Technology

They say mid-range photos have gotten better, so can they beat the old flagships

【[[Foreword: mid-range machine photos are getting better and better, but how good is it in the end]]

Earlier this year our three easy life has pointed out in the relevant content, as the market becomes more competitive, some cell phone manufacturers have gradually begun to be used only for the flagship models of the past part of the high-end image configuration, "devolved" to the positioning of the product is not so high. Coupled with technical progress itself, also brought such as the master AI arithmetic, ISP throughput significantly improved, so basically from the second half of last year, more and more manufacturers are beginning to advertise in the mid-range products "photo compared to the previous generation of substantial progress".

They say mid-range photos have gotten better, so can they beat the old flagships

Is it wrong for cell phone manufacturers to promote these? From our actual test results, these new mid-range models in the photo resolution, macro effect, night shooting light sensitivity and many other aspects, compared to the past two or three years "predecessors", indeed generally has a significant progress. From the user's point of view, this is of course a significant experience improvement.

However, it is well known that for a long time in the past, the "mid-range" in the image design, material is actually significantly behind the flagship products of the same period. It is not even an exaggeration to say that from 2019 to 2021 almost two or three years, when the flagship models continue to make rapid progress in image capabilities, when the mid-range products in this regard is almost "in place", and the gap with the top models is also widening.

They say mid-range photos have gotten better, so can they beat the old flagships

In this way, a question naturally arises, now cell phone manufacturers decided to improve the image experience of mid-range models, they actually bring how much sincerity to these products, now these recognized "photo significantly stronger" mid-range machine, and whether it can really reach the level of the old flagship a few years ago?

Out of curiosity about this issue, we at Three Easy Living also conducted a review. If you are also interested in this issue, you may want to read on.

[[Test design: three mid-range machines vs. three non-image flagships]]

Honestly, even without testing, we can clearly tell you that in terms of overall image capability, even the latest and most "image" based mid-range models are most likely to be "pinned down" by the top image flagships of three years ago.

In fact, this is not surprising, after all, a look at the whole industry is not difficult to find, many years ago on the flagship models have appeared on the image configuration, in fact, has not been "devolved" to the mid-range products, such as periscopic telephoto and wide-angle + ultra-wide angle double mega-bottom main camera. Therefore, we do not intend to use those once top image flagships to "bully" these new mid-range models today.

They say mid-range photos have gotten better, so can they beat the old flagships

In contrast, what we would like to explore is that if the mid-range models now use ISPs and SoCs with better performance than the old flagships, or use new image algorithms, or simply use better and newer solutions in the main camera CMOS, then is it possible to surpass the average image level of flagship models of several years ago in some common scenarios?

For such considerations, we have selected six models to participate in this review.

They say mid-range photos have gotten better, so can they beat the old flagships

Why should I choose these six models? First, based on the premise mentioned earlier, we chose six models from three brands (Ouga, Xiaomi, and Vivo) for a two-by-two comparison. In other words, this comparison focuses on "whether the new mid-range models of each brand can outperform their old flagships of several years ago", and does not involve a horizontal comparison between brands.

Secondly, since the range of models selected was already clear, we selected three models released in 2019, all of which were not sold as "top image" at the time, as representatives of the "old flagships".

They say mid-range photos have gotten better, so can they beat the old flagships

Finally, since the "old flagship" comparison is for newer, mid-range models with explicitly enhanced image capabilities, we chose models with main camera specifications as close as possible to those older models. For this reason, we had to exclude some of the more vocal products in this step (such as the Redmi K50, Redmi Note11T Pro+, and the no-longer-mid-range OPPO Reno8 Pro+ and Redmi K50 Pro), and ended up with these six models.

【[[Parametric analysis: old flagship is old, but the hardware material still has advantages]]

From the specific parameters we listed in the comparison table, I think you will be able to find a lot of problems.

On the one hand, we can't deny that the two or three year time gap has indeed made some of the mid-range models outperform the old flagships in terms of basic performance and even image processing power. For example, the two models in this comparison, the Tiangui 8100, have a higher ISP throughput than the Snapdragon 865/Pragon 870 platform. This means that, in theory, some of today's mid-range models can indeed "support" more complex image algorithms than the old flagships, and can also be more frames in special scenarios (such as dark light, backlight) for continuous synthesis.

They say mid-range photos have gotten better, so can they beat the old flagships

But on the other hand, it is also easy to see that even compared to the "non-image flagships" of two or three years ago, today's mid-range cameras are not even close to the specific CMOS specifications, pixel size, and focus methods of the main camera. Not to mention in the secondary camera, the latest mid-range machine even compared to the "sub-flagship" three years ago, there is still a gap.

