OnePlus will unveil its latest flagship smartphones — the OnePlus 9 5G series — during a streaming launch event at 9 AM Eastern on March 23rd. And when those phones make their debut, they’ll pack cameras tuned by 180-year-old Swedish camera maker Hasselblad.
“With OnePlus’ top-of-the-line hardware and computational photography and Hasselblad’s rich aesthetic knowledge in traditional photography, I am confident that the OnePlus 9 Series will be a major leap forward in our ability to deliver a premium, flagship camera,” said OnePlus CEO Pete Lau in a press release.
Word of the partnership won’t come as much surprise to the company’s fans: leaked images of an unreleased OnePlus device sporting Hasselblad branding have been circulating for weeks. And more recently, OnePlus has shared a number of space-themed teasers that obliquely reference the deal. (Hasselblad has supplied NASA with cameras for use in space for decades, including the venerable Hasselblad 500ELs that landed on the moon with Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin.) But what does this deal actually mean for the OnePlus camera experience?
To start, the OnePlus 9 series should benefit from “advanced color calibration” jointly developed by the two companies. Long story short, users should expect more accurate, natural-looking colors in photos taken with the OnePlus 9 Pro and beyond. And since Hasselblad deals almost exclusively in pro-grade, medium-format cameras, it’s perhaps natural that special attention was paid to the OnePlus 9 series’ Pro mode. In addition to typical features like direct control over ISO, focus, exposure time, and more, the Hasselblad Pro mode also lets users shoot photos as 12-bit RAW files and work with an editing interface inspired by Hasselblad’s own Phocus image processing app. Meanwhile, on the video front, OnePlus says its Hasselblad-branded cameras will offer “improved” HDR video recording, plus support for 4K 120FPS and 8K 30FPS recording.
Hasselblad bits aside, the OnePlus 9 Pro is widely expected to ship with four rear cameras, and the company revealed a few new details about them this morning. The phone’s main camera will use one of Sony’s new IMX789 sensors, which we’ve heard was custom-developed for the upcoming OPPO Find X3. (Given OnePlus’s shared corporate parentage with OPPO, this really shouldn’t be a shocker.) OnePlus also confirmed that its latest ultra-wide camera will use a so-called “freeform” lens — as seen on the Huawei Mate 40 Pro+ — that and all but eliminates barrel distortion in those spacious photos.
With all this in mind, there are a few things worth noting. For one, despite OnePlus’s embrace of space imagery in its recent teasers, the company has made no mention of a Pixel-like astrophotography mode. What’s more, Hasselblad’s deal with OnePlus will last for three years, and it’s unclear how OnePlus’s approach to color science may shift after the partnership expires. And this isn’t Hasselblad’s first attempt at a smartphone partnership, either — years ago, it teamed up with Motorola to create a separate 12-megapixel camera that magnetically attached to Moto Z smartphones. (Spoiler alert: It was just alright.)
As it turns out, the OnePlus 9 is only part of the company’s plans to set new standards for smartphone photography. Over the next three years, OnePlus has pledged $150 million to “further develop” four camera research and development centers around the world, as well as experiment with new camera components and technologies to debut in future devices. On the docket right now: developing panoramic cameras with a 140-degree field of view and new lenses to improve autofocus for selfies, though the company was quick to note its efforts may extend well beyond these projects.
OnePlus cameras have steadily improved over the years, but they have so far lagged behind competing offerings from companies like Samsung and Apple. With this multi-year deal in place, OnePlus seems ready to dramatically up its photography game, but for now, consider us cautiously optimistic. With any luck, the company’s March 23rd launch event will have plenty of sample images — and more juicy details about its Hasselblad deal — for us to pore over.