Monday, September 29, 2014

OnePlus One Camera Review

I have been overwhelmed with all the heavy camera talks and news going on from Photokina week with launching of so many new photography products, and me having spent all of my last weekend at a photography centric event, the Kuala Lumpur Photography Festival (KLPF) 2014, meeting hundreds of people, all three full days discussing, debating and sharing about photography products. For once, this particular weekend, I decided to leave my Olympus gear behind. No that did not mean I am not having my shutter therapy, I still do that faithfully. Instead I chose to shoot with something a lot more basic, and simpler. I turned my mobile phone photography mode on, and shot the entire weekend with just my mobile phone. This allowed me to forget most of the technicalities of carrying an advanced system, went back to basics, and just enjoy myself without thinking too much. 

Considering I was already planning to shoot heavily with the mobile phone, I thought why not do a camera review for the phone I am currently using, the OnePlus One. I have searched around the web for information about the camera, not much came up. Therefore, I shall add in my part, reviewing the phone from a photography enthusiast's point of view, how the camera performs, evaluating the image output and see if this OnePlus One camera can deliver. 

Do take note that I am not a tech junkie, I will not be discussing about other aspects of the phone, and concentrate solely on the camera and imaging performance of OnePlus One. I have no connections to OnePlus and I bought the phone entirely out of my own pocket (to replace my dying Nexus 4). I will not do technical analysis and you will not find any charts, graphs or numbers in the results. What you will see are plenty of photograph samples, taken in a course of two days at multiple locations. I believe the findings are best discovered by experience, shooting on the field, and I am merely sharing my user experience using the camera on the OnePlus One phone. 

OnePlus One in action. Camera App used was Camera FV-5 

Taking a closer look at the back camera, 13MP BSI image sensor, with F2 lens, and 27mm equivalent focal length in 35mm format

Plenty of direct shortcuts, and quick to access functions. 


A quick look at the camera specifications, the OneOlus One is impressive: 

1) 13.13M effective pixels, CMOS, Back Side Illuminated (BSI) structure sensor, manufactured by Sony
Good to know that OnePlus One is using a Sony sensor, and the photography industry has recognised Sony as the leader in sensor technology, manufacturing to the big players, such as Nikon, Pentax and even Olympus. 13MP is not class leading in mobile phone category (Nokia has 40MP!!!) but seriously, any photographers would tell you that it is not the number of pixels that count, but the quality of each pixel that determines how good the image quality is. 13MP is more than sufficient for mobile phone usage. 

2) F2 lens, 27mm and 6 elements lens construction
That tiny lens is actually F2, which is considered very fast for a mobile phone (fastest currently is F1.8, which is quite rare, and not too different from F2 anyway). The lens is of course fixed at 27mm, and not zoomable, but that is the price to pay to keep the lens as small as possible. 

3) Dual LED Flash, which I do not use anyway. 

CAMERA APP USED: CAMERA FV-5

I did not use the built in camera app (by Cyanogenmod) mainly because I was not happy with the image output from that default App. The high ISO images came out completely unusable, and even the lower ISO images suffer smudges and were not optimized. The controls and user interface while shooting were not really simple and straightforward, and some of the important settings (ISO, White Balance, etc) require pushes of buttons to get to. Therefore, I used an alternative Camera App, Camera FV-5, downloadable at Google Play Store and iOS App Store. It is a paid app, but it is worth every cent I paid for. 

With the Camera FV-5, I have quick access to all important parameters while shooting (hey I am a photography enthusiast), and having the ability to adjust ISO, exposure compensation, white balance, metering modes on the fly is godsent. Also, the Camera FV-5 allows images shot to be recorded in PNG format, which is 24bit and very similar to RAW files in usual advanced cameras. Why shoot in PNG? Obviously the camera JPEG output was not satisfactory to me and I take things into my own hands, by applying my usual post-processing workflow. 

All images from here onward were taken with OnePlus One back camera, with Camera FV-5 App. 


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Say hi to Patrick from Sweden!


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CAMERA OPERATION

The camera focuses very quickly, and for most general shooting conditions, there was no issue and I managed to take my shots. There was noticeable shutter delay (all cameras have this problem), but it was not bad enough to have much impact on my shooting experience, simply by anticipating the very short delay and time myself accordingly before the shots. Generally the camera is responsive and I did not face any bugs in the 2 days shooting sessions. The OnePlus One is quite a powerful phone, sporting processing power similar to high end mobile phones such as Samsung S5 and HTC One M8. Additionally, it has built in RAM of 3GB. 

The only drawback encountered, was partly due to my own demands, the slow writing time after each shot. I took everything in PNG format, which averages around 15-20MB per file. If I successively took 4-5 images, which I usually do, it does take about 10-20 seconds to write all the images. While the phone is writing the PNG files, the camera can still be used with no lag or issues, but I did not have the ability to preview the images immediately. Not a big deal since I do not always "chimp" (reviewing images fervently). The image quality from the large PNG files were worth the wait. 


