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iPhone 12 Pro Max vs. OnePlus 9 Pro camera comparison

OnePlus teamed up with iconic camera-maker Hasselblad to improve photos and videos on its new phone. We push the hype aside and pit it against Apple's best in a camera showdown.

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Thanks to a partnership with legendary camera-maker Hasselblad, the OnePlus 9 Pro has one of the most hyped phone cameras in recent memory. It's a savvy move because the cameras on OnePlus phones have been a step behind those from Apple, Google and Samsung. The OnePlus 9 Pro is the first phone released under the Hasselblad union. Unsurprisingly, it has the best camera system on any OnePlus phone ever made. It's capable of taking great photos, and the phone's ultrawide camera goes toe-to-toe with the one on the iPhone.

Aside from having its name on the camera bump, Hasselblad's biggest contribution on the 9 Pro is color calibration, which results in photos with a nice, natural, subdued look. Sometimes the iPhone and its SmartHDR can oversaturate colors. At $969 (£829, which converts roughly to AU$1,490), the OnePlus 9 Pro is $130 less than the $1,099 (£1,099, AU$1,849) price of Apple's impressive iPhone 12 Pro Max

The OnePlus has four rear cameras compared to the three rear cameras on the iPhone. But quantity doesn't win here; one of the 9 Pro's rear cameras is a 2-megapixel monochrome camera, which in theory improves the capture of image details.

iPhone 12 Pro Max vs. OnePlus 9 Pro cameras

Camera iPhone 12 Pro Max OnePlus 9 Pro
Wide lens aperture f1.6 f1.8
Wide camera resolution 12 megapixels 48 megapixels
Ultrawide lens aperture f2.4 f2.2
Ultrawide camera resolution 12 megapixels 50 megapixels
Telephoto aperture f2.2 f2.4
Telephoto camera resolution 12 megapixels 8 megapixels
Optical zoom 0.5x, 1x, 2.5x 0.6x, 1x, 3.3x
Max digital zoom 12x 30x

While the cameras on the OnePlus 9 Pro are definitely impressive, the iPhone 12 Pro Max has a more consistent and capable camera system, which is why it's still one of the best phone cameras you can buy. Initially, I was excited to put the OnePlus 9 Pro and its Hasselblad-branded cameras against the iPhone 12 Pro Max and its big camera energy. The results were closer than I thought. But Apple's computational photography is the main reason photos from the iPhone have excellent image quality. SmartHDR and Deep Fusion processing allow the cameras more leeway in medium-light situations like indoors. The OnePlus 9 Pro doesn't have the same rich computational photography capabilities.

After testing out the 9 Pro, I look forward to what OnePlus and Hasselblad can do in the coming years on future phones. 

Note that because there have been several software updates to each phone, I specifically used an iPhone 12 Pro Max with iOS 14.4.2 from March 26, and a OnePlus 9 Pro with Oxygen OS 11.2.2.2.LE15AA, which was released on April 2.

iPhone 12 Pro Max and OnePlus 9 Pro

On the left is the iPhone 12 Pro Max; on the right is the OnePlus 9 Pro.

Patrick Holland/CNET

In good lighting, the iPhone and OnePlus take great photos

Outdoors on a sunny day, the main camera on each phone takes great photos. Overall, I like the color from the OnePlus except when it comes to the sky, which sometimes skews to a blue indigo.

iPhone 12 Pro Max and OnePlus 9 Pro

OnePlus 9 Pro

Patrick Holland/CNET
iPhone 12 Pro Max and OnePlus 9 Pro

iPhone 12 Pro Max

Patrick Holland/CNET
iPhone 12 Pro Max and OnePlus 9 Pro

OnePlus 9 Pro

Patrick Holland/CNET
iPhone 12 Pro Max and OnePlus 9 Pro

iPhone 12 Pro Max

Patrick Holland/CNET
iPhone 12 Pro Max and OnePlus 9 Pro

iPhone 12 Pro Max

Patrick Holland/CNET

OnePlus photos tend to be oversharpened. Look at the grille on the old Buick and especially at the bricks in the building in the background.

In general, iPhone photos have a wider dynamic range and render details and textures better. Look at the photos below and pay attention to the brick buildings, the leaves on the bottom right and the water.

There is a strange delay on the OnePlus between hitting the shutter button, seeing the photo preview and seeing the final photo, which can look different from the preview. Occasionally this delay was long enough to change the focus point because I moved my hand to put the camera away during that delay. It's almost like you need to keep holding the phone in the same position for a beat or so longer after pressing the shutter button before moving your hand.

