If you asked me what was the camera advancement that would make a bold statement in 2020, I would have suggested the incoming array of under-screen front cameras that are bound to make both cutouts and notches a thing of the last decade. But right at the start of this year, I have been forced to rethink by the OnePlus team as they launched their new concept – Concept One – at the ongoing Consumer Electronics Show (CES) 2020 in Las Vegas.
We have seen a lot of innovation in rear-cameras in past few years, and rightly so. A huge reason of buying new and mostly high-end phones is their camera performance. And we have seen quite a few variations in the use and placement too. While some like Apple and Google found a square haven for their rear lenses, the OnePlus chose the circle on their 7T while the common linear one dominated most android including the 7T pro. And did you forget the rotating one on Asus? So it was not just the quality and functionality of these rear cameras that gave designers a challenge but also placing them on the phone – without being ugly on the eye or a hindrance to smooth handling.
Created in collaboration with McLaren, the Concept One has brought a new design aesthetic into being for smartphones – the disappearing rear cameras. The back of the phone – which has a smooth Papaya Orange leather covering inspired by the insides of a McLaren also houses the camera setup which can totally hide behind the array of electrochromic glass sheets.
So if you’re holding the camera in your hand, there are no cameras visible to you on the back. But as soon as you open the camera app – precisely 0.7 seconds later- the triple camera setup is peeking out of the glass and ready to work. Close the app, and it all goes dark again – abracadabra anyone?
OnePlus has revealed that the functionality has been inspired by the electrochromic roof on the McLaren 720S. McLaren and OnePlus have teamed up over the years for some really good looking versions of their powerful phones and this one is the same. But the real challenge won here is creating a version of this glass that is thin enough to fit the device (at 0.35 mm thickness) and fast enough to not hinder use (0.7 seconds opaque to transparent).
But that’s also where this concept seems to have a rough curb (get it?). Putting such cutting-edge tech into a phone is not unprecendented but it also means that the phone may not see mass production and may remain as a CES showstopper in history books.
But there is one part of this experiment that may somehow tide over to production, seeing how useful it is. The glass on the back does not just help Concept One do a quick sleight of hand, it also adds a much-loved and appreciated feature to its Pro-mode of camera – the ND filter.
For starters, an ND – or Neutral Density – filter allows you to take amazing shots with controlled exposure in areas where you cannot actually control too much exposure or variable exposures. On the top corner of Concept One’s pro-mode, you have a ND8 button which lets you switch on three levels of ND and that can be really useful in many scenarios.
This neat little hidden feature for us is the highlight of Concept One, even as the world goes gaga over the not so subtle magic trick it plays on its back.