IMAGE QUALITY

By using the Camera FV-5, I was shooting the images in PNG, which I was able to optimize through post-processing. I used the combination of Picasa and ACSSee 7.0 on my PC for my processing. 

The images at low ISO settings (100-400, good light conditions) retains high amount of good detail. Of course the default sharpening by the camera app was quite high, which is evident in the sharpening artefacts everywhere in the image (which can easily be reduced, but I left them intact), but they were far from being annoying. Image quality deteriorates at ISO800 and beyond, and I did not expect the camera to perform miracles in low light shooting conditions. After all the image sensor is small and as much hype any mobile phone camera promotes their low light capabilities, you know mostly were just not true. Using the Camera FV-5 I was able to enable ISO3,200, which was absent at the default camera app, capping at ISO1,600. The ISO3,200 may be useful for emergency shots, but not exactly useful for general shooting as the shots were full of noise and suffer great loss of details. 

Dynamic range was quite decent, nothing to write home about, but surely better than most average camera phones. I do see blown out highlights, but shooting everything in PNG allows me some flexibility (though not much) to recover some loss details due to highlight burns, or shadow clippings. I am not a fan of HDR hence I did not use that, but just simple tweak of the S-curve can go a long way. 

The white balance normally will be able to get the colors right, especially in good lighting (outdoor). However, there are situations when the auto white balance struggles to provide a balanced image, and skewing toward an image with greenish cast. The cast is not too destructive, and can be easily removed (via so many methods). I do not quite like the default color profile of the image though. Skin tone did not look natural enough, and somehow the images do not look "real life". The colors seemed "processed". Nevertheless I should not be complaining, and surely the images were tailored for the general consumer, not photographers. The somewhat high contrast, over-saturated colors, with plenty of pop and punch do suit what general crowd would expect. 

On the whole, I am very happy with the image quality. I have not have the chance to compare (and I probably won't) with any other phones in the market, but I do think the images from the OnePlus One does not lag behind that far from the top. 


ISO400

ISO400


ISO400


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ISO200


ERGONOMICS & SCREEN

Oneplus One is a large phone, pushing to the Phablet territory with the 5.5 inch display. The phone definitely requires BOTH hands to operate. And please, please, PLEASE USE BOTH HANDS when you shoot anything, even with your mobile phone. Two hands will add much more stability to your shots, and please do not be lazy to just use one hand to take photographs. No matter how steady your hands are, you will still have high chance of image shake. 

The OnePlus One is still a smartphone, though larger than many phones out there, it is comparatively smaller than most cameras, and coming from using advanced cameras (Olympus DSLR and Micro Four Thirds system) I do not find the size to be an issue. 

The 5.5 Inch display is good enough, bright and easily viewed even in bright sunlight conditions, outdoor. The large display was great when composing an image, or reviewing them at full HD glory!

Ability to Render Shallow Depth of Field
Although the lens fixed on the camera is an F2 wide aperture lens, the OnePlus One camera does struggle to create background blur to separate the objects and create the isolation effect. It can be mildly achieved by shooting close up images, placing the camera extremely close to the subjects. 

Close Up Shooting
As shown in some samples in this blog entry, the OnePlus One does have respectable close up shooting ability. Surely it is good enough to record small objects, capturing the fine details. 

WHAT I WISH COULD HAVE BEEN IMPROVED

Of course the camera on the OnePlus One is not perfect, and is surely not the best camera phone out there. Here are the items which I hoped OnePlus One could have included, or improved on:

1) Image Stabilization
There is no optical image stabilization on the OnePlus One camera. Image Stabilization is the way to go, and has been incorporated into many newer and higher end smartphones. I do find myself constantly struggling to steady my shots, and needed to boost the ISO higher to achieve sufficient shutter speed. 

2) Better JPEG Output
Both the default camera app and the Camera FV-5 do not produce adequately good JPEG quality straight out of the camera (the default camera being noticeably worse of the two options). Noise handling was poor and image details were not optimized. 

3) Improved Low Light Shooting
The OnePlus One may actually be better than many smartphone cameras out there when it comes to shooting in low light, having BSI image sensor and F2 lens. However, inspecting the images, I believe they could have been better. 



ISO3,200

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ISO3,200


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ISO400


I have also provided FULL RESOLUTION images (direct convert from PNG to JPEG) for download, so you can view the images (before post-processing, not even cropping) and inspect the image quality for yourself. 


Unfortunately Exif data was destroyed when the images were converted from PNG to JPEG. But hey, those were taken with mobile phone. Aperture is forever fixed at F2. Shutter speed? I cannot even control that, and mostly making sure the images do not shake, that is all. I do consciously remember what ISO was selected for most images. 

CONCLUSION

I do think the camera on the OnePlus One is quite impressive. It has exceeded all my expectations, after all the OnePlus One phone is retailing at HALF of the price of other similarly positioned smartphones (high end, high specifications) in the market. Of course the OnePlus One may lose out to a handful of competitors (not many) but in real world usage, I find it more than adequate for casual shooting. Mobile photography shooters will not be disappointed. 

