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What's going on with the OnePlus Nord selfie camera?
There’s little doubt front-facing cameras are as important as the rear cameras on a modern smartphone, so it makes sense OnePlus focused hard on upping its game with the OnePlus Nord selfie cameras.
Yes, I said cameras. For the first time ever, the phone has two front cameras to appeal to the Snapchatting, Instagramming, selfie-snapping generation.
The OnePlus Nord sports a 32MP front-facing camera paired up with a secondary 8MP ultra-wide shooter for capturing larger groups. Now, OnePlus doesn’t have a spectacular track record when it comes to imaging. Sure, the camera experience usually improves over time with subsequent updates, but the out of the box experience is almost always less than ideal.
We ran a range of tests across two units, one in India and another in the UK, all with the latest software updates installed and the results were, as you will see, not quite what we expected.
In these image samples shot by my colleague, Ryan, it’s easy to see the overzealous image processing. The image is overexposed while the contrast is fairly limited. There is a noticeable loss of detail in low-light regions. To add to that, there is a shocking amount of noise across the image. The image also exhibits a significant amount of skin smoothening even with the beauty filter switched off.
It’s the same story for the ultra-wide camera as well. We’ve linked full-resolution images below, but the skin smoothening is very evident. The wider frame also exacerbates the poor HDR implementation. The unevenly applied HDR and haloing is, once again, visible in the foliage. Additionally, noise levels are through the roof in the foliage and the window.
While you could chalk some of the imperfections in the images shot by Ryan to less-than-perfect lighting, I took the OnePlus Nord selfie cameras out for a spin on a bright day here in Delhi and the results were just as telling. Pandemic hairstyle aside, the auto-HDR failed spectacularly.
Over on the left, the highlights are completely blown out and the image is obviously over-exposed. There is a softness to the image and you can observe the significant retouching done to the skin even with all enhancements switched off. Further, the noise levels once again cross acceptable levels in darker areas.
The ultra-wide camera fares slightly better though highlights are still blown out and the exposure metering is set too high. For what its worth, we observed this behavior on the rear cameras as well.
OnePlus Nord selfie camera: Indoor samples
Image quality takes a drastic turn for the worse in dim lighting. Not only is skin retouching bumped to overdrive, but details also become a blurry mush. I can assure you that my eyebrows certainly aren’t as defined as the image portrays nor do I have rosy pink lips. It goes without saying that the retouching mode was switched off. Sure, if you like to use beautification filters this might be to your liking, but the images from the OnePlus Nord selfie cameras are anything but true to life.
Again, with the ultra-wide camera, my ugly mug has been brightened up significantly and the depth of field appears too shallow as is visible in the blurred out mush of hair. Oh well, at least the vignetting adds to the aesthetic.
OnePlus Nord selfie camera: Portrait mode
For all its faults, the selfie cameras on the Nord do a pretty decent job at edge detection. Despite having a tough background like dense foliage, the camera was able to create a well-defined cut out around Ryan’s head and the only major issue was the odd halo around the arms. It does a pretty good job creating smooth bokeh too. While the samples pictured are downsized, we’ve got full resolution OnePlus Nord selfie samples available for you to download and analyze.
Look, I’ve seen worse cameras on smartphones. However, the OnePlus Nord’s selfie camera performance raises questions about the company’s approach towards camera software. The phones have, for the most part, suffered from delivering less than high-quality results out of the box with subsequent updates fixing some of the flaws.
However, with the Nord — at least as far as the front cameras go — the results appear to be rather deliberate instead of a lack of optimization. Not only is the quality not up to scratch with significant noise levels across the board, but the entire tuning is also skewed in a way that we’re used to seeing from the likes of budget and mid-range Xiaomi, Realme phones — retouched and rarely true-to-life.
As we discuss in our OnePlus Nord review, this is a great phone with the cameras being the Achilles heel. Unfortunately for OnePlus, this is a sentiment that resonates across its portfolio and it is high time the company took a long and hard look at its camera strategy.
Want to know more about the OnePlus Nord? Check out our additional coverage.