Of course, it is not to say that today's mid-range machines are completely without the possibility of "turning the tables" on the actual imaging capabilities that exist. After all, even if the hardware still has a certain objective gap, but what if the software, algorithmic progress can make up for it? So the final result, we still have to use the actual test samples to speak.

【[[One plus models sample comparison: old flagship high quality, new mid-range algorithm good]]

First of all, let's look at this group of models of the Ouga system, that is, the sample comparison of the One Plus 8 Pro VS One Plus ACE Racing Edition.

They say mid-range photos have gotten better, so can they beat the old flagships

One Plus 8 Pro Wide Angle (Strong Light)

They say mid-range photos have gotten better, so can they beat the old flagships

One Plus ACE Racing Edition Wide Angle (Strong Light)

They say mid-range photos have gotten better, so can they beat the old flagships

One Plus 8 Pro Wide Angle (Strong Light)

They say mid-range photos have gotten better, so can they beat the old flagships

One Plus ACE Racing Edition Ultra Wide Angle (Strong Light)

In the wide-angle main camera + super wide-angle secondary camera white balance examination in strong light, the obviously better configured old flagship One Plus 8 Pro actually flopped at the beginning. In the case of "direct" sunlight, its overall white balance logic clearly went awry, and the final look and feel was clearly inferior to that of the OnePlus ACE Racing Edition.

They say mid-range photos have gotten better, so can they beat the old flagships

One Plus 8 Pro Wide Angle

They say mid-range photos have gotten better, so can they beat the old flagships

One Plus 8 Pro Ultra Wide Angle

They say mid-range photos have gotten better, so can they beat the old flagships

One Plus ACE Racing Edition Wide Angle

They say mid-range photos have gotten better, so can they beat the old flagships

One Plus ACE Racing Edition Ultra Wide Angle

Some of you may say, "direct glare" shooting scenarios are less common after all, so what if you switch to a more conventional daytime primary and secondary camera switch? However, in this comparison, the One Plus 8 Pro still lost to the "descendant" One Plus ACE Racing Edition. As you can see, the old flagship has a serious white balance inconsistency between wide angle and super wide angle, while the new mid-range model, which seems to have a much lower CMOS specification, does not have this problem.

They say mid-range photos have gotten better, so can they beat the old flagships

One Plus 8 Pro 5x zoom

They say mid-range photos have gotten better, so can they beat the old flagships

One Plus ACE Racing Edition 5x zoom

Of course, the hardware advantages of the old flagship still exist after all. So when it came to the 5x telescopic test session, the OnePlus 8 Pro, with its independent 3X telephoto, significantly outperformed the OnePlus ACE Racing Edition, which can only rely on the main camera + algorithm, in terms of resolving power.

They say mid-range photos have gotten better, so can they beat the old flagships

One Plus 8 Pro Super Macro

They say mid-range photos have gotten better, so can they beat the old flagships

One Plus ACE Racing Edition Super Macro

Similarly, in the ultra-macro telephoto, the OnePlus 8 Pro not only focuses closer, but also has significantly better ultra-macro resolution because it can rely on the 48-megapixel super wide-angle secondary camera to act as a macro camera.

They say mid-range photos have gotten better, so can they beat the old flagships

One Plus 8 Pro 50 megapixel mode

They say mid-range photos have gotten better, so can they beat the old flagships

100% zoom

They say mid-range photos have gotten better, so can they beat the old flagships

One Plus ACE Racing Edition 64MP mode

They say mid-range photos have gotten better, so can they beat the old flagships

100% zoom

In the "full pixel opening" test, the old flagship OnePlus 8 Pro has a clear advantage because of its larger CMOS area and larger single pixel size.

They say mid-range photos have gotten better, so can they beat the old flagships

One plus 8 Pro night view lighting

They say mid-range photos have gotten better, so can they beat the old flagships

One Plus ACE Racing Edition Night lighting

They say mid-range photos have gotten better, so can they beat the old flagships

One Plus 8 Pro Extreme Dark Night View

They say mid-range photos have gotten better, so can they beat the old flagships

One Plus ACE Racing Edition Extreme Dark Night View

They say mid-range photos have gotten better, so can they beat the old flagships

OnePlus 8 Pro City Night View

They say mid-range photos have gotten better, so can they beat the old flagships

One Plus ACE Racing Edition City Night View

Finally, in the night in a number of test sessions, it is clear to see the relationship between the two machines of the European and Canadian system to win and lose. When the light is very low and the amount of light coming in is more of a test of pure, hardware, the old flagship One Plus 8 Pro has a clear advantage. But if you come to a less dark and complex light environment, you can clearly find that the One Plus ACE Racing Edition's updated algorithm makes it better to avoid overexposure around the light source, and the sample film at this time can feel better than the old flagship.