I will continue to shoot with the OnePlus One camera, and if it is good enough, I may use the camera phone for wide angle shots in my street shooting! I may have 45mm F1.8 (90mm equivalent) on one camera (Olympus E-M5), maybe 25mm F1.8 (50mm equivalent) on E-PL5, and leave the wide angle to the OnePlus One. We shall see!

Do you shoot with your mobile phone camera a lot? Do share your experience, and what you think!

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Sunday, September 21, 2014

KLPF 2014 Day 2

The second day of Kuala Lumpur Photography Festival 2014 has ended, boy was it an exhausting day, but a fulfilling one. There were so many awesome people who came up and say hi, and I was thrilled to meet many familiar and new faces. 

Today we had a loyal and very talented Olympus user, Amir Ridhwan, someone I look up to greatly, and someone I have learned a great deal from when it comes to insect macro photogaphy. Most of my macro shooting techniques were derived from Amir's and he was truly a great inspiration. We were proud to have him on the main stage at KLPF, delivering his talk "Small Gear, Big Pictures". Listening to his speech, I could not help myself but just be in awe, feeling deeply motivated by a fellow photography enthusiast. He shared many truths about photography learning journey, and from many of his stories I can identify with a handful of them! 

The man himself, Amir Ridhwan, do check out his Flickr Page, he has got some awesome stuff happening there. Thank you so much Amir for being such an inspiration to me, and we MUST go out and shoot some beautiful spiders in the jungle some time soon. I miss those sessions!

Friday, September 19, 2014

Kuala Lumpur Photography Festival (KLPF) 2014 Day 1

It is that time of the year again, Kuala Lumpur Photography Festival is happening and Olympus Malaysia is participating! I am of course, stationed there full time, so if you happen to be there, please do drop by Olympus and say hi!

We have plenty of activities lined up for KLPF 2014, and here is a list:

1) Free Professional camera and lens cleaning service for Olympus users 

2) Live Demonstration on Olympus Capture (tethered shooting) on a studio set up environment, and Keystone Compensation, both new awesome features in OM-D E-M1 Firmware 2.0 upgrade (only on Saturday and Sunday, hence no photographs from Day 1, Friday)

3) Touch and Try with our latest cameras, PEN E-PL7 and OM-D E-M1 Silver version, both launched very recently!

4) Amir Ridhwan will be on main stage, delivering his talk "Small Gear, Big Pictures" on Saturday, 4pm! 

5) Sanjitpaal Singh will be on main stage, speaking on "Journeys and Discoveries through Photography" on Sunday, 1.15pm!

6) Lots of great deals, promotions and unbeatable packages if you consider to grab an OM-D, PEN or other Olympus gear at KLPF!


Day 1 as usual was less hectic and we expect heavier crowd coming in the weekends. Nevertheless, many thanks to many friends who came to say hey and cheered me up. I hope to see a lot more of you soon!

It has been a long day (started early, ended late, and here I am blogging with plenty of photos), so the photographs will appear in a rather random manner.

All images were taken with OM-D E-M5 and mostly M.Zuiko 25mm F1.8 lens. All SOOC JPEG. I was too tired to bother about any post-processing at all after standing on my feet for all day. 


Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Don't Underestimate The Kit Lens: Olympus M.Zuiko 14-42mm F3.5-5.6 on PEN E-PL7

In the spirit of the frenzy happenings at Photokina, churning out endless announcements of latest photography products, pushing the advancement and technological barriers, I have chosen to put all the gear measurebating aside today. How did I do that exactly? Simple, for my shutter therapy session, I chose to shoot with one lens only: the Olympus Kit Lens that not many people cared much about, M.Zuiko 14-42mm F3.5-5.6. 

Kit lens is not something most people would want to stay with very long after their first system camera purchase, many looking for options to upgrade to pro zoom lenses (normally with constant bright aperture, eg F2.8), or adding prime lenses. It was not a surprising fact, since most kit lenses bundled with entry level camera (and in a handful of cases, mid-level to even higher level APS-C DSLR cameras) were usually performing less than mediocre, in terms of overall image quality. When setting up with prime lenses or higher grade zoom lenses, the original kit lenses become pale in comparison, generally not as sharp. 

However, let me ask you this. 

Have you used any Olympus kit lenses before? 

From the DSLR days, the Zuiko Digital 14-42mm F3.5-5.6 (Four Thirds version), which I used extensively for 2 years before upgrading to better lenses, to the latest offerings from Olympus Micro Four Thirds line-up, such as the M.Zuiko 12-50mm F3.5-6.3, and even the lowly, often underrated 14-42mm F3.5-5.6 2R. If you have used ANY of the above mentioned kit lenses (like really put them to good use) mostly bundled with Olympus cameras, you will realize that Olympus makes some of the best kit lenses out there, ever. I may sound like I am exaggerating, but I have photographs to show in this blog entry, and believe me this is not the first time I am blogging about the goodness of kit lens. 

Accompanying the kit lens, I used the latest Olympus PEN E-PL7. This time, I had the BLACK version. 

Prayers

Warmth
Who says kit lens can't render shallow depth of field?