Vivo has invested heavily in the camera department on the V23 Pro and V23. That much is evident from the specs sheet alone. A huge emphasis was placed on the selfie experience in particular. We have to commend vivo for not stripping any of the impressive selfie hardware we saw in its bigger V23 Pro sibling.
The V23 really shines in the selfie department. Quite literally, in fact, because it has a pair of dual-tone LED lights hidden in the left and right top corners above the display. Vivo calls them spotlights, and the way they are implemented is kind of clever. While selfie LEDs are rare enough in themselves, dual-tone ones are rarer still. Vivo has even gone one step beyond that by implementing a three-stage slider for setting the actual color of the LEDs. This works by either having both LEDs inside each of the two "torches" be lit up simultaneously, resulting in a warm light mix, or turning off one of them for a colder or warmer light. We honestly can't remember ever seeing this particular feature anywhere else.
The actual selfie camera hardware does not disappoint either. The main camera is a 50MP, f/2.0 unit with autofocus. As far as we managed to gather, it uses a special-order, customized sensor, which vivo refers to as the "JNV". It's most likely based on Samsung's ISOCELL S5KJN1, which would mean it has 0.64um pixels and a 1/2.76" optical format.
We definitely know that at least some customization has been done on it. For instance, vivo's sensor has the latest ISOCELL 3.0 technology. Also, on the list of features for the main selfie - Eye Autofocus, which is likely based on the default Double Super-PD, as provided by Samsung. For video, this selfie can go up to 4K@30fps and has a few levels of EIS, making it a truly capable vlogging camera.
Alongside the potent main selfie, you also get an 8MP ultrawide. It is based on the HYNIX HI846 sensor and is not as fancy as its sibling. It has a pretty wide 105-degree field of view, an f/2.3 lens and lacks autofocus.
The major camera difference between the regular V23 and the Pro is the main camera on the back. The V23 swaps the bigger 108MP Pro cam for a much more common and widely-used 64MP cam. It has an f/1.9 aperture lens that is 26mm wide. There is just basic PDAF on board, nothing fancy like lasers or even OIS. Still, the V23 is a midranger, and we aren't necessarily going to hold these omissions against it.
The 64MP camera on the V23 is based on the Samsung S5KGW1 sensor, commonly known as the GW1 - a couple of generations old by now, but still well established and with a good reputation for solid performance when used appropriately.
There are two other cameras on the back of the V23 Pro. The 8MP f/2.2, 120-degree, 16mm, 1/4.0", 1.12µm ultrawide uses an OmniVision OV8856 sensor. It lacks autofocus.
And lastly, there is the 2MP, f/2.4, fixed-focus macro cam. It is based on the OmniVision OV02B10 sensor.
The default camera app is a familiar affair. There is, perhaps, one major change, namely the apparent absence of a proper camera setting menu. At least we didn't manage to find one. All of the options are made accessible through various sub-sections of the main UI.
There's a straightforward zoom selector which gives you direct access to each of the four cameras. Accessing the Super Macro mode is done from the flower icon next to the hamburger menu, but it has an auto-on option too that kicks in when you get close to a subject.
The main modes are arranged in carousel formation, and you can switch between them by swiping. The More tab lists the rest of the modes, and from there, you can also customize the modes you have available in the viewfinder.
The Pro mode gives you all the freedom to adjust the autofocus, white balance, shutter speed, ISO and exposure. You can do so on all of the four cameras too. There's helpful information explaining all of the options above if you are just getting into photography. Shooting in RAW is also an option.
The "Dual-Tone Spotlight" feature, as vivo calls its selfie LED lights, get their own separate menu when you switch over to selfie mode. Naturally, they are agnostic and don't particularly care if you are shooting with the big selfie camera or the ultrawide. Color adjustment for the LEDs is controlled via a nifty three-stage slider.
Interestingly enough, vivo has also left in the option for a screen flash, called aura lights, just in case the dedicated LEDs weren't enough? There are quite a few other nifty toggles and controls to play around with here as well. The camera app is equally smart for selfies when it comes to suggesting modes based on conditions. It will gladly prompt you to use night mode if it gets too dark.
Let's start with the 64MP main camera. It is a Quad Bayer unit, which means it does four-way pixel binning by default and captures 16MP photos. These look good overall but aren't particularly impressive. In terms of positives, we would say that colors look good - not exactly "natural", but not overly exaggerated either. Dynamic range is also fine. So is the level of detail.
