The biggest mark of a premium flagship-grade smartphone are its cameras. These days premium smartphones are less phones, more or less miniaturised computers and cameras. OnePlus has built its brand on the fact that its phones are potential “flagship killers” offering features that one associates with the cream of the crop at a fraction of the price.
However, OnePlus has started breaking out from the image in the last 2 years as its phones have become increasingly more expensive with more lavish designs, displays, and features. Last year, perhaps, more so was the year OnePlus transitioned from being the pretender to the big boys — the likes of Samsung, Apple, Google and Huawei — to being a true competitor.
Reviews were sterling for the OnePlus 7 Pro and the “T” models later in the year. According to analysts, sales were also on fire as OnePlus managed to be the top premium smartphone brand in India leaving behind the likes of Samsung in dust and even managing to usurp Apple for the better part of the year, except the quarter Apple came out with the iPhone 11.
While all of this was hunky-dory, critics like me argued that there was one thing an OnePlus phone didn’t provide which it had even promised at launch — a flagship camera experience. While launching the OnePlus 7 Pro, the Chinese company proclaimed that it had the highest rated smartphone camera according to the DXOMark. Even though it claimed this, initial reviews of the cameras didn’t tally with this claim. OnePlus relentlessly improved the camera with software updates as it had always done in the past and even though DXOMark came back with an impressive rating, in real-world use for most people the cameras on iPhone XS, iPhone 11, Google Pixel 3 and even Huawei’s P30 Pro were just better in every way possible.
As we approach the launch of the OnePlus 8 Pro which fast approaches in a week — leaks are pointing towards a first through and through flagship phone from OnePlus which could be the stuff of nightmares for Samsung. With this grand promise, co-founder Pete Lau is also teasing low-light photos shot from the OnePlus 8 hinting at true flagship-grade cameras.
Amongst journalists, there is a great deal of scepticism around the camera on the OnePlus 8 series. Many believe that OnePlus will flatter to deceive based on its history, but I believe there is plenty of evidence towards the contrary. The OnePlus 8 Series will have cameras that will be truly flagship-grade.
- OnePlus is owned by BBK Electronics, the holding company behind the likes of Oppo, Vivo, Realme, iQOO. OnePlus, in particular, was spun off from Oppo, and there has been great commonality in the hardware like the core industrial design, the processor, display size and type and camera sensors. From whatever has been leaked, the OnePlus 8 series will have twin 48-megapixel cameras like the Oppo Find X2 Pro which has received rave reviews. The primary one will be the new Sony flagship IMX 689 and the wide-angle camera will be the 48-megapixel IMX 586 which was the main camera sensor on the OnePlus 7 series. The impressive thing here is that this is perhaps the best sensor I’ve seen on a wide-angle camera as manufacturers usually skim on the hardware for the wide-angle cameras. In the recent past, the wide-angle camera has turned out to be one of the most defining aspects of a modern smartphone experience and it seems like OnePlus is doubling down to the core cameras.
- OnePlus usually touts DxOMark’s rating as a benchmark to tell you why it has a great camera system. Most manufacturers do that — but that rating is more of an indicator as DxOMark doesn’t give the highest score to the iPhone 11 or Google Pixel 4 which are considered to be the best smartphone camera phones by most reviewers. The iPhone 11 and Google Pixel lag these rating not because they don’t take the best photos or videos, but because they don’t have the most camera lenses and nor do these phones top the zooming charts. The iPhone still does just 2x optical zoom while the Pixel also added telephoto camera for the first time in 2019, but lacks the wide-angle camera. As the OnePlus 8 camera system is based on the Oppo Find X2 Pro, the good news is that even that phone doesn’t top the zooming charts as it doesn’t have the crazy zoom capabilities of Samsung’s Galaxy S20 line or Huawei’s P30 Pro or the newer P40 Pro series. It also doesn’t have the 108-megapixel camera that Xiaomi and Samsung have started to tout which reviewers claim has focusing issues because of the enormous sensor size. Oppo uses a more traditional sensor which is focused on image quality along with a top-class and proven sensor for the wide-angle camera. The iPhone 11, not the Pro, alone has proven to be the most reliable camera that’s come out recently because its main two cameras get the job done — that’s the promise of the Oppo Find X2 Pro, and likely the same will convert to the OnePlus 8 series. Expect this phone to have either the second-highest or third-highest score on DxOMark when it launches. It should have a similar score to that of the Oppo Find X2 Pro.
- OnePlus has to also step up its game because the price of these new phones is going to be ultra. The phone is expected to cost more than Rs 60,000 for the “pro” model. OnePlus will compete with the iPhone for the first time and it will need an incredible camera system to justify the cost. OnePlus 8 has to beat the Samsung Galaxy S20 or minimum match it in the camera department. I didn’t manage to do that last year, but this year it is a must. Considering there is no DxOMark score for the S20, one can again look towards the Find X2 Pro score to believe the OnePlus 8 Pro can beat Samsung’s latest phone. The Find X2 Pro has the same score as the Mi 10 Pro which uses the same 108-megapixel sensor that’s there on the Samsung Galaxy S20 Ultra. The S20 Ultra is said to be riddled with focusing issues which could further give the OnePlus 8 leverage over it.
- Night mode photos have increasingly become a huge deal. OnePlus introduced night mode two years ago with the OnePlus 6T and then iterated with it on the OnePlus 7 series and then later with the OnePlus 7T. This year OnePlus is promising a big update to the night mode. I have hopes that OnePlus will be able to play alongside the top shots as firstly the 48-megapixel IMX 689 sensor could be the best sensor that’s there for most smartphones in 2020. The IMX 686 which is a 64-megapixel sensor shows its craft on the Poco X2, which points towards a bigger leap with the 48-megapixel sensor. Why do I say this? Well, with the smartphones the sensor size is small so when the megapixel count goes up, the sub-pixel size becomes small, that’s why the IMX 689 is expected to be superior to the IMX 686. On top of this, the image Pete Lau has showcased the night mode capabilities of the OnePlus 8 series camera system which indeed looks impressive, that too of the wide-angle camera, so the main sensor will likely have better low-light performance.
- Last but not least is the addition of the colour filter — that’s got the potential to not only improve the low-light performance of the phone but also elevate the colour accuracy of the photos that come out of the phone. This is an area where the iPhone is the undisputed champion of mobile photography — OnePlus will now have a hardware-based solution to the problem like what Huawei has had on its phones in the last couple of years.
Fundamentally, the OnePlus 8 series will likely have great cameras. The one area where this new line will be behind some of the other smartphones is zoom. Sure, it will likely have a decent 3x optical zoom and 10x hybrid zoom function, but it will not have the crazy of the Huawei P40 Pro or the Samsung Galaxy S20 Plus. This is alright — it is great, as firstly nobody needs more than 3x optical zoom and up to 10x lossless zoom alone is overkill, secondly, even if you need that much of zoom it is a very niche use-case – invariably, as I’ve discovered with the Galaxy S20 Ultra, the zoom detracts so much from a consistent shooting experience that I’d rather not have it but have a consistent and reliable core camera.