When it comes to indoor shots, below are a couple photos of myself taken with the main rear camera of each phone. I am lit by a couple of lights with a warm color temperature. Neither phone nails this shot, but I prefer the iPhone photo. My skin tone looks a little better. In the OnePlus photo, the shadows and highlights on my face give it a blotchy look. Also, notice the shallow depth of field in the OnePlus picture compared to the iPhone photo.

In medium lighting, OnePlus photos have more image noise. The iPhone and its Deep Fusion processing cleans the noise and brightens the photo by combining parts of multiple exposures. Take a look at the photos below.

The OnePlus 9 Pro's ultrawide camera is outstanding

The ultrawide camera on the 9 Pro is by far my favorite camera on the phone. The details, resolution and color are good and the white balance seems more accurate than the main camera. Just take a look at the photos below.

iPhone 12 Pro Max and OnePlus 9 Pro

OnePlus 9 Pro

Patrick Holland/CNET
iPhone 12 Pro Max and OnePlus 9 Pro

OnePlus 9 Pro

Patrick Holland/CNET
iPhone 12 Pro Max and OnePlus 9 Pro

OnePlus 9 Pro

Patrick Holland/CNET

The ultrawide on the iPhone offers a wider field of view, but the colors are more accurate in photos from the OnePlus. In the iPhone photo below, notice how SmartHDR really pushes the highlights and increases color saturation, especially in the glass building on the left.

In the photos below, look closely at the color of the bookstore compared to the building on the left getting hit by sunlight. Again, the colors from the OnePlus look more true to life. In the iPhone photo, the highlights in the clouds are blown out. The OnePlus does a better job of protecting them.

The OnePlus has 30x digital zoom, but it isn't great

On paper the difference between a 2.5x optical zoom and 3.3x optical zoom isn't huge, but in terms of the actual photos there are some big differences. Take a look at the photos below of a building taken with the iPhone and OnePlus at 2.5x zoom. The iPhone photo looks better, and that's because the OnePlus crops the main camera to zoom until it gets to a 3.3x magnification at which point it switches to its dedicated telephoto camera.

At 3.3x zoom, the iPhone photo below has better dynamic range and details than the one from the OnePlus, which is using its telephoto camera without cropping. The colors in the iPhone photo are punchy without being over the top.

As you can see below, at 10x digital zoom, neither phone takes a great photo. The dynamic range is better on the iPhone but there is also a lot of oversharpening. The OnePlus photo looks a little soft.

The Phone tops out at 12x digital zoom, but the OnePlus can zoom up to 30x.

OnePlus night mode photos look good

Both phones have a night mode for taking better pictures in low light. On the OnePlus, it's called Nightscape. Overall night mode photos from the OnePlus tend to be brighter than the ones from the iPhone. Both produce equally impressive results, and it really depends on your preference as to which photos are better.

The OnePlus capture sequence for Nightscape photos feels shorter than Night Mode on the iPhone. Sometimes, like in the OnePlus photo of the flowers below, it wasn't enough to make an obvious improvement.

The iPhone suffers from a light source reflection problem, which you can see in the photo below. Look above the building in the middle and you can see the light reflection.

iPhone 12 Pro Max and OnePlus 9 Pro

iPhone 12 Pro Max

Patrick Holland/CNET

OnePlus vs. iPhone selfies

In good light, iPhone selfies have better dynamic range and a greater depth of field. Skin tones from the iPhone look more natural. Take a look at the photos below. The OnePlus selfie has a pleasing natural bokeh, but sometimes, like in this photo, my eyes end up out of focus.

OnePlus has a Hasselblad Pro Mode

The OnePlus has a Pro Mode the iPhone doesn't. Pro Mode gives you detailed control over focus, shutter speed, ISO and more. In ProMode, you can take 12-bit raw photos. Compare that to the 12-bit Apple ProRaw photos on the iPhone 12 Pro Max. Technically you can take raw photos on the iPhone using a third-party app. In terms of editing, the Apple ProRaw photo is like having a head start over the OnePlus regular raw photo. That said, both end up with great results.

Below are edited photos from each phone originally captured as raw on the OnePlus and ProRaw on the iPhone.

iPhone 4K video looks better than 8K video from the OnePlus

The OnePlus can shoot 8K resolution video. However in good lighting, 4K video from the OnePlus looks better. 8K video appears oversharpened, has moire (the screen door effect) and colors are oversaturated. 

The iPhone can record videos up to a resolution of 4K. iPhone videos have better detail, dynamic range and color than ones from the OnePlus. The iPhone handles textures and shooting in lower light situations like indoors better, too. That said, the OnePlus can shoot good video. It just can't handle the variety of situations and lighting that the iPhone can. Watch the video above to see video samples from the OnePlus.

Update, April 12: Added more indoor photos and the software version number on each phone.