The evolution of T – OnePlus’ interim model for the fall that’s neither quite the next generation, nor is it entirely the old one. It all started with the 3T, the T jokingly there to one-up Apple’s S, and we’re now a couple of Ts later at 6T. We figured we’d round up the three Ts we have at the office for a shootout to see what two years of progress have made better.
The phones in this three-way are the OnePlus 3T, 5T, and 6T, a year between each next iteration. There was no OnePlus 4, and hence no 4T either, because China is no fan of the number 4 for superstitious reasons.
The OP3T from two years ago has a single 16MP camera – that was still acceptable in 2016. The OnePlus 5 (non-T) was the first to add an extra rear module, and its slightly longer lens made a bit more sense than what OP came up with for the 5T and stuck with for another two half-generations, 6T included. Meanwhile, the main unit remained at 16MP, even though it did see some refinements.
Over on the front there hasn’t been much change in the camera configuration from T to T – it’s 16MP of resolution and still no autofocus, after all this time.
We’ll be going over the different camera setups, similar as they may be, on the next page. It’s not like there was much else to do here with the Fall firmly settled in our neck of the woods making any decent samples but a dream.
The fundamentals are the same on all three phones – a 16MP primary cam and a 16MP selfie shooter. Some say the devil’s in the details, so here’s a handy cheat sheet with some details.
|OnePlus 3T||OnePlus 5T||OnePlus 6T|
|Main camera||16MP, 4640 x 3480px||16MP, 4608 x 3456px||16MP, 4608 x 3456px|
|Sensor||4:3 aspect, 1/2.8″ sensor size, 1.12µm pixel size||4:3 aspect, 1/2.8″ sensor size, 1.12µm pixel size||4:3 aspect, 1/2.6″ sensor size, 1.22µm pixel size|
|Lens||f/2.0, 28mm, OIS||f/1.7, 27mm||f/1.7, 25mm, OIS|
|Secondary camera||N/A||20MP, 4:3, 1/2.8″, 1.0µm; f/1.7, 27mm||20MP, 4:3, 1/2.8″, 1.0µm; f/1.7, 25mm|
|Flash||Single LED||Dual LED||Dual LED|
|Video recording||2160p@30fps, 1080p@60/30fps||2160p@30fps, 1080p@60/30fps||2160p@60/30fps, 1080p@60/30fps|
|Video IS||OIS+EIS(1080p only)||EIS||OIS+EIS(up to 2160p@30fps)|
|Audio||Stereo, 96kbps||Stereo, 96kbps||Stereo, 156kbps|
|Front camera||16MP, 4:3, 1/3.1″, 1.0µm; f/2.0, 29mm; 1080p@30fps||16MP, 4:3, 1/3.1″, 1.0µm; f/2.0, 29mm; 1080p@30fps||16MP, 4:3, 1/3.1″, 1.0µm; f/2.0, 29mm; 1080p@30fps|
You’ll notice the 3T’s lens is the dimmest with its f/2.0 aperture compared to the others’ f/1.7. Then again, that lens is stabilized, which OP dropped for the 5T only to return it in the latest generation.
Equivalent focal lengths are a bit of a mess – between EXIF data, official specs (where at all available) and real life impressions, the numbers don’t always add up. Let’s just say that the 3T and 6T’s coverage matches almost exactly, while the 5T’s FoV is a tad narrower.
For the 3T and 5T OnePlus went with a 1/2.8″ sensor size and 1.12µm individual pixels, while that’s grown to 1/2.6″ and 1.22µm on the 6T, so that’s a clear advantage to the newest model.
Now, the 3T was the last OnePlus model to come with a single rear cam. The OnePlus 5 that replaced it had an additional 20MP shooter that came with a 1.5x longer lens and could produce sort of 2x zoomed-in shots without much quality loss.
That, however, changed on the 5T we have here, where the telephoto of sorts was replaced with a module that has the same focal length as the main one, still has a 20MP resolution, supposedly assists in low-light situations and can’t be used on its own.
That flawed (in our minds, at least) concept then spread to other models in the sister company Oppo’s lineup and was replicated on the OnePlus 6, and then the 6T. Only it made even less sense on the 6 and 6T with their larger primary sensors that work pretty good in low light already. So depth detection in portrait mode remained the secondary camera’s sole purpose.
There hasn’t been as much turbulence on the front – the 16MP 1/3.1″ sensor with 1.0µm pixels has remained a permanent fixture. The lens appears to have been kept the same as well, contrary to what the EXIF data wants to convince you – it says 24mm on the 3T and 20mm on the 5T and 6T, but the coverage is identical and it’s definitely not as wide as 20mm. This whole thing got us thinking so we pulled a DSLR out of a bag and matched the selfie cam’s coverage – 29mm actual focal length. So there you have it.
The OnePlus 3T has a dated-looking camera app, with no swipe action for changing modes – Apple’s influence on this one couldn’t change every other maker’s app overnight. It did happen eventually.
