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OnePlus 5’s optical zoom isn’t quite as good as you think

One of the most interesting features of the new OnePlus 5 is its dual camera system. By combining two camera sensors, OnePlus has given us optical zoom that lets us get closer to our subject without degrading image quality. But it’s not quite as good as we thought.

Now, don’t get me wrong, the OnePlus 5 is a spectacular smartphone. It packs Qualcomm’s latest Snapdragon 835 processor, up to 8GB of RAM, up to 128GB of internal storage, an impressive OLED display, and features like fast-charging. It’s a beast, and it starts at just $479 — a lot less than rival flagships.

But if you’re buying the OnePlus 5 specifically for its dual camera, there’s something you should know. It was initially believed that, like the iPhone 7 Plus, the OnePlus 5 was capable of 2x optical zoom. As it turns out, though the handset does do 2x zoom, its optical zoom extends to just 1.6x, while the other 0.4x is achieved with multi-frame image technology.

“Seen a bit of confusion so clearing this up,” tweeted OnePlus co-founder Carl Pei. “We’re claiming 2x lossless zoom, not optical. Optical zoom is at 1.6x, the remaining 0.4x is realized through SmartCapture multiframe technology.”

It’s important to recognize that optical and digital zoom are different things. While optical zoom uses the camera’s hardware — specifically that telephoto lens — to get closer to the subject without degrading image quality, digital zoom relies on software to simply “blow up” the pixels, which does degrade image quality.

OnePlus is keen to stress that it does not rely on digital zoom to 2x, and that its multi-frame image technology results in lossless zoom, so you should not notice a difference in image quality. Phandroid disagrees with that, however.

“The disappointing part is that the 0.4x digital zoom is making photos look worse,” it says. “If we could use only the optical zoom, the zoomed in photos would be more clear.” You can choose 1.6x zoom manually, but the OnePlus 5’s zoom button in the Camera app defaults to 2x.

This certainly isn’t a deal-breaker, but it is something you should know if you’re choosing the OnePlus 5 based on its dual camera technology.

Carl Pei Phandroid

Killian Bell

Killian Bell is a 20-something technology journalist based in a tiny town in England. He has an obsession with that little company in Cupertino...