Sunday, November 15, 2015

Lenovo Vibe P1 Smartphone Camera Review

Lenovo Vibe P1 Smartphone Camera Review
Lenovo Vibe P1, with its rare aluminum and glass design is an extremely attractive looking smartphone, recently launched by Lenovo to target the mid-budget smartphone users and the model has been made available in India exclusively for online sale since the end of October. Despite its sub 16K (Rs. 15,999) price tag Lenovo Vibe P1 has enough elegance to be mistaken as a flagship model from any premium brand. Comparing with other smartphones in similar price bracket overall specifications and features of Vibe P1 are quite decent, if not overwhelming. As you already know me to be a photo enthusiast, naturally along with other things my purpose of a smartphone includes- clicking photos on the go. I believe I am not the only one who gives high priority to the clicking ability of his mobile phone. So, to give you some idea on what to expect from the camera optics of Lenovo Vibe P1, I'm reviewing its camera after using this set extensively for a week. This review will solely focus on the performance, features and image quality of the camera of Vibe P1. So, this is the exclusive camera review of this phone to cater the interest of smartphone photographers and in no way should be mistaken as a full fledged phone review. 

Since last few years Lenovo has been continuously launching its various smartphone models keeping in view of the market craze and few of its models (like Lenovo K3 Note) succeeded in striking a chord with the fancy of budget users. Despite its feature rich handsets, decent after-sales service (well, read it 'semi decent') and recognized brand name, Lenovo has somehow failed to touch the G-spot of the Indian smartphone market. Though not so apparent, reasons are many. Camera has never been a strong point in any of the Lenovo phones, and sadly, the manufacturer seemed ever cold to users' persistent disappointments with their smartphone cameras. On spec sheet, Lenovo Vibe P1 boasts of a 13 MP rear camera with super fast auto-focusing due to PDAF (Phase detect auto focus) technology, dual color LED flash, zero shutter lag (Wow!) and a fixed focus 5 MP front camera. Nothing anywhere Lenovo has mentioned about the type of sensor used in Vibe P1's camera units or the manufacturer of their optics. This invites the inevitable apprehension- Did Lenovo settle with inferior camera in Vibe P1 to keep the price of such a classy looking handset so aggressively affordable? Let's fiddle with the camera of Vibe P1 and see for ourself how good it performs.

