light Painting - Car Trails, 15s • Light Painting - Car Trails, 39s • Light Painting - Car Trails, 42s


The panoramic shots taken with the Honor 9 are excellent. They utilize the full vertical resolution, and at about 3,100px tall there's plenty of pixels. Detail is on par with still images; stitching shows no obvious issues, and exposure variation is handled smoothly. The dynamic range once again deserves praise.

Honor 9 panorama

Variable aperture and Portrait modes

Thanks to the depth information the Honor 9 can gather from its two cameras, it can try and reproduce the blurred background of a proper portrait lens. The feature is accessed from the Wide aperture mode toggle and lets you simulate apertures from f/0.95 to f/16.

As with all such implementations, it works weirdly more often than it does well, so it's only now and then that you discontinue up with some fine portrait shots like those below. They wouldn't hrecent up to closer scrutiny, but they are still fine enough.

F/0.95 sample • F/2.4 sample • F/16 sample

The recent Portrait Mode is available on both the main and selfie snappers. It combines the Variable Aperture with Beautification and should offer Portrait shots with beautified faces and bokeh background effects.

You can adjust the level of beautification, while the bokeh strength stays the same across all shots. The blurred background is indeed nice, but the beautification may smear away some of the fine detail from your face so we turned it off. We'd rarely choose this mode instead of the Variable Aperture though.

Portrait mode samples


The real strength of the 8MP selfie capturing camera (fixed focus, sorry) should be the trendy Portrait shots with simulated bokeh effects.

The regular daylight samples turned out remarkable with plenty of detail, pleasing colors, and also quite fine dynamic range.

Honor 9 8MP selfie samples

The Portrait Mode simulates bokeh, while it also applies beautification effects on your face. Unfortunately, those things might have sounded remarkable on paper, but the software algorithm that applies the background effect isn't that smart, and the beautification is not something us grumpy guys would have on. Most of the samples we took were more miss than hit, so don't acquire your hopes as high as Huawei's marketing would like you to.

Honor 9 front Portrait samples

And here is how the beautification feature works (hint: it doesn't like beards).

Normal selfie • Portrait with beatification

Video camera

The Honor 9 captures 4K videos, but just like the P10 it is using the H.265 codec. The consequences are two-fold. On the positive side, the bitrate of 30Mbps is very low for 2160p footage, and hence files hold up less space (compare that to the ~50Mbps MPEG-4 4K videos of most competitors). The downside is that YouTube still doesn't offer support for this standard, so we've uploaded the test samples on Vimeo instead.

1080p videos utilize MPEG-4 compression, so they're YouTube-friendly.

The 1080p/30fps videos have a rather standard bitrate of around 17Mbps, while 1080p/60fps is exactly double that. Surprisingly, you'd acquire larger files per second of footage from the P10's 1080p/60ps mode, than from its 4K mode. But that's expected as the 1080p videos utilize H.264 video encoding.

Audio is recorded in stereo at 192kbps, which is great.

The capturing camera also supports capturing 720p videos with variable aperture. Just like with the still images, you choose an f number between 1 and 16. The videos turned out quite awful though and we doubt anybody will utilize this feature. It's just a gimmick and nothing of a real value.

4K videos are sharp and detailed and exhibit fine contrast and pleasing colors. The dynamic range is quite decent, too.

As it happens all too often, the 1080p footage is just okay, nothing spectacular. The fine thing is that the smoother 60fps mode doesn't come at the expense of detail, though there is noticeable oversharpening everywhere.

One limitation the Honor 9 enforces on you is that video stabilization only works in 1080p resolution, only at 30fps, and not in 2160p. The digital stabilization does a fine job, but comes at the expense of fine detail, sharpness, and narrower field of view.

You can also download the untouched video samples: 2160p (10s, 39MB), 1080p at 60fps (10s, 42.5MB), 1080p at 30fps (10s, 22MB).

And here's the promised video compare tool, where we've pitted the Honor 9 against the Huawei P10 and Oppo R11. We observed some minor compression artifacts when we examined the Honor 9 videos of our lab test charts. In the real-life footage, however, we didn't notice any issues. Apparently, the algorithm doesn't like stationary uniformly gray objects. So while we do recommdiscontinue you check out the video compare tool below, be aware that it's not strictly representative of real-world scenarios.

Honor 9 vs. Huawei P10 vs Oppo R11 in our video compare tool: 2160p



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