Camera Review

OnePlus 6 Camera Review: A Clear Step Forward

More reasons to say cheese....

Ahead of its launch, the rumor mills worked extra shifts to make sure it got all the attention it could. It made great noise before arriving and is already one of the most talked about smartphones of the year. Yes, we are talking about that assassin of the flagships, the OnePlus 6. The device has been launched at Rs. 34,999 and is one of the top contenders in the race to be one of the best smartphones in the market. But while the OnePlus 6 is decked with all the high-end specs and features, there is one area in which it has always been seen as lagging behind the premium players – the camera. On paper, the cameras of the OnePlus 6 seem largely similar to those of the OnePlus 5T. But scratch deeper and there are changes and improvements. But just how much have things changed since the OnePlus 5T in terms of camera performance? And has the Never Settler’s camera moved closer to the likes of the Pixel 2 and the Galaxy S9?

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Those megapixels seem similar

In terms of sheer megapixel numbers, the camera on the OnePlus 6 has not seen a real bump up as compared to its predecessor, the OnePlus 5T. The smartphone comes with a dual camera combination of a 16-megapixel main sensor and a 20-megapixel secondary sensor, with both having f/1.7 apertures. The selfie camera also remains the same in terms of numbers with a 16-megapixel front-facing sensor. But there are changes beneath those similar looking figures. OnePlus has added optical image stabilization and has also opted for a 19 percent physically larger sensor for better low light photography. The company has also improved on the slow motion front and has introduced super slow motion capture with 480FPS at HD and 240FPS at FHD. For the front facing camera, the company has added EIS and has promised to add a new Portrait Mode feature which would work with the help of an AI algorithm. And of course, the positioning of the cameras themselves have changed – the dual cameras on the rear now are in a vertical “capsule-like” unit on the back rather than horizontally aligned in a corner and the front-facing camera is in the notch!

And the app stays basic

It may be packed with the biggest numbers in hardware terms but one thing that still remains very grounded is the camera application on the OnePlus 6. The major part of the camera app is dominated by the viewfinder. In the Photo mode, above the viewfinder, the company has placed icons for the self-timer mode, the HDR mode, the viewfinder ratio and the flash. The viewfinder ratio allows you to change the size of the viewfinder and get a better view of the space around you if need be. Below the viewfinder, OnePlus has accommodated the three basic modes— Video, Photo and Portrait. Swiping right or left on the camera screen also changes these modes whereas if you swipe up, a few additional modes pop up including Pro Mode, Slow Motion, and Timelapse.

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Zooming in on the OnePlus 6 is pretty simple as well. Near the base of the viewfinder, there is a 1x icon, which when pressed gives you 2x zoom (which OnePlus claims is relatively lossless but is not as good as an optical zoom, in our experience) but if you want to go further in, you would have to zoom in through the viewfinder by pinching out. Right above these modes, on the bottom right side of the viewfinder, the company has positioned the beauty mode icon. The beauty mode is available for both primary and secondary camera as opposed to some smartphones that only offer it for the front-facing camera.

In the video mode, the app offers different resolutions you can choose from which include 720P, 1080P, 4K at 60FPS, 4K at 30FPS, and 1080P at 60FPS. The auto mode in video mode records at 1080P. These options are placed above the viewfinder along with the flash icon replacing the line of HDR mode and other features present on the Photo mode. In Portrait Mode, you have the timer option above the viewfinder and the option to change the shape of the depth effect (more about this later). On the base of the camera app rest the camera switch icon, the circular shutter button and the gallery icon.

The camera app is pretty basic, easy to use and uncomplicated. It definitely will not overwhelm first time users or those who like simple interfaces but those who are not used to the interface or have used smartphones from the likes of Huawei/Honor, Xiaomi or Samsung, might feel a little disappointed as the app does not have a lot to offer (hey, not even filters). If you want to do more with the cameras on the OnePlus 6, you might have to download third-party apps.

Outshooting the 5T, especially in low light

Now that we are done with the basic preamble, let’s get down to real business — the performance of the cameras on the OnePlus 6. It may not have raised the numbers on the megapixel front but the cameras on the OnePlus 6 are definitely a step ahead of the OnePlus 5T.

