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OnePlus Nord 2 vs. Nord CE vs. OnePlus 9: Which has the best camera?

We put the OnePlus Nord 2 to the test to see how its camera compares to others in the range.

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Andrew Hoyle/CNET

The OnePlus Nord 2 seriously impressed us with its combination of great specs and affordable price tag. Along with its vibrant, 6.43-inch display this Android 11 phone packs a potent MediaTek processor, incredible fast charging and superfast 5G connectivity. Not bad for a phone that only costs £399 (about $540 or AU$750, although it won't be available in the US or Australia).

But it's the cameras I particularly care about. The Nord 2 has a main 50-megapixel sensor along with an 8-megapixel ultrawide-angle lens. To see how it stacks up, I went out to shoot images along with the cheaper Nord CE and the more expensive OnePlus 9

Let's crack on.

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OnePlus Nord 2.

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OnePlus Nord CE.

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OnePlus 9.

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In this first test, the Nord 2 has done a cracking job, producing an image that's packed with detail thanks to that 50-megapixel sensor. The Nord CE has lifted the shadows a bit more, which results in a less contrasty shot that I personally don't like quite as much. It's still not bad. The OnePlus 9's image, however, is extremely vivid, with an almost toxic look to the green leaves. I find it a bit much and actually prefer the Nord 2's shot here out of the three.

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OnePlus Nord 2.

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OnePlus Nord CE.

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OnePlus 9.

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The story is much the same here. The Nord 2 has produced a more punchy, vibrant shot than the Nord CE, which looks a bit drab and washed-out by comparison. The Nord 2 also provides more clarity in the fine details, thanks to the higher resolution. The OnePlus 9 has turned the color up to 11 again, resulting in an extremely vibrant shot overall. Your preferences may differ, but I again prefer the more natural tones from the Nord 2. 

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OnePlus Nord 2.

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OnePlus Nord CE.

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OnePlus 9.

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To my eye, this is a win for both Nord phones, as the OnePlus 9's shot has a lot more contrast and deeper shadows, which has made the side of the pastry facing the camera look incredibly dark. While the Nord CE's is the brightest, I prefer the overall tones and contrast of the Nord 2's shot. 

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OnePlus Nord 2, wide-angle lens.

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OnePlus Nord CE, wide-angle lens.

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OnePlus 9, wide-angle lens.

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With the wide-angle lenses activated on all three phones, the OnePlus 9 takes a clear victory here. Its shot is vibrant, pin-sharp, and its solid handle on HDR means that the bright blue sky seen through the roof remains completely under control. By contrast, the Nord 2's shot is a bit more washed-out in the sky, with even the cheapest Nord CE managing to keep a handle on the highlights. 

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OnePlus Nord 2, wide-angle lens.

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OnePlus Nord CE, wide-angle lens.

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OnePlus 9, wide-angle lens.

Andrew Hoyle/CNET

The Nord CE's wide lens has done less well here, with a lot of haziness visible as it battles the bright sky. The Nord 2's shot has kept this much more under control, but it's again the OnePlus 9 that achieved the most balanced, vibrant image here.

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OnePlus Nord 2, night mode.

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OnePlus Nord CE, night mode.

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OnePlus 9, night mode.

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To test the night mode capabilities of each phone I set up a small still life scene in an almost totally dark room. All three phones have done a great job at capturing loads of light, to the point that none of them really look like night mode images at all. The Nord CE is the weakest, with a darker shot, a more blue color cast and fewer fine details captured. The Nord 2's is decent, with a brighter look and more natural tones, but the OnePlus 9 has the best-looking and sharpest night mode of the three.

Which camera is the best?

Given its higher price, it's no surprise that the OnePlus 9 takes superior wide and night mode images out of the three phones. However, I found it so heavy-handed with its contrast and saturation with images taken from its standard lens that I mostly preferred the look of the much more affordable OnePlus Nord 2. That's quite the win for a phone that OnePlus itself called a "flagship killer" -- it's certainly putting up a great fight against the company's own flagship. 

While the Nord CE's shots are generally good for the price, there's a noticeable drop in quality from its more expensive siblings, so that's worth keeping in mind if you're shopping on a budget but also want a great camera experience. While image quality can be subjective, the Nord 2 offers a real sweet spot of performance and price that makes it worth considering even over its top-end brother.

Read moreThe OnePlus 9 Pro's Hasselblad camera is great, but still needs some work