OnePlus arranged a short trip with the media at their camera R&D centre in Taipei, Taiwan.
The agenda was to get more insights on how the OnePlus 7 and 7 Pro cameras perform, where they fail and what should the OnePlus team do more to improvise. The tech media from India, Europe and China were at the Taipei R&D labs in the second week of July 2019 where everyone was given a tour of their camera testing and research laboratory, which was founded in late 2018.
OnePlus claimed that they take their work seriously and pay immense attention to the camera’s performance apart from the OnePlus phones’ hardware and user interface. The camera labs contained hundreds of smartphones on a continuous loop test where each smartphone on the test rig that clicks pictures almost every 10 seconds and sends the data to their internal systems for analysis and development. Apart from the rest, we got a glimpse of the robots that automate the test processes where each camera on test clicks thousands of photos of the ISO test charts, subjects and objects placed opposite the viewfinder. With the robotic arm moving each time and the charts closing in and out, and with hundreds of different lighting conditions, the camera manages to take thousands of samples in one single test alone.
The lab is based on a closed dark room which consists of a few robots, test equipment, computers and lights. Each of these are calibrated every few months or in around a year, which are then evaluated against some pro parameters to ensure that the cameras can perform at par with the best out there. As for OnePlus, they plan to increase the performance of the OnePlus 7 Pro and the future smartphones to compete against the Google Pixel cameras.
OnePlus’ camera tests at the lab are mainly based on two types of tests –– subjective and objective. Each test undergoes rigorous scrutiny with thousands of test photos being analysed and compared to get the best results.
OnePlus Co-Founder Carl Pei addressed the media and ackowneleged that the camera performance on the OnePlus 7 and OnePlus 7 Pro did lack in a few areas after reports from poor performance on the camera’s imaging skills were out. OnePlus’ Open Ears forum was where the media was invited and the three media teams (India, China and Europe) were asked to jot down issues with the camera, questions on the performance and the areas where OnePlus should work on (both hardware and software) to improvise on the smartphone that stands tall as the best performer till date.
Immediate questions put up by the media was considered. Each team put out around 10 to 15 questions and areas of concern and improvisation. A few areas that were pointed out were as follows:
Shutter speeds to be faster as the app witnesses a lag between the shutter button and the photo being captured.
Focussing issues - when clicked behind a glass, and in videos.
Focus lock and object tracking
Usage of different lenses in all modes since pro mode is restricted to the primary sensor only.
Picture in picture mode
A better intuitive UI for the camera app
Headphone jack for audio recording via a microphone while filming
RAW image formats for post processing
Video support with ultrawide lens,
A few areas with respect to hardware and faster OTA updates
While most answers were unavailable, some were promised to roll out soon. OnePlus has taken notes based on the user feedback to the respective media. Carl and Jake did acknowledge most of the issues and needed improvements and has promised to look into the same to ensure that their consumers are happy.
Engineers from India, China and Taiwan make up the image engineering team at the Taipei R&D centre. Their goal is to make people confident about clicking photos using their OnePlus phones without having to be a geek or a professional in photography. Their aim is to make the camera and the app as easy to use as possible so that the user can simply point and shoot their subject without having to bother about the environment’s lighting conditions or even the subject itself. Hence, their next agenda is to ensure natural looking images with the least amount of effort possible.
Image Product Manager Zake Zhang revealed that the OnePlus smartphones use camera sensors developed by various brands, which include Sony, Samsung, Sunny Optical and a few others. He also revealed that OnePlus is closely working alongside Qualcomm with regards to the image processing requirements and algorithms to help maximise the potential of the chipset and the sensors and benefit the user.
Post the lab tour, OnePlus arranged for media outings where the international tech journalists and reviewers were left loose to click photos around Taipei on their OnePlus phones. There was a winner announced later where each media group from China, Europe and India were asked to choose four photos from another team. The photos were chosen based portrait, wide, zoom and night shots. While the analysis of the photos were done by the media during the meeting, OnePlus team took notice that the media was looking into the photos differently. To which, OnePlus received a different perspective of how users look at images. OnePlus stated that most people in the image R&D and camera development team are strictly engineers and always look into areas in a photo related to sharpness, contrast, brightness, colours and alike to fix it. However, with the meeting day in session, the team did notice that users were not bothered about minute details, but looked at the overall picture. What matters to the user are the colours, the framing, the drama and the emotions that are captured within the photos.
We met up with Zake individually and found out that they will not be considering DxOMark’s requirements completely as the DxOMark tests are completely based on synthetic tests and parameters and OnePlus wants to give people what they would like to see on their smartphones. Zake also highlighted about the selfie camera and said that they are presently low on resources and the selfie camera is not on priority for now. However, the imaging team is also looking into selfie cameras to ensure that they can serve better results in future.
All in all, the OnePlus R&D team is presently small and with feedback coming into their hands from users and reviewers, they have very limited time to work on the updates, which takes an average of three weeks to roll out to the public. OnePlus is keen to listen to all feedback that comes their way to help make the OnePlus smartphones better and easier for the consumer.