The primary camera on the OnePlus 6 produces good daylight shots and is very snappy. It captures a lot of detail, especially in broad daylight conditions. The results were particularly impressive in terms of landscape photographs. The viewfinder ratio changing option gave us a better look at the subject when we were taking images from a distance – 19:9 is a great option for sprawling landscapes. The camera captured most of the detail and hardly anything relatively close was left blurry – even when we zoomed in to check if the photo pixelated. Sure, the image took a second to get all the details together and sharpen it in the gallery but most of the times, the detail remained on point. Close-ups on the OnePlus 6 were impressive as well. The camera did not take much time in focusing on the subject and while we had to adjust the distance between the camera and the subject a few times, it mostly reproduced beautiful macros that had great detail and really popped up because of the bokeh around it (even when we did not use portrait mode).

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The Portrait Mode on the OnePlus 6 also seemed to be working well and an improvement over the OnePlus 5T. Apart from occasional misses on the edges of the subject, the camera worked well in focusing on the subject and blurring out the background. The bokeh on the Portrait Mode images was also fairly intense, so much so that it sometimes came across as like pseudo bokeh than actual bokeh. The Portrait Mode also offers different shapes of bokeh which include circular, heart-shaped, star-shaped bokeh, but we really did not see much difference and did not always see these shapes forming around the subject. They are a decent party trick perhaps, but we would advocate sticking with the normal mode.

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One area in which the OnePlus6’s camera has vastly improved is low light photography. While the OnePlus 5T had the same numbers in terms of megapixels, the OnePlus 6 comes with a larger 1.22μm sensor and optical image stabilization, both of which make it a better low light photography camera, not just on paper but in actual usage too. The images taken with the OnePlus 6 were better in terms of detail and did not have as much noise as we have seen in previous OnePlus smartphones. But there is one thing which OnePlus seems to be doing wrong even now. Despite having OIS on the primary camera, OnePlus shoots up the ISO in low light instead of keeping the shutter open for a longer duration like what Google does on the Pixel 2. Yes, this means the camera feels considerably faster, but the output isn’t as good as on the Pixel 2 or Galaxy S9+.

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Going color crazy sometimes

That said, it is not all roses in the world of OnePlus cameras as they come with their own set of thorns. One of these is the color reproduction. While we were very impressed with the details captured by the OnePlus 6, what disappointed us was the oversaturation of colors that came with it. The OnePlus 6 often gave us very warm oranges, reds and bright greens even when the actual colors were much colder and subtle. Some might like the tweaking but we thought it was a little too much. Another issue that we faced with the camera was with the camera app – while it breezed through most tasks swiftly, we often had a second long blackout on the viewfinder while changing from one mode to another.

The 16-megapixel selfie camera on the OnePlus 6 is decent as well. It did not wow us with detail and the colors produced seemed a little on the washed out side but it worked well overall. Thankfully, the beauty mode did not make us look like an anime character and only softened the skin tone according to our liking. We will let you know how portrait mode worked once the OTA comes (expecting it to arrive in 3 weeks from now).

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Videos on the camera were good without being exceptional, although low light performance has once again improved here. Super slow motion is kind of cool, but nothing to give the Galaxy S9 sleepless nights. One good thing though, you can shoot up to one minute of super slo-mo videos unlike few seconds on some phones like the Galaxy S9. You can use the camera for shooting videos but it would not be our first choice.

A step forward rather than a giant leap

There is no doubting that the OnePlus 6’s cameras are definitely among the best present in the market at its price point. We expect them to get some stiff competition from the Honor 10, but if it is bright colors and good detail that you seek with a simple enough, uncluttered interface and decent speed, the OnePlus 6 is an excellent option. However, thanks to all the great specifications and numbers and flagship killing talk, OnePlus smartphones often find themselves matched against the very best in the business rather those that fall in its price band. And as far as cameras go, we do not think, that phone matches up with the likes of Google Pixel 2, Samsung Galaxy S9, Huawei P20 Pro or the iPhone X/8/8 Plus in terms of detail or color reproduction. But factor in all that hardware goodness surrounding those cameras, the promise of improved performance through updates, and top it off with the price tag of Rs.34,999, and you will find yourself becoming far more forgiving.

The camera of the OnePlus 6 is very good, but not great. Not yet. We hope it never settles until it becomes just that!