Here's how OnePlus is improving the camera experience on its phones

OnePlus set up a camera lab in Taiwan to better compete with the
likes of Google and Samsung.


OnePlus has come a long way in the last five years. The company
had humble beginnings — selling its phones in limited quantities
via an invite-only system — but over the years it has transformed
into the brand to beat in the value flagship category. This year
the Chinese manufacturer is going after the likes of Google and
Samsung with the OnePlus 7
Pro
, its most ambitious device yet.

One of the marquee features in the OnePlus 7 Pro is the 48MP
primary camera at the back that’s joined by a wide-angle lens and
3x zoom shooter. There was a lot of excitement around the phone’s
camera prowess ahead of launch, but the device didn’t live up to
expectations in our
testing
. The issue was further exacerbated by the fact that the
OnePlus 7 Pro’s DxOMark score of 111 edged the phone ahead of the
Galaxy
S10+
and other devices with better cameras.

OnePlus has had to roll out several updates to the device in the
intervening weeks, with OxygenOS 9.5.7 delivering noticeable
improvements to the overall image quality. The team that rolled out
the fixes is based in Taiwan, and are part of a new dedicated
camera lab that’s set up in OnePlus’s offices in Taipei.

OnePlus flew me out to Taiwan to check out the lab and talk to
the team here to get a sense of what it is trying to achieve. With
hardware increasingly commoditized, brands are looking to the
camera to set their phones apart. For Huawei, it’s the zoom lens on
the P30 Pro
. For Google, it’s a camera that works
unerringly
in any situation. OnePlus is now looking to channel
some of that same ethos with its camera lab in the hope that it
will allow the company to compete better with more established
players.


The tour of the lab starts off with a poster that charts
OnePlus’s journey, including all the milestones over the last five
years.


There’s also a poster inside the office that lists all of
OnePlus’s collaborations to date, such as the OnePlus
5T Star Wars edition
, the OnePlus
6 Avengers edition
, and the more recent OnePlus
6T McLaren edition
.


The OnePlus office in Taiwan houses under a hundred employees,
and the space is littered with motivational posters, photos taken
with OnePlus phones, and the usual accouterments: a break room with
foosball tables, a snack room, and the like.


Coming to the camera lab itself, there’s a lot of equipment that
OnePlus relies on for testing white balance, exposure, contrast,
and clarity. One automated test runs through different exposure
settings and in various lighting scenarios to calibrate the
sensor.


There’s also a test for object detection and focus, with OnePlus
using a moving object to see if the camera can stay locked in.


OnePlus uses several light booths — like the SpectraLite QC
model from X-Rite — for accessing color accuracy in various
lighting conditions. That particular model above uses seven
different light sources to accurately simulate an entire gamut of
lighting scenarios.


The lab also includes a robotic arm combined with a lighting
system that can simulate over a thousand illumination levels at
various color temperatures. The robotic arm is able to shift
between all three focal lengths, and the test cycles through
several illumination levels and charts to dial in the color
accuracy of the camera. Data from these tests are sent over to
analysis to find any aberrations at a particular lighting condition
or focal length, and by using a robotic arm OnePlus is basically
removing any user error from the equation.

OnePlus uses three mannequin heads that are made out of a gel
meant to mimic the texture of the human skin. The varying skin
tones on the mannequins allows the company to calibrate its cameras
better for a wider range of tones. There wasn’t a male mannequin
included in the mix to provide a baseline for facial hair, so I did
my part:

@chunkynerd
getting in on the action as well. pic.twitter.com/LOcHQM6CwA

— Akshay Bhalla (@Bhallanator)
July 9, 2019


OnePlus also has a testbed of devices that cycle through all the
shooting modes on the camera, with the system used as a sort of
endurance test to make sure the camera holds up to continual use.
The aim with all of these automated tests is to calibrate the
sensor so that the final image is natural and balanced. Of course,
this wasn’t the case on the OnePlus 7 Pro at launch, but the
company has managed to tweak a lot of parameters with subsequent
updates.

OnePlus had a smaller image lab in its main office in Shenzhen,
but the company decided to invest in a dedicated unit with better
equipment and both hardware and software teams working out of a
single location. That’s how the Taiwan camera lab came to be, with
the unit finalized just before the launch of the OnePlus 7 Pro.

OnePlus’s camera team is made up of HTC veterans that have been
in the industry for over a decade.

Now, Taiwan is an unusual location to set up a camera lab as
OnePlus doesn’t really have a strong presence here, but the company
revealed that most of the engineers in the camera team are HTC
veterans. Simon Liu — the head of imaging at OnePlus — was
hired from HTC, and most of his team leads also made the switch
from the Taiwanese manufacturer.

OnePlus said Liu’s team had been working together for the better
part of a decade at HTC before making the move, so while the lab
itself is new and the entire team in Taiwan is just over 30 people,
they have a lot of pedigree in this area. And although OnePlus is a
major phone manufacturer now, the company continues to operate like
a startup: its global headcount is less than what Samsung employs
in its software update unit.

I talked to Zake Zhang, a product manager in OnePlus’s camera
lab, to better understand the company’s goals with the camera lab.
Zhang said that OnePlus has its own white paper that details its
philosophy around image quality, how it chooses hardware sensors
for a particular phone, and what direction it is heading on the
software algorithm side of things. The imaging lab is designed to
better facilitate objective testing — like the robotic arm system
simulating over 1,000 lighting conditions — thereby leaving more
time for subjective real-world testing.

OnePlus ultimately wants to challenge Google, Huawei, and
Samsung in this category.

Furthermore, OnePlus compares its phones against the latest
flagships in the market to get a better sense of where it can make
improvements. OnePlus has several subjective test labs around the
world, including China, India, and Germany as well.

OnePlus also relies heavily on feedback from its community, as
it was pointed out numerous times during my visit to the camera
lab. Most of the fixes that were included in the 9.5.7 update were
based on suggestions and feedback OnePlus received from its (often
vocal) community. To that effect, the company rolled out another
update (9.5.8) earlier in the week that introduced further tweaks
to the camera as well as the usual bug fixes.

The brand is also incorporating user feedback to drive new
features, stating that it will roll out portrait mode for the
wide-angle lens later this year. You’ll also be able to take video
using the wide-angle lens with the upcoming update.

So what does all of this mean for users? The OnePlus 7 Pro is
already much better at taking photos than it was at launch, and the
company says it will roll out additional improvements and new
features over the course of the year. The long-term goal for
OnePlus is to be able to challenge Google, Huawei, and Samsung in
this category, and the camera lab is just the first step in
achieving that target.

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Source: FS – Android
Here's how OnePlus is improving the camera experience on its phones