With great power comes great responsibility. And if that power is hyped up, the responsibility gets exponentially greater. We are not talking of Spider-man but of the camera on the OnePlus 7 Pro. The cameras on recent editions of the Never Settling phone almost seem to follow the same pattern: a lot of hype accompanies their release, followed by a mixed set of reviews, and finally come a number of software updates that ultimately improve camera performance significantly.
And the OnePlus 7 Pro has definitely got the hype in place. Even before the phone was released, the publicity machinery swung into action, highlighting how the phone was used to shoot pictures for National Geographic and for the posters of a Netflix series. The spec sheet was definitely promising too – three rear cameras, with the main sensor being the massive half inch Sony IMX 586 with 48 megapixel resolution and a large f/1.6 aperture, a 16 megapixel ultrawide lens with 117-degree field of view and f/2.2 aperture, and an 8 megapixel telephoto lens with 3X optical zoom and f/2.4 aperture. Both the main sensor and the telephoto lens also come with optical image stabilization. And of course, there is a 16-megapixel pop-up selfie camera for those moments when you want to snap yourself.
The specs are powerful. The hype has been great. Now, what about the responsibility – the ability to deliver pictures on par with the best in the business?
Well, there is no doubt that in some conditions, those sensors combine to deliver stunning (and we really mean “stunning”) shots in terms of color and detail. Yes, the 48-megapixel sensor shoots 12-megapixel snaps by default (you can tweak it to 48 megapixels by going into Pro mode), but it is capable of delivering some amazing shots outdoors in terms of detail and color. Some colors at times seemed to get just a little too poppy for those harking after realism, but by and large, you get very pleasant pictures from the phone. The ultrawide and 3x optical zoom lenses are also not there just for decoration, and both deliver very good performances, giving you that DSLR feeling of being able to switch between different lenses depending on your requirement. The Night Scene mode has been improved, giving us better low light photography. And portrait mode is capable of delivering some very good bokeh.
In fact, let’s get this out of the way – when on song, the cameras on the OnePlus 7 Pro can comfortably hold their own against the very best. So when you see something worth snapping and launch the camera on the phone, you have a decent chance of getting a very good photograph.
You read that right. For just about every two or three very good snaps that we got off the OnePlus 7 Pro, there inevitably popped up a dud to take the sheen off the show. We would get some amazing detail in some photographs, only to see others where noise crept in notwithstanding the presence of optical image stabilization. Perhaps the best instance of this was seen in a restaurant at night, where the normal sensor was unable to handle glare, even while the telephoto lens delivered stunning close-ups of the lights. The main sensor however then made our rice bowl look rather dull, which it definitely was not. Similarly, Night Scape would sometimes deliver a wonderful snap, only to follow it up by one that seemed hazy barely a few seconds later. And while the telephoto option was very handy for capturing relatively far off objects, we often found detail being a casualty, in comparison with the regular mode. Portrait mode too was brilliant when it fired, but still got edges wrong at times. And truth be told, we were not too impressed by the 48-megapixel mode, even though the brand has not really pushed it – we did not get the sort of detail we had expected, to be brutally honest.
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A year or so ago, we would have said that this was acceptable as these were flaws that were present across most high-end devices. However, the last year has seen the likes of Huawei, Samsung, and Google considerably up the mobile photography game. Huawei has a pretty much-redefined zoom with the P30 Pro, the Galaxy S10 showed just how amazing the ultrawide sensor could be and well, the Pixel range took the concept of low light photography and rich detail to literally unreal levels.
The OnePlus 7 Pro, now, manages to do a bit of all of these. The problem is: it does not do so on a regular enough basis to give the likes of the Pixel, the Huawei P30 Pro or the Galaxy S10 sleepless nights. All of which makes it a bit like a weapon that is capable of doing a lot of damage but also has a penchant for misfiring. Its camera UI does not do it too many favors either. The use of “tree” icons (like those seen on Samsung devices) to switch between, normal, zoom and ultrawide is a little confusing initially, and we wish we could just swipe from one mode to another in the camera app – tapping on a mode seemed a sluggish and we actually sometimes felt a slight lag, which was odd considering the hardware the device packs in (it processes 48-megapixel snaps in a…snap!). Videos and selfies too were good, rather than spectacular – the pop-up camera looks impressive but its results are not too far from what we saw from the OnePlus 6T.
Where does that leave the OnePlus 7 Pro? In a very good place, we think. For the very fact that its cameras can be mentioned in the same breath as the S10 and P30 Pro, if not always consistently, shows just how much camera performance has been improved. In fact, we think that we would have been more generous in our evaluation of the device’s photographic prowess if it had not been hyped to high heaven before its release. And to be fair to the brand, it did not attempt to pull the wool over our eyes – at its best, the OnePlus 7 Pro can dish out images that would not look out of place in Nat Geo! The issue it faces is its inability to deliver its best consistently enough, that too in a world packed with competitors that can do just that.
In sum, the OnePlus 7 Pro has very good cameras that are capable of great things. They just need to do them often enough to move from being very good to excellent. They have shades of the best Android phones in them, now they just need to add the iPhone’s lethal consistency to their performance. And they also need to do quickly, given the price premium attached to the device. OnePlus, in best tradition, seems to be working on this. Even as we write this, our OnePlus 7 Pro has received an Oxygen OS update.
Among the improvements are “optimized photo quality.”
No, the Samsung Galaxy S10, the Pixel 3 and the Huawei P30 Pro do not have anything to worry about at the moment. But we would advise them not to get too complacent.
Those very good cameras have not settled yet.