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OPPO is my pick for the most exciting smartphone camera brand of 2023 — here's why
We were spoilt for choice for fantastic camera phones this past year, which has been a genuinely great place to be in. I tested a lot of the best in the business in 2023 and, while I was impressed by most of them, it’s OPPO that left a lasting impression on me. That’s right, neither the Galaxy, iPhone, or Pixel earns my accolade for the very best camera phone of 2023, not that you’d be disappointed picking up flagships from any of those three either.
I’ve had the pleasure of using this year’s Find X6 Pro flagship and the clamshell foldable Find N3 Flip (and N2 Flip to a lesser extent). The first was OPPO’s 2023 powerhouse flagship, which only saw a limited global release, while the Find N3 Flip targeted a more fashionable mainstream audience in Europe and beyond.
OPPO has proven that clamshell foldables no longer have to compromise on photography capabilities.
They’re two very different phones for very different users. Still, given the more limited form factor of the Flip, I’d say it’s particularly impressive that the phone even earns a mention, let alone ranks among my favorites. But in both cases, many of the best pictures I’ve taken this year have been from OPPO’s phones. Look at some of the snaps below (I’d be surprised if you could tell which is from which phone).
Now, putting my finger on precisely what makes OPPO’s formula resonate with me took a bit of head-scratching. As Android Authority‘s resident camera phone tester, I’ve taken some pretty great snaps on Pixel 8, Galaxy S23, and iPhone 15 series phones this year, so it’s not like OPPO has been in a league of its own. But I’m also prone to porting around my mirrorless (I love those Fuji colors) and, as good as smartphones are, obsessive photographers will still tell you there’s an admittedly closing gap between the two. There are a couple of reasons I still bring a “proper” camera along when I know I’ll want the best-looking snaps I can take: consistency and flexibility. I’m sure you’ll have noticed that many of the snaps in my gallery are taken between 2x and 5x; such is the importance of framing and flexibility to my photography style. With my mirrorless, I can have a longer focal length for portraits and receive the same image quality and colors in a wider-angle shot. That’s a quality we still often find lacking in even the very best smartphone camera phones.
The Samsung Galaxy S23 Ultra, for example, doesn’t perform nearly as well at zoom levels between 3x and 10x as it does with its optical focal lengths. The iPhone 15 Pro’s ultrawide camera is more prone to underexposure and washed-out colors than the main lens, and its zoom capabilities are heavily dependent on lighting. Google’s Pixel 8 Pro is renowned for its image consistency, and that’s certainly been my experience. Still, the 5x camera’s 125mm focal length is too long for portraits, and there’s something about Google’s functional AI processing that still makes the images look a little too harsh compared to a mirrorless. Not that any of these phones are bad, far from it. It’s more that a keen photographer’s eye picks up on these blemishes after years of using a mirrorless.
Putting it all together, OPPO’s 2023 flagships are very consistent across all three of their lenses and shooting environments to pass the first test. The Find X6 Pro, in particular, is virtually indistinguishable when switching between ultrawide, main, and zoom. This is thanks to its unique use of sizeable 50MP image sensors across all three cameras rather than packing the best specs into a “primary” camera. It’s an approach other ultra-premium flagships should emulate, but unfortunately, the Galaxy S24 Ultra seemingly won’t be following suit based on current leaks and rumors. Likewise, the use of moderate focal lengths paired with powerful image fusion, lossless crops, and software bokeh algorithms for longer-range zoom strikes the best balance of flexibility against the limits of the form factor. I’ll take brilliant 2x to 5x zoom over 20x capabilities every single time.
The Find X6 Pro is as close as a phone has come to making me forget about my mirrorless.
This isn’t to say OPPO’s flagships have flawless cameras. Colors are a little punchy on the Find N3 Flip, and the use of image fusion leaves details looking a little unnatural on a very close inspection. But on the whole, these two are as close as any phones have come to making me forget about my mirrorless. Unfortunately, we can’t buy the Find X6 Pro without importing it and wading through its China-centric OS (no matter how hard I tried). Even then, it’s not an affordable option. Likewise, the Find N3 Flip’s clamshell-style fold won’t appeal to everyone. And while its pictures punch above their weight, avid photographers may feel underwhelmed by the Flip’s camera specification limitations compared to larger flagships. The OPPO-flavored (it’s a rebrand OPPO phone, after all) OnePlus Open also manages to bring truly flagship-tier cameras to a book-style foldable, though again, you’re looking at over $1,500 for the privilege.
The Pixel 8 Pro is (probably) the best camera phone you should actually buy
While I’ve been very impressed by OPPO’s 2023 flagships, especially their cameras, they’re not a slam-dunk recommendation for everyone. They’re not easy to get a hold of in the US, for a start.
Instead, the Google Pixel 8 Pro is the best smartphone for most mobile photographers, both casual and serious. For starters, you can actually buy it in the US, and global availability is pretty good too. Notably, the camera setup remains one of the most consistent in the business. Google’s HDR and Night Sight foundations are as solid as ever, ensuring that your pictures always come out correctly exposed. At the same time, Google’s color pallet doesn’t sway too far into oversaturation or unrealistic colors.
This year’s Pro model builds on the Pixel camera formula, which has grown stale in the past. There are now manual controls to get even more from the setup, and unique AI features like Best Take and Video Boost help make your pictures and videos look their best without laborious manual editing. Based on the samples above, I’m sure you’ll agree that Google’s latest is a subline camera phone that can be used in a wide range of environments.
Still, I think there’s plenty for the industry to learn from the superb OPPO Find X6 Pro and Find N3 Flip. Leveling the hardware playing field across camera lenses and pairing the setup with potent software algorithms is an obvious recipe for success, but one that few have followed. Perhaps most importantly, OPPO has proven that clamshell foldables no longer have to compromise on photography capabilities. But I can’t wait to see what’s in store for the OPPO Find X7 Pro next year… as long as it comes to global markets.
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