OnePlus has consistently nailed the core experience of a high-end smartphone, over-achieving its price in so many ways. But one area where it felt more native to its price point was the camera — but the OnePlus 5 is designed to change that. Even though it is notably less expensive than the flagship competition, the OnePlus 5 will constantly be compared to the top-end phones available today. It's when you start to compare cameras, especially, that the battle gets tough: the past two years have seen fantastic improvements in smartphone cameras at the high end.
Millions of people are familiar with how the Galaxy S8 takes photos, and it's well-regarded as having a consistently good camera in a variety of ways. If the OnePlus 5 can beat — or even just match — the likes of the Galaxy S8, it's going to be in great shape to pick up sales as people look for the best value in a smartphone that includes a great camera. This is how the two compared in our testing.
When viewing these photos at typical size embedded in a webpage, it isn't easy to pick out differences. That's a good sign for OnePlus, as it shows the OnePlus 5 can put out nice-looking photos what are generally indiscernible from a leading smartphone at a glance.
Once you zoom in and start to nitpick a little bit, you can see where the Galaxy S8 does things a bit better. The GS8's photos easily have sharper edges and finer detail when you start to closely inspect them. In most cases, it doesn't really come across in the end product viewed at a typical size (especially when just viewed on a phone) — but sometimes you just get a sense of the GS8's photos being crisper than the OnePlus 5's.
You'll notice from the photos above that the Galaxy S8 still tends to take warmer photos, and although the OnePlus 5's color balance seems better it doesn't have quite the brightness and saturation that the Galaxy S8 does. That's a bit more of a personal preference ... but in general, the average smartphone buyer enjoys the look of those punchy, extra-contrast shots the Galaxy S8 tends to take.
Low light photos
Switching to low-light photos, you can more easily see differences in the output of these cameras at a typical size before even zooming in. The Galaxy S8 on average takes sharper, clearer photos when the lights get dim. When you start to inspect the photos more closely, you'll see the OnePlus 5 has a considerable amount of grain to low-light photos that the Galaxy S8 manages to avoid through a combination of a lower ISO and better overall processing.
Of course you'll notice once again the Galaxy S8's photos are warmer than the OnePlus 5's, but in many low-light scenes that warm color is a bit more accurate to the scene. In some cases it felt like the OnePlus 5 was again too cool in its color temperature adjustment. Having a warmer color temperature is a fine trade off in this case, considering how much sharper the fine details in dark scenes are in most photos compared to the OnePlus 5.
Though it doesn't quite match the Galaxy S8, I'm rather impressed by the OnePlus 5's ability to take solid photos in bad lighting conditions considering its small 1.12-micron pixels and lack of OIS — but if you look at the photos with a critical eye you do notice some of its shortcomings. In some very dark scenes it took multiple shots to get an acceptable one, as it's easier to reach a point where the ISO has to go too high and the shutter speed just can't go any lower without OIS. Considering the fact that the OnePlus 5 isn't that far off from the pace here, it's conceivable that improvements could be made with some software updates. Let's hope it gets tweaked in the future.
The OnePlus 5 takes an admirable swing at reaching a leading camera like the Galaxy S8's, but ultimately doesn't quite get there. Daylight shots are just about neck-and-neck, with the tie-breakers being your personal preference on how the Galaxy S8 tends to over-warm and over-saturate photos and where the OnePlus 5 ends up being a little softer and dimmer. The real separator is low light shots, where the GS8 on average takes a clearer, better-balanced photo — the OnePlus 5 does admirably, but doesn't have the processing (or the hardware, frankly) to perfectly match it.
Aside from the main cameras compared here, let's also remember that the OnePlus 5 packs a complete secondary camera that offers a longer focal length for interesting shots and a Portrait Mode that gives you unique background blurring in certain photos. Whether or not those additions bring the entire OnePlus 5 camera experience up to the level of the Galaxy S8 for you is a good question to ask when comparing the two.
The fact that this is a relatively close competition should be taken as a good thing from the perspective of OnePlus, as the OnePlus 5 is over $200 less than the Galaxy S8. It's completely reasonable to see the OnePlus 5's camera capabilities — to say nothing of all its other great qualities — and say it's darn well close enough to the Galaxy S8 that the extra $200+ isn't worth the small improvement.
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Andrew was an Executive Editor, U.S. at Android Central between 2012 and 2020.