Camera quality has been a major weakness for OnePlus over the years, but it’s really stepped up its game in the last year or two. The OnePlus 7 Pro marked a significant improvement over what had come before, and the 7T Pro and 8 Pro have built on that foundation. The flagship OnePlus camera experience is, therefore, roughly on par with the best Samsung can muster but not at Google or Apple levels quite yet. But what about the new mid-range offering from OnePlus?
The marketing for the Nord would have you believe that its four rear and two front cameras represent a “flagship” camera system, but we know that quantity doesn’t equal quality when it comes to smartphone photography. The primary rear camera uses the same 48MP sensor as the OnePlus 8 (Sony IMX586, f/1.75) and benefits from both OIS and EIS. OnePlus employs the pixel binning technique, which means it outputs 12MP images by default, but you can switch to the full resolution if you so wish. The other truly useful camera is an 8MP ultra-wide (f/2.25) with a 119° field of view. You might expect there to also be a telephoto, but Nord instead features a dedicated 2MP macro lens (f/2.4) and 5MP depth sensor (f/2.4). Zoom is achieved by cropping the main sensor up to 2x with digital zoom taking over up to 10x.
Don't our tomatoes look healthy!
On the front, Nord has a 32MP (Sony IMX616) main selfie camera which is better than even the Oneplus 8 Pro, on paper. While other recent OnePlus phones have only had a single front-facing cam, Nord packs an additional 8MP ultra-wide (f/2.45, 105° field of view) for the kind of group selfies people used to take before lockdown happened. With six cameras in total, it’s clear that OnePlus has bet big on versatility here.
Since the sensor is the same, photos taken with the main camera on the Nord are similar to the OnePlus 8, at least in terms of detail. There is a difference in processing, though, which would appear to be intentional. Photos from the Nord have more pop — saturation and contrast are bumped up; colors are slightly less accurate. It looks like OnePlus is purposely targeting a younger audience more inclined to share their photos on social media, and that’s probably a shrewd decision. While images taken in daylight are pretty good, the Nord’s camera system does struggle somewhat in artificial and low-light conditions. This is not really a surprise for a phone in this price range (£379/€399), and the photos are still passable in most cases. The Nightscape mode is often capable of adding more light to a scene, but even so, it rarely produces the kind of images you’d be happy sharing.
Left to right: Lights on, lights off (viewfinder), normal mode, Nightscape mode
Ultra-wide angle lenses are more popular than ever, and it’s the second most useful camera on the Nord. At only 8MP, it’s not the most detailed wide shooter around, but it gets the job done for most scenes. Colors are slightly off compared with the main camera, and it will sometimes struggle for focus, but it’s a passable second camera for when you want to fit more into a shot. With no telephoto lens, anything up to 2x zoom is simply a crop of an image from the primary camera. Up to that point, performance is mostly fine if there’s ample light to work with, but trying to zoom further is problematic. It can go all up to 10x zoom with digital zoom, but these photos end up looking like noisy oil paintings.
Left to right: Ultra-wide, main camera, 2x zoom
We’ve said before that including a cheap 2MP macro camera is a waste of time, particularly when a half-decent wide-angle lens can perform the same function, yet OnePlus and other OEMs seem to think it’s worth it just to up the total number of cameras on board. Once again, it’s practically pointless — you’re almost better off shooting with the main camera and cropping. The 5MP depth sensor does seem to do a good job with portrait shots, but I’d still rather a telephoto in its place. Video on the OnePlus Nord isn’t anything to write home about, with 4K capture only at 30fps. OIS does make for relatively steady footage at least.
Left to right: Front primary, front wide-angle, front portrait mode
The dual selfie cameras are supposed to be a big selling point, but the secondary wide-angle front camera is of questionable utility. While the 32MP front cam is fairly competent — with plenty of detail and vibrant colors — anything from the other lens comes out looking rather dull, lifeless, and a little hazy, despite the wider field of view. Both front cameras have a tendency to over-smooth subjects, too.
So, the cameras on the OnePlus Nord are plenty versatile and its main camera performs well in most situations. However, with the Pixel 4a on the horizon, there’s going to be stiff competition in this price range. The Nord may not come out on top in the camera department, but it’s at least good enough to be in the conversation, especially when you consider how good the rest of the phone is.