Every year it seems OnePlus launches their flagship device with promises of even better real-world performance than before, and a renewed focus on camera performance. Fortunately for OnePlus and for us, they seem to fulfill these promises by delivering, indeed, a better camera and performance than the prior year… But that is to be expected, and by itself is not necessarily “enough”. The entire industry improves year after year, and especially in the camera department. OnePlus had to make up ground despite their roughly $250 market advantage over comparable flagship devices. The initial OnePlus 6 camera software was good, but not very remarkable. I personally found it inconsistent in its overall performance in both daylight and low-light, leaving quite a bit of room for improvement.
OnePlus looks to have known this as they just released the 5.1.9 patch that intends to bring some pretty major camera improvements. While I have not had the ability to do a deep dive – don’t worry, it is coming with a large camera comparison – I can at least begin answering the following question: have they delivered on the quality improvement they promised? Let us find out.
As I mentioned earlier, OnePlus launched the 5.1.9 update that brought some big camera improvements alongside the July security patch. While I am currently testing another device (hint- it has a keyboard) I took some time to compare the 5.1.8 patch to the 5.1.9 update. Keep in mind, as I only have one device, I was forced to take a few shots then update and try and duplicate them, so some testing scenarios the cloud cover could have changed and so-on, the time difference between the shots is only about 20 minutes.
This first shot is just a wide shot that highlights different colors alongside the dynamic range. Generally speaking, both of these photos are roughly the same. The 5.1.9 patch does highlight a few updates with a better dynamic range and color reproduction as well as overall sharpness and detail – some things that are more apparent in the other test shots and isn’t always an advantage. In this shot though you can see the slightly warmer (more accurate) color tone on the house in the background and if you look at the center of the tree at the branch facing us you can see that the 5.1.9 patch does not have that smoothing effect the older patch had, bringing out more detail in the leaves. The shot also is a tad brighter, with better HDR settings being applied. Personally, I think I prefer the overall shot of the 5.1.8 probably due to the sky blue being better and the colors popping a bit more, but there is no denying that the 5.1.9 patch is a better photo with more detail, better sharpness, and a more accurate representation of the actual scene.
In this next shot of the close up of the flower bloom on the tree there really is no comparison. While the 5.1.8 shot might be more appealing for social media sharing due to the separation of the fore and aft subjects, the 5.1.9 shot delivers a lot more detail and clarity.
So this is the first shot that has something I really do not like about the patch, and that’s overdone HDR. Now, I shot all of these in the stock settings with no changes as most people will do, and while this shot is nice for social media and eye appeal, it is an overcooked photo. This is clearly apparent in the texture of the wood in the top right of the photo. The 5.1.9 shot has clipping on both ends of the shot – the highs and lows – and it is not what you really want to see coming straight out of the camera. There is a very high level of detail here and none of the hazing that is present on the 5.1.8 shot which are excellent, but OnePlus needs to tone this processing down.
Here is a shot where I used the portrait mode. There is something interesting I noticed while looking at this photo. On the 5.1.8 patch any portrait mode shot slightly alters the photo, like the portrait shots are two different photos but taken closely together. On 5.1.9 that effect is gone. It is fairly irrelevant but something I noted and thought I would bring up. Here the shots are largely the same with the same tendencies that we noticed earlier – higher dynamic range, better detail, sharpness, and color reproduction on the new update. Again though, the 5.1.8 photo is a little more pleasing to look at, because it has significantly less clipping and is a well-balanced shot, however that comes at the expense of less detail and more hazing. There is a troubling thing I did notice though with both builds, if you use portrait mode a lot. While using portrait mode with “save original” you do not get the same level of quality as you would a non-portrait shot. I noticed that the non-portrait shot in a portrait shot was roughly 2.5MB whereas the normal shot without portrait mode was around 8MB, despite them having the same megapixel count. Hopefully OnePlus fixes this in a future update as it should not be due to any ISP or storage speed limitations.
The front camera sees some of the same changes with sharpness and detail bumps. Personally though, I preferred the 5.1.8 front camera version. If you really crop in close – I apologize in advance to any who have to look that close at my face – you can see the after effects of over-sharpening on my face and especially on my hair. The 5.1.9 patch gives it a pasty clay like appearance and is not very appealing. If you zoom in on my cheeks you can actually see facial hair that was removed as part of the smoothing effect that was on the 5.1.9 shot. On both shots the user facing smoothing or beauty mode was off. The colors are better reproduced on 5.1.9 though, a consistent theme of the update.
On our last comparison of my figurine of Mercy from Overwatch, you can see more detail and clarity on the 5.1.9 patch and I really prefer it to the older version. There is less smoothing on her hair and you can see more defects on the figure thanks to a more accurate photo with less detail being blurred out.
Here is a bonus round of comparison shots between the OnePlus 6 (5.1.9), iPhone X, Sony Xperia XZ2, and Blackberry Key2. I find it startling how each camera approached this shot and the differences contained within and it is pretty clear that the OnePlus 6 is trying to mimic the iPhone X camera, which is unfortunate as I feel the iPhone X camera is an under-performer on the market. I feel the XZ2 did the best job on this shot, sacrificing sky over-exposure to make the foreground subject brighter and with more details, but the OnePlus 6 was right behind it. You will be seeing a lot of this in a future camera comparison between some of the top tier flagships on the market and just how the OnePlus stacks up.
So that is all of the comparison shots we have so far. Overall I feel the update – in the scope of this quick comparison – is a mixed bag. I do not care for the over processing with HDR enhancements and I feel more work needs to be done to prevent shadow clipping. That said, there is an appreciable difference in overall detail and sharpness levels across the board. I have also noticed in my time with the update that I am more consistently getting the shot I intended to take, whereas with the 5.1.8 update the camera was quite inconsistent in its results.
I might seem to have come across rather negative and critical in this review, but overall I feel that this update was a positive adjustment in terms of overall photo quality. Granted, this is a small sampling I was able to do but I plan on doing a much deeper, more comprehensive review here in the coming weeks.