Exclusive: OnePlus explains why the Pro Mode on their smartphones is not Pro enough

Exclusive: OnePlus explains why the Pro Mode on their smartphones is not Pro enough

The Pro Mode on OnePlus cameras does not allow switching between lenses

The Pro Mode on the OnePlus 7 Pro does not capture a 48MP RAW image

During a recent visit to the OnePlus Image Lab in OnePlus' office in Taipei, we got the opportunity to speak with many engineers and even Simon Liu, Head of Image Development Department at OnePlus. We specifically chatted about the Pro Mode on the OnePlus camera and were surprised by some of the answers. Here’s everything we discussed.

The Problem

In the discussion, I pointed out to Simon how the Pro Mode on the OnePlus 7 Pro (and other previous OnePlus smartphones) does not give access to any of the other lenses on the smartphone. In the case of the OnePlus 7 Pro, users do not get access to the ultra-wide or the telephoto lens-sensor in Pro Mode. Additionally, the RAW output from the OnePlus 7 Pro weighs 12 megapixels, when it should ideally be a 48-megapixel image, seeing as how the company is using the Sony IMX 586 sensor here. With this as the premise of the problem, we sought answers from Simon Liu on the matter.

We asked Simon Liu as to why OnePlus was limiting the usability and features of the Pro Mode and he responded by saying,“I’m going to answer this question in another way. It’s not that we are limiting the Pro Mode, it's just that that’s how the Pro Mode has always been. Based on the numbers we see, there are really really very rare cases where users use Pro Mode. So allowing the use of the other two lenses is something that’s actually not that difficult, it can be done. It just needs some time. But I think it's simple that give the time we had, we made the choice to put the resources on increasing the scene coverage instead of Pro Mode.”

The Pro Mode on the OnePlus 7 Pro does not allow the use of the ultra-wide and telephoto lenses

Not convinced with the “not-enough-people-use-it” justification for a half-capable mode, we probed further. Our understanding is that when a phone offers a certain feature, it must be fully functional. Anyone turning to the Pro Mode would do so not only to have full control over the shooting parameters but may also want to experiment with different focal lengths, since the camera does offer them. OnePlus clearly prevents this. We posed this scenario to Simon to get his view on the matter.

“This is definitely a valid request and there is no technical difficulty in this at all. It only simply comes down to which voice is weighted heavier and louder. That’s where we put the resources. If I had a team ten times bigger, then that’s done.”

The RAW file from the OnePlus 7 Pro has a 12MP resolution instead of 48

In essence, the OnePlus smartphones lack a full-featured Pro Mode owing to two reasons; not enough people use it (according to OnePlus), and second, as a consequence, the limited resources are diverted to accomplish features that are more in demand. There are several problems with this picture (no pun intended).

Why We Disagree with OnePlus

OnePlus has had a pro mode on its smartphones since the OnePlus 3, so we’re inclined to disagree with Simon on the shortage of time. The first dual camera was introduced with the OnePlus 5 two years ago. In some ways, it could be said that the company had two years to make the Pro Mode actually Pro, but ignored it because the voices were not “loud” enough. That very few people actually use Pro Mode is a poor justification for the crippled Pro Mode. If we think about it, nobody ever asked for smartphones to come with 10GB or 12GB RAM either, but OnePlus gave that anyway, despite there never being a situation where that much RAM is ever used by the phone. Yet, they left out critical components from the Pro Mode that would have actually made the OnePlus 7 Pro’s camera really versatile.

We would have preferred to shoot this ultra-wide shot in Pro Mode so as to recover more details and get better colours

Other Offenders

Turns out, OnePlus isn’t alone in releasing an incomplete Pro Mode. The Samsung Galaxy flagships also default to the regular lens when shooting in Pro Mode. The Samsung Galaxy S10 (Plus) does not offer access to the ultra-angle or telephoto lenses in Pro Mode. The Apple iPhone XS (Max) does not offer a Pro Mode at all but does allow RAW output from the two sensors when using third-party camera apps. Interestingly, the only Android flagship smartphone of today that allows full control over the entire camera stack is the Huawei P30 Pro, which allows you to use all three lenses in Pro mode and also offers RAW output from each.

Where do we go from here?

The lack of a wholesome Pro Mode can work to deter people from using the feature in the first place. If a user was to see that they can’t shoot wide or telephoto in Pro Mode, what reason do they have to use it? They will default to the auto mode where the access is unfettered. We did make our points strongly with the OnePlus camera engineering team and hope that they would work on making the Pro Mode more complete in the coming months via OTA updates.

Swapnil Mathur

Swapnil Mathur

Swapnil was Digit's resident camera nerd, (un)official product photographer and the Reviews Editor. Swapnil has moved-on to newer challenges. For any communication related to his stories, please mail us using the email id given here. View Full Profile