Saturday, 09 November 2013 17:42

A Thorough Look At The Oppo N1's Photographic Capabilities: Low Margin, High Quality OEMs That Can Threaten Apple & Samsung Featured

In continuing with the "Hardware is Dead" mantra, I bring you a company that I introduced last year as the maker of some of the most beautiful, durable and innovative handsets available. Below is an introductory overview of their latest flagship handset, the N1 from Oppo - a Chinese company that I featured on my blog about a year and a half ago with thier then flagship - the Finder 5. It was the first five inch full HD phone that I was aware of. It was the first phone sporting a 13 MP camera that I knew of. It was sexy, a sandwich of metal and hardened glass. It was also the thinnest smartphone that I knew of at the time. Although a year old, it is still competitive in terms of performance and specs. Unlike the iPhone, it was durable as well. How durable? Check out this demo...

So, if you're a true nerd such as I, you must wonder what the follow-up flagship from this little known company that makes reference quality high end Blu-Ray players is like. Well, rotating 13 MP camera, 3600 mAH  battery, BLE remote control, rear mounted touch pad - it's different and an obvious attempt at innovation beyond the simple rectangular slabs that we've grown used to. Of course, not everthing is herbs and roses here, but one thing is for sure - priced below $600 US, it can easily put margin pressure on the big boys if it catches on. I should know, because I pioneered the hypothesis of Southeast Asian companies armed with Android ripping through profit margins of the big boys three years ago when the mere thought of such was blasphemous and I was thought to be inept. Now, if you Google "Apple Samsung margin compression" you get...

  1. Samsung Follows Footsteps Of Apple, HTC, Nokia - Wasn't That ... Sep 6, 2013 - I've written several articles on this topic, with Samsung, Apple, RIMM, NOK and ...  Apple Gears Up To Combat The Margin Compression That...

  1. Samsung Will Be Ready To Do That Fruit Thing, Just Like Blackberry ...Mar 7, 2013 - Two and a half years ago I declared in my mobile computing wars series that Google would commoditize the mobi...

Here's a quick video of the unboxing and a comparison to the market leader as well as my personal favorite. There are two technical errors in the video, One, the camera does NOT have OIS (optical image stabilization) which is apparent in low light situations, and two the camera assembly has a 6 element lens array, not 7. This may be minor to most, but the technical geeks among you will notice the snafu.

About the camera...

There's a lot to write about the camera on this phone. Let's start with... 

The Good

Let's face it, the iPhone is still probably the most popular phone among the cosmopolitan, metropolitan cutie crowd. They buy it because it's cute, and these girls use the cute iPhone to make a lot of cute "selfies". From grade school, to high school, to undergrad, to college and grad school, to the young adult dating scene, to married with kids, to taking self portrait flics with the grand kids - the front camera on smartphones get worn out by the female cosmo crowd. This is where the N1 stands out.  It uses one very high quality camera on a swivel instead of a big/little combination back and front. The results, combined with innovative software, are quite impressive.

The self photography (or selfie) market is bigger than even I thought. I took the N1 to various spots around NYC city and let cute girls esconced in make-up try it out. They loved it. Check this out...

You swivel the camera a full 270 degrees to the from to take a hi-res selfie...


You then invoke the "Make-up" app and choose the desired effect (sexy, elegant, sping freshness, blah, blah, blahhh...). The phone then applies its processing wizardy around your face, eyes, head and mouth. If you click the "fine tuning" option, you can drill down to specific facial parts to custom sculpt your face...





You custom sculpt your facial parts by grabbing and dragging the dots to where you'd like to expand or contract your eyes, mouth and lips...


This is the finished product...


For those non-make up type guys (I profess that I may be one of them) who may not be able to see the difference, this is a split screen comparison...


I believe Oppo may be on to something here... 

Then there's the Bad...

I consider the N1 to be a photography-centric phone, and as such I must admit that I was rather dissappointed with the performance of the camera in low light settings and even in broad daylight, particularly when compared to competing high performing shooters such as the LG G2 and the new Nokia phablet (I believe it's the 1520) & the 1020. There was a material amount of noise, graininess and trouble locking on focus. From a company that has put out such high quality product in the recent past, I was really taken aback. So much so that I decided to look into the problem further. In defense of the company, I believe I got one of the very first  - if not the first - production models and it may have shipped a tad bit incomplete. 