Anyway, you have the most important toggles close at hand – flash, HDR and Oxygen OS’s HQ mode in stills and only the LED control under video. The quick setting button next to the shutter release holds a few extra things, like aspect or video resolution control, the self-timer and the grid.
Other more obscure settings such as geotagging, preferred storage and the shutter sound are all hidden away in the settings menu. There is even RAW support that saves files alongside the compressed ones, so the camera is undoubtedly full-featured, even if it does appear barebones.
Then there is the powerful Manual mode. It offers granular control over ISO, contrast, shutter speed and focus and it works really well. There’s no manual white balance though, which is a bit odd.
The 5T’s camera app is the same as on the 6T, but it was marginally different (in an entirely cosmetic way) when the phone came out – it’s just that the modes didn’t have text labels and it was icons instead.
The swipes for mode changes were introduced on the OnePlus 5 and made their way to the 5T – swipe to the right (or up in landscape) will bring up the video viewfinder, while a swipe to the left (or, obviously, down) evokes the Portrait mode. In the stills viewfinder you also have quick toggles for flash mode, aspect ratio, HDR, and self-timer.
The tiny arrow next to the 1x/2x button brings up the mode selector where you have access to Panorama, Pro mode (not Manual anymore), Slow motion, and Timelapse. The very existence and positioning of the arrow is a bit unorthodox and takes some getting used to, but it is easily accessible if you’re holding the phone with one hand only – that we definitely appreciate.
The Pro mode allows manual tweaking of shooting parameters, including ISO (100-3200), white balance (by light temperature), shutter speed (1/8000s to 30s), focus, and exposure compensation. You can save 2 sets of custom parameters too, if you happen to do the same thing over and over again. A live histogram is also provided, which is a nice touch as it’s quite a rare feature. RAW capture is available too.
The 6T’s app is almost completely identical to the one above – OnePlus added a Night mode, which you access by swiping right once more when in Portrait mode. Pro mode is mostly the same too, with a nice extra touch – the icons for shutter speed, white balance and ISO now have the selected values for the respected parameter displayed below them even when they’re in the auto position.
In good light the three phones, quite predictably in fact, capture similar levels of detail – that’s not where you’ll observe any major developments between these three generations. Having said that, the 5T’s shots are that extra bit softer than the other two. We reckon it’s a detail vs. noise reduction conundrum and OP leaned towards the latter on the 5T.
We find the 3T’s photos to be the noisiest, while the 6T’s are both the cleanest and the most detailed – that better be the case, really.
More importantly, however, the 3T lags behind in dynamic range, quite significantly so. The multi-frame image stacking wasn’t really a thing back then and it shows. In high-contrast scenes, of which we had plenty thanks to the overcast weather, the 3T is no match for its newer stablemates, both of which perform similarly.
We found the 6T to produce substantially punchier colors when it detects greenery, and it also warms up the foliage – the snail shot and the tree moss are prime examples. It’s not that we’re not liking it, strictly speaking, but it’s just a bit excessive.
It also cranked up the reds beyond reason in the firetruck shot. We found that a bit surprising, given the relatively similar color rendition in the ‘Visions of the Future’ poster set above.
In low light, the 3T is showing its age too, though it’s still performing alright for a two-year-old phone. It’s capturing as much detail as the 5T, on occasion even better, but it’s generally noisier. That said, the 5T turned out by far the noisiest in the second scene, go figure.
In challenging conditions such as these, the 6T is easily the best of the bunch, capturing detailed and clean night shots, with plenty of dynamic range and nice color saturation.
The latest model also has a Night mode – of course it does, all the cool kids have it. It’ll maybe lift up the shadows slightly, but it comes at a significant detail penalty and we feel it’s unnecessary given the already great low-light performance. When we reviewed the 6T, we found the Night mode to work better with tripod shots, but we figured we’d skip this part for this three-way comparison.
Going forward with the list of the things the 3T can’t do quite as well as the 5T or 6T, we have portrait shots. And not only it can’t do them ‘as well’, but it can’t do them at all. That being said, the 5T and 6T’s wide-angle camera implementation means you need to go up close and personal with your subject which isn’t strictly ideal.
Both the 5T and 6T are adept at subject detection and will generally avoid blunders, though they’re about as good at it as any other phone and that means they get fooled under the right circumstances. Or the wrong ones, maybe?
The 6T applies more blur to the background making for a slightly better separation. The thing is though, that the subject appears softer than what the 5T captures. On a positive note, the 6T’s portraits come out with truer colors, and you’re also trading detail for dynamic range – it balances things so that you don’t have faces all blown out.
We often point out that using a wide angle camera for portraits as opposed to a telephoto means self portraits have a wider margin for error in composition – try framing the shot below on an iPhone or a Galaxy Note at arm’s length and see if you’ll get your entire mug in the photo half the times. Also who wants a photo of just their face?
If you so desire, you can use the portrait mode to isolate subjects from background for subjects that aren’t people. As usual, this is again dependent on the right configuration of subject, background patterns and color, and the relative and absolute distances between camera, subject and background.
