[Updated] Camera Shootout: OnePlus One vs. The Competition

July 1, 2014 - Written By Nick Sutrich

Smartphone cameras are tricky little things.  Sometimes they can take absolutely amazing pictures, and other times the pictures look like they came from a feature phone 10 years ago.  Anyone who knows anything about photography knows lighting is the key to a good shot, and poor lighting can make even the most skilled of photographers choke on getting that perfect shot.  While manufacturers can’t improve your photography skills inherently, they can provide better tools to help you along your journey and hopefully make it easier and more accurate to take great shots.  LG’s focus with the G3 this year was, well, focus, and as such they stuck a laser on board to help with catching the right part of the shot to focus on.  But what about last year’s G2?  Easily one of the best, if not the best smartphone cameras of 2013, the G2 was a beast of a picture taker, and the on-board optical image stabilization (OIS for short) helped keep pictures steady even in low light situations, although like anything it wasn’t perfect.

We thought you might like to see the OnePlus One, which is claiming to have the best camera ever, with what we thought was the best shooter of last year.  For good measure we’ve thrown in the Nexus 5, which has a mode called HDR+ that produces absolutely incredible pictures in quite a few lighting conditions, and of course a few with the Galaxy Note 3 as well.

For now we’re not going to tell you which phones took which pictures just to perform a blind test.  Any tests where there are only two shots are between the LG G2 and the OnePlus One.  Any shots with more than that have either the Nexus 5, Note 3 or both thrown in for good measure.  Let us know which you think is which in the comments and we’ll update the article in a little while with the correct answers!  We’ll be doing another shootout with the LG G3 exclusively, but we felt it would be best to compare to a phone that more people would actually be able to buy or already have first.

There’s quite a few things we can take away from this comparison.  First off the light balancing, colors and overall exposure levels of the OnePlus One are absolutely stellar on Auto mode, and pretty poor in most cases in HDR.  You can see in shots 1,2,3,4,8,9,10 and 15 that the auto mode is superior on the OnePlus One, drawing more accurate colors, more scene detail and overall much better lighting in some cases.  HDR modes were a mixed bag from the stock CyanogenMod camera though, as seen in shots 5, 6 and 11.  Shot 6 is the only one where I think you could consider the OnePlus One the winner, whereas the other two they are overbright and the colors are too saturated.  The Nexus 5’s HDR+ mode outshines most other phones in almost any lighting condition where HDR is appropriate to use, and regardless of the megapixel count of the sensor the overall photo is much more balanced and pleasing to look at, and handily wins in the situations where we used it.

Macro mode is fantastic on the OnePlus One, although the multi-point focus on the G2 seems to catch more things in focus on these types of shots than the single-point focus on the OnePlus One does.  Regardless you can get some fantastic detail out of macro shots on the OnePlus One; something Samsung’s phones have failed to do since the Note 2.  Shot 8 shows how LG’s multi-point focusing helps get something as small as a spider in this shot more in focus, however shots 8, 10 and 14 show how far color and light balance play into an overall more pleasing picture.  Shot 16 is difficult for me to decide between, but I think the G2 might have some kind of extra sharpening filter going on as the shot appears sharper than the OnePlus One’s shot when zoomed out, but zooming in reveals the same level of detail in both.

As far as indoor lighting goes, I think the OnePlus One might come ahead in just a few conditions, as in shot 12 where you can clearly read the words on the OnePlus One photo but they are a bit blurry on the G2 photo.  The lower the lighting the more noisy the OnePlus One photos are, while the G2 ramps up the anti-noise filter and just creates a super soft image.  More often than not though the G2, much like the Note 3 I had before it, goes a little crazy with the filters and ends up over softening even moderaly lit scenes, giving the OnePlus One a slight advantage here even if there’s a bit of noise in the scene.  The only shot I think the OnePlus One lost miserably was shot 2 where there is tons of noise, likely due to the combination of colors and low lighting in the room.

Outdoor shots of landscapes are definitely superior on the OnePlus One over either the LG G2, Samsung Galaxy Note 3 or Nexus 5, for a number of reasons.  The Note 3 is the worst offender, adding lots of sharpening and anti-noise to the image producing what amounts to a soft image even in broad daylight.  This can be seen if you own a Note 3, S4 or like the S5 by simply blowing the picture up to the size of your monitor or TV and viewing the full resolution shot.  Taking it off the phone reveals the imperfections the smaller screen hides, and shows that Samsung needs to tone it down quite a bit on the image filtering.  The LG G2 shares this problem to an extent, but it only seems to happen with far away objects, and even then only in certain lighting conditions.  For instance shot 11 shows how crisp the leaves are on the G2 even though they are a good distance away.  The Nexus 5 only has an 8 megapixel sensor, so you can only make the photo so large, however the light balance from the HDR+ mode generally makes up for this in most situations and ends up producing more detail than the Note 3 every single time, and the G2 some times.  The OnePlus One seems to use very little image filtering, and as such produces an image much closer to raw than you would normally see out of a smartphone camera.