Design and Ergonomics: Lenovo Vibe P1 is a fairly large phablet with dimensions 75.6 X 4.6-9.9 X 152.9 mm. The curved aluminum body tapering at sides and the uncanny 189 gm weight make its usage over palm pretty comfortable, but when you hold the same phone as a camera, be it in landscape or the portrait orientation, you'd struggle to find its perfect balance between your fingers and the extra weight will soon add up to make your fingers shaky. Slim metallic edges while capturing photos make you long for better grip. The transparent case supplied by Lenovo in the box is equally slippery and soon, you'll feel the need to buy a good quality silicon case for your Vibe P1 to get rid of the constant fear of dropping the phone. There is no dedicated camera button on the body but the volume rocker button at right can be set to act as either zoom lever or the shutter button. In any case chances are high you'll miss the presence of a soft physical button for camera shutter after composing shot with such a chunky gadget. Unless you have monstrous palms, whether you like it or not, capturing photos in landscape orientation in your Vibe P1 would engage both of your hands. Framing shots and playing with captured photographs is a bliss in Vibe P1 due to its 5.5" Full HD IPS display (401 ppi, 16M colors). In case you're wondering, this screen has fairly good viewing angles and manageable sunlight legibility too. Good things said, I have seen cheaper phones with better viewing angles and brighter screen.
Lenovo Vibe P1 Smartphone Camera Review
Options in the camera app of Lenovo Vibe P1 are too limited to be desired by an enthusiast smartphone clicker.
Camera Operation: A gentle tap on the home screen camera icon quickly opens the stock camera app in Lenovo Vibe P1 and you'll be welcomed by a minimalist camera interface with predominance of 'Auto' mode. Quick launching the camera app is also possible right from the lock screen even if you don't have access to the phone. On tapping the right bottom corner of the display Vibe P1 would prompt you to swipe left for camera. Another alternative to click pictures instantly is tapping the volume rocker button twice even when the phone is locked and its display is off. This way you don't have the comfort of composing a shot or focus the required area, but, you can gamble on an otherwise missed opportunity or take few spy shots.
Lenovo Vibe P1 Smartphone Camera Review
The camera wants to do everything on its own. I wish it was capable for its intention!
Options in the camera app of Lenovo Vibe P1 are too limited to be desired by an enthusiast smartphone photographer. The camera wants to do everything on its own. I wish it was capable for its intention! The app features a row of icons (when the device is held in landscape mode) that includes- front camera switch, flash control and the HDR. On the right you'll find a column of options to review images, the virtual video, still shutter and shooting mode buttons. The shooting mode screen gives you limited preferences of capturing images in- Normal (the default Auto mode), Panorama or with preset Effects (Mono, Sepia, Negative, Aqua, Posterize, Embossed, Sketch, Neon). Opposite to mode button, on the other corner of the screen lies the settings button. In the settings menu you can choose aspect ratio (4:3, 16:9, 1:1), set the photo resolution (Maximum, Normal), photo quality (Hyperfine, Fine, Normal), white balance (Auto, Incandescent, Daylight, Fluorescent, Cloudy), ISO (100 to 1600), metering method, video quality (Full HD, HD, 480P), timer (3, 5, 10 sec), strobe, activate grid lines, triaxial leveling, GPS, define function for the volume keys (Sound, Zoom, Capture) and choose the storage location. In Auto mode you can always focus by tapping on the live view image and pinch in and out to capitalize the digital zoom up to 3x. However, neither you can lock the focus nor the exposure. The front camera being a fixed focus shooter has more limited options and perhaps that's how the phrase 'bare minimum' was born. You might be excited to know that Vibe P1 lets you capture still shots while recording video. Other than the liberty of setting ISO values and tapping to focus this smartphone gives you no other manual control for camera.
Lenovo Vibe P1 Smartphone Camera Review
Exposure and color production are fairly natural in good light.

Lenovo Vibe P1 Smartphone Camera Review
Click on the image to check out 100% crop of the above photo.
Image Quality and Performance: 
Powered by Snapdragon 615 64-bit octa-core 1.5GHz processor and backed up by 2 GB RAM, Lenovo Vibe P1 is a pretty responsive smartphone in its class. In less than a second you can launch the camera from home screen and the same feat is possible on a locked display within a couple of seconds. Autofocus works acceptably fast in good lighting condition and focuses on the subject in less than a second. In daylight and bright indoor conditions shot to shot interval was well within a second and I call it decent for a smartphone camera. Surprisingly, shot to shot interval in 'forced flash' mode is very little too! I could capture around four shots in a small span of say five seconds. You can also set the camera in 'tap to capture' mode where your work is only selecting the area of focus in the frame and rest of the job is done by the smartphone. Tap to capture mode is neither fast nor reliable, just a hit or miss at best. All test shots in this review have been taken in maximum resolution (4160*3120), hyperfine quality, auto white balance and auto ISO. File sizes of my sample shots varied unpredictably from 2 to 6 MB.

In good light, the primary camera of Lenovo Vibe P1 produces average image quality. Exposure and color production are fairly natural in most of the photos but images when viewed at 100% size showed clear lack of fine details which one can expect from a 13 MP sensor. Worst agony with Vibe P1's camera turned out to be the lack of an image stabilization system. You have to hold the smartphone real rock-steady (literally so) if at all you want to expect a blur-free photograph! Disappointingly, many times even at higher shutter speeds I failed to obtain sharp images which made me infer that beside incompetent hardware there's some software issues too with the camera of Vibe P1, and Lenovo should fix it with a firmware update as soon as possible. Despite capturing shaky images, thankfully other annoying problems like chromatic aberrations, lens flare, distortions, excess noise etc were hardly present in daylight test shots.
Lenovo Vibe P1 Smartphone Camera Review
In low light conditions Vibe P1 is quite aggressive in suppressing noise and it does so at the cost of picture details.

