It all began with HTC One (M8) a smartphone camera setup that featured not one, but two cameras on the rear. The objective was to give the smartphone user, the ability to ‘refocus’, a feature that would allow them to change the focus, add more depth and even add some fancy (or gimmicky) features like a 3D parallax effect, after having taken the image. This gave smartphone photography enthusiasts a whole new dimension to play around with. The idea was a success and so was the smartphone; just that HTC went too far and made their own new sensor technology, labelled as ‘Ultrapixel’. The camera captured images at just 4 MP, a resolution that many laughed at launch. Yes, we know megapixel count has got nothing to do with image quality. But HTC One M8 simply could not deliver better images than your standard sensor layout.
However, the key “focus” here is not the sensor but the use of two in place of one. HTC confirmed that the second sensor would not be used to capture images, but would just read black and white data that would produce a depth map for the smartphone, allowing users to tweak the various layers or add effects. It also allowed for plenty of background blurring and so was born the “bokeh for smartphones”.
As with every other new feature in the smartphone industry, manufacturers began to copy one another, coming up with their own iterations and applications for the dual lens setup.
After a number of manufactures adopted it, Apple too jumped on board and delivered the iPhone 7 Plus utilising its custom dual lens setup for both a 2X optical zoom and for depth sensing. Sadly, for our comparison today, we did not have an iPhone 7 Plus unit at hand.
While the Honor and the OnePlus sit compete for the crown in the high-end segment, it’s clear that the Galaxy S8 sits in the premium smartphone segment with its rather expensive price tag.
Apart from the bokeh effect, this test will also give you a good idea as to how manufacturers like Samsung (HTC included) have delivered something rather unique this year. Details that helps them separate themselves from the high-end flagships, an area OnePlus was earlier aiming for (not a “flagship killer” today).
How it’s done
But first a brief introduction on how each smartphone delivers the bokeh effect with an enhanced depth of field (DOF).
Honor 8 Pro
We start off with Huawei Honor 8 Pro that uses both cameras to create a 3D map of the scene ahead. One 12 MP sensor reads just monochrome data while the other 12 MP sensor reads RGB data. The smartphone combines data from both of these sensors to understand depth and deliver images with an enhanced DOF.
Next up is the OnePlus 5. OnePlus indeed took its own sweet time (just like Apple) to deliver a smartphone with a dual camera set up. OnePlus claims that its uses both of its cameras to deliver the ‘Depth Effect’.
But there is catch here. Unlike every other dual camera device that uses both lenses, the OnePlus, will strangely deliver the bokeh effect even when the second lens is covered. While we could conclude that it is a software effect (it comes quite close), the camera using only a single lens managed to deliver slightly low quality bokehs with the part of the subject closer to the lens getting blurred out.
On the Honor 8 Pro, the camera is quick to indicate that even one lens cannot be covered in the Wide Aperture mode to deliver the bokeh effect. If you still go ahead and tap the shutter button, you get a regular image sans the bokeh.
Another odd point about the OnePlus 5 is that it switches to the zoomed 1.6X camera to deliver the bokeh effect. You will see the results of this implementation in our comparison below.
Samsung Galaxy S8
Lastly, there’s the Samsung Galaxy S8+. While I praised it in my review, it's only here to give OnePlus and Huawei owners a gist of the difference in imaging quality. Since the S8 does not feature a second camera, it makes do with hardcore software processing to deliver an enhanced depth of field in its images. It’s not magic but just software at work, just like the Google Pixel XL before it.
In the Flickr gallery sets embedded below. Our subject is seated both facing and sideways to make it a bit difficult or tricky for the depth mapping tech to work its magic. The images were shot in our office, under good lighting conditions.
Click on the Flickr gallery below to check out high-resolution samples.
Indeed, the results are crystal clear (or may be not).
The Honor 8 Pro came out on top with its dual cameras delivering the best bokeh effect. You can not only click your Wide Aperture photo but also refocus on the background or foreground even after clicking the image. The dual-lens technology that uses a black and white sensor and a RGB sensor, did a fine job of maintaining all the details. More importantly, the feather selection was pretty much spot on with close to no flaws. Indeed, it easy to tell how the Honor 8 Pro uses both of its cameras to accurately separate the region around the subject's hair which is the most tricky part when it comes to delivering the bokeh effect. You can also adjust the aperture post clicking the image, which lets you increase or decrease the depth of field effect.
Second in line is Samsung Galaxy S8+. The smartphone despite its single lens system, managed to capture the most detailed image using its Selective Focus mode. However, the feather selection for the bokeh effect was not too great.
Unlike the Honor 8 Pro that lets you change the focus to any area in the photo, Samsung offers three fixed parameters: Near focus, Far focus and Pan focus. You select any one after you have clicked the image and save a copy of the one you liked best or make one copy each using all the parameters.
As expected, the OnePlus 5 did not fare as well as the other two. The images looked a bit dull. Our subject looked lifeless and despite, its dual camera setup, it delivered the worst bokeh image among the three.
The feather selection was not accurate which resulted in a blurred selection that made things worse when it comes to showcasing the blurred background. In fact, when you compare it with the standard image from the OnePlus 5, you can barely tell the difference.
Another problem I had with OnePlus 5, is that the depth information is not stored, which means that once you have clicked your photo, you cannot refocus like you can on the Honor 8 Pro and the Galaxy S8+.
So there you have it, the overall winner among the three smartphones is the Honor 8 Pro. The best details come from the Samsung Galaxy S8, while the OnePlus 5 gets by with some average looking images.