ASUS ZenFone 5Z vs OnePlus 6 camera comparison: picking a winner is difficult

After a long wait, the Asus ZenFone 5Z is finally here. And thanks to its pricing, it goes up against the venerable OnePlus 6. I am pretty sure, like me, a lot of you would like to know – which one of these two budget flagships takes the best pictures? And therefore, in typical Mr. Phone fashion – I’ve decided to put them through our rigorous tests and fight it out. 

For all intents and purposes, this comparison is also a full camera review of the ZenFone 5Z. So, let’s get started.

For those who want to watch a video instead of reading the comparison, we’ve embedded a video below:

Comparing the specs

Instead of me rambling on about the specs, here’s a convenient comparison infographic of the camera specs on the ZenFone 5Z and the OnePlus 6. You’ll notice that the OnePlus 6 offers more megapixels but the ZenFone 5Z has bigger pixels. We’ll find out soon how that affects our final tests. 

Note: you can click on the image to view them in full resolution. 

ZenFone 5Z dedicated wide angle

While I have a proper test for wide angle performance on both the phones, let me remind you that the ZenFone 5Z has a dedicated camera for wide angle shots. So, let’s analyse that first. Take a look at the images below: one shot using the regular 24mm lens on the 12MP sensor and the other using the wider 12mm lens on the 8MP sensor. 

What I noticed is the ZenFone 5Z uses auto-HDR to actually fix the dynamic range on the regular shot. The auto-HDR mode doesn’t fire when using the secondary camera. Therefore, the image looks dull and lifeless in comparison. There is a clear lens distortion around the edges and the software does zilch to fix it. And obviously, you get better details using the primary camera too. Having said that, I like the fact that you don’t have to worry about moving far away from the subject to fit it into the frame using the wide angle camera. It gives you a better perspective and adds to the drama. But, the images don’t necessarily look as good.

Wide angle test

Here I’ve shot an entire landscape that is visible from our office campusto test how the cameras perform. Let me break down what I noticed.

OnePlus 6

1. The ZenFone 5Z captures a wider image thanks to the 24mm wide angle lens compared to the slightly narrower 25mm lens on the OnePlus 6. 

2. Both the phones use HDR automatically, but OnePlus 6’s HDR is more subtle. Therefore, the ZenFone 5Zs image has a better dynamic range, especially when you look at the sky. 

3. The ZenFone 5Z offers far punchier colours. However, the colours on the OnePlus 6 image are more natural. That said, I am certain that a lot of folks will like the ZenFone 5Z’s image. 

4. As far as details are concerned, there is not much separating the two samples. But you will notice that the ZenFone 5Z does a little bit of over-sharpening.

5. The ZenFone 5Z has a better control over the barrel distortion around the edges, and also offers better noise control. Take a look at the Blue Maruti Baleno right next to the gate. The side effect of the noise control is the car looks like it is water-coloured image and not a real object. 

ASUS ZenFone 5Z

After all these observations, you know by now how difficult it is to pick one winner. Because, each software algorithm works in a different fashion. I think I like the OnePlus 6’s photo because the software is not very aggressive. But, I completely understand if you like ASUS’ aggressive use of AI out here. By the way, there’s no way to switch off AI, like you can on the Huawei P20 Pro.

I’ll refrain from choosing a winner in this round. 

Long shot of architecture

In this shot, you will notice clearly that the ZenFone 5Z has way better control over the noise.

OnePlus 6

Take a look at the corners and you will see. And, it offers better dynamic range too when you look at the sky. I am going to pick the ASUS in this one. 

ASUS ZenFone 5Z

Close up

In this shot of the sunflower, at first glance I found the OnePlus 6 to be slightly better exposed. But, I also noticed that the ZenFone 5Z offers far better colour tones.

ASUS ZenFone 5Z

Take a look at the yellow petals closely, the 5Z doesn’t smoothen out the lines whereas the OnePlus 6 does it. Also, the ASUS image is ever so slightly crisper. The ZenFone 5Z edges out the OnePlus 6 in this round. 

OnePlus 6

HDR

If you switch off the HDR mode, the ZenFone 5Z just loses out all the information in the shadows and underexposes the image. Therefore, I’d strongly suggest you keep auto-HDR on at all times; if you do end up buying the ZenFone 5Z that is. In comparison, the OnePlus 6 has a far better control over the non-HDR image and the dynamic range is good by default. And therefore, the HDR shot doesn’t need too much work and it is a very subtle implementation. 

OnePlus 6 non-HDR

OnePlus 6 HDR

But the story is entirely different on the ASUS phone. ASUS just shoots up the drama by more than a couple of notches. I mean, just look at the HDR shot below. It feels like the camera engineers were paid more money to work on the HDR mode and they just went an itsy-bitsy overboard. The over-enthusiasm has resulted an HDR shot that recreates a completely unnatural image. It might look good but it is like someone cranked up the Drama filter on Snapseed. 