Lenovo Vibe P1 Smartphone Camera Review
Click on the image to check out 100% crop of the above photo.
In low light conditions if you keep the flash off, Lenovo Vibe P1 bumps up its ISO up to 2000 to capture a scene at shutter speed of around 1/10 sec (aperture: f/2.1). Auto-focusing takes its own sweet time (I was having high hope on its Phase Detection Autofocus technology for no good reason!) and seldom night shots are properly focused. At shutter speeds as slow as 1/10 sec you have very thin chance of capturing any sharp image without the much needed aid of image stabilization feature. Vibe P1 is quite aggressive in suppressing noise and it does so at the cost of picture details. But overall I would say this camera does a fine job in maintaining the balance between noise and noise suppression at such high ISO where even many of the compact point and shoot cameras sluggishly give up.
Lenovo Vibe P1 Smartphone Camera Review
Images when viewed at 100% size showed clear lack of fine details which one can expect from a 13 MP sensor.

Lenovo Vibe P1 Smartphone Camera Review
The dual-color LED flash fails to keep the camera ISO down. As a result there is always predominance of noise and loss of fine details.
The dual-color LED flash unit in Lenovo Vibe P1 plays its part well in producing naturally looking shots with optimum exposure and white balance. But the flash fails to keep the camera ISO down. As a result there is always predominance of noise and loss of fine details. You would probably like to use your smartphone flash as torchlight and preserve it for dire photographic emergencies (suppose, you get to meet Lionel Messi in a desolated road under the new moon sky).

It is never easy for a tiny digital camera sensor to capture proper highlight and shadow details in high contrast situations. That's where enabling the HDR (High Dynamic Range) mode helps. HDR images are created by the camera software by capturing multiple images with different exposure values and then merging them into a single image to reproduce a greater dynamic range of luminosity than is possible with conventional photographic techniques. HDR mode in Lenovo Vibe P1 produces overexposed, artificial looking images with moderate highlight details. Capturing HDR in Vibe P1 is relatively slow. You're compelled to hold the phone steady for few seconds at least, and till then don't be surprised if you get a blurry photo at the end. Keeping the HDR turned off is probably a better idea in Vibe P1.
Lenovo Vibe P1 Smartphone Camera Review
HDR mode in Lenovo Vibe P1 produces overexposed, artificial looking images with moderate highlight details.

Lenovo Vibe P1 Smartphone Camera Review
I could make Vibe P1 capture few cool photographs with noticeable depth of field.

Lenovo Vibe P1 Smartphone Camera Review
Even in best lighting conditions the lens couldn't focus anything closer to 3 inches.
Be aware of the limited macro shooting ability of Lenovo Vibe P1 (by macro here I meant close up shots). Even in best lighting conditions the lens couldn't focus anything closer to 3 inches. Forget taking insect photos, you won't be able to fill your frame even with neatly focused flower photos. With such focusing ability in a fixed aperture (probably) of f/2.1, I could capture few cool photographs with noticeable depth of field though, as you can see in the last but one collage. For rest of the close up utilities like taking photographs of documents or scanning (with dedicated app) the camera fares well.

Lenovo has made the panorama mode in Vibe P1 very simple and hassle free. You have to hold the phone in portrait orientation and pan horizontally (either left or right) or vertically (up or down) to take 180 degrees panorama shots. This camera merrily accepts your panning as long as it is not too abrupt, fast or jerky. The stitching is pretty nice but what disappointed me was the meager resolution of output image (hardly 2 to 3 MP) carrying minimum details.
Lenovo Vibe P1 Smartphone Camera Review
A horizontal 180 degrees panorama shot using Lenovo Vibe P1.

