OnePlus Finds Itself in Another Camera Zoom Kerfuffle (Updated)

Posted on May 24, 2019 by Paul Thurrott in Android with 15 Comments

Update: OnePlus has responded to this with some additional information, so I’ve edited this article as needed. –Paul

OnePlus has been accused of overstating the zoom capabilities of the camera in its OnePlus 7 Pro. The claim: The 3x optical zoom is really just 2.2x zoom.

“New to the OnePlus 7 Pro is a telephoto lens with 3x optical zoom and OIS [optical image stabilization],” the firm claimed onstage during its OnePlus 7 Pro announcement. The claim is repeated on the OnePlus 7 Pro website, which notes that “with 3x optical zoom, you’re always ready to shoot high-quality, detailed images even at a distance.” The device’s specifications page repeats this attribute, noting that the “optical zoom” is “3x.”

There’s just one problem, a photography expert on Reddit claims: The optical zoom is not 3x. It’s 2.2x. (I learned about this from Android Police.)

His explanation is highly technical. But he says that the OnePlus 7 Pro basically takes a 13 MP telephoto image, crops it to 8 MP, and uses a software-based method to smooth the resulting image. This is still superior to digital zoom, which often results in a pixelated or blurry image. But it’s not true 3x, he says.

OnePlus says this is incorrect.

“The OnePlus 7 Pro has 3x zoom with no digital zoom or loss of detail,” a OnePlus statement notes in response to the Reddit revelation. “The telephoto camera serves two main purposes: 3x zoom and portrait mode photography. It will switch the field of view depending on the camera mode. With 3x zoom, the telephoto camera delivers the advertised lossless 8 megapixels images. Portrait mode utilizes all 13 megapixels from the sensor in the telephoto camera.”

Since I first published this article, OnePlus told me that the 3x optical zoom claim is accurate and that it advertised and designed the sensor to shoot 3x zoom shots at 8 MP, below the resolution of the 13 MP telephoto lens, which results in no loss of detail and contains no digital zoom.

And another photography expert has come out in defense of the OnePlus 7 Pro.

“OnePlus is using a 13 MP camera sensor, but only using the center 8 MP of that sensor, to pair with the focal length of the lens, to create the field of view advertised,” Juan Carlos Bagnell writes on his Some Gadget Guy blog. “They are delivering EXACTLY what they promised. This is functionally no different than if they had used a smaller 8 MP sensor with the same lens. Restricting the sensor surface area creates a narrower field of view. This is all true optical performance … It’s clumsy, but it’s not deceitful. There’s no controversy here.”

Well. We’ve really come full circle on this one.

So, I will just note, as before, that I’m still not done testing the OnePlus 7 Pro and its camera. In my limited experience so far, the 3x zoom has not particularly clear or crisp. But I will keep testing this and my opinion can still change.

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Comments (15)

15 responses to “OnePlus Finds Itself in Another Camera Zoom Kerfuffle (Updated)”

  1. ben55124

    Now they should be honest about it in a software update with a 13MP 2.2x optical zoom step followed by the 8MP 3x. Never settle.

  2. mikiem

    It's not really that complicated. I don't know the photo-related credentials or qualifications of the original poster on Reddit, or those of the author of the article on Android Police, who adds to the discussion re: focal lengths & their perspectives, but in both cases I think they were [understandably] more focused on proving a lie than explaining what they were talking about.



    That said, I'm not sure personally how much the OnePlus claims will matter to the majority of people. The 2x crop factor of micro four thirds cameras is well known among users of MFT cameras, to the point that the word "equivalent" is often dropped when talking about equivalent focal lengths. But then many users of MFT cameras use them with adapters & old glass, so the effective doubling of the focal length is important. I've rarely seen crop factor talked about with sensors other than MFT, even though it's often a factor. My *guess* is that's mainly because this stuff uses a 35mm film camera as its standard, which nowadays is at best a distant memory [or with MFT, a source of glass with a bit of personality].

    What's most important is the shots you get, & the lack of clarity & sharpness you note will matter OTOH. Again *guessing*, I'd think that it's because of the software smoothing you mention, because simply cropping an image does not effect either clarity or sharpness -- the data stays the same -- though it could of course just be a lower quality camera. *Might* be interesting to see what you get using a camera app that lets you save RAW.

    • MikeGalos

      In reply to mikiem:

      Crop factor really has nothing to do with it. That's really only important when you are:

      1. Comparing length of lenses between different size sensors (or, earlier, different film sizes)
      2. When you are using lenses from one size system on a camera with another size system (like using FX sensor size Nikkor lenses on a DX sensor size Nikon body for example)

      • mikiem

        In reply to MikeGalos:

        The reply from OnePlus, that was added in the updated article, says: "It will switch the field of view depending on the camera mode. With 3x zoom, the telephoto camera delivers the advertised lossless 8 megapixels images." To go from 13 megapixels to 8, altering the field of view, is an accurate description of cropping. The 2nd link I posted: "Understanding Crop Factor", explains how this works [with pictures :) ]. It also explains the term "crop factor", which is the ratio of a camera sensor to a 35mm film frame -- while Paul doesn't mention it, the Reddit post that started this all does.

