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OnePlus 5 camera shootout vs. Galaxy S8 and Google Pixel

Check out how the OnePlus 5's camera stacks up against its Android rivals.

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OnePlus crammed some impressive camera technology into its latest flagship phone, the OnePlus 5 ($360 at Amazon). But when it comes to photography prowess, the competition among phones has never been more fierce. All of the top players pay close attention to their cameras and each year, the bar gets set even higher than before.

The OnePlus 5 already impressed us when we pit it against Apple's iPhone 7 Plus -- both of which feature an additional telephoto lens for better portrait photos. (Check out CNET's OnePlus 5 vs. iPhone 7 Plus camera comparison here.)

But this time around, I extensively tested the 5 against its two biggest Android rivals, the Samsung Galaxy S8 ($440 at Amazon) and the Google Pixel ($250 at Amazon). All three pack extremely potent snappers and can take vibrant and sharp photos, but when it came to trickier scenes, not all performed equally well with their treatment of low light, zooming and white balance.

To see how the OnePlus fares against these top Androids, scroll through. (And on a quick technical note: all three phones were shooting at their maximum available resolution, in full automatic mode.)

Outdoor tests

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I'm not totally impressed with the 5 in this first outdoor shot. While it's brighter than its rivals -- particularly on the front of the building in the background -- the auto white balance leaned too much on the warm side. It's given the scene a yellow colour cast, which wasn't really there. In turn, both the S8 and Pixel's shots have much more natural colours.

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The white balance issue is seen again in this outdoor scene in Paris, France. The rich blue sky has a yellowy-green tinge to it on the OnePlus 5, which isn't present on the others. Out of these three, I prefer the Pixel's higher contrast the most.

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Another example of the OnePlus's tendency to produce warmer, less natural colour tones in outdoor scenes. The Pixel produced the more accurate colours than both the OnePlus and S8, though I do like how the OnePlus lifted more of the shadows in the bushes to the left. 

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I still don't prefer how the OnePlus rendered the white balance in this photo. However, its handling of the deep blue of the sky (rarely seen over London!) is much more accurate, and I like the finer details in the clouds.

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Again, colours are slightly warmer from the OnePlus on this Parisian street scene. But in this instance, I actually rather like it. It's given the scene a warmth that suits it well. It's brighter in the shadows, too.

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There's very little to differentiate between the OnePlus and the Galaxy S8 in this example. I like how both phones achieve rich, natural colours and have a very even exposure balance. The Pixel, however, has more muted colour tones, particularly in the pink-red hues around the subway entrance.

Close-up testing

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The OnePlus 5 lacks the close-up detail I'd want from a flagship phone. In this zoomed-in section, it's clear to see how the Galaxy S8 has captured crisp details on the texture of the brickwork, while that same detail looks mushy and almost blurred on the OnePlus and don't look much better on the Pixel either.

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In this close-up, macro test, both the OnePlus 5 and Galaxy S8 produced sharp focus on the fine details around the metalwork and fibres of this dartboard. There's no real difference between the two phones, however the Pixel isn't able to focus quite as close, so its shot had to be taken from slightly further away. This is something to note if you love getting right in amongst your macro subjects.

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The OnePlus 5 achieved a good focus on the flower up close, but it struggled to keep the bright highlights under control. The pinks on the petals have lost their details, resulting in the unattractive 'patches' of colour. The S8 has a similar problem, albeit to a lesser extent. The Pixel's shot is darker overall than the other two, but it kept those pesky highlights under control for a more balanced shot overall. 

Indoor portraits and 'bokeh' effects

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Both the OnePlus and Galaxy S8 took good portraits in the standard camera mode. The OnePlus' shot is slightly brighter, with lighter shadows that make for a more attractive portrait overall. The white balance again erred slightly on the warmer side, which makes me look more tanned than normal. Personally, I don't mind a phone artificially making it look like I've spent some time on the beach, but it's not the completely "honest" and natural photo you might be looking for. As for the Pixel, it produced a much darker shot which I don't like as much.

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Up close on the same portrait shot, it's again evident that the OnePlus 5's camera doesn't handle fine details as well as the Galaxy S8. You can only really tell the difference when you zoom right in though. So if you're viewing pictures on your phone's screen, on Facebook or on Instagram, you'll almost certainly tell no difference at all. 

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For portrait modes, the difference in cameras is much more noticeable. These modes artificially blur the backgrounds to achieve the "bokeh" look you'd get from a DSLR. It's clear that the OnePlus's shot lacks contrast and detail altogether. The OnePlus fell slightly behind the iPhone 7 Plus in our 'dual-camera shootout', although it wasn't as marked a difference as it in this test. In addition, CNET editor Lynn La noted in her OnePlus 5 review that it did a notably better job at taking portrait photos compared to the Galaxy S8.

But for this round the S8 was the clear winner -- at least for me. Though the blur effect isn't as strong as the others, it's brighter and the bokeh effect is more controlled around the edges of my head, making it look more natural than on the Pixel. 

Still life in various lighting

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Low-light scenes are always challenging for phones, as their small sensors struggle to capture enough light to properly expose a scene. All three phones did a great job here, however. Although the OnePlus' shot is slightly darker than the others, it's the sharpest of the three when you look close at the details. The noise reduction is excellent, too. In this scene, the Pixel's shot is the brightest of the three, with the most accurate colour tones. This may be more important to you if you simply want to show off your candlelit meal on Instagram as quickly as possible.

Low-light with flash

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This is the same scene with the flash turned on. The OnePlus has again achieved the sharpest shot. The warmer white balance gives a more natural colour tone, too, with the S8's blue tint looking cold. 

The Pixel managed to mix in some of the ambient light, as well as the flash, allowing the guitar in the background to still be clearly visible, despite it being too far away for the flash to have any effect. Neither the OnePlus or Galaxy S8 were able to achieve this, and it results in a more pleasing image overall as a result. 

Not the best, but the best for the price

Throughout my tests, I haven't been totally bowled over by the OnePlus 5's handling of white balance, fine details or its skills with portraits. The Galaxy S8 managed to edge it out in several of the tests, but it's important to bear in mind that the Galaxy S8 is considerably more expensive than the OnePlus 5.

It was a very close fight overall, and I'm really impressed that a midpriced phone like this can hold its own so well against the high-priced smartphone elite. I preferred many of the OnePlus 5's shots over the Pixel, which, again, is a much more expensive handset. If OnePlus can improve the auto white balance with software updates, it may even come out on top.

In my opinion, if you're after the absolute best camera you can find in an Android phone, the Galaxy S8 is the way to go still. But the OnePlus 5 takes brilliant shots that are almost as good and won't empty your bank balance in the process.

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OnePlus 5 (Midnight Black)
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