OnePlus has a tradition of holding “Open Ear Forums” where company representatives meet with members of the community for the purposes of taking feedback. Such events have been held in multiple countries, including India. It’s one factor that differentiates OnePlus from vendors such as Samsung, as OnePlus’ community-focused approach still shines through, at least in some areas. In December, OnePlus held an Open Ear Forum in New York specifically for videographers, wanting to get feedback from professionals who use their smartphone cameras for work as well as from novices. The company has now shared its findings and replies to all the questions raised during the Forum, and has also detailed it future commitments.
OnePlus made big strides in smartphone cameras in 2019, but the company’s phones still aren’t in the top tier. The OnePlus 7 Pro/OnePlus 7T Pro’s camera, for example, received numerous camera improvements throughout the year, which made it much better. However, it still didn’t compete head-to-head with smartphone cameras from the likes of Google, Huawei, and Apple. OnePlus knows its deficiencies in this field, and has even opened a camera lab in Taiwan to further improve its smartphone cameras.
The challenges that the videographers raised in the Open Ears Forum and OnePlus’ replies to them are noted below. I have made my comments on the necessary areas:
Q. Exposure / color / white balance shift and consistency across all cameras
A. Tuning all the cameras to have the identical exposure, white balance is our first priority and main goal.
Our comment: This refers to the different exposure, white balance, and color reproduction that OnePlus’ current triple camera setup has. The OnePlus 7 Pro, OnePlus 7T, and OnePlus 7 Pro have regular, ultra-wide-angle and telephoto cameras, but they don’t have share the same exposure, white balance, and colors. The exposure of the telephoto camera, for example, is different from the exposure of the primary camera, which is a problem. The Apple iPhone 11 Pro is often said to be the leader in this aspect of smartphone cameras, and while it’s not as major an issue unlike some other issues, it’s important to get it right because of consistency. OnePlus’ statement here makes me hopeful that its future phones will not suffer from the issue.
Q. Auto focus consistency
A. We weren’t be able to reproduce the issue reported by the OEF attendees in our lab, but an upgrade both on hardware and software for auto focus will come in 2020.
Our comment: This refers to the consistency of autofocus, particularly in tricky conditions such as in low lighting. OnePlus phones don’t have Dual Pixel PDAF, which is one area where phones from the likes of Samsung, Google, and Apple are still ahead. OnePlus wasn’t able to replicate the issues, but its statement that an upgrade will be arriving both on hardware and software for autofocus sounds good.
Q. Skin tone consistency
A. Skin tone improvement is one of our top priorities. It will improve via future system updates.
Our comment: I have highlighted in this in our camera review of the OnePlus 6T, as well as our OnePlus 7 review. OnePlus’ handling of skin tones isn’t as good as Google, Huawei, Samsung, Apple, and even OPPO. The company states that it’s one of its top priorities, and thankfully, this is an aspect that can easily be improved by future system updates. OnePlus is promising the same.
Q. Sharpness: Sharpness needs improvement across all scenarios
A. We are trying to find the new balance between sharpness and noise.
Our comment: This issue, more than anything else, drags down OnePlus’ smartphone cameras. They simply aren’t as sharp as their competitors, as heavy-handed noise reduction deteriorates fine detail instead of retaining it. The better approach is to use restrained noise reduction to let more detail remain, even when it comes with the cost of retaining more luminance noise. OnePlus’ diplomatic statement here says that it’s trying to find the new balance between sharpness and noise. In this area, the Google Pixel cameras remain best-in-class for the amount of detail they are able to retain.
Q. Super stabilization: Support for 4K recording; Reducing noise and improving low light quality.
A. There are hardware limitations, but 4K super stabilization will be supported in some of our future devices.
Our comment: The iPhone 11 Pro remains a leader here as it has active OIS and EIS in [email protected] video recording, while most other phones don’t have EIS in [email protected] Similarly, OnePlus disables EIS in 60fps modes. Also, the company’s introduction of a Super Steady mode with the OnePlus 7T uses the ultra-wide-angle camera for extra-smooth video, but it’s limited to 1080p resolution. OnePlus says that there are hardware limitations here, but 4K super stabilization (which we take to mean EIS + OIS or super steady mode) will be supported in “some” of its future devices.
Q. Dynamic range: Subject is lit but background is too dark
A. We have been working on video HDR, which will solve these dynamic range problems.
Our comment: HDR photos have arrived in pretty much every smartphone camera, but HDR videos are still uncommon. Samsung’s video recording has been regarded as one of the best out there because of great dynamic range. An effective implementation of video HDR could go some way towards resolving issues in this aspect.
Q. Light flickering
A. We’ve heard a lot of feedback about this, and we are working on de-flickering solutions to reduce this issue.
Q. Panning shots are not smooth: Improve panning shots stabilization and smoothness
A. So far, we weren’t be able to reproduce this issue in our lab, but smoothness and video are part of our key improvement points for 2020.