[[Xiaomi model sample comparison: "9 in 1" beats "4 in 1" in most cases]]

Compared to the two OnePlus models, the camera hardware gap between these two Xiaomi models (Xiaomi 10S and Redmi Note11 Pro+) is not really that big. Although the Xiaomi 10S has a slightly larger main camera on the surface, the Redmi Note11 Pro+'s HM2 main camera CMOS supports "9 pixels in 1", which makes its equivalent pixel size up to 2.1μm in most scenarios, which is actually significantly larger than the old HMX sensor. The flagship HMX sensor is 1.6μm after "4 pixels in 1".

They say mid-range photos have gotten better, so can they beat the old flagships

Xiaomi 10S Wide angle (strong light)

They say mid-range photos have gotten better, so can they beat the old flagships

Xiaomi 10S Ultra Wide Angle (Strong Light)

They say mid-range photos have gotten better, so can they beat the old flagships

Redmi Note11 Pro+ Wide angle (strong light)

They say mid-range photos have gotten better, so can they beat the old flagships

Redmi Note11 Pro+ Ultra Wide Angle (Strong Light)

Obviously, this difference in the pixel structure of the two models is really felt in the actual experience. As you can see from the sample photos, the Redmi Note11 Pro+ with its larger pixel equivalents has a better look and feel in the buildings under strong lighting. But at the same time, it seems that to avoid the overexposure problem caused by the "large pixels", the sky color of the Redmi Note11 Pro+ looks a bit dull, not as natural as the Xiaomi Mi 10S sample.

They say mid-range photos have gotten better, so can they beat the old flagships

Xiaomi 10S Wide Angle

They say mid-range photos have gotten better, so can they beat the old flagships

Xiaomi 10S Double Zoom

They say mid-range photos have gotten better, so can they beat the old flagships

Redmi Note11 Pro+ Wide Angle

They say mid-range photos have gotten better, so can they beat the old flagships

Redmi Note11 Pro+ Double Zoom

Under less extreme lighting conditions, the difference between the color and brightness performance of the two models is very small, and the "new mid-range" is really catching up with the "old flagship" at this point.

They say mid-range photos have gotten better, so can they beat the old flagships

Xiaomi 10S Close up bokeh

They say mid-range photos have gotten better, so can they beat the old flagships

Redmi Note11 Pro+ Close up bokeh

What's more interesting is that in this set of bokeh samples, the smaller Redmi Note11 Pro+ does not lose out to the old flagship Xiaomi Mi 10S in terms of bokeh effect, but on the other hand, it better shows the details in the dark center of the image. The new mid-range model, which does not seem to have an advantage in terms of performance and camera specifications, has actually achieved the "anti-kill" of the old flagship.

They say mid-range photos have gotten better, so can they beat the old flagships

Xiaomi 10S Backlight HDR

They say mid-range photos have gotten better, so can they beat the old flagships

Redmi Note11 Pro+ Backlight HDR

Of course, "9 pixels in 1" is not without its drawbacks. Although it can significantly enhance the light sensitivity, it is more likely to cause overexposure in some complex backlight scenes. For example, in the above comparison sample, the Redmi Note11 Pro+ shot of the stairs is brighter and clearer, but the trees in the distance are overexposed.

They say mid-range photos have gotten better, so can they beat the old flagships

Xiaomi 10S night view lighting

They say mid-range photos have gotten better, so can they beat the old flagships

Redmi Note11 Pro+ Night View Lighting

They say mid-range photos have gotten better, so can they beat the old flagships

Xiaomi 10S Extreme Dark Night View

They say mid-range photos have gotten better, so can they beat the old flagships

Redmi Note11 Pro+ Extreme Dark Night View

But when it comes to the night photography session, the Xiaomi 10S's strengths come out completely. Thanks to its optical stabilization mechanism, which the Redmi Note11 Pro+ does not have, the Xiaomi 10S can compensate for the disadvantage in pixel size with a much longer shutter time. The result is that the "old flagship" significantly outperforms the new mid-range model in super low light sessions, and proves its adaptability to more photo scenarios as a "flagship".

【[[Vivo model sample comparison: large bottom vs large bottom, this time the mid-range machine really won]]

Among the three groups of comparison models, the gap between Vivo S15 Pro and iQOO 5 is arguably the smallest. On the one hand, the main camera of both of them use a large base, full pixel focus 50 megapixel solution that can be called high-end, but the CMOS size of iQOO 5 is slightly larger; on the other hand, Vivo S15 Pro has a higher ISP performance than the "old flagship", and also has iQOO 5 does not have On the other hand, the Vivo S15 Pro has higher ISP performance than the "old flagship" and also has optical stabilization which the iQOO 5 does not have.

