There’s still a lot of work to do here.
OnePlus phones have always provided great value. Excellent specs, solid design, wonderful performance and clean software have all been pillars of the OnePlus sales pitch. Even as the prices have gone up, we haven’t really complained — the phones have always offered more than you expect for the money. That is, except for the camera.
With the OnePlus 2, 3 and 3T, you could always say the camera experience was befitting of the mid-range price — and to be fair, OnePlus didn’t really talk up the photography experience as being a major feature of those phones. But despite the focus on photography with the OnePlus 5, trotting out dual cameras and an imaging-focused marketing campaign, it was thoroughly underwhelming considering the flagship-level aspirations and $479 starting price. The OnePlus 5T didn’t change that perception either — the camera experience on both of its latest phones was good but nowhere near great.
Having a great camera is about more than the specs — and unfortunately, OnePlus loves to focus on specs.
Less than two weeks from now, OnePlus will announce the all-new OnePlus 6. It’ll be a major update from the OnePlus 5T, which by nature was a subtle bump over the 5. With a new design, new specs and new capabilities, we’re expecting another jump in price — maybe as high as $599. Even if OnePlus manages to keep the price lower, perhaps to $549, that crests into a realm where I can no longer give a "for the price" helping hand to evaluations of the camera. At that price, we expect it to properly compete with the top-end phones available today.
As you’ve probably noticed, smartphone cameras have gotten really good in the last couple of generations. That’s coincided with the fact that people regularly rank camera quality as the most important feature to consider when buying a phone. That’s true no matter the price — but it’s non-negotiable when buying a phone at this level.
With the OnePlus 6, I won’t be taking the company’s word for camera performance.
One of the reasons why OnePlus has struggled with cameras is that there’s a considerable amount of nuance and expertise involved — especially when working with the limitations of smartphone-sized components. Year after year the progression for OnePlus phones has been pretty simple: get a solid design, fill it with good specs and run solid software. But that doesn’t work for cameras — there’s a meld of art and science that takes time, expertise and opinionated engineers. This isn’t the same kind of spec checkbox as adding waterproofing, screen brightness or battery size to your phone — getting the right megapixels and apertures don’t create a camera that takes great photos.
That’s why with the OnePlus 6, I won’t be able to give it the benefit of the doubt when it comes to camera performance. OnePlus can’t simply say it has a new 12MP sensor, f/1.7 lens and some kind of new shooting modes. Showing off some beautiful images in marketing materials isn’t going to sell me on it, either — any expensive smartphone in the last five years can take a handful of great photos if the conditions are right. Individual components or cherry-picked sample images don’t tell the whole story, nor do they erase the history of mediocre OnePlus cameras. The only way we’ll know if OnePlus has done the heavy lifting to make its processing and software produce great images will be getting it in my hands (and everyone else’s) and using the camera alongside the best in the business.
With a price of $549 or more, you’re getting within a stone’s throw of the Google Pixel 2 and Galaxy S9 — not to mention being more expensive than other great 2017 cameras like the HTC U11 and LG G6. At that point, the camera has to be great; and not just great for the price.
May 4, 2018 at 04:03AM