Did OnePlus over-hype its OnePlus 9 Hasselblad cameras? Our photo tests are underwhelming

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  • OnePlus created a big hype campaign around its partnership with famous camera company Hasselblad.
  • The focus was to bring Hasselblad’s “natural color calibration” to the new OnePlus 9 series’ cameras.
  • Unfortunately, the OnePlus 9 Pro takes less appealing photos than our reference phone, the iPhone 12 Pro Max.

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Since there was so much hype surrounding this partnership and the revamped cameras, we’ll be focusing on showing you how photos from the OnePlus 9 Pro look. As a reference tool, we’ve opted to compare it with the iPhone 12 Pro Max — a phone that takes reliably good and “safe” photos that don’t reach into extremes for color, contrast, HDR, and exposure, and that many feel confident with for capturing memories and sharing with friends, family, and social media.

When analyzing the photos taken by the OnePlus 9 Pro and the iPhone 12 Pro Max, we’re putting ourselves in the shoes of the most average type of camera user — someone who wants to point, shoot, and share without much editing, if at all. 

How do the OnePlus 9 Pro’s photos look?

We found the OnePlus 9 Pro’s photos to appear pale in color with a heavy lean towards a cooler white balance, at least compared to the iPhone’s photos. One might argue that the paler colors are less processed and more natural, and that the iPhone’s photos have saturated and unnatural colors. While that may be true, we’d argue that the OnePlus 9 Pro’s camera doesn’t produce colors that are as pleasing for the point-and-shoot crowd.

We aren’t saying that the OnePlus 9 Pro, or any phones, should take photos that look exactly like the iPhone’s. But the iPhone’s camera is usually a good point of reference, as it takes photos that are reliably well processed for point-and-shoot users.

It’s also worth mentioning that most people don’t have several high-end phones available for direct side-by-side comparisons. With that in mind, the photos taken by the OnePlus 9 Pro would likely look totally fine on their own. However, the OnePlus 9 Pro underwhelms when its photos are compared to the iPhone’s.

At the end of the day, what really matters is whether you like the photos that the phone’s camera produces — whether you’re happy with the way your memories are captured, and whether you’d feel confident with sharing those photos. 

With that in mind, have a look at some of the photos we took with the OnePlus 9 Pro compared with the iPhone 12 Pro Max:

OnePlus 9 Pro

Here’s an example that exemplifies the paler look on photos taken with the OnePlus 9 Pro compared to our reference phone, the iPhone 12 Pro Max. The paleness is especially noticeable on the sunlit barn and grass. The photo also has a cooler tone.

iPhone 12 Pro Max

The photo from the iPhone 12 Pro Max features colors that are more saturated, which many will find is a more pleasing look for basic point-and-shoot photo taking, and to keep and share without editing.

OnePlus 9 Pro ultrawide

The OnePlus 9 Pro’s ultrawide lens takes photos with a warmer tone than the regular lens, which results in beautifully natural colors, presumably as OnePlus intended with Hasselblad’s natural color calibration. It would be great if OnePlus could apply the ultrawide lens’ calibration to the regular lens.

Additionally, the OnePlus 9 Pro’s photo is clearer than the iPhone’s. However, that’s only noticeable if you zoom into the photo, or view it in “full size.”

With that said, the OnePlus 9 Pro’s HDR struggled with revealing the dark side of the barn while keeping the brightness (exposure) down on the sunlit side. The result is overexposure on the sunlit side of the barn, which leads to parts that appear white and void of detail compared to the iPhone’s photo.

iPhone 12 Pro Max ultrawide

The iPhone’s photo is very similar to the OnePlus 9’s overall, except colors are slightly more saturated. The iPhone also handled exposure better than the OnePlus 9 Pro by keeping the dark side of the barn dark, and maintaining brightness and detail on the sunlit side. As a result, the iPhone’s photo can be more desirable, but it’s a nitpick.

OnePlus 9 Pro zoom

The OnePlus 9 Pro’s zoom lens carries over the pale colors and blue overtones form the regular lens. The dark side of the barn, especially, is positively blue due to poor white balance compared to the warm wooden black color on the comparative iPhone photo. The sunlit side of the barn and the stone foundation are also robbed of color and are overexposed.

iPhone 12 Pro Max

The iPhone’s zoom lens took a photo with more saturated color and a more appropriate, warmer white balance.

