OnePlus 7 Pro has the best camera for portraits

This article may contain personal views and opinion from the author.
OnePlus 7 Pro has the best camera for portraits
Smartphone cameras have evolved so much in the past few years that pretty much only the pros these days NEED to use a big, dedicated camera and we are even seeing cover shots in professional magazines captured on a phone.

But when it comes to capturing photos of people and making those shots look professional, smartphones have not been that great.

Apple was probably the first company to take a big step towards professional looking portraits with the introduction of Portrait Mode nearly three years ago on the iPhone 7 Plus. Others then quickly followed and these days pretty much every flagship phone has a portrait mode of its own. Unfortunately, no company has got it right just yet. Except for OnePlus.

I have been using the OnePlus 7 Pro in the last three weeks and I am convinced that it takes the best portrait photos of any phone by a large margin. And here is why.

What makes a good portrait?

It's all about the lens


Ask any photographer what makes a good portrait from a technical standpoint and the answer that you would get is likely to be all the same: "it's the lens". There is a reason why there is a term like a "portrait lens" in professional photography.

The lens is of crucial importance for one simple reason: proportions. See the human face is a beautifully proportioned mix of features. If any part of the face looks distorted, you notice, and unless it's done for artistic purposes, you usually notice it in a bad way.


To get the human face properly "compressed" in a picture, photographers use long, telephoto lenses. True telephoto lenses in professional photography, however, have almost nothing to do with the improper use of the term "telephoto" lens on smartphones. Save for the Huawei P30 Pro, the telephoto lens on most phones these days is about 55mm in terms of focal distance. That is not a telephoto lens at all in professional photographic speak. Quite the opposite, that's a "normal lens", which simply means that this focal length is usually associated with the focal distance of human vision. For great portraits, however, you need a true telephoto lens: the most commonly used lenses start at 85mm and then you have some great ones at 130mm or so, and even more if you want to get a truly creamy background blur, or bokeh.

Pause this for a second and let's go back to our familiar smartphone world.

What camera do most phones use for portraits in 2019? That's right: the main one. And that's usually a 26mm-28mm lens, which is considered a wide lens in professional terms.

A wide lens does something like this:


Or simply put, it makes you look like a caricature, a big-head alien with a potato nose. It looks ugly. And you have to get uncomfortably close to the person you are shooting to actually capture a portrait.


Here is a full list of the flagships that use their wide lens (usually 26mm) for portraits:


And the list goes on and on.

All of these phones get portrait mode wrong from the very start: they are using a wide lens that is simply not suited to taking a flattering portrait look!

Issue #2: Oversharpening and overcontrasting is your enemy

It exaggerates wrinkles and other imperfections


Most smartphones come with small sensors and those small sensors require a lot of additional processing to get details right. And one trick that you see commonly applied across most smartphones is a fair dose of oversharpening and aggressive over-contrasting done to the photos. This can sometimes look good: if you are capturing details in nature, a landscape and so on, these are pictures that are "ready to share". They do not look quite like reality, but more like filtered reality.

But oversharpening and overcontrasting is exactly what you don't want in a portrait.

See, the human face is something that ages delicately and rather quickly. If you are after 30, chances are that you have a few wrinkles here and there, or a few other imperfections.

And when you get a phone that aggressively oversharpens details (one of the most aggressive ones in this regard is the Google Pixel 3), you get all of those wrinkles amplified even worse than they look in reality. This aggressive processing makes you look older.

The overcontrasted look of most modern smartphones emphasizes those imperfections like a slightly tired eyes and so on.

So what you end up when you combine the wrong lens with the wrong processing is portrait shots that look just... kind of bad! Those are not pictures I want to share of myself and probably you too.

OnePlus 7 Pro fixes all that!

Right lens and correct processing


The OnePlus 7 Pro is the only phone that gets portrait mode right simply because it addresses those two key issues.

Unlike most 2019 phones, it uses the 3x telephoto lens rather than a wide lens. This gives you a nice compressed look, which looks flattering. You don't have to stand two feet away from the person you are taking a photo of and to shove that phone in their face. The processing is gentle: you have soft detail and none of the aggressive overcontrasting that is applied on other phones. This brightens up faces and makes them look delightfully good, without any fake "beauty" effects.

I have shot dozens and dozens of portraits with the OnePlus 7 Pro and while I noticed that its main camera usually lacks a bit when compared to rivals, its portrait camera is simply unmatched. For just a few weeks I have captured more portraits that I have added to my personal library of favorites than with any other phone throughout the years. No other phone takes portraits that look that good. And others should definitely learn a lesson or two from OnePlus.

Related phones

7 Pro
  • Display 6.7" 1440 x 3120 pixels
  • Camera 48 MP / 16 MP front
  • Processor Qualcomm Snapdragon 855, Octa-core, 2840 MHz
  • Storage 128 GB
  • Battery 4000 mAh(34h talk time)

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44 Comments

1. Whitedot

Posts: 817; Member since: Sep 26, 2017

I think Victor is in love with himself.

19. Abdbaas

Posts: 146; Member since: Apr 05, 2016

Definitely not as much as John, the expert of half-duck-face selfies

25. Victor.H

Posts: 1062; Member since: May 27, 2011

Haha I hope I am not. Next time will take the extra effort to find some more models, but this time around I did not have any other people around for the shoots. :)

26. DavidYoho

Posts: 3; Member since: Jun 07, 2019

Finally someone that knows what there looking at... And thanks for breaking it down for all of us :)

2. ben_linux

Posts: 6; Member since: Nov 06, 2014

I can prove with hundred of shots that Pixel3 is still far ahead of OnePlus for portrait. Your agument regarding the lens may be valid, but Pixels' algorithms remains unmatched. Seriously, it's a no match, let alone portraits in low light.