The camera on the Oppo N1 is a 13 Megapixel Sony EXMOR RS Stacked CMOS Sensor unit. This is the exact same sensor found on the Find 5 (above), the Lenovo K900, the Samsung Galaxy S4 and the Galaxy Note 3. It is a 1/3.06″ sensor. Oppo attempts to set it apart from the competition by complementing it with a six element f2.0 aperture lens. According to the marketing material the lens is coated with IR and Blue filters for reduced chromatic aberrations and purple fringing. The innovative part is that whole unit sits on a swivel-type arrangement that can rotate 206 degrees for using the same camera for front-facing as well as rear-facing shots.

Remember investors, it is the higher end cameras on phones that have all but destroyed the point and shoot industry (ie. Minolta>Sony, Samsung, Nikon, Canon, etc.) and is clearly threatening to move up the food chain to higher end prosumer and mirrorless devices. Many may poo - poo this statement and sentiment, but then again so did those consumer point and shoot manufactuers from a few years ago - you know those very same guys whose market is just about subsumed, and it is clear that the smart money will look for photographic innovation from companies who are trying to outrun margin compression. The problem is you will probably not be able to do so unless you have low labor cost structure - as in SE Asia, and even then, the laws of economics will catch up to you - right Samsung? From the Oppo web site...


Cutting Edge Optics

N1 is the first Android smartphone to use six physical lenses, giving you a clearer image while eliminating any distortion. The latest generation stacked CMOS sensor, upgraded type 1/3.06 imaging module and f/2.0 wide aperture lets more light in, so you can take great photos even in dark environments.

Not satisfied with what was available, we partnered with the leading optics companies to tailor make our own image-processing solution for improved white balance, exposure and focus. No matter the lighting condition, the N1 camera captures astonishing clarity and detail.

Reinvented Flash Technology

Like any camera, the N1 is equipped with a flash to light up dark environments. The dual flash design consists of a normal flash for back facing shots and a diffused softer light for when you flip the camera forward. With its brightness tunable via the OPPO N1 camera software, the front facing flash will provide perfect lighting conditions for any front facing shots.

Capture the Essence of Time

With unprecedented hardware support, the N1 supports long exposure photography of up to 8 seconds. Capture more than pictures; capture the pulse of the moment.

Camera Design

Designing a rotating camera was a challenging engineering problem. More than a year of work and over 20 different camera designs ultimately led to the simple brilliance of the OPPO N1. The small camera housing includes more than 10 modules, 50 cables, and 67 components. Every part is structurally reinforced and undergoes anti-static treatment.


So, you must be asking the same question that I asked myself. With all of this fancy schmancy camera tech, how is it that the N1 produced pictures that I wasn't happy with? For one, I believe it's a low level firmware and/or driver issue. That means that the N1 could still quite possible be the best thing since sliced bread, but was shipped (to me, at least) with half-baked software that crippled what looks like excellent hardware. This is a guess, mind you. This is the evidence.

This is the LG G2 pic taken at full resolution with all automatic settings on, the picture has been cropped to fit comfortably on this page.

G2 sample cropped 

This is the Oppo N1 pic taken under the same conditions and settings...

N1 sample cropped

There is much more noise in the N1s version, and the more you zoom in and the closer you look the more apparent it is. The N1 underperformed the Note 3's camera and LG G2 (although most cameras do, even the Note 3). The N1 was litereally blown out of the water by the Nokia phablet. I presumed such poor performance from such apparently premium hardware stemmed from over compression and misprocessing of raw data from the sensor. To remedy such I downloaded Camere FV5, an app that allows DSLR level flexibility in configuring your Android smartphone's camera. It allows you to adjust the compression of the JPG file upon saving and to save in a near lossless PNG format. To all of the non-geeks who actually have a life and have no idea of what I'm talking about, this app allows you to take pictures without being tampered with by the OEM enginneers forethoughts on how the picture should be processed once taken. The logis is, if the pics were being overprocessed or compressed too much, this would solve the problem. Alas, even with the lack of compression, subpar results ensued. 

I'm going to give Oppo the benefit of the doubt on this one and request they clarify the issue with the camera. If I'm right and the drivers need to be tweaked and/or rewritten, the N1 may very well still be one of the best photographic phones on the market. 

 My next post on this topic will cover the N1s other features in comparison to its competition, how it pans out in day to day use (there's plenty of other sites who do benchmarks and other tech stuff) and most importantly whether this device or a device like this can make a dent in the US markets and consequently in Apple and Samung's profit margins.

