It might have made more news with its sandstone finish backs, innovative UI and of course, its too-good-to-be-true “specs to price” ratio but any self respecting cell shutterbug will tell you that OnePlus’ devices have always sported decent cameras. Both the OnePlus One and OnePlus 2 came with cameras that scored in the detail department and were relatively consistent performers, although many considered to be a few steps below the best from the likes of LG and Samsung.
Well, with the OnePlus 3, the company has tried to climb those steps. In pure spec terms, the phone ups the ante, going from the 13.0-megapixel shooters seen on the OnePlus One and OnePlus 2 to a 16.0-megapixel shooter – it is a Sony IMX298 sensor with f/2.0 aperture and both optical image stabilization as well as electronic image stabilization, which should help in capturing low light shots as well as reduce ‘shake’ caused by less than steady hands. There are some software tweaks too, with a manual mode being added to the mix, even while the interface remains relatively uncluttered and inspired by the stock Android app for the camera. There is support for 4K video and slow motion too but the main focus (pun intended) is on the stills (yes, there is support for RAW format out of the box). Rather interestingly, however, there is no laser autofocus and the flash is a single LED one. So just how much photographic bang does the OnePlus 3 deliver after all these tweaks?
The answer in three words is: quite a lot.
We have been using the OnePlus 3 camera for almost a week now and when it came to normal light shots, it was right up there with the best. In terms of interface, the camera remains on the simple side – some will like that, some will not. We are not massive fans of the manual mode, preferring to use our camera phones as simple point and shooters, but those wishing to tweak ISO and the like will love it on the OnePlus 3. Ideally, we would have liked more shooting modes and live filters as we are seeing in other camera apps – they do make the app more cluttered and complex but are also handy for those who simply do not want to spend time messing around with settings they do not understand (and most people still do not know what white balance or ISO are). In simple terms: if you enjoyed using the camera on the Xiaomi Mi 5 or the LG G5, the chances are that you will find the OnePlus 3’s interface a tad too plain for comfort. On the other hand, you are a stock Android fan who believes in minimalism, this is just the app for you. Just be ready for the app crashing a few times – something we are sure OnePlus will fix, given the speed at which the company issues updates.
Getting on to performance itself, capturing details was never really a problem with the OnePlus One and the OnePlus 2, but yes, we had wished for better color handling. And this is where the OnePlus 3 delivers – yes, you do have the detail that marked its predecessors but you also have brighter color handling, adding a lot of visual appeal to your photographs. One area where the camera seems to really excel is in close up shots, where we found the background blurring automatically to give a bokeh-like feel. We can see foodies and nature lovers warming up to the camera, thanks to the rich colors and the sharpness. There is also an HD mode which automatically does some software magic to make your images look better – it does not have as much processing time as HDR mode and while its changes are not as dramatic, they definitely do make a difference and give you a much better picture to look at. And it is not just on the AMOLED display (which does tend to portray a slightly more rosy side of images) but across all displays – the OnePlus 3 takes very good pictures in normal light conditions and can pretty much hold its own against most comers. We would recommend turning off HD mode, though, as it can lead to some inconsistency in color reproduction.
It is when the lights start to dim that things get interesting. The single LED flash is a bit too token to make a difference and we also sometimes found issues with glare from street and indoor lighting. Mind you, you will get some very good shots indoors if the light is of the suffused type – bright bulbs will cause some problems, however, so we would recommend shooting images where the light of the source is visible and not the source itself. There were also some issues with capturing moving objects – perhaps we have been corrupted with the shooters on the LG G5 and the iPhone 6S Plus, but taking pictures of moving vehicles and objects seemed just a tad more erratic with the OnePlus 3. Is this the price paid for leaving out laser auto focus? To be fair, we did not have any issues with focusing speed.
So where does that leave us with the OnePlus 3 in shooting terms? In our opinion, a touch away from greatness. Yes, we can see some people quibbling about the low light performance of the device but then we have never believed in the “shooting what you cannot see clearly” philosophy, but all said and done, the OnePlus 3’s camera is easily the best we have seen on a OnePlus device and much better than some on others. Yes, we would have liked a richer interface, and something more than a token flash, but with the OnePlus 3, we can safely say that the company has taken a step closer to camera greatness. It won’t give the iPhone 6s Plus, the LG G5 or the Galaxy S7 sleepless nights yet, but it will definitely make them set an alarm to wake up early and work out. And that ain’t bad. That ain’t bad at all.
Cosmic Paladin contributed some image samples for this post.