        What u/ImKuya [Reddit] & Ryne Hager [Android Police] talk about is the same thing you mention, using the lens designed for a sensor of X size with a camera using a sensor that's smaller than X. The difference is that the light from the lens isn't hitting a smaller sensor than it was designed for, but instead they effectively turn off part of the camera sensor, simulating that same effect. OnePlus argues that the field of view is what matters, and that there's no difference than if they used a 3X lens with an 8 megapixel sensor -- in an update to the Android Police article, it doesn't seem like the Managing Editor agrees, for whatever that's worth.

        A practical example in case it helps... When a MFT camera uses a 35mm film lens, the total area of the image or light from the lens hitting the sensor plane is larger than the sensor. If you compared photos taken using the same 35mm film lens, one with a 35mm film camera & one with an MFT camera, the latter would only show the center portion of the photo, roughly equivalent in terms of field of view to applying a 2X optical multiplier to the lens when used with the film camera.

        • MikeGalos

          In reply to mikiem:

          Yes. Going to a smaller size rectangle of sensors in the same image circle is just cropping. Lenses produce a circular image and as long as that circle is larger than your sensor you get a rectangular image. Typically you go for the largest rectangle that fits in the circle but you can go with a smaller one. And that's exactly the same as taking the larger one and cutting off the sides, top and bottom in a photo editing package. What's left takes up more of the image because you removed both the image and the pixels that made up the rest.

          That's exactly what a "digital zoom" does as well if you "zoom" to something on an even number of pixels.

          As to crop factor, here's an example.

          An 75mm lens for a medium format (60x45mm sensor size) is a normal lens for that format. To cover that format it has to produce an image circle at least as big as the diagonal of the image (about 75mm)

          A 50mm lens for a 35mm format (1x1.5" or 24x36mm sensor size) is a normal lens for that format. To cover that format it has to produce an image circle at least as big as the diagonal of the image (about 45mm)

          If you put a 50mm lens meant for a 35 camera on the medium format you'll likely get a circular wide angle image that won't cover the full frame since while you can build a 50mm lens that covers a 75mm circle it's vastly more expensive.

          If you put a 75mm lens meant for the medium format camera on a 35 camera you'll get a short telephoto image made from the very center of a much larger image circle than you needed.

          (As an FYI: Adapters like that do exist. I once saw a 150mm lens designed for a Hasselblad (60mmx60mm image) attached to an Olympus half-frame (18x24mm image). It produced a superb image and wasted almost 90% of the image circle the lens produced.)

  3. MikeGalos

    No. And no even with the update.

    Optical zoom involves the lenses (you know, the OPTICAL part of the system) actually providing the continuously variable focal lengths.

    ANY continuously variable change in effective focal length that's done using manipulation of the data is DIGITAL zoom.

    And yes, that means having two lenses with two fixed focal lengths is not ZOOM of any kind. It's just two fixed focal length lenses which may have digital zoom added between them.

    PHOTO GEEK SIDEBAR: For the really technically minded, if the focus changes in an optical system when you change focal length (you or the autofocus have to refocus when you change focal length) it's not a zoom lens, it's called a varifocal lens.

    • wp7mango

      In reply to MikeGalos:

      For some reason, the cell phone industry seems to confuse "zoom" with "telephoto", "long-focus", "varifocal" etc. which I guess is simply because of a lack of consumer understanding, and therefore it's easier to market using the word "zoom".

      Basically, AFAIK, no phones have proper optical zoom.

      • MikeGalos

        In reply to WP7Mango:

        No. I don't believe any have had optical zoom. But phone vendor's marketing departments continue to claim various features under that name and the press doesn't correct them so they get away with it.

        For that matter, almost none have had a mechanical shutter or an actual xenon flash.

        And very few have even bothered with an actual shutter release button. And its rare to see them even give the option of a RAW file

        That's why the Nokia Lumia 1020 is in the George Eastman Museum's photographic equipment collection. It had all of those aside from an optical zoom. (In fact, they have my old Lumia 1020 in the collection. I donated it to them a couple of years ago.)

        • SvenJ

          In reply to MikeGalos: Do believe there is one, though I don't recall which. It is via a 'periscope' camera system where the stack of lenses is vertical in the phone, a mirror or prism does a 90 degree shift, and actual lens movement accomplishes zoom (or varifocal). I recall reading about it and the tech seemed achievable. But yea, two lenses does not an optical zoom make.

  4. briantlewis

    At this stage, Apple looks to be the only honest manufacturer. Say what you will about their prices, their specs match what they say.

  5. RonH

    This is like using a normal lens on a DSLR that has small (not full frame sensor). Typically you get 1.6 time the zoom as compared to a full size sensor, like a 35 mm film camera

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