When the OnePlus 5T showed up late last year, it surprised us with the choice of cameras on its back. Two modules with the same focal length lenses, both of them using RGB sensors made little sense. The fact that the secondary one was higher-res than the primary didn't help. A generation later, the OnePlus 6 sticks to that yet-to-be-proven formula.
Yes, it's again the mind-boggling 16+20MP camera setup where the secondary module is none of the usual telephoto/wide-angle/monochrome varieties. Only now the main sensor has been replaced. The Sony IMX398 has been swapped out for a Sony IMX519 and the new one is bigger - 1/2.6" vs. 1/2.8". Same resolution on a larger sensor means the pixels have grown to 1.22µm from the 1.12µm of yesteryear. More importantly, the primary camera's lens is now stabilized. The aperture is f/1.7, while the reported equivalent focal length is 25mm.
The camera app is mostly unchanged since the 5T, with the exception that the icons for the main modes have been replaced by text - we can't say it's a bad thing. The app defaults to the stills viewfinder, but a swipe to the right (or up in landscape) will bring up one for video, while a swipe to the left (or, obviously, down) evokes the Portrait mode.
In the stills viewfinder you also have quick toggles for flash mode, aspect ratio, HDR, and self-timer. The 1x/2x button is more than a little misleading - there's no telephoto camera on the OnePlus 6.
Accessing other modes is done by tapping on the tiny arrow next to the 1x/2x button. That'll get you access to Panorama, Pro mode, Slow motion, and Timelapse. It's only on this mode selector screen that you can see the settings cog wheel - you'd be scratching your head trying to find the settings the first few tries.
The Pro mode allows manual tweaking of shooting parameters, including ISO (100-3200), white balance (by light temperature), shutter speed (1/8000s to 30s), focus, and exposure compensation (-2/+2EV in third-stop and half-stop increments). You can save 2 sets of custom parameters too, if you happen to do the same thing over and over again. A live histogram is also provided (quite a rare feature) and RAW capture is available too.
We are quite pleased to report that the OP6's camera takes superior photos to the 5T's. There's more captured detail and subsequently better definition in grass and foliage without the oversharpening we've seen all too often. Dynamic range is pretty great, look at the snail's shell, where other phones clip to white more often than not. It's also fair to say that we have nothing but praise for the color rendition - vivid but not over the top. It's funny how pleasing blues and greens can look with no extreme AI boosts.
Now, the hardware makes no promise of a true optical zoom, but the mere existence of a 1x/2x button in the viewfinder warrants a few test shots. Keeping our expectations low, we're not disappointed with the results, which are par for the course with digital zoom - not particularly sharp and detailed. Still, they're usable, and a step up from the 5T's in our minds.
In low light the OnePlus 6's photos turn out really good with no loss of saturation, wide dynamic range and well retained highlights around point sources of light. For some reason, the OP6 doesn't like to use very low shutter speeds despite the OIS, but the stabilization helps nonetheless. The ISO performance is quite impressive and noise isn't an issue.
OnePlus isn't known for awesome panoramas, and the arbitrary limitation for left-to-right panning persists - what if you prefer to lock the exposure on the right end of the image? On a positive note, there's plenty of resolution (some 4,000px tall) and stitching, while still not perfect, has been improved since the 5T.
Portait mode is the one reason that sort of justifies the existence of the secondary camera on the back. Portraits have good separation between subject and background and a natural blur, though a bit more of it couldn't have hurt.
An issue we encountered on the OnePlus 6 which uses a wide angle camera for portraits is that you need to be very close to your subject for a headshot style picture and that could make them feel uncomfortable. Telephoto based implementations let you stand back further. On the flipside, it means you can take selfie portraits with the rear camera without worrying whether your entire face will fit in the frame.
Don't forget to check out how the OnePlus 6 fares against the competition in our Photo compare tool. We've picked the Huawei P20 Pro in 10MP mode and the Samsung Galaxy S9+ to get you started, but it's a pretty rich database of tested phones to choose from.
The OnePlus 6's selfie camera is a 16MP Sony IMX371 unit with a 25mm equivalent lens of f/2.0 aperture. It looks the same as the one on the 5T, but the photos don't - these are pure awesomeness. While the focus is still fixed, OnePlus has tweaked the focus distance so that you get sharp results at arm's length and plenty of detail. Those are some of the most detailed selfies we've seen.
There's no portrait mode for the selfie camera just yet, but OnePlus has promised one is coming with a software update.
Be sure to stay away from the HDR toggle, though - in that mode the photos end up looking much worse, with less detail and sharpening turned up all the way to 11.
Update (11 June): OnePlus wasted no time delivering on the promise, and the OTA has arrived. Separation between subject and background is very good, though we'd take away points for the haloing around clothes - there's no such effect at the border where face meets background. Additionally, the overly aggressive sharpening we warned against in regular selfies is always on in portrait selfies.
The OnePlus 6 brings an extra few modes for video recording. On top of the standard 2160p/30fps, you can now record in 2160p/60fps. 1080p footage can be in both 30fps and 60fps, but there's also the option for 240fps slow motion. Speaking of, a 480fps slow motion mode in 720p is also available.
Electronic stabilization is available in 2160p and 1080p resolutions when shooting at 30fps, but not 60fps. The implications of this are two-fold. On the one hand, stabilization is a good thing and having it in 4K is great. On the other, the fact that you can't turn it off means that 1080p/30fps and 2160p/30fps modes have narrower coverage and less detail than the 60fps modes. At least, unlike the OnePlus 5T, the viewfinder now shows the post-stabilization crop so you don't have to guesstimate what's going to be in the frame.
4K60 videos have an extra high bit rate of 121Mbps - that is a serious number, which results in some 870MB for a minute of footage. It's debatable whether you want or need all of that on your smartphone's videos, a question even more relevant on the OnePlus 6 which has no option for storage expansion. 4K30 uses the rather standard 42Mbps, 1080p/60fps clocks in at 40Mbps, while 1080p/30fps is encoded at 20Mbps. Audio is recorded in stereo at 156kbps in all resolutions.
We mentioned the sharpness vs. stabilization conundrum and we have the samples to illustrate it. The 2160p/60fps clip below is remarkably crisp, more so than the 2160p/30fps one in the playlist. Of course, even with the detrimental effects of stabilization on detail, 4K videos are still plenty sharp. Colors are just right once again and dynamic range is exemplary.
When it comes to 1080p, the above mostly holds true, only the difference between 60fps and 30fps is smaller. That is to say, that in both modes the quality is about average.
Moving on to the stabilization bit. We've always enjoyed OnePlus' EIS, and now with some help from the stabilized optics things are even smoother. Now if only there was a simple on/off toggle.
The OnePlus 6 can also record super slow motion video. Unlike the Galaxies and Sonys of this world that limit it to 0.2s, the OnePlus 6 can do it continuously for a whole minute. Admittedly, it's not at the same 960fps as you'll find on the Xperias and the S9, but at 480fps that's still 1/16x of real life. Resolution is the same - 720p. There's also a 1080p/240fps mode, but that one is fairly common.
Another kind of pixel peeping can take place inside our Video compare tool. We've pre-selected the Huawei P20 Pro and the Samsung Galaxy S9+, but feel free to play around with other phones we've tested.