While most objects in the frame seem to have enough detail, most surfaces, particularly uniform ones and things like skies and grass, come out looking soft and often way too noisy for shots in broad daylight. The sharpening algorithms appear to be working extra hard on edges and straight lines, accenting them way too much. Some of these lines, which are definitely straight in person, often end up "wavy" in the shots, simply due to the highly-aggressive processing taking place.
Shooting in an unbinned 64MP mode isn't something we would generally recommend on most phones. However, on the vivo V23, it mostly fixes the major issues we just described. Namely, surfaces no longer look nearly as soft, and edges come out more natural and not oversharpened. Not to mention that they are straight instead of wavy. Being able to see actual textures brings back a lot more depth, previously lost in the default camera mode with the Ai scene optimizer on. Not that disabling it does a lot of good anyway. Still, it is not available at all in 64MP mode, which could be helping.
Unfortunately, the 64MP shots are not perfect. They tend to have a narrower dynamic range, presumably since they lack the extra HDR stacking and processing. Also, we noticed that exposure was a lot more inconsistent shot to shot. And of course, there is the size issue with each still taking up roughly 20MB in 64MP resolution.
There is a portrait mode on the V23. It works on the main camera. Portrait shots look okay but aren't terribly impressive either. Subject detection and separation are good but not perfect. The background bokeh effect is pretty convincing.
Portrait mode works surprisingly well on non-human subjects.
There is no dedicated telephoto hardware on the vivo V23, but you can still get a pretty decent 2x crop from the main camera. Unfortunately, these photos suffer from the same deficiencies as the 1x stills.
You can technically zoom digitally all the way to 10x, but you really don't want to go there if value image quality.
Before we move on, here's how the vivo V23 Pro stacks up against the competition in our extensive photo compare database.
The 8MP ultrawide camera does a decent-enough job, but is also far from impressive. Detail isn't great, and you get a lot of softness throughout the frame. The sharpening algorithms then pretty much do the same to these photos as they do the main camera ones, which results in some aggressively enhanced lines and oversharpening artifacts.
Dynamic range isn't amazing either, and you can get inconsistent exposure from time to time. Even so, you could do worse in an ultrawide. At least colors aren't too far off from those on the main cam.
The 2MP macro camera is nothing to phone home about either. It has decent detail for its small resolution and gets the job done with enough patience.
The vivo V23 is very well equipped on the selfie side of things. Let's start with the 50MP selfie cam since it's the star attraction here. It captures stills at around 12.5MP by default since it is also meant to do 4-to-1 pixel binning. These shots look great.
The detail is great, and so is the dynamic range. The colors look natural, and the background has some pleasing natural bokeh.
The V23 has a toggle labeled "Auto HD portrait" for selfies, which is on by default. This first set of shots was captured with it turned on. Here are the same shots with HD portrait disabled. We can't notice much of a difference.
The secondary 8MP selfie camera is decent but rather plain in comparison. The level of detail is good, and its fixed focus plane is fairly wide and forgiving. We definitely like that it's very wide, which kind of justifies its inclusion alongside the otherwise superior 50MP unit.
Other than that, colors are a bit washed-out and duller, and the dynamic range isn't quite there. But, again, that's mostly because we compare it to the 50MP selfie cam. In isolation, this would be considered a solid, even if unimpressive, selfie experience.
The main camera captures solid 16MP low-light shots, though just like in good light, these photos are quite overprocessed. There is a rather aggressive sharpening applied, particularly to straight lines.
Arguably, this overprocessed look is a bit more palatable in low-light shots. The surface softness is also easier to swallow. Shadows look decent, though still a bit dark for our taste. Light sources are clipped quite a bit and could have been contained better.
Night mode is a bit of a mixed bag on the vivo V23. Generally speaking, it can salvage some shots on the main camera and make them better. Interestingly enough, depending on the particular scene, the end result can either look a bit cleaner and more natural than regular shots or still have a pretty overprocessed and artificially sharpened appearance.
2x zoom shots at night are just a bit softer than 1x ones, but not by much. Overall, they retain the same characteristics, and we would consider them usable.
The 8MP ultrawide camera struggles quite badly in low-light. It captures soft and particularly noisy shots. Highlights and light sources, in particular, are clipped, though shadows don't look half bad.