Lenovo Vibe P1 Smartphone Camera Review
Exposures of selfies I took were well balanced and color saturation was bit on the higher side.
Front Camera: The 5 MP front camera of Lenovo Vibe P1 has fixed focus and we know exactly what to expect from such a cam especially when the rear camera with much better 'on paper' claims has failed our expectation in most of the aspects. This front cam is capable of capturing decent selfies in bright light and wide enough to accommodate three to four heads in landscape mode if you have long arms. Obviously, a selfie-stick would ease up shooting group photo provided the stick doesn't wobble with such a heavy smartphone at its end. Exposures of selfies I took were well balanced and color saturation was bit on the higher side. Even in dim light the camera surprised me by capturing selfies which can be easily shared in social platforms. This made me conclude that photographers with steady hands can easily manage above average selfie shots with the front camera of Vibe P1.

Video Mode: I am not into videography and understand least about technicalities associated to it. So, I'll refrain from voicing my opinion on the video capturing capability of Lenovo Vibe P1. The video recording mode of Vibe P1 doesn't offer you with much freedom over the process. In settings menu you can choose the video quality (Full HD, HD, 480P). On pressing the video button video recording starts instantaneously, and while recording you can do either of the three things- pause the video, stop it or capture a still image concurrently. From a layman's perspective, both the Full HD (1920*1080) and the HD (1280*720) videos I had captured in good light were fun to play. While autofocus failed for fast moving subjects, slow movements were properly recorded. Sound output was loud and clear. In low light environment the video mode was not so smart though. A typical minute length video clip in Full HD and HD resolutions were roughly 150 and 100 MB respectively.
Lenovo Vibe P1 Smartphone Camera Review
Auto-focusing takes its own sweet time and seldom low light shots are properly focused.

Lenovo Vibe P1 Smartphone Camera Review
Most of the pictures taken by Vibe P1 lack in sharpness, fine details and suffer from poor dynamic range.
Overall Conclusion: Lenovo Vibe P1 is a potent mid-budget smartphone but it is such a pity that its camera unit doesn't quite match the premium look and feel of this gadget. Most of the pictures taken by Vibe P1 lack in sharpness, fine details and suffer from poor dynamic range. Lack of an image stabilization and macro mode seriously hurt smartphone photo enthusiasts. Absence of manual controls makes you feel helpless whenever you fail to get the desired result with camera's all Auto mode. So, if you are looking for a robust phablet in sub 20K price range Vibe P1 is a strong contender but if you fall in either of these three categories better think of any other smartphone other than this metallic monster:
- Your smartphone camera is the only camera you have/use.
- You're a photo enthusiast.
- Bad photos piss you off!
Yes, lookout for other smartphones offering better cameras. Trust me, I have used sub 6K smartphone with better camera optics and image qualities!

Ratings (Out of 5):
Design - 3
Features - 2.5
Ease of Use - 3
Image Quality - 2
Value for Money - 1.5
Overall - 2.5

13 comments:

  1. I liked your honest review. Better pictures are critical for photo enthusiasts and bloggers like us. I had a iphone 4 (used phone) and it's picture quality was very decent. I am sure the high end versions must be so cool :)

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    Replies
    1. Thanks Parul. BTW, I've heard nothing but praises about the iPhone 6 camera :-)

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  2. After shooting even in HDR I needed to finish editing on my mac with http://aurorahdr.com...so I maked some conclusions. For beginners will it will be normal

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  3. How HDR can be used with flash light in lenovo vibe

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    Replies
    1. Unfortunately, HDR and Flash can't be used together.

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  4. In my model Lenovo vibe p1a2 turbo default rear camera doesn't work. What can I do for this.? Please reply me...

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    Replies
    1. Hi Raja,
      I believe Lenovo vibe p1a2 turbo is a different model from the Lenovo vibe p1 and I'm not quite sure if it was officially launched by Lenovo in India. So, it won't be wise from my part to suggest something purely on wild guess. Cheers!

      Delete
  5. In my model Lenovo vibe p1a2 turbo default rear camera doesn't work. What can I do for this.? Please reply me...

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  6. Thank you so much for this excellent review!

    ReplyDelete
  7. Replies
    1. Neither very bright... nor too dim. Under direct sunlight I end up deactivating the 'Auto' brightness and brighten the display to its max limit manually. Watching a video in such scenario won't be enjoyable at all, but, the screen shall be pretty OK for calling/texting/surfing stuffs.

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  8. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

    ReplyDelete

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