OnePlus 6 vs. OnePlus 5T vs. OnePlus 5 vs OnePlus 3T camera shootout

Family Feud: Comparing cameras on the last four OnePlus phones

oneplus phones
Andy Boxall/Digital Trends

Usually, comparing the camera on four consecutive phone releases from any other major manufacturer would be pointless. That would represent three to four years worth of development, and therefore the features, quality, and technology would differ greatly. However, OnePlus is not your everyday manufacturer.

The OnePlus 3T came out in November 2016, the OnePlus 5 in June 2017, the OnePlus 5T in November 2017, and the OnePlus 6 — the company’s latest release — in May 2018. Four phones in the space of a year and a half, which is less time than many people spend owning a single phone, let alone upgrading three times.

How much has changed for OnePlus during that time, in terms of camera performance and ability? OnePlus’ cameras have never stunned, but they’ve been strong performers without any frills. Is the OnePlus 6 substantially better than those that came before it? To find out, we took these four OnePlus phones on a long weekend in the surprisingly sunny U.K., and here are the results.

Camera specs

Before we get into the photos, how about the on-paper specs? The OnePlus 3T, being the oldest, is the most different, primarily for having a single camera lens rather than a dual-lens setup like the other three. It has a 16-megapixel Sony IMX298 sensor with an f/2.0 aperture, HDR, and optical image stabilization (OIS).

The OnePlus 5 combined a 16-megapixel Sony IMX398 wide-angle, f/1.7 aperture lens with a second telephoto lens, the Sony IMX350 with an f/2.6 aperture. It uses electronic image stabilization (EIS), and introduced both a 2x hybrid zoom and a portrait mode. The OnePlus 5T used the same front camera sensor, paired with a 20-megapixel IMX376X, f/1.7 aperture lens. It also uses EIS, and has a portrait mode.

Finally, the new OnePlus 6 uses a Sony IMX519 16-megapixel lens with an f/1.7 aperture, OIS, and EIS. The secondary lens is the same IMX376X as the OnePlus 5T. Again, the OnePlus 6 provides a hybrid zoom and a portrait mode. We’re only comparing still photography taken with the rear cameras here.

Camera apps

The OnePlus 5, 5T, and 6 all run Android 8.1 and OxygenOS 5.1, meaning the camera app across all three phones is identical. Our OnePlus 3T has Android 8.0 with OxygenOS 5.0.1, and the app is slightly different. However, it’s refreshing to see the three main previous phones all providing the same software experience. Try finding that on another phone outside the iPhone and Google’s Pixel devices.

It’s a basic app. Swipe left or right to switch between portrait and video, and swipe up to switch features, including panorama and a “Pro” manual mode. For our tests, we shot entirely in automatic, simply pointing the camera and pressing the shutter release. In some situations, we forced the camera to focus on a particular area, ensuring a consistent look across all four images.

Provided you aren’t expecting the many features offered by Huawei, Samsung, and others, the OnePlus camera app is refreshingly easy to use, and almost entirely bloat-free. There’s nothing here you’ll never bother to try out. On the flip side, there’s little to experiment with, and it doesn’t inspire creativity like the Huawei P20 Pro, for example. It’s a camera for people that want to take good photos, and that’s all.

Beware of Trains

Our photo test took place on the Isle of Wight, a small island off the south coast of England for those who don’t know it. It’s a popular holiday destination, known for its traditional English beauty, slow pace of life, and amongst other things, a still operating steam railway at Havenstreet.

It turns out that the camera apps aren’t the only thing that stays consistent across the last four OnePlus phones, because like many of our other examples, there’s little to split the pictures. Interestingly, the OnePlus 3T tends to group with the OnePlus 6, while the 5 and 5T huddle together.

There are differences, but the one you prefer will likely come down to personal preference. Examine the photos closely, and there is less detail in almost all aspects of the OnePlus 3T’s photo, from the rocks in front of the signpost, to the aging and patina on the red sign itself. The yellow flowers are brighter and more vibrant too.

If you think splitting the other three will be as easy, it’s not. They’re almost identical in the forefront of the frame, with the main differences coming in how each handled the blue sky, and the trees in the far distance. From the OnePlus 5 through the 5T, and to the 6, you can see the sky get progressively more blue, and the trees get less green. The change is incredibly subtle, but the OnePlus 6 is undoubtedly the best balanced image here; but the OnePlus 5T is very close behind it.

Winner: OnePlus 6

Culver Down

This viewpoint gives a commanding view over the coastline and towns in the surrounding area, along with access to Bembridge Fort, which dates back to 1860. Again, we have to look at the blue sky to separate the four cameras. This time, the OnePlus 3T holds its own when looked at casually, creating a beautiful contrast between the green countryside and blue sky. The clouds are a little muddy though, and it’s lacking detail along the coastline.