ASUS ZenFone 5Z non-HDR

ASUS ZenFone 5Z HDR

This round evidently goes to the OnePlus 6. 

Portrait

While the OnePlus 6 automatically chooses the level of blur using the Portrait mode, the ASUS ZenFone 5Z allows you to choose the aperture level. Obviously this is a software-induced aperture mode, but it is great to have control nonetheless. However, the problem with control is that some folks might get overwhelmed. In fact, I found it difficult to choose the right aperture setting for the right blur. I settled on f/4 finally. But eventually, the OnePlus 6 image ended up winning this round for much better exposure control and detail retention. The cutout on both the images were almost on par.

OnePlus 6

That said, the ASUS has a small ace up its sleeve. The ZenFone 5Z can accurately create cutouts around inanimate objects, something a lot of other phones struggle with. This in itself is a major, major advantage for someone like me, who likes shooting a lot of portraits. 

ASUS ZenFone 5Z

Rear camera video

Interestingly, both the phones can shoot 4k 60fps video. Unfortunately, only the OnePlus 6 offers electronic stabilisation. That’s one point in favour of the OnePlus flagship without even testing. In my sample testing, the ZenFone 5Z footage was not stabilised properly. Both the footages are slightly oversaturated to the extent that reds look pink. But, the OnePlus 6 shoots at a much higher bitrate of around 120Mbit/s, compared to the 68Mbit/s on the ZenFone 5Z. Moreover, even the stereo recording is better on the OnePlus 6. I shall pick the OnePlus in this round of testing. 

Selfie

OnePlus 6

The OnePlus 6’s 16MP selfie shooter beats the ASUS’ front camera comfortably. You get better details, good facial tones, and a great depth by default. No points for guessing which phone wins this round.

ASUS ZenFone 5Z

Selfie portrait

OnePlus 6

While the OnePlus 6 offers better details and colours, the blur on the ZenFone 5Z is a lot more pronounced. It looks slightly good but is definitely far more unnatural. Once again, the OnePlus 6 takes the cake in this round. 

ASUS ZenFone 5Z

Front camera video

As far as shooting videos using the front camera is concerned, bear in mind that both the phones have a narrow field of view. And therefore, my face is getting cut as a result in both the test samples. The OnePlus 6’s footage is heavy on contrast but the sound recording is insanely good. On the contrary, the ZenFone 5Z overexposes my face. Overall, I prefer the front camera on the OnePlus 6 for shooting videos. 

Low light

The low light test is where things get very interesting. The OnePlus 6 botches up colour accuracy and shoots a very warm image. On closer inspection of the shot details, I also noticed that the OnePlus 6 chooses a higher ISO 2000 rating compared to ISO 768 by the ASUS ZenFone 5Z.

OnePlus 6

And despite that, the ZenFone 5Z offers a better exposure. As far as details are concerned, both the cameras are on par actually. Overall though, I am picking the ZenFone 5Z as the winner. 

ASUS ZenFone 5Z

Low light with flash

OnePlus 6

Even with the flash on, the OnePlus 6 image looks warm. However, on closer inspection, you will notice that the OnePlus 6 manages to retrieve far more details from the shot thanks to the powerful flash module. So, the OnePlus takes the crown in this round. 

ASUS ZenFone 5Z

Selfie low light

OnePlus 6

Shooting selfies in low light conditions without flash – on smartphones – is generally not a good idea. I did it regardless. The OnePlus 6’s selfie looks slightly more detailed and has a better control over the noise. The ZenFone 5Z shot has some chromatic aberration around my pupils as well. Again, OnePlus emerges triumphant.

ASUS ZenFone 5Z

Selfie low light with flash

OnePlus 6

Both the phones use the screen as a flash to light up the face and evidently, the OnePlus 6 does a far better job than the ZenFone 5Z.

ASUS ZenFone 5Z

ZenFone 5Z vs OnePlus 6 – which phone has the better camera?

After the intensive test, the one thing I can confirm is that for most use cases, the OnePlus 6 is slightly better than the ZenFone 5Z. But, what’s surprising is that the ZenFone 5Z is extremely efficient and can capture some really good looking shots. In fact, it takes good shots in low light as well. If you ask me, I have a feeling that a lot of folks are going to like the way the ZenFone 5Z captures far punchier colours and the fact that it has a very aggressive and dramatic HDR mode. 

Hope you guys liked this comparison. Do let us know in the comments section below, which one is your favourite budget flagship camera. 

Ershad Kaleebullah

When Ershad isn't writing, he spends time killing virtual zombies on his PS4. Having worked with a slew of renowned publications like PCWorld, Channelworld, CIO, NDTV Gadgets (now Gadgets360), MySmartPrice, The Inquistr, and 91Mobiles, Ershad brings a whole world of experience to Mr. Phone. He is trying hard to convert all the team members into Apple fans but is facing a lot of resistance. Is anyone willing to help?