Using Night mode is definitely the way to go with the 8MP ultrawide camera. Shots still come out looking soft, but the noise is noticeably less. Plus, the shots definitely look better after the algorithm sharpens them up.
As expected the bigger, autofocus-equipped 50MP camera performed beautifully in low-light conditions. The detail is there, and noise is practically absent. Everything looks sharp, and the dynamic range is great, all things considered.
The 8MP ultrawide held-up surprisingly well in low-light as well. Naturally, you get noticeably softer and noisier shots all around, and you have to be careful to end up in focus, but it did not disappoint.
However, the cool low-light party trick on the vivo V23 and V23 Pro are the two dual-tone "spotlights" near the top of the display. These work really well to illuminate a subject and boost overall quality, simply thanks to a more uniform and stable light.
As for which of the three color settings you should choose for the dual-tone LEDs, it depends on the circumstance. We found the warm setting the most aggregable on a particularly cold winter night. Then again, it is worth noting that even the "aura light" option, which uses white light from the display to illuminate selfies, works surprisingly well.
However, using the spotlights lets you confidently shoot selfies in nearly complete darkness. That's pretty cool.
The spotlights are slightly less impressive when used with the 8MP ultrawide selfie but still offer some benefit.
While we weren't particularly impressed with night mode on the selfie cameras of the V23 Pro, the V23 seems to do noticeably better. Odd seeing how the two devices have the exact same hardware and should be running the same software. Regardless, the V23 lacks the destructive "beauty filter" look on night mode selfies, which is a big plus. Still, we aren't sure we would actually choose night mode over the excellent pair of torch lights for night-time selfies.
The vivo V23 can capture video on a total of four cameras - the on the back and two on the front. The big cameras on either side (64MP and 50MP) can record up to 4K@30fps video. Both do that in a standard AVC video stream at about 50 Mbps with stereo audio. The two ultrawides are capped at 1080p capture, with their bitrate hovering around a respectable 17 Mbps, also with stereo AAC audio.
The main camera captures solid 4K videos. Detail is plenty, colors look good and natural. There is almost no noise to speak of, and the frame rate is nice and steady.
Dynamic range could have been better, but that's about our only complaint with these videos.
2x zoomed videos are a bit disappointing in comparison. The detail is there, which is great, but for some reason, vivo decided to oversharpen everything aggressively.
Videos from the ultrawide camera look quite odd, honestly, primarily due to the wide field of view. They are a bit too soft as well. Other than that, detail is not too bad for 1080p and dynamic range isn't all that bad either. Colors look solid, too.
The V23 offers EIS on both the main and ultrawide cameras on the back. The main 64MP camera can be stabilized at 4K, which works pretty well and takes care of bigger shakes.
There is a super stabilization mode beyond that as well. It only works on the main camera and caps the video at 1080p. It definitely smooths out the video further, but it's still not perfect. We'll leave it up to you to decide whether that's worth the resolution downgrade and the field-of-view cropping.
The ultrawide camera just has the basic level of EIS. It does its job fairly well in terms of smoothing out shakes. Nothing particularly impressive overall and only realistically preferable over main camera footage if you really need the wide field of view.
Turning around to the selfie side of things, 4K videos from the 50MP camera look stunning. Detail is amazing, colors look great, dynamic range is also great. The autofocus works great as well, with practically no hunting and affords you all of the freedom to move closer or further away from the camera.
Even with EIS turned off, the footage is decently steady. Overall, the V23 is a stellar vlogging device, no question about it. It even offers some advanced camera modes to capture footage from two cameras at the same time and a lot of flexibility in arranging the picture-in-picture UI.
You can add EIS to the selfie cam footage at the expense of some resolution since it only works at 1080p. It still looks pretty good in practice though there is a significant crop of the framing, which is an important trade-off.
Video from the ultrawide selfie is honestly just weird all around. People look excessively skinny and tall. Maybe it's a feature, not a bug, but we would probably just ignore it altogether. Here is a quick sample alongside a sample from the ultrawide with EIS turned on.
The main 64MP camera on the V23 captures excellent low-light video at up to 4K@30fps. We have practically no complaints.
The same can't exactly be said about the 8MP ultrawide. Its video maxed out at 1080p, but the lack of resolution is far from being its biggest issue. The video is pretty dark, and highlights are blown out and handled quite poorly. At least the noise is well contained.