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Sorry, iPhone, you’re not the only great dual-camera phone

The iPhone 7 Plus has Portrait Mode, but so does the OnePlus 5.

Patrick Holland/CNET
Now playing: Watch this: OnePlus 5 vs. iPhone 7 Plus: Dual-camera shootout
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Dual rear cameras on phones are officially a thing. Like the iPhone 7 Plus, the OnePlus 5 uses dual cameras to make zoomed-in pictures look great and create photos with bokeh (gorgeous, out-of-focus backgrounds). But unlike the iPhone, the OnePlus has higher-resolution cameras with slightly wider apertures that let in a bit more light.

On paper, the OnePlus 5's camera hardware looks impressive (see chart below), especially since the OnePlus 5 costs hundreds of dollars less than the iPhone. But when it comes to photography, the proof is in the pictures. That's something the iPhone 7 Plus proved in our tests against single-camera shooters like the Google Pixel and the Samsung Galaxy S8.

However, the iPhone hasn't gone up against the OnePlus 5. Until now. And the OnePlus 5 gives it a run for its money.

I took this pair of dual-camera twins around the Mission in San Francisco for an old-fashioned camera battle royale, snapping pics of people, cityscapes, murals, food, indoor golfers and skateboarders.

All images are right off the phone without any post-processing and features like HDR were left in auto mode while shooting.

The dual-camera weigh-in

OnePlus 5 and iPhone 7 Plus camera specs


OnePlus 5 iPhone 7 Plus
Standard-angle resolution 16 megapixels 12 megapixels
Telephoto resolution 20 megapixels 12 megapixels
Standard-angle aperture f/1.7 f/1.8
Telephoto aperture f/2.6 f/2.8
Optical image stabilization None Photos and videos (standard-angle only)
Digital image stabilization Video Video
Video 4K and HD 4K and HD
Slow motion 120fps at 720p, 60fps at 1,080p 240fps at 720p, 120fps at 1,080p
Front camera resolution 16 megapixels 7 megapixels
Front camera aperture f/2.0 f/2.2
Price (USD) $479 (64GB), $539 (128GB) $769 (32GB), $869 (128GB), $969 (256GB)
Price (GBP) £449 (64GB), £499 (128GB) £719 (32GB), £819 (128GB), £919 (256GB)
Price (AUD) AU$750 (64GB), AU$830 (128GB) -- converted AU$1,269 (32GB), AU$1,419 (128GB), AU$1,569 (256GB)

Sunny cityscapes

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The OnePlus 5 photo looks vivid with significant contrast. The iPhone 7 Plus photo has more of a natural appeal.

Patrick Holland/CNET

It was a perfect sunny day at Dolores Park, which meant each phone could really shine in all that gorgeous sunlight. I walked away with so many good shots from both phones that it felt almost unfair to choose a winner and a loser. Overall though, photos on the OnePlus had a tad more detail. But the colors on the iPhone looked more true to life.

On the way to the park, I snapped a couple of photos of a building covered in graffiti of cartoon cats (obviously home to some cat lovers). Each phone has its own photo character. Pictures from the iPhone 7 Plus looked more accurate with cooler tones. Images from the OnePlus 5 had more contrast and saturation and looked more vivid. In this sense, which took the better photo comes down to personal preference.

The OnePlus 5 captured pictures with more detail than the iPhone, but sometimes camera shake made that hard to see. Optical image stabilization inside the 7 Plus helped it avoid this blurry problem.

Give the people bokeh

oneplus-5-portrait-mode-compare

The 7 Plus captured people better using Portrait Mode and the OnePlus 5 was better at food and objects.

Patrick Holland/CNET

One of the runaway features on the 7 Plus is its Portrait Mode, which uses both rear cameras and some clever processing to simulate bokeh. This artistically blurs the background and makes for a truly stunning photo. It became a main selling point of the phone and Apple even launched an advertising campaign behind it.

The OnePlus has the same mode on its phone. As I was out and about, I used Portrait Mode to take pictures of people indoors, outdoors, in good light and low light. Neither camera was perfect, but the iPhone yielded consistently better results, especially for pictures of people. Portraits looked more natural and had better fall-off from in-focus to out-of focus areas.

The OnePlus 5's portraits had less background blur and sometimes the bokeh effect was patchier than the iPhone's. When ithe OnePlus 5 did nail a Portrait Mode shot, images were comparatively flat.

But, because the OnePlus 5 engages Portrait Mode within a foot of your subject, I snagged lots of nice shots of food and inanimate objects. To get the same shot on the iPhone, I had to be about an extra foot farther away, which widened the shot and made it less dramatic.

Get closer to Prince

oneplus-5-prince-mural-2x-zoom

This mural is titled "Rest In Purple" by Mel C. Waters. Notice how the OnePlus' telephoto camera was able to capture the details of the wall Prince is painted on.