We shot a bunch of quick selfies too, only to be reminded once more that OnePlus’ selfies need to be executed in just the right manner to get the best results – the plane of focus is much closer to the phone than an arm’s length distance and as such you’ll often end up softer than ideal. At the correct distance – pretty sharp selfies, otherwise – decent ones, just don’t stare from too close.
That’s not saying there has been entirely zero progress from the original T to the current T. The 6T will now better bias the exposure to your face, meaning you’ll be less likely to end up with blown out spots, and we also find the skin tones to be an improvement on the 6T compared to the other two.
The three phones can capture video up to 2160p in resolution, though it’s just the 6T that can do it at both 60fps and 30fps – the other two can only do 4K30. Of course, all three can shoot 1080p at both frame rates.
The 3T has a particularly dumb way of changing resolution as it cycles them upon tapping the resolution button and you don’t immediately know whether it’ll go higher or lower. Good thing OnePlus changed that and the 5T and 6T are more logical in this respect giving you an actual menu.
The video bit rate in 1080p/30fps is 20Mbps on all three phones, while the 2160p footage is treated to 56Mbps on the 3T and 42Mbps on the 5T and 6T. The 6T’s 2160p/60fps clocks in at a whopping 120Mbps. All three phones record stereo audio, with the 3T and 5T encoding it at 96kbps, while the 6T allocates a more generous 156kbps.
There’s the matter of stabilization. The 3T’s lens is stabilized and it can add to that electronic stabilization in 1080p, but not in 4K. The 5T and 6T can electronically stabilize 2160p footage as well, and the 6T’s lens is stabilized too, unlike the 5T’s.
What we have a problem with is that OnePlus doesn’t let you turn off the stabilization in the modes it’s available in, regardless of model. That effectively means that you’ll be getting a cropped field of view (because that’s how electronic stabilization works) and that absolute sharpness will be lower in the modes where there is stabilization, whether you need it or not.
This becomes abundantly clear in our balcony clips taken on a tripod, where the sharpest 4K footage comes out of the 3T and the 6T’s 60fps mode. Now, the 3T has other issues, namely the limited dynamic range, but then again the 5T isn’t much better in this respect either, plus it’s softer than ideal. Which brings us to the 6T and its dramatic improvement in dynamic range, plus it’s also not half bad in terms of detail. Still, going 60fps will give you that extra bit more sharpness. As for colors, being fully aware that it wasn’t the liveliest of scenes, we’d go for the 6T first, then the 3T, and the 5T in the third spot.
Oddly enough, the 3T has the sharpest 1080p footage where it’s tied with the 5T, only the 5T’s is noisier than the 3T’s. The 6T’s 1080p clip has a strong overprocessed look, though it is the cleanest, and evidently superior in dynamic range.
Walking around the park to test how the stabilization works revealed a flaw of the 3T’s video recording, which we couldn’t quite spot from the balcony. That is, in addition to the lack of stabilization in 2160p. You see, with all the shaking going on, the 3T’s video camera had trouble maintaining focus, resulting in even more jittery footage, and that’s in both 4K (with no electronic stabilization) and 1080p (where the stabilization is at work).
Now, it could be due to the fact that the 3T is a two-year-old phone that’s been used and abused during its lifetime, while the 5T unit hasn’t seen all that much action, and the 6T is practically new.
The 5T and 6T’s focus is just fine in this test and their stabilization works well in 4K, with some warping anomalies we spotted in transitions between panning and holding still. Panning doesn’t happen entirely perfectly on either, so just pan more slowly and you should be fine.
In 1080p the 5T and 6T behave similarly, and that’s some pretty decent behavior, though we still did spot some wobble. And it’s a bit disappointing to observe the overall softness that’s got to have been brought about by the stabilization.
So the 6T’s camera is in most ways superior to those on the 5T and the 3T, what else is new. Establishing that wasn’t really our goal here. Instead, we were looking to find out what you stand to gain if your trusty 2-year-old 3T is showing sings of age, or if you’re the less patient type and you’re doing yearly upgrades, so the 5T has to go. Or just observe how OnePlus’ cameras have evolved.
Well, the 6T has improved dynamic range across the board – be it video or stills. The 3T in particular is lagging behind a lot, but the 5T isn’t quite on par with the 6T either. Low light photos are also a significant step up on the 6T compared to the older generations. If you’re coming from the 3T, the 6T will also give you portraits, but the 5T already has that, so there’s not much to be gained there.
There are a few things that haven’t changed and we still feel need addressing on upcoming OnePlus phones. The selfie camera could benefit from having autofocus, or at least a different focus distance – as it stands right now, you need to choose between sharp focus and wider coverage. Video recording has been refined, but we’d still appreciate the ability to turn off the stabilization when not needed.
There’s more to the OnePlus 6T than the camera, of course, and you can check out our findings in the in-depth review. From an imaging perspective alone, the 6T could have delivered more improvements over previous models, but it’s still a worthy upgrade nonetheless.