OnePlus 11 camera - you no longer need Samsung Galaxy or Pixel to take amazing photos on Android!

This article may contain personal views and opinion from the author.
OnePlus 11 camera - you no longer need Samsung Galaxy or Pixel to take amazing photos on Android!
I recently criticised the OnePlus 11 but it’s time to give the Chinese phone-maker its flowers…

In a nutshell, OnePlus has never been known for making the best camera phones on the market. Whether we are talking about the company’s “flagship-killers”, or premium flagship phones (OnePlus 9 Pro, OnePlus 10 Pro), they’ve always lacked slightly behind the competition just enough to be considered… outsiders. But those times are pretty much gone!

Despite taking years and many “nice try” attempts, the OnePlus 11 finally gives us a camera fit for a proper “flagship-killer”. All that being said, the OnePlus 11 also undercuts the likes of the Galaxy S23 Ultra, iPhone 14 Pro and Pixel 7 Pro in price, which means you shouldn’t expect the latest and greatest hardware that properly expensive phones might offer. Manage your expectations.

Anyway! The OnePlus has managed to squeeze out some amazing performance from what’s a conservative set of hardware, and the OnePlus 11 can take more balanced photos than some of the best camera phones in the world! But how?!

Let’s take a look at OnePlus’ incredible progress in the camera department!

OnePlus 11 camera brings “Chinese” HDR to the global market, setting a new photography bar for iPhone, Galaxy, Pixel

Although the whole debate of what’s a “real” photo and what isn’t has been particularly hot recently, I’ve been a vocal advocate of “authentic” photos for ages. That’s why I tend to prefer phones like the Xiaomi 13 Pro when it comes to photography.

However, what I like my photos to look like is one thing, and what’s considered a “great photo” by the wider audience is a whole different matter. And surprise, surprise, most people like “Instagram-ready” images, which is where phones like the iPhone 14 Pro, Galaxy S23 Ultra, and our main hero, the OnePlus 11 come in!

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Before I get to the main reason I’m writing this story in the first place, I have to bring up our recent blind camera test between the iPhone 14 Pro Max, Galaxy S23 Ultra, Pixel 7 Pro, and the OnePlus 11 to… prove the point I’m trying to make (about the whole HDR thing).

Sure, the iPhone 14 Pro Max won our latest blind test, but one of the key takeaways might actually be that the OnePlus 11 beat the Pixel 7 Pro, and came super close to the phone in 2nd place, the Galaxy S23 Ultra. That’s the same OnePlus that struggled to even be named in the same camera category as the likes of the Pixel, Galaxy and iPhone only a year ago.

Granted, every camera comparison is only as reliable as the photo samples it includes, but take a look at the examples below, where the OnePlus 11 managed to easily outperform the Pixel, iPhone, and Galaxy for the people’s choice. The category? Night Mode - Google and Apple’s usual specialty.

“Chinese HDR” - the key to amazing OnePlus 11 photos

Why “Chinese HDR”? Well, because exactly China-exclusive flagship phones like the Vivo X70 were the ones that doubled down on aggressive HDR processing with the goal of exposing the bright buildings and neon signs usually seen in China and Hong Kong. Similar to how some Chinese phone-makers adopted a soft-skin effect, which (apparently) is appealing in some Asian countries, where they are sold.

Anyway, “Chinese” or not, the OnePlus 11’s aggressive HDR in photos often nails difficult scenes involving various light sources, while the Galaxy S23 Ultra, Pixel 7 Pro, and especially the iPhone 14 Pro Max (due to Apple’s conservative HDR) can struggle (and often do).

OnePlus 11 takes far better photos than OnePlus 10 Pro and OnePlus 9 Pro - is the new phone that good, or are old OnePlus flagships too bad?

Not only sample photos from our own camera shootout show that OnePlus can now compete with the big dogs, but independent photo comparisons also seem to prove that OnePlus has come a long way compared to its old self!

OnePlus has managed to get from a “B” grade camera to an “A” grade shooter in some two years time! Just take a look at the samples above, showing the difference in night photography between the OnePlus 9 Pro, OnePlus 10 Pro and the new OnePlus 11 (which, remember, is cheaper than its predecessors). We see a massive improvement in every aspect of the photo - detail, exposure, HDR, noise, colors, and so on and so forth. But what’s the big secret?

Given that the camera hardware on the OnePlus 11 isn’t far better (in fact, it’s somewhat less impressive than the OnePlus 10 Pro’s), the credit must go to the Snapdragon 8 Gen 2 and the great post-processing/tuning done by OnePlus (which some other phone-makers have achieved too). The company squeezed out every drop of performance left in those relatively small Sony sensors. So Google of OnePlus.

The OnePlus 11’s camera isn’t perfect but it finally brings top level performance to the “flagship-killer” phone; selfie camera takes great selfie photos

Finally, I have to give some well-deserved credit to the selfie camera of the OnePlus 11, which I called "barely acceptable" at launch. I wasn't wrong to do that, because the photo samples I saw at the time came from the Chinese version of the phone, which (clearly) was running pre-production software.

Our 2023 selfie camera comparison now shows us that the OnePlus 11's selfie camera is actually pretty good at taking photos (video is a different story), and able to surpass what the Galaxy S23 Ultra, iPhone 14 Pro and Pixel 7 Pro can do in the right conditions.

OnePlus 11 relies on the Snapdragon 8 Gen 2 and magical software to take great photos

Anyway, to answer one of the primary questions here, OnePlus relies on aggressive image processing to turn out some impressive high-contrast and low-light photos that rival and sometimes beat the most expensive camera phones on the market.

What phone-makers like OnePlus are doing now is super impressive, but it is worth noting that Google achieved something similar a while ago by sticking to a few very basic Sony sensors while working its processing magic to make the most out of the cameras on Pixel 2 - Pixel 6a. But not all the credit goes to “magical processing”.

Qualcomm’s Snapdragon 8 Gen 2 chip is what powers the algorithm that helps the OnePlus 11 take great photos. So, it’s not all software. Again, the OnePlus 11 is using a set of very conventional camera sensors, which would be unremarkable without the power of the Snapdragon 8 Gen 2 and the magic of software.

In the end, the OnePlus 11 is now a very easy phone to recommend - even if you want to take great photos! And we shouldn’t take this lightly, given how many prior OnePlus flagships failed to impress in that increasingly important category.

The unedited photo sample used for the thumbnail of this story is courtesy of Parth Kohl (Twitter).

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