OnePlus 5 Dual Camera: Something has gone terribly wrong

There's been a lot of excitement around the OnePlus 5's dual camera system, but it has some flaws the company needs to address right away

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Highlights

    • Dual cameras are 24mm & 36mm
    • 2X zoom is only 1.6x optical zoom
    • No RAW output from 20MP Sensor

The newest OnePlus Flagship, the OnePlus 5, launched to massive fanfare at an event in Mumbai on 22 June. There has been some over the top excitement about the company’s latest smartphone, with leaks and rumours dominating the news for months. Now that the phone is here, it is evident that the company has focused on three key areas; performance, design and the camera. This time around, OnePlus has chosen to go the dual camera route with their flagship, but it seems like the company still has a long way to go.

All three areas of focus for the OnePlus 5 are now running into controversy. First, the design was criticised for being a replica of the Apple iPhone 7 Plus, even though the phone itself isn’t and even the camera module only has a slight resemblance. Then on 20 June, when the phone was launched globally, XDA claimed OnePlus had tweaked the review units they sent out to reviewers to give higher than normal benchmark scores. While there were similar allegations last time as well, this isn’t a very big deal as the phone’s real world performance is nothing short of stellar, as we noted in our OnePlus 5 Performance Review.

The real concern, however, is in the camera department. OnePlus 5 comes with a 16 megapixel wide angle camera and a 20 megapixel telephoto camera, resulting in images that offer up to 2x lossless zoom. In our tests, however, we noticed a different story.

What OnePlus 5 is supposed to offer
The OnePlus 5 comes with a 16 megapixel wide angle camera and a 20 megapixel telephoto camera, but for some reason, the focal length has been omitted from the specification sheet. However, when you  use the camera app, you do obviously see that at 1x, you get a very wide angle perspective of the frame and at 2x, the telephoto lens is activated. If you go by the specifications, you would expect that the wide angle photo will bear a resolution of 16 megapixels while the telephoto shot would come in a wholesome 20 megapixels. When you’re shooting in the auto mode, what you would expect is what you get. The wide shot is 16 megapixels, and the telephoto shot 20 megapixels. Here is when the classic saying “What You See Is What You Get” kind of goes out the window. The two shots shown below are of a wall, shot in the auto mode at 1X and 2X using the stock default app. According to the EXIF in these JPG files, the wide shot was taken at 4mm while the telephoto shot was taken at 6mm. With a crop-factor of 6x, this puts the two focal lengths at 24mm and 36mm respectively.

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OnePlus 5 Camera Sample: Auto mode, 1X
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OnePlus 5 Camera Sample: Auto mode, 2X

 

What’s the OnePlus 5 Really offers
Let us first begin by saying that OnePlus does genuinely have two sensors, the Sony IMX 298 (16 megapixel) and Sony IMX 350 (20 megapixel). The problem, however, starts when you switch from the auto mode in the default camera app to Pro Mode. We examined the EXIF data of the files and it turns out that in PRO mode, if you are shooting at 2X, the software is still using only the 16 megapixel sensor and cropping into the photo, followed by upscaling it to 16 megapixel resolution. Another revelation happens to be that the focal length on the two cameras is 24mm and 36mm (35mm equivalent), hardly qualifying the term “telephoto.” The EXIF data revealed that when shooting in PRO mode with RAW enabled, the 2X mode does not switch over to the IMX350 sensor. While the JPG generated does look like it is a “telephoto” shot, the RAW file shows that the photo was taken at a 4.1mm focal length (24mm when considered in 35mm equivalent) and the aperture value sits at f/1.7, which is the lens found on the 16 megapixel sensor. Additionally, this image also bears a 16 megapixel resolution (instead of 20). We caught up with Kyle Kiang, Global Head of Marketing at OnePlus to ask him about the discrepancy in the RAW output. He commented that the company created the secondary lens to mainly bring the depth effect to OnePlus users and that the software was still a work in progress. He did not clearly provide an answer as to why the RAW output was coming only from the 16 megapixel camera, despite being in telephoto mode. The below two photos are a RAW+JPG output shot in Pro Mode at 2X.

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OnePlus 5 Camera: RAW output in 2X mode
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OnePlus 5 Camera: JPG output in 2X mode

What it all Means
Essentially, there is no RAW output from the secondary sensor with the 36mm lens, preventing us from examining the image quality. Carl Pei also tweeted out clarifying that the company never claimed 2x optical zoom, but instead called it 2x lossless zoom. Well, in either case, the users would neither get 2x optical zoom nor 2x lossless zoom. As our review of the OnePlus 5 Camera review revealed, there is noticeable quality loss in the 2x mode. If you simply do the math, you realise that the optical zoom actually offered by the OnePlus 5 is only 1.6x, and the remainder 0.5x is made up by digitally zooming into the shot. When you compare a photo taken from the wide lens, enlarged to a 20 megapixel resolution, the image from the telephoto lens still ends up being the inferior one. Examine the images below to see what we mean.

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OnePlus 5: Wide 16MP image upscaled to 20 MP
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OnePlus 5 Camera: 20 megapixel photo from telephoto lens

RAW vs. JPG
When comparing images shot in the RAW format with their JPG counterparts, we notice just how much detail is getting lost to compression. The sample below is a quick illustration of the nature of compression.

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OnePlus 5 Camera: Wide angle RAW output (colour corrected)
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OnePlus 5 Camera: Wide angle JPG (unedited)
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OnePlus 5 Camera: 100% crop of RAW file
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OnePlus 5 Camera: 100% crop JPG

The RAW files was edited for colour correction only and no sharpening has been applied to it. If you look at the facial hair, the RAW file has far more detail, being able to resolve individual strands of hair in many places. The JPG file just does not have that kind of detail retention. However, in OnePlus’s defense, every smartphone we have tested has suffered from the problem of detail loss in favour of JPG compression. With phones offering large storage capacities, one would think that companies could take the liberty of slightly lower compression, or that they would offer users the ability to decide the level of JPG compression they would like on their photos.

Also Read: OnePlus 5 Review

So is the OnePlus 5 Camera a bad Bet?
After reading/hearing about the issue around the OnePlus 5’s dual camera, it is natural to wonder if it’s a bad camera unit. Well, the short answer is that it is not. The company has just ended up making claims that aren’t 100 per cent true. For starters, 35mm focal length is not telephoto. Portraits are not shot at a focal length below 50mm for a reason. Apple’s iPhone 7 Plus uses a 56mm telephoto lens for its portrait mode, but the one on the OnePlus 5 is just somewhere in between 24 and 36mm. The OnePlus uses really good hardware for their smartphone, but the software still needs significant amount of work or maybe they should just open up their camera to third party developers so they can make a great camera app that really gets the most out of the two sensors. However, the more immediate need of the hour is for OnePlus to fix the RAW capture issue using the secondary camera in Pro mode. The JPG compression algorithm also needs significant work because it is clear that the RAW to JPG conversion is causing a lot of loss in quality. The company can’t do anything about the “2X lossy lossless zoom” simply because the math on the camera lenses don’t add up, but maybe they could re-tweak the software to limit the zoom to the optical factor instead of the digital enhancement.

If you’d like to do your own examination, you can download the above-used photos in their original resolution from this link. We have reached out to OnePlus for a comment on the state of the camera and will update this story once they get back to us. In the meantime, you can see our camera samples from the OnePlus 5’s primary camera below

OnePlus 5 Primary Camera Samples