4. rsiders

Posts: 1960; Member since: Nov 17, 2011

I agree about the processing but the background blur and focal length on the OnePlus 7 Pro looks way more natural and DSLR like.

27. DavidYoho

Posts: 3; Member since: Jun 07, 2019

I've noticed almost all the arguments and negative things I'm seeing about the 7 pros cameras are what people are hearing from some tech YouTubers and not actually what there seeing for themselves..I own this device and l can tell you the cameras not bad at all and it's only getting better.

36. japkoslav

Posts: 1511; Member since: Feb 19, 2017

Wide angle on OnePlus is pure garbage and no amount of software fixes will fix that - it's was a bad hardware decision. The rest of the camera I personaly like, mics are pretty bad thou, not garbage like a Pixel, but not great either.

42. Reviewerofstuff

Posts: 128; Member since: Jun 02, 2018

Wide - Angle shots look MUCH MUCH better with the 9.5.7 update.

44. japkoslav

Posts: 1511; Member since: Feb 19, 2017

Better != accetable. Even crap like LG V30 take better ultrawide photos ... it can even shoot video, imagine that.

7. User123456789

Posts: 925; Member since: Feb 22, 2019

And now you look at the should, hair, ears and head .... Parts of body cut by the blur. All phones do it, the ones with one camera even more. Pixel espacially

3. User123456789

Posts: 925; Member since: Feb 22, 2019

Does it allow the user to set how strong is the blur?

6. rsiders

Posts: 1960; Member since: Nov 17, 2011

It does not but I find the blur to be the most natural looking of most of the software blur I've seen.

8. User123456789

Posts: 925; Member since: Feb 22, 2019

My phone does, I can make it the way you have no idea what's in background. Even choose the axis of blur.

16. Reviewerofstuff

Posts: 128; Member since: Jun 02, 2018

What phone do you have?

23. User123456789

Posts: 925; Member since: Feb 22, 2019

Z3. The sony bokeh sub- app lets you control it. Sadly it is 8MP only. It exists since 2014, bit after Z2 .

5. rsiders

Posts: 1960; Member since: Nov 17, 2011

I absolutely love the portrait mode shots from my OnePlus 7 Pro but I need OnePlus to tweak the processing just a little bit for a little more sharpness and fine detail.

12. Reviewerofstuff

Posts: 128; Member since: Jun 02, 2018

9.7 update should fix that

22. rsiders

Posts: 1960; Member since: Nov 17, 2011

Yes that's the update I'm waiting on. The unlocked versions have the latest camera update. I'm on T-Mobile so just waiting for them to test and release it. I love the results so far though.

10. afrohoxha

Posts: 255; Member since: Mar 13, 2014

I think s10, s10+ allows to choose telephoto or wide angle cam for portrait shots in recent updates.

11. 7thlvl

Posts: 60; Member since: Dec 09, 2018

Meh this is all software sided stuff. Any phone can do this with the right software. I'm not a big pictures guy. Don't get me wrong I have this phone it's great but like I've said before. Most people are complaining for nothing while they have their photos downgraded and stored in the Google photos cloud.

13. jvardon

Posts: 36; Member since: Apr 28, 2012

Did you even read the article? Trust what Victor says about lens or go and take a photography course. He’s right in regards to lens’ making a huge difference in portrait photography.

18. 7thlvl

Posts: 60; Member since: Dec 09, 2018

Dude a software fix and the stupid lens issues on the competition can be solved. They would just have to process it differently obviously.

31. rsiders

Posts: 1960; Member since: Nov 17, 2011

No they would have to replace the lens with a different focal length which is impossible so clearly you didn't bother to read at all.

37. Macready

Posts: 1824; Member since: Dec 08, 2014

There are already algorithms out there to (partially) compensate for it :https://www.digitaltrends.com/photography/perspective-aware-manipulation-research/ In fact, Samsung already does to some extent with its selfie camera. I can see future phones getting much better at it with smarter AI (based on huge databases) implementations. But as for now, long lenses are still better. Too long introduces ballooning faces tough, the optimal focal length for portraits remains a subjective one.

15. kplayon

Posts: 55; Member since: Mar 02, 2018

Do any of you guys hate it when the front camera is so accurate, you look so ugly with all your pores and skin blemishes? lol Like you freak out? That's what I think of when I hear amazingly crisp and accurate front camera's. If you don't good for you, but not everyone is beautiful looking.

24. User123456789

Posts: 925; Member since: Feb 22, 2019

Cameras are supposed to capture something or someone as close as possible. Artificial pics like from Pixel or that AI mode from P20 Pro (before Huawei fixed it) are far from reality. Pixel boosts contrast too much, even seen on LCD the blacks look like pure black

17. contentryder

Posts: 1; Member since: Jun 07, 2019

Might want to retest with 9.5 7 update. Huge load of camera updates. I find the pictures are better than GCam now. Even night photos I used to depend on GCam but not anymore...

32. rsiders

Posts: 1960; Member since: Nov 17, 2011

I can't wait to get the update on mine.

20. Taquidi

Posts: 23; Member since: Oct 05, 2016

Great article, Victor. Sad so many people on the commentaries acting like they always know better and can't recognize a good job.

* Some comments have been hidden, because they don't meet the discussions rules.

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