OnePlus 9 Pro

Even if you’re not comparing phone cameras, the OnePlus 9 Pro’s photo of these fruits would appear somewhat pale. The fruits don’t look particularly appetizing here, which wasn’t a thought I had when I was looking at them at the time of taking the photo.

iPhone 12 Pro Max

The iPhone makes these fruits look a lot healthier and appealing, even if the colors are somewhat oversaturated.

OnePlus 9 Pro detail

The OnePlus 9 Pro gives you the option to take 48-megapixel photos, which doesn’t make much of a difference when viewing a photo normally. However, it’s a huge advantage if you ever want to zoom into a photo and maintain clarity and detail. 

The photo here is significantly zoomed in from the original and it’s much sharper than the iPhone’s photo below.

iPhone 12 Pro Max detail

There’s no competition here. The iPhone 12 Pro Max’s 12-megapixel camera simply can’t capture as much detail as the OnePlus 9 Pro’s 48-megapixel camera.

OnePlus 9 Pro skin tone, shade

Here’s where the OnePlus 9 Pro also excels. I asked a professional photographer who shoots fashion models for a living what he thought of these photos, and he immediately pointed to the OnePlus 9 Pro. It’s important to note that this is the point of view of a professional who often edits his photos. However, I’d still agree with him, as the OnePlus 9 Pro’s photo is the one I’d pick to keep and share. 

With that said, the t-shirt has some odd artifacts that don’t look natural and result in a grainy look. Notice that details on my head are also very sharp, which is a subjective thing. Personally, I’d rather it didn’t reveal absolutely everything on my face.

iPhone 12 Pro Max skin tone, shade

The iPhone’s photo gave me a sunburned look. While I have been soaking in the early spring sun, I wouldn’t say I spent that long outside. The iPhone’s photo is also less sharp overall, and it smooths out some of the finer details on my face, which I prefer. My t-shirt also looks more natural than it does in the OnePlus 9 Pro’s photo.

OnePlus 9 Pro skin tone, full sun

My photographer friend said he would also pick this photo over the iPhone’s for its less processed look. With that said, there’s some inconsistent detail between parts of my nose and my cheek. While the color is more natural, I’d still rather share the iPhone’s photo, if I had to. Plus, the OnePlus 9 Pro made my t-shirt look weird.

iPhone 12 Pro Max skin tone, full sun

While my skin tone might be overly processed by the iPhone here, I’d still prefer this one to keep or share, as I look healthier and less pale from the winter’s hibernation. Plus, my t-shirt looks far more natural.

OnePlus 9 Pro low light

The OnePlus 9 Pro took a nice photo of this coastal scenery, and it’s pretty similar to the iPhone’s shot below. Still, there are some odd, very slight artifacts around the plane vapor trails towards the top center right of the photo that aren’t present on the iPhone’s photo. It’s a nitpick, but it does raise some eyebrows regarding the OnePlus 9 Pro’s camera quality.

iPhone 12 Pro Max low light

The sky’s color is a little richer on the iPhone’s photo, and you don’t get the strange artifacting on those plane vapor trails towards the top right. Still, the iPhone caught a bit of lens glare, which is a subjective preference.

The bottom line

Based on this direct comparison between the OnePlus 9 Pro and our reference phone, we don’t recommend the OnePlus 9 Pro for simple point-and-shoot photos. If you just want to take photos without worrying about editing them afterwards, there are other phones that take more appealing pictures.  

We’re not saying you should get the iPhone 12 or iPhone 12 Pro, either. Rather, we’re simply saying that the OnePlus 9 Pro doesn’t offer pleasing photos compared to the competition. We’ve taken several comparative photos with Samsung’s Galaxy S21 Ultra and Pixel 5, and our findings are the same — the OnePlus 9 Pro’s photos simply don’t look as good.

We haven’t fully tested the OnePlus 9 yet, so we’re refraining from making any judgement on that model here. However, we would expect similar issues, like excessively pale colors and cooler white balance.

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