Is the Honor Magic4 Pro a cinematographer’s dream?

After the fork from Huawei, Honor wanted to make a splash with its first flagship, the Magic3 Pro. One of the biggest features the company boasted about was the camera, which said it was good enough to shoot a proper movie. Armed with one, we’d all be turned into miniature Tom Cruises and shoot down TikToks like they were destined for the multiplex. Unfortunately, the phone never left its native China, but Honor uses the same pitch for its successor, the Magic4 Pro, which has arrived in Europe.

Honor certainly stood out with the spec list, which reads like the company threw the kitchen sink, then the kitchen, then the dining room onto the handset. The Pro model has a 50-megapixel primary camera paired with a secondary 50-megapixel ultra-wide camera with a 122-degree field of view. There’s also a 64-megapixel telephoto lens with 100x digital zoom and an 8×8 direct time-of-flight sensor for whip-fast focusing.

The cinematic suitability of the “IMAX-enhanced” phone goes even further: Honor enlisted the help of a professional colorist to develop specific color palettes for videos. Bryan McMahan has created a series of Look Up Tables (LUTs) for the phone that act like an Instagram filter for your video. These range from a sunny mode that makes your footage look like it was shot in the height of summer, and a gloomy mode that makes everything look like it went through a bleach pass. One of my favorites was Focus, which dims all colors down to skin tone, at least for my Caucasian limbs, making everything look like an 80’s music video.

But the phone’s real interest is its supposed ability to shoot in Log, which is the standard most Hollywood movies are shot in. Technically, it’s now a custom format – MagicLog – that Honor developed to work with mobile devices, but the point remains the same. Log is short for Logarithmic, and it’s a way of filming something that preserves as much dynamic range and tone as possible. It preserves high-contrast scenes, as well as shadows, highlights, and whites that a traditional digital camera may try to smooth out or simply fail to capture properly.

Unfortunately, it was far from easy – some of the takes I shot on camera for my piece were plagued by strobe lights. Which was odd as my LED lights weren’t supposed to flash and the camera only seemed to catch it every once in a while. The audio also leaves a lot to be desired and I had to record all of my audio through an external microphone. (Yes, this is common on most professional cameras, but the point here is that people are going to use this as a camera for their vacation videos, right?)

Being able to shoot log means you can also hand your footage over to a colorist and get perfect footage. In theory. The first test shots I took were very flat and it was difficult to get a lot of the detail and dynamic range that was supposed to be there. Well, I’m not a professional colorist, but my colleague, Engadget’s Steve Dent, is, so I sent him the phone and all my footage to let his trained eye run over it all.

He said there was a significant amount of clipping, meaning there is a lot of detail in the footage that cannot be accessed. This is probably a result of compression since MagicLog is designed to be mobile friendly after all. But it means my clips couldn’t get the good pops of color we were hoping for after the treatment. Not to mention that Honor doesn’t appear to offer a standalone LUT for editing software, meaning Steve couldn’t just run it through the standard model (which is tabletop play for other pro cameras).

Shooting with the Magic4 Pro is also difficult, Steve says, for a few other pretty important reasons. First, because it clips highlights, you need to expose them and not the shadows, which means some guesswork is required. Then there’s no easy way to tell if you’re shooting safe footage, as there’s no built-in display LUT to give you any idea of ​​what’s coming. There’s also no video level meter, so shooting in MagicLog involves a lot of hitting and hoping.

Now, that’s not to say Magic4 Pro is terrible, terrible, and a general waste of money – because it’s not. Recording in standard mode is easy enough and the results were good enough to use as a professional-quality video for Engadget. But fundamentally it feels like until Honor really wraps up the log offering with a display LUT, video level meter and making later color grading easier for non-pros, beginners shouldn’t play with it and expect good results.

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