There is an adage that says “the best camera is what you have with you’ and that has been proven repeatedly since we have relatively good cameras on our phones. In the traditional setup, we have the primary camera (at the rear) which is usually given the best specs and the secondary camera which is colloquially referred to as the selfie camera.
For a very long time, primary cameras on phones were given the most attention to and the secondary camera was added as a bonus for the random awkward video call. However, thanks to the explosion of social networks and camera focused apps, manufacturers have shifted focus to the selfie camera since the market is demanding for better spec’d cameras for better looking selfies.
This is what OPPO is aiming with the F1s and if you check out the specifications of the cameras, the company was aiming for the smartphone to be perfect for a person who loves taking selfies. As I said earlier, in the traditional setup, the primary camera usually has better spec list than the selfie one, but on this phone, the reverse is true. We reviewed the F1S itself recently and now we are going a bit deeper on the cameras.
Specifications and User Interface
The OPPO F1S has a 16MP front facing camera with a relatively wide aperture of f2.0 which on paper is better than the 13MP f2.2 combo that was given to the rear camera. Right off the bat, the front facing camera will take higher resolution stills and let in 25% more light (thanks to the f 2.0 aperture) than the rear camera, which is a win in my opinion.
Launching the camera user interface is quite easy. On the lockscreen, you can swipe to launch the camera or write “O” on the lockscreen if you enable the “screen off gestures” on the settings. You will be greeted with a user interface that mimics that of iOS and it is geared to be as simple as possible for the user.
If you’re holding the phone in portrait mode, at the top, you will see the flash toggle, HDR (High Dynamic Range) toggle, Settings button, and a camera switch toggle. At the bottom, there is a carousel which when you swipe along, you will be able to switch from time-lapse to Video then to Photo, Beauty and finally Panorama modes.
Lastly at the bottom, there is a preview of your photos on your gallery, virtual shutter button and a more options button. This button shows you extra settings like Normal mode (which is the default), Ultra HD, various filters, GIF, Double exposure and Expert mode. This will be covered later.
Using the selfie and the rear camera
First thing that you notice when you launch the camera app is how smooth the viewfinder looks like. On most phones that I have used, the viewfinder looks choppy and it is thanks to how the phone is unable to keep a smooth refresh rate. It certainly looks quite smooth on this phone which is a plus.
For most people out there, they will only need to toggle the camera button to switch between the selfie and rear cameras. When you want to take a picture, you frame the scene (consciously or unconsciously) then you hit the virtual shutter.
From my experience, both cameras had some issues and it is software related. Both cameras had problems exposing the scene carefully, which means that in most cases, some aspects of the scene were overblown (way too bright) while others were underexposed (too dark).
To solve this, one must tap on the scene you would want the camera to expose and it will meter properly. When you tap the screen to adjust exposure, there is a toggle on the right side of the yellow square that lets you adjust the brightness of the screen. I presume the camera software is using the spot metering technique constantly which in my experience is the one responsible for such weird behaviour.
When using the selfie camera, the combination of the spot metering and the aggressive face detection algorithm will make the camera primarily focus on exposing your face only, which leads to overblown highlights (areas on the photo becoming pure white) on your clothes or background.
To fix this, you only need to tap on your face to set the correct exposure, but it usually forgets quickly and it reverts to the original system of overexposure. OPPO should push an update to fix this twitchy exposure lock system which could make such a fantastic selfie camera hardware deliver photos that look worse than its true potential. In addition, the selfie camera is not wide, which is a bummer when you want to take group selfies.
In addition to the twitchy exposure lock seen on the selfie camera, the rear camera also exhibits an issue with focus. For most people, out there, they just whip out their phones, launch the camera, snap the photo, and quickly review it. I’ve noticed quite severally that I miss focus on my subject when I take photos the normal way but weirdly enough, when I tap to focus before hitting the virtual shutter, I usually nail focus. This is also an area that could need a software update to fix.
Nevertheless, the cameras can take good pictures if you know the camera quirks with the selfie camera taking photos with visibly better detail than the rear one. At night, the selfie camera takes acceptable looking photos and interesting enough, OPPO added a screen flash for those dark scenes.
Extra modes on the camera interface
There are other modes on the camera settings hidden under the options button (that looks like a filter button). Ultra HD allows you to create really huge photos that are bigger than the camera’s resolution. GIF allows you to create GIFs obviously which works like Instagram’s Boomerang. Double exposure requires you to take two different photo that are made to overlap in the end which results in a really weird mashup. Filters allows’ to take a photo and use the available filters and patterns to make your photos look more Instagrammy.”
Out of the extra options you get, Expert Mode is the most interesting of all. It allows you to have more freedom with the camera controls like Focus, White Balance, ISO, Shutter speed and toggling RAW capture on/off. These can be helpful for the enthusiast photographer to tweak the specific settings for a shoot. What caught my interest was the shutter manual controls which unlike other cameras which start from 1/4000 of a second to 30 seconds, this system starts from 1 second to 16 second exposures. This means that it is geared more for night photography which benefits greatly from the longer exposures. (you may have to get a tripod for that.)
Going back to the normal mode, you can’t forget features like video capture, taking time-lapses or stitching panoramas. Videos are taken in either 720p or 1080p which can be chosen by tapping on a toggle while on video mode. The video quality is okay and it still shows the twitchy exposure issues from the stills so you may have to tap on the subjects on the screen while shooting a video.
Beauty mode is also a popular inclusion on today’s phones which aim to reduce blemishes on your face by softening the image. Also, taking panoramas on this phone is a breeze, stitching is fast and the resulting image looks quite good!
There are some interesting features baked in the options menu (between the HDR and camera flip menu) that allow you to control the shutter by touch, voice, palm or the normal way by depressing the shutter button. You can also set the shutter timer (3 seconds, 5 seconds or 8 seconds. Finally, you can change the aspect ratio of the image by choosing either Standard, Rectangle or Full screen.
The OPPO F1S has two capable cameras with the selfie camera being the more capable one. They take respectable photos in good light while the selfie camera takes better photos in low light. In normal mode, the UI is straight forward as long as you avoid diving into the confusing options menu. However, if you are able to prevent overblown images thanks to the twitchy exposure lock system, you will be able to take all kinds of photos without any problems.
This is actually a really good phone for making Snapchat Stories, Instagram Stories or chatting with your friends via Google Duo, Skype or Facebook Messenger. It is so far my favourite selfie phone and I’m waiting for OPPO to top this…maybe one with Optical Image Stabilization maybe?