Our comment: Funnily enough, this was something that I had highlighted nearly two years ago, back in our OnePlus 5T long-term review. The company’s latest phones have improved in this respect, but there is still some way to go. OnePlus claims that it wasn’t able to reproduce the issue in its lab, but does state that video smoothness will be one of its key improvement points this year.
Q. Faster camera
A. Again, this is one of our main goals in 2020. Faster shutter requires updates from system, application, as well as the animation. It will constantly be improved via future updates.
Our comment: There are always improvements to be made here. OnePlus should take inspiration from the likes of Samsung, and not from the likes of Google in this regard (although to be fair, Google has mostly fixed its issues here).
Q. Lens feature-parity: 1080P and 4K should be supported in all three lenses, allowing to switch between lenses while recording
A. This is due to a hardware limitation in current devices, but we’re exploring ways to make it possible for future devices.
Our comment: I hate to keep bringing up the iPhone 11 Pro here, but its video recording is generally regarded as the gold standard. Even if we keep aside the subjective aspect of video quality, its capabilities are stronger than Android flagships. All cameras (triple rear + front) on the iPhone 11 Pro can record 4K video. Android flagships need to catch up in this regard, and OnePlus says it’s exploring ways to make it possible for future devices.
Q. Limited 4K record length
A. Having considered overall performance and temperature, we will not change current limit, but will keep working on optimizing this in the future.
Our comment: This refers to the five-minute duration limitation for [email protected] videos. These videos are strongly processor-intensive, as they stretch the limits of modern smartphone hardware. OnePlus says it won’t change the current limit for now due to performance and temperature considerations.
Q. Single handed use: Difficult to reach the top bar for features; Single hand zooming
A. This is very important feedback for us, and we’ve already been discussing solutions with the design team.
Our comment: OnePlus’ camera app continues to be one of the better camera apps on the market, but Google Camera, for example, changed its UI with the Pixel 4 release. OnePlus will probably follow in Google’s footsteps.
Q. Video editing
A. We plan on completely updating our Gallery app’s video tools, so many of the features requested during the OEF will be supported. For color grading or LUT options, we will have news soon.
Our comment: This is nice to see. Android still lacks a great first-party video editing app, so OnePlus could fill a feature gap here.
Q. Pro video mode
A. Pro video mode will be put into backlog, since our high priority is improving default video quality and use experience across the board.
Our comment: This is something that LG has offered since the LG V10. Pro video options remain a niche feature, so OnePlus’ philosophy to instead improve the default video quality makes sense. Ideally, we would prefer to have both.
Q. Depth of field for tele camera recording (optical)
A. We have already been researching and working on this feature, and the current quality has not reached our standard to release.
Our comment: To my knowledge, this feature hasn’t been implemented by any device maker.
Q. Zoom-in time-lapse
A. We have some similar ideas for time-lapse as well, they are already in future product plan.
Q. Reverse recording video
A. Less frequent user scenario, so we’ve put into backlog. Our main focus in video is basic quality and user experience for all users.
Q. Night mode for night video
A. This is something we believe to be very interesting, we have already been researching and working on it.
Our comment: This is a feature that hasn’t been implemented by any device maker yet, although we can make the argument that Huawei’s outstanding low-light cameras on the Huawei P30 Pro and the Huawei Mate 30 Pro had some degree of night vision capabilities. Night mode for video would bring the low light photography improvements to video. It’s a great prospect.
Q. AR emoji and stickers recording
A. We still haven’t found a killer scenario for AR in video. There are some third-party apps that already offer interesting sticker features, so this isn’t a big priority for now.
Q. Social media mode: Directly to twitter, crop ratio for Instagram, etc.
A. We believe the image quality in third-party apps is of high importance and has a higher priority. We have been working on this, these features are planned after image quality improvement.
Q. Light painting mode
A. We decide not to follow on light painting effect due to a narrow user scenario.
Our comment: In my opinion, OnePlus is right to not implement this mode. Astrophotography would probably prove much more popular, as seen on the Pixel 4.
Q. 2 cameras recording at the same time: Wide and ultra-wide; rear and front
A. This is already supported by current platform and cameras, but we are looking for user scene to fully take advantage of this feature.
It was great to see OnePlus’ rationale behind the video quality decisions on OnePlus phones. The company still has some way to go before it can be called a leader in smartphone cameras, but this level of openness and transparency are hard to see elsewhere. If the company keeps up its rate of improvement, it could challenge the established smartphone players this year, which would be a welcome development. While OnePlus hasn’t entirely fulfilled its commitments so far (for example, the OnePlus 7T was supposed to get 960fps slow-motion video recording in an update, but it hasn’t received it yet), it’s signifying its willingness to learn. If the company continues to eagerly take feedback from the community and adopt of open mindset of sincerely adopting the right feedback, its devices will be positively enriched by feedback collection.
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