So, "bigger CMOS size" vs. "stronger arithmetic + anti-shake", which side will win? From the actual sample photos, it seems that the performance of "power + anti-shake" is better.

They say mid-range photos have gotten better, so can they beat the old flagships

iQOO 5 Wide Angle (Strong Light)

They say mid-range photos have gotten better, so can they beat the old flagships

vivo S15 Pro Wide Angle (Strong Light)

For example, in strong backlight conditions, the S15 Pro, which has the advantage of anti-shake and algorithm, has a brighter picture.

They say mid-range photos have gotten better, so can they beat the old flagships

iQOO 5 Close Focus

They say mid-range photos have gotten better, so can they beat the old flagships

vivo S15 pro Close focus

In close focus scenarios, the S15 Pro also outperforms older flagships with theoretically higher CMOS levels, with significant advantages in both color and focus effects.

They say mid-range photos have gotten better, so can they beat the old flagships

iQOO 5 Bokeh Sample Photos

They say mid-range photos have gotten better, so can they beat the old flagships

vivo S15 Pro Bokeh Sample Photos

They say mid-range photos have gotten better, so can they beat the old flagships

iQOO 5 50 megapixel mode

They say mid-range photos have gotten better, so can they beat the old flagships

100% zoom

They say mid-range photos have gotten better, so can they beat the old flagships

vivo S15 Pro 50 megapixel mode

They say mid-range photos have gotten better, so can they beat the old flagships

100% zoom

Similarly, with the longer exposure time from optical stabilization, the S15 Pro clearly outperforms its three-year-old flagship in terms of detail in the dark center of the image and resolution at "full pixel opening".

They say mid-range photos have gotten better, so can they beat the old flagships

iQOO 5 5x zoom

They say mid-range photos have gotten better, so can they beat the old flagships

vivo S15 Pro 5x zoom

They say mid-range photos have gotten better, so can they beat the old flagships

iQOO 5 Ultra Wide Angle (Strong Light)

They say mid-range photos have gotten better, so can they beat the old flagships

vivo S15 Pro Ultra Wide Angle (Strong Light)

They say mid-range photos have gotten better, so can they beat the old flagships

iQOO 5 Ultra Wide Angle (Night View)

They say mid-range photos have gotten better, so can they beat the old flagships

vivo S15 Pro Ultra Wide Angle (Night View)

But the more interesting difference occurs in the secondary camera performance of these two models. As you can see, the iQOO 5 can easily outperform the Vivo S15 Pro without a telephoto sub-camera because of its 2X telephoto sub-camera, but at the ultra-wide end where the hardware difference between the two is minimal, the iQOO 5 wins in daylight with a little more pixels, while at night it is clear that the algorithmic advantage of the Vivo S15 Pro prevails.

[[Summary: mid-range main camera has been able to challenge the old flagship, but the secondary camera disadvantage still can not be ignored]]

Ultimately, after looking at the results of all three groups of model sample comparison, I believe you have your own answer to the question "can the mid-range today really challenge the old flagship in terms of photography".

They say mid-range photos have gotten better, so can they beat the old flagships

In our opinion at ThreeEasyLife, thanks to the advances in CMOS base technology, SoC arithmetic and image algorithms, these mid-range models from the end of 2021 to the first half of 2022 do usher in a significant evolution in the image capabilities of the main camera. In some scenarios, the main camera of today's mid-range models can already have better performance than the old flagships of two or three years ago.

However, it should also be seen that the "new mid-range" of these advantageous items on the one hand has certain limitations, so this also means that their advantages can often only be reflected in those scenarios that only examine the quality of the main camera, or rely heavily on algorithms. In other words, that is, the current mid-range machine in the image progress is not "thorough", especially the shortcomings of the secondary camera hardware configuration, still generally very significant.

They say mid-range photos have gotten better, so can they beat the old flagships

On the other hand, since we realize that many of the mid-range's imaging advantages clearly come from the algorithms, it begs a new question: why can't those old flagships with ISPs and AI performance that aren't too bad be adapted to today's new algorithms? The hardware is really incompatible, or the manufacturer is lazy not to adapt it. If the "old flagships" also use the latest image algorithms, is not also a significant improvement in image quality, or even to continue to maintain the image experience of the new mid-range models "crushing" it?

This issue is actually worth exploring, but that will need to be reviewed in another article.