To have or not to have a high-resolution camera, that is the question smartphone makers have been asking since 2012 - the year that the iconic Nokia 808 was launched. Over the course of time though, every smartphone maker had seemingly given in to an unspoken agreement, that megapixel count doesn’t really make a smartphone camera. There’s a lot more to it. Until last year, when Sony and Samsung introduced the IMX586 and the GM1, GD1 high-resolution image sensors designed specifically to reignite that debate.
The Vivo V15 Pro, that is launching in India today, is the world’s first smartphone to have not one, but two of these high-resolution image sensors (Samsung’s ISOCELL 48MP GM1 and 32MP GD1). In addition to a wide-angle 8MP and another 5MP sensor for depth sensing aka portrait photography. Simply put, the Vivo V15 Pro has more camera megapixels than your typical DSLR. And while there’s still more to a smartphone camera than its megapixel count, this is the first time when having more megapixels might just be a great idea.
Before diving into the technicalities of the Vivo V15 Pro’s 48MP rear and 32MP front cameras, it is important to understand one thing - Samsung’s ISOCELL 48MP GM1 and 32MP GD1 image sensors are virtually the same deal (in design and how they work), differing only in resolution – a 48MP sensor will theoretically output more detail in comparison to a 32MP sensor. Also, it is important to understand one more thing - Samsung’s ISOCELL 48MP GM1 and 32MP GD1 are not true 48MP (like the Sony IMX586 inside the Honor View 20) and 32MP image sensors even though they can output 48MP and 32MP resolution photos. But more on that later.
Measuring ½ an inch diagonally, the GM1 and GD1 sensors are bigger than most mobile sensors in the market right now. Not to mention, they have far more resolution. Without requiring a noticeable camera bump. Both the GM1 and GD1 may have tiny 0.8-micron pixels (larger pixels result in greater light sensitivity) but Samsung uses a workaround this caveat, a Quad Bayer arrangement wherein four pixels are grouped under one filter of the same color, to supposedly produce photos akin to a much larger sensor with 1.6-micron pixels.
There are two sides to this story (rather than plain good or bad). The effective resolutions in the case of the 48MP GM1 and 32MP GD1 are really 12MP and 8MP respectively – the same reason why the rear and front cameras on-board the Vivo V15 Pro shoot at 12MP and 8MP respectively by default. But unlike a phone like the Google Pixel 3 with 12MP 1.2-micron pixels, the Vivo V15 Pro can capture sharper 12MP photos with less noise or grain even at high ISO (low light), at least on paper. The same will be true about its effective 8MP photos.
One big highlight of the GM1 and GD1 is the fact that they allow the phone’s ISP to computationally convert the default 12MP array into a 48MP image. But while the Sony IMX586 can achieve the golden 48MP figure, Samsung’s sensors use interpolation – and as any professional photographer/editor would tell you, that’s not such a great idea. Since interpolation is all about digitally increasing the size of the pixels within an image (often adding information that wasn’t originally there), all you essentially get is a larger file size. Rather than pixel-peeping detail.
That’s not to say that the Vivo V15 Pro is essentially useless at 48MP and 32MP – that, the 48MP and 32MP camera modes are essentially a gimmick (possibly the same reason why they aren’t enabled by default). And they are but look at everything else that they bring to the table. As for shooting at 48MP and 32MP, well, you can surely count them as bragging rights.
As for image quality, it is quite good. In good light, the phone’s 48MP rear camera can capture some good-looking photos with good amount of detail and colors that are mostly true to source (if a little inaccurate at times). Dynamic range is quite good too, with little or no metering issues. I like that Vivo isn’t overdoing things with fancy post-processing algorithms (kind of what Honor is doing in the Honor View 20) resulting in truer to life photos when the lighting is ideal. Vivo isn’t overdoing things with AI as well although the phone does come with AI-based features like scene detection and portrait framing.
But it is in low light where the Vivo V15 Pro’s 48MP rear camera really shines, capturing brighter exposures with higher ISO – brighter, cleaner and more detailed photos with little or no noise. There’s also a dedicated night mode to bump up the shadows and pick even more detail, but it’s a hit or miss really.
For videos, the Vivo V15 Pro rear camera can shoot good-quality 4K at 30fps but dynamic range could have been better.
The 32MP camera on the front has more or less the same story in image quality, although it does tend to soften details (much like any other Vivo phone) even when beautification is set to off.
The Vivo V15 Pro also packs an 8MP wide-angle camera and a 5MP portrait camera on the rear offering a great bit of versatility for a phone that costs south of Rs 30,000. They work well when the lighting is ideal, capturing good wide-angle shots (with no prominent fish-eye effect) and portraits with good-enough edge detection.
The rest of the Vivo V15 Pro is top notch too, without any notch to obstruct your view. Its blue gradient design, although it uses lots of plastic in its construction, screams premium from every perceivable angle. Its 6.4-inch 1080p+ AMOLED display which is also near edge-to-edge gets plenty bright, offers good color reproduction and viewing angels. Its Qualcomm Snapdragon 675 paired with 6GB RAM and 128GB storage (non-expandable) plays PUBG well, and mostly without breaking a sweat. And, its 3,700mAh battery (with fast charging) is ample to last all day.
Being a Vivo phone means, it packs a few extra tricks as well. The V15 Pro comes with a fifth-generation in-display fingerprint scanner which is faster and more accurate than the one we saw in the V11 Pro and the Nex S before it. And the selfie camera is tucked inside the chassis and pops out only when you need it – Vivo says the mechanics have been improved on this one so it is likely to last you longer than the pop-out cam in the Nex S.
That’s not to say that the V15 Pro is perfect though. The phone is fairly slim and light, but its pointy edges mean it isn’t meant for long usage. It runs Android Pie but Funtouch OS is literally jam-packed with bloat or unwanted apps. Not to mention, still very iOS-like. It does not have any sort of ingress protection, and the pop-out camera (although it is plenty durable) is still a movable part prone to damage. There is no NFC and the phone charges over standard micro-USB. The in-display fingerprint scanner also takes some time getting used to. But then no smartphone is, perfect.
Vivo has been doing some crazy innovative things for over a year now. Last year’s Apex was nothing short of revolutionary in many ways. The fact that Vivo was able to commercialize the concept through the Nex soon enough was crazier still. The Nex had two headlining features, a pop-up selfie camera and an in-display fingerprint scanner. But it was a flagship phone that cost almost Rs 40,000. Vivo later brought one of its marquee features, the in-display fingerprint scanner, to a relatively more mainstream product, the V11 Pro. And now, it has done the same with the pop-up selfie camera, courtesy the V15 Pro. It might not be the kind of innovation that everybody buys but the ones that do will be pleasantly surprised with what’s in store. And at Rs 28,990 (MOP), Vivo has ensured more people will be able to afford it.