Patrick Holland/CNET

All phones use digital zoom, which basically crops into a photo as you take it. The results are less than stellar. Pictures are usually unsteady, noisy and super low-resolution. The advantage of dual cameras on these phones is that they have a fixed optical zoom: 2X on the 7 Plus and 1.6X on the OnePlus  (this is in addition to the 8X digital zoom on the OnePlus and the 10X digital zoom on the iPhone). Now when you zoom in on a scene, your photos will get much better results than doing it digitally.

There is a 2X zoom button on the OnePlus that uses digital "multi-frame technology" to zoom at 2X. The 2X button on the iPhone 7 Plus actually uses optical zoom to do the same.

I visited Clarion Alley and walked between Valencia and Mission street past dozens of jaw-dropping murals.

Both phones made zoomed-in images of the murals look fantastic, especially if I only used optical zoom. It's worth noting that the iPhone didn't get any help from optical image stabilization because its telephoto camera doesn't have it.

Kickflip those photo bursts

The OnePlus 5 is limited to a photo burst of just 20 photos, whereas the 7 Plus keeps going and going.

Patrick Holland/CNET

I went over to the SoMa West skatepark to test burst mode. The iPhone smoked the OnePlus and was like the Energizer bunny: Its bursts just kept going and going. The OnePlus, on the other hand, stopped after 20 images. This was so frustrating. I missed key moments like a skateboarder doing a kickflip because the OnePlus had reached its burst limit.

Chocolate macros

oneplus-5-macro-shot-smore

The OnePlus 5 can focus a tad closer than the 7 Plus, letting you get superclose to that s'more. 

Patrick Holland/CNET

The next stop was Dandelion Chocolate where I got the phones up close to some delicious chocolate delights and fired off a few macro shots.

Both phones took wonderful close-up macro photos, but the OnePlus had the slight edge because its minimum focus distance is 3 inches instead of the 3.5 inches on the iPhone.

The OnePlus 5 also has a Pro Mode for additional camera settings like manual focus, which let me focus more precisely for macro shots than autofocus.

Golf under low light

oneplus-5-vs-iphone-7-plus-low-ligh-day-of-the-dead

The OnePlus 5 handled photos taken in low light incredibly well. There is hardly any noise compared with the iPhone 7 Plus.

Patrick Holland/CNET

The dimly lit indoor mini golf course at Urban Putt challenged both phones (as well as my short game). The OnePlus took much better images in low light than the 7 Plus and had less visible noise. The low-light photos from the iPhone suffered from too much noise reduction, making photos look a dull painting.

Lights! iPhone! Action!

The iPhone 7 Plus has optical image stabilization for video, the OnePlus 5 does not.

Patrick Holland/CNET

My adventures around the Mission gave me plenty of chances to shoot video: 4K, HD and slow motion. But the iPhone simply rules smartphone video. It can shoot 120fps at 1,080p or 240fps at 720p, which means it captures hundreds of frames per second at a high resolution to give videos that buttery-smooth slow-motion look. Also, the iPhone's optical image stabilization minimizes any bounces and shakes when shooting video.

It's all about me

oneplus-5-selfie-compare

If your selfies need more resolution, the OnePlus is the way to go. Its selfie camera has 16 megapixels, the 7 Plus has 7 megapixels.

Patrick Holland/CNET

The OnePlus 5 has a selfie camera with 16 megapixels, which is more resolution than the rear cameras on the iPhone 7 Plus. Though higher megapixels don't always translate to better pictures, there is definitely more detail in the selfies I took with the OnePlus. Also, the pictures looked more natural and less contrasty than the ones off its two rear cameras.

Oh, there it is

02

While the main camera controls are easy to access on both phones, the OnePlus 5 makes it faster to get to additional camera settings like Pro Mode.

John Kim/CNET

The main controls on both phones are very similar. But camera settings on the OnePlus were easier to access and change than the ones on the iPhone. And while both phones are capable of shooting raw photos, the OnePlus can do so within its camera app using the aforementioned Pro Mode. The iPhone can only shoot raw with a separate third-party app.

And the winner is...

01

Despite costing hundreds of dollars less, the OnePlus 5 hung right in there against the 7 Plus.

John Kim/CNET

The OnePlus 5's dual cameras are definitely impressive especially considering its price. Keep in mind: The OnePlus 5 (128GB) we shot with costs $330, £320 and roughly AU$590 less than the iPhone 7 Plus (128GB) we used. That's a huge deal, especially when you're on a budget.

Both of these phones are great dual-camera phones. But the iPhone 7 Plus is a little bit better in all the right places: video, image stabilization, burst mode and Portrait Mode. And while the OnePlus 5 didn't win this camera battle, you should definitely consider it next time you're shopping for a new phone and want a bunch of really great photo features.


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