The OnePlus 10 Pro is the company's best ever phone for photography, but it's still behind its main competition from Apple, Google and Samsung. So what are the iPhone 13 Pro Max, Galaxy S22 Ultra and Pixel 6 Pro doing that the 10 Pro isn't?
As a big fan of the OnePlus 10 Pro (aside from its flickering always-on display), I've tried to figure out what's up with its cameras. Having looked over our various camera comparisons featuring the OnePlus 10 Pro, I reckon I've boiled down the issues with its photos to three key points, as well as found one area to highlight where the 10 Pro already does a good job.
The OnePlus 10 Pro marks the second year of OnePlus' collaboration with Swedish camera makers Hasselblad on its flagship phone camera. While it's certainly managed to lift OnePlus' top phones to within striking distance of the top photography phones around, it's not quite crossed the threshold yet.
So, if OnePlus' engineers happen to be reading: take note. Maybe these suggestions will inspire the changes that help get the next OnePlus flagship higher up our best camera phones list.
OnePlus 10 Pro: Washed out colors
The OnePlus 10 Pro uses Hasselblad Natural Color Solution for Mobile to process its images, which as the name suggests is designed to reproduce colors as close to reality as possible. However, the average smartphone user wants images that look as attractive as possible with minimal effort, so an image with more muted colors is not going to stand up well to one that dials up the brightness and saturation automatically. We'd also argue that the OnePlus 10 Pro's photos look more washed out than reality.
This shot of a grocery store stand of apples, taken from our Samsung Galaxy S22 Ultra vs. OnePlus 10 Pro face-off, shows this issues in action. Perhaps these apples really do look like this under the harsh artificial lights of the store, but they don't look as delicious as they do through the lens of the Samsung.
The main camera can also overexpose a shot quite badly, like in this comparison of a flower close-up we shot for the OnePlus 10 Pro vs. Google Pixel 6 Pro face-off. It's still pretty in its own way, but I would never take it over the Pixel's far richer image.
You can see the color problem continue in this ultrawide comparison with the S22 Ultra. Samsung's phones can sometimes oversaturate an image, but here it pays off, making this shot of the shore of a lake look much more lively. The OnePlus' image in comparison looks much more washed out.
OnePlus 10 Pro: Issues with detail
Beyond the colors, a more subtle problem with the OnePlus 10 Pro's images are that it can sometimes lose detail from subjects that its rivals still capture. You can see the problem in this ultrawide shot of a water feature, which we took for the OnePlus 10 Pro vs. iPhone 13 Pro Max comparison.
The rough stone of the water feature is rendered much flatter in the OnePlus' shot than the iPhone's, and looking into the pool of water on the iPhone image reveals much splashing and rippling the OnePlus isn't showing.
You can also see this in low-light shots. Against the Pixel 6 Pro, the OnePlus fails to provide the detail you need to appreciate the shot. Compare how the edges of the bottle and the big letter "K" on its label are much harder to make out on the OnePlus version.
OnePlus 10 Pro: Low-res telephoto camera
The worst camera on the 10 Pro is its 3.3x telephoto camera. It uses a relatively low-res 8MP sensor, which means zooming in costs you detail. At the extreme end, you end up with incredibly grainy images, like this 20x shot of a goose, taken alongside the Pixel 6 Pro.
Even this 3.3x shot taken against the iPhone 13 Pro Max shows a similar effect, plus a weird sepia tone across the image. The phone's hardware is likely more of a problem here than the software. If OnePlus added a Samsung or Google-style periscope lens to increase the magnification, or just increased the sensor resolution or size, this weakness would disappear.
Selfies and portraits: where the OnePlus 10 Pro shines
The OnePlus 10 Pro generally turns things around when it comes to selfies and portrait shots. Perhaps because the natural color that OnePlus and Hasselblad have pursued works best with people, where more artificial coloring is much more obvious and often isn't as attractive as it can be on a landscape shot.
Either way, comparing these shots taken with the 10 Pro and the iPhone 13 Pro Max (above) and the Pixel 6 Pro (below) show it's the closest OnePlus gets to the competition, although it can still overly smooth faces, which isn't generally desirable unless you're particularly self-conscious about your wrinkles or pores.
OnePlus: Where to go from here?
OnePlus said its partnership with Hasselblad will last three years when it announced it in 2021, so we should see the OnePlus 10T, OnePlus 11, or the OnePlus 12, arrive with the Hasselblad logo emblazoned on its back. That means OnePlus has one or two attempts left to leverage its partner's expertise and get its cameras just right — with slightly more expressive colors, better detail and a reworked telephoto camera. And if it could adjust the smoothing on its portrait shots, that would be great, too.
The OnePlus 10 Pro remains an excellent phone overall, particularly thanks to its drastically lower price compared to the OnePlus 9 Pro at launch. If you seek the best photos possible for your money though, go for an iPhone, Galaxy or Pixel, or come back next year and see if another year of refinements can elevate OnePlus' photography to become one of the greats.
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Richard is based in London, covering news, reviews and how-tos for phones, tablets, gaming, and whatever else people need advice on. Following on from his MA in Magazine Journalism at the University of Sheffield, he's also written for WIRED U.K., The Register and Creative Bloq. When not at work, he's likely thinking about how to brew the perfect cup of specialty coffee.