OnePlus 8 Pro "X-ray" camera is no mistake

This week a OnePlus 8 Pro camera feature went viral. The Color Filter camera – one of four cameras on the back of the OnePlus 8 Pro – was discovered to be able to "see through" certain materials, like it was an x-ray camera... of sorts. We use the term "x-ray camera" because it's become a general term for a camera that appears to be able to see through solid surfaces. This camera doesn't actually use x-ray technology, but it CAN see through certain surfaces.

The effect is really neat, actually. Because the "Color Filter" camera on the OnePlus 8 Pro handles infrared light differently from most cameras, the phone's "Photochrom" filter, as it's called, can see things differently.

The OnePlus 8 Pro's fourth camera doesn't automatically filter out infrared light, like most cameras do. Most of the time, IR-blasted light isn't particularly useful to humans – not visually, anyway. Most of the time we use this light to send and recieve signals with devices like remote controls.

Some devices – like the iPhone 7 (shown above) use IR light to detect proximity and/or movement. The photo you see above was captured with the Photochrom filter in the OnePlus 8 Pro. This photo is not great. The photo is not great because the camera itself isn't particularly fantastic. It's a 5-megapixel camera with a relatively large minimal distance for focus – and even then, the focus isn't great.

The camera's best at capturing scenes far from the user, with plenty of light to assist. Don't even think about trying to use this camera in the dark – it just won't work. It'll give you blackness.

The camera's ability to see through certain materials is not a mistake. The camera cannot actually "see through" anything that isn't already basically semitransparent already – unless you're talking about an Amazon Alexa device made entirely out of IR-blaster-friendly plastic, or an Apple TV device. Or the display on your microwave – it gets weird!

OnePlus didn't include "super fun x-ray camera that can see through stuff like Superman" in any press releases. They did, however, make clear that they meant this camera's abilities to be a feature:

"Inspired by the unique color tones used by professional photographers, OnePlus innovatively uses a filter lens on the fourth camera, which processes light differently to generate a surreal image with a unique color tone. The customized filter transforms the light passing through to an unusual and unique spectrum for the sensor to collect. And the data collected is then processed to generate images that appear rather surreal."

As far as I've been able to tell in basic tests of the camera array on the OnePlus 8 Pro, the Photochrome Camera, aka the Color Filter camera, does not assist with the capture of standard photos with the back-facing camera array. In my tests, when I've go so far as to literally block this camera when I'm shooting a photo with any mode other than the "Photochrom filter", I can see no significant difference in photo quality.

Above you'll see how, if I literally block all cameras but the one Photochrome camera (at the bottom of the camera array), I see the same results as I would without blocking said cameras, when I'm in "Photochrom" mode. This mode uses ONLY that one camera, all alone. If you take a peek at our first exploration of the Photochrome camera on this OnePlus 8 Pro, you'll find a few examples of objects the camera can "see through". Because of this ability, the camera is, indeed, a fun novelty.

With the way OnePlus has implemented the camera, combined with the software that allows certain bits of photos to be highlighted, the OnePlus 8 Pro's camera setup is unique. Other cameras have the ability to filter light like this, but only OnePlus has taken the time to handle the light in such a novel way. Now, if only the camera were able to properly focus, and create photos that were worth sending home to mother, as it were.