The OnePlus 5 and 5T are almost inseparable, with the same slightly washed out sky, which doesn’t look like it did in real life. The cliff face looks realistic when zoomed in, but the overall view isn’t one we really like. We like the OnePlus 3T picture, even though it’s not technically very good; but the OnePlus 6 smashes it when it comes to detail and color balance.

Winner: OnePlus 6

Flower

While walking along the cliffs at Culver Down, we tried out the portrait mode on a flower. The OnePlus 3T has a single camera lens, but because the subject is very close, it still managed to capture a great bokeh (with strong blur behind the subject) shot. In fact, when you examine the pictures, the OnePlus 3T’s bokeh picture is more realistic that the OnePlus 5’s picture. The OnePlus 5 fails to recognize the flower’s edges, and blends them into the background, making the image unpleasant and unrealistic.

The OnePlus 5T fares better, as the gradual blurring is more subtle, but it’s still not perfect. The OnePlus 6 does the best job out of all the dual-lens phones, isolating the subject almost in its entirety. It also captures the dappled light effectively, and it’s a great-looking picture. However, the OnePlus 3T keeps more of the flower in focus and shows more detail, giving it a surprising win here.

Winner: OnePlus 3T

Beach huts at night

All four cameras have varying apertures and stablization technology, suggesting some may not produce great night shots. On an evening walk along Prince’s Esplanade in the yachting town of Cowes, we took this great opportunity to measure performance. The OnePlus 5 and 5T are the first to fall here, taking basically the same photo, and suffering for the lack of OIS compared to the OnePlus 3T and 6.

However, the OnePlus 6 trounces all three, perfectly balancing the dusk sky, calm water, and dark huts. Take a look at the tide markers in the sea in comparison to all the others, and you’ll see a sharpness and clarity the previous phones cannot match. None of the others show just how pebbly the beach is like the OnePlus 6 either. An easy win for OnePlus’s latest phone here.

Winner: OnePlus 6

Food

Have you really visited a seaside town in the U.K. if you didn’t eat fish and chips at least once? The answer is, of course, no, and our culinary photographic choice was the classic scampi, chips and peas. It was lovely, before you ask. The four cameras were once more split into two groups, with the OnePlus 3T and OnePlus 6 taking similar photos, and the OnePlus 5 and 5T being too close to call.

We’re judging here on the social share-ability of each photo, because that’s the reason why we take pictures of our food. Both the 5 and 5T darkened the scampi down, and made it look less appetizing. The colors and texture captured by the OnePlus 3T and 6 are similar; but the OnePlus 3T managed to take a photo with more detail on the crispy surface of the scampi. It looks so good, we could eat it again right now. Therefore, it’s our winner.

Winner: OnePlus 3T

Cowes and Yachts

Cowes is famous for its yachts, and this photo is taken in East Cowes looking out over the bay. Here, we used the 2x hybrid zoom feature on the OnePlus 5, 5T, and 6, along with the digital zoom on the OnePlus 3T. The OnePlus 3T performs better than you may think, and the quality loss is minimal in the boats, and the sky is a beautiful blue. However, the houses on the shore are washed out and lacking in detail, and there’s almost no detail in the water. Hardly a surprise, but better than we’d initially expected.

The OnePlus 5 takes the better image compared to the 5T, with a less muddy sky, and more pleasant waters. The level of detail when zoomed in even further is identical though. The OnePlus 6’s photo has greater detail in the water and a better blue sky than the 5 and 5T’s picture; but we wish the blue were as vibrant as the OnePlus 3T. It’s still the winner though.

Winner: OnePlus 6

The Devil’s Chimney

One of the island’s hidden gems, the eerie, atmospheric Devil’s Chimney was once used by smugglers bringing illicit goods up the cliff from the shore. It’s a thin, deep cut in the rock where sound doesn’t seem to penetrate as you climb the steps. You definitely get the feeling it wouldn’t be wise to hang around.

The conditions here were difficult. The sun was shaded by the rock and trees, and we wanted to capture the steps as they disappeared into the cliff. The OnePlus 3T doesn’t perform well, and is unable to balance the color, detail, and lighting conditions seen in the other photos. The OnePlus 5 and 5T once again take the same photo.

Compare it to the OnePlus 6 and the difference is immense. The color of the rock, the texture of the ground, the green of the foliage, and the darkness of the path is completely different. We prefer the way the OnePlus 6 captures the scene, but can see how others could prefer the OnePlus 5/5T’s handling of the environment.

Winner: OnePlus 6

Conclusion

It’s a clear win for the OnePlus 6. It easily won five out of the seven categories, and came second in the other two. However, the biggest shock here is how well the OnePlus 3T performed. It won two categories, while the OnePlus 5 and 5T didn’t win any, although they did come close in a handful.

The good news is there is enough of an improvement in the OnePlus 6’s camera to warrant an upgrade from all three phones that came before it, should you be considering it. Our photos illustrate the improvement in low light, color balance, and exposure you’ll find using the OnePlus 6, especially if you own a 5 or a 5T. If you’re interested in knowing more about the phone itself, we’ve got a complete review here.