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  1. The housing market crash in the spring of 2006 and publicly in September of 2007: Correction, and further thoughts on the topic and How Far Will US Home Prices Drop?
  2. Home builders falling and their grossly misleading use of off balance sheet structures to conceal excessive debt in November of 2007 (not a single sell side analyst that we know of made mention of this very material point in the industry): Lennar, Voodoo Accounting & Other Things of Mystery and Myth!
  3. The collapse of Bear Stearns in January 2008 (2 months before Bear Stearns fell, while trading in the $100s and still had buy ratings and investment grade AA or better from the ratings agencies): Is this the Breaking of the Bear? | After the collapse, a prudent bullish call as well... Joe Lewis on the Bear Stearns buyout Monday, March 17th, 2008: "The problem with the deal is that it is too low, and too favorable for Morgan. It is literally guaranteed to drive angst from the other side. Whenever you do a deal, you always make sure the other side gets to walk away with something.  If you don’t you always risk the deal falling though unnecessarily. $2 is a slap in the face to employees who have lost a life savings and have the power to block the deal. At the very least, by the building at market price and get the company for free!" | BSC calls are almost free and the JP Morgan Deal is not signed in stone Monday, March 17th, 2008 | This is going to be an exciting, and scary morning Monday, March 17th, 2008 | As I anticipated, Bear Stearns is not a done deal Tuesday, March 18th, 2008 [Bear Stearns stock goes from $1 and change to $10, front month calls literally explode from pennies to several dollars]

  4. The warning of Lehman Brothers before anyone had a clue!!! (February through May 2008): Is Lehman really a lemming in disguise? Thursday, February 21st, 2008 | Web chatter on Lehman Brothers Sunday, March 16th, 2008 (It would appear that Lehman’s hedges are paying off for them. The have the most CMBS and RMBS as a percent of tangible equity on the street following BSC. The question is, “Can they monetize those hedges?”. I’m curious to see how the options on Lehman will be priced tomorrow. I really don’t have enough. Goes to show you how stingy I am. I bought them before Lehman was on anybody’s radar and I was still to cheap to gorge. Now, all of the alarms have sounded and I’ll have to pay up to participate or go in short. There is too much attention focused on Lehman right now. ) | I just got this email on Lehman from my clearing desk Monday, March 17th, 2008 by Reggie Middleton | Lehman stock, rumors and anti-rumors that support the rumors Friday, March 28th, 2008 |  May 2008
  5. The fall of commercial real estate in general (September of 2007) and the collapse of General Growth Properties [nation's 2nd largest mall owner] in particular (November 2007): 
    1. Will the commercial real estate market fall? Of course it will.
    2. Do you remember when I said Commercial Real Estate was sure to fall?
    3. The Commercial Real Estate Crash Cometh, and I know who is leading the way!
    4. Generally Negative Growth in General Growth Properties - GGP Part II
    5. General Growth Properties & the Commercial Real Estate Crash, pt III - The Story Gets Worse
    6.’s answer to GGP’s latest press release and Another GGP update coming… (among over 700 pages of analysis, review the January 2008 archives or search for “GGP” for more research).
  6. The collapse of state and municipal finances, with California in particular (May 2008): Municipal bond market and the securitization crisis – part 2
  7. The collapse of the regional banks (32 of them, actually) in May 2008: As I see it, these 32 banks and thrifts are in deep doo-doo! as well as the fall of Countrywide and Washington Mutual
  8. The collapse of the monoline insurers, Ambac and MBIA in late 2007 & 2008: A Super Scary Halloween Tale of 104 Basis Points Pt I & II, by Reggie Middleton, Welcome to the World of Dr. FrankenFinance! and Ambac is Effectively Insolvent & Will See More than $8 Billion of Losses with Just a $2.26 Billion
  9. The overvaluation of Goldman Sachs from June 2008 to present): “Can You Believe There Are Still Analysts Arguing How Undervalued Goldman Sachs Is? Those July 150 Puts Say Otherwise, Let’s Take a Look”, “When the Patina Fades… The Rise and Fall of Goldman Sachs???“andReggie Middleton vs Goldman Sachs, Round 2)
  10. The ENTIRE Pan-European Sovereign Debt Crisis (potentially soon to be the Global Sovereign Debt Crisis) starting in January of 2009 and explicit detail as of January 2010: The Pan-European Sovereign Debt Crisis
  11. Ireland austerity and the disguised sink hole of debt and non-performing assets that is the Irish banking system: I Suggest Those That Dislike Hearing “I Told You So” Divest from Western and Southern European Debt, It’ll Get Worse Before It Get’s Better!
  12. The mobile computing paradigm shift, May 2010:  »

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