HardwareHTCUpcoming 5 years ago | | 25 Comments

Quick look: how good is the HTC One’s camera?

Camera in the HTC One.

Because I’m a huge camera geek, the amount of marketing buzzwords thrown in to describe the HTC One’s camera really intrigued me. “Ultrapixels”, you say? 3x the light capturing ability, you say? I don’t believe in buzzspeak, I believe in results; so I decided at the HTC launch to put the One up against the best cameras in the smartphone business: the Nokia Lumia 920 and the Nokia 808 PureView. Check out the sample images after the break.

Obviously, neither the Lumia 920 nor the 808 PureView are Android devices, but I thought it’d be instructive to compare the One’s supposedly excellent camera to the most highly regarded phone cameras out there today, both of which I had on hand. For reference, during the presentation HTC presented a slide with their controlled-environment test of the One’s camera against the iPhone 5 and the Samsung Galaxy S III:

HTC One camera against the iPhone 5 and the Galaxy S3.

Yep, all sorts of embarrassing for the S3.

How does it go against the top guns though? I should make clear from the outset that I don’t have a phone tripod, nor do I have the steadiest hands, so this was a rather unscientific test of what I could get out of each phone camera holding it as steady as possible.

For this first test, all phone cameras were set to Auto mode, apart from forcing flash off. In this case, the 808 PureView was set to its highest resolution at 16:9 – 31 MP (!). (Click for full res images.)


Lumia 920

808 PureView

The HTC One acquits itself pretty well here; there’s some mottling in the sky in the top-right corner, but it’s well-focused and there is detail visible in the buildings. The low resolution means there’s not much point zooming in to see high detail, but overall the shot communicates the scene well.

The Lumia 920 seemed to have misfocused, something that wasn’t immediately obvious with a cursory glance at the screen (unfortunately only noticed after leaving the venue), so I wouldn’t judge the sharpness of the 920 with the photo shown (likely user error). The sky is a little lighter on the 920 than the other two, and there is a bit of blotchiness in the sky colour, but most of all the 920 seems to produce a brighter picture than the One or the 808.

The 808 PureView does well; there’s more detail than the One simply because there’s more megapixels of data to work with, and the noise isn’t as bad as a very dense 41MP image sensor might