What is a color filter camera and how does it work on the OnePlus 8 Pro?

Oneplus 8 Pro
Oneplus 8 Pro (Image credit: Andrew Martonik / Android Central)

A lot of people like to add a photo filter effect to some of the pictures they take with their phones. Whether you want a softened look or a sepia wash, there is a multitude of apps that will add the effect, and chances are your camera and gallery app will do it, too.

OnePlus is doing things a bit differently here. With the OnePlus 8 Pro, there is a dedicated color filter camera system that applies filters the old fashioned way. Using a coated covering over the lens along with some post-processing, the hope is that your work of art will look a lot better than simple filtering software that adds a layer to an already processed and compressed image.

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It's not just a marketing term, either; there is a separate 5MP camera sensor and lens that is coated — and it's used when you choose the feature in the camera app. It doesn't take away from any of the other camera features, but adds to them. This is the OnePlus that we love — a company that will try something a bit different because it can, and someone on the product team thinks its cool enough to include.

How it works is pretty simple. Android can open two or more camera "streams" at the same time, and the OnePlus 8 Pro can grab the image information from both the regular camera sensor and the color camera. A camera stream is basically what you think it is — the camera sensor is activated and live image data is captured as long as the stream is open. You might not see more than one stream in the viewfinder (your screen) but the chip that does the image processing to turn the stream into a photo when you tap the button can. And that's what matters.

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It's not useful to everyone, but it's definitely a unique approach.

With the main camera capturing your scene, and the color filter camera capturing the same scene with an actual lens filter, the two streams can be combined when the photo is snapped. There is only one coating, but in the camera software, you choose what effect you would like to see. OnePlus has used a neutral coating that brings out highlights and color data in a way that the image processor can turn it into a better photo filter. The result is a handful of filters ranging from a very subtle "vivid" all the way to an inverted "photochrom" look. And theoretically, OnePlus could add more filters later that also leverage this dedicated camera.

A lot of people will find this a bit of a gimmick, but a lot of other people won't. Yes the filters don't look much different from the software-only filters you can find through dozens of apps (or on OnePlus's own camera software on its other phones). But knowing that this is coming through decicated hardware is at least interesting. The best part is that you don't have to use it if you don't want to, and nothing is taken away from the main camera and its features if you leave the color filter camera unactivated.

The real proof will be when some creative people get the phone in their hands. I'm betting we see some pretty unique examples where a filter made the photo better, much like using a lens filter in a DSLR can. We'll know soon enough!

Jerry Hildenbrand
Senior Editor — Google Ecosystem

Jerry is an amateur woodworker and struggling shade tree mechanic. There's nothing he can't take apart, but many things he can't reassemble. You'll find him writing and speaking his loud opinion on Android Central and occasionally on Twitter.