OnePlus is not working on a foldable phone for next year though it is excited by the new form factor, OnePlus product manager Zake Zhang has confirmed. Calling the foldable form factor a “really cool design direction” that “opens a whole lot more possibilities,” he said: “Right now, you can’t use a really, really big sensor on a smartphone. And that will make the phone look super, super weird.
However, the foldable phone could be good for the cameras in smartphones. “Because once you can fold the phone, you actually can change the design of the device. And I think that will give us more space for the camera to really put a bigger sensor inside a smartphone,” he said.
Fixing ultra-wide mode soon
Zhang said the OnePlus 7 Pro’s popular nightscape and ultra-wide mode, which now has hardware limitations, will get more improvements in future updates. “On OnePlus 7 Pro, the ultra-wide sensor is definitely not the best one, especially when you compare it to the main camera. The ultra-wide sensor is just way too small and because of the hardware limitation, it doesn’t allow you to get a great amount of details and light to make the photos look really good. During the daytime, it might be okay, but at night-time, because of the sensor’s limitation we can’t really do much about it,” explained Zhang during an interaction in Taipei, where OnePlus has an imaging lab.
But it seems these issues have not stopped customers from loving the ultra-wide lens. “This (ultra-wide) sensor is definitely one of the main focus points for our future products. So you will see some updates with our ultra-wide-angle lens,” he added, indicating there will be some improvements to this aspect of the camera.
There’s a tripod mode for night shots
He explained that they have a dual approach to carry out the merging process in Night Mode. In Nightscape, the user is asked to stay extra steady for a couple of seconds, while the camera shoots multiple shots at longer exposure rates in shorter durations and then merge them into one photo for a brighter result, which takes around 2-3 seconds to process.
But still some shake is bound to happen, unless a user is relying on a tripod or something else to stabilise the device. And for this use case they have the tripod mode which is automatically activated when the camera is set up on a tripod or a table. “In the tripod mode the camera can take between eight to sometimes 30 or 40 seconds to get you to the optimal shot. It would take photos with a short exposure time, middle exposure time and long exposure time. So you have three different exposure levels to make sure the highlights, middle tone and low lights are always on point when we merge them,” Zhang said.
Admitting to some shaky Nightscape shots, he said: “We are actually making some improvements to the software and you will see them in the coming updates. The tripod mode is already there though there is no indicator in the UI. But we are working on something to make sure people know if they are in the tripod mode. This will come in future updates.”
‘Couldn’t just port OnePlus 6 software
Asked about the challenges on the OnePlus 7 Pro camera, Zhang explained that it was not as simple as transporting the OnePlus 6 software to the new series. “The platform (processor) is different. Every time, when you have new hardware on the device, you need to do the tuning all over again. We have to try and figure out how we can bridge the triple camera setup with Qualcomm’s latest platform. There are multiple stages for the tuning process. Overall it takes about six months to the final result,” he explained.
On avoiding the under screen camera or punch hole camera this time, Zhang said their tests showed neither was giving the best image quality results. “But we are definitely working on different technology, different approach for this camera design. Maybe in the future, we will implement the best technology that will give the user both the immersive full screen and have the camera hidden from the screen. Even for the fingerprint sensor… we make sure it is the fastest you can get,” he said.
Software will make cameras special
For Zhang, it will be software that makes smartphone cameras special. “Computational algorithms are probably one of the most important things in mobile photography, because the sensor is really small. The photo and the details you get is limited. So how to maximise the sensor using the software and the algorithm, which means you take multiple shots, or use the AI scene detection to make a smartphone a really smart camera,” he said.
In his view, future smartphones would know exactly what to shoot thanks to the software. “I think in the near future, once you put out your camera, and you start taking photos, his camera will automatically recognise the scene and know exactly what you want, what you expect and get that shot for you. I think that’s like the direction we’re heading to,” Zhang said.
Disclaimer: The author is in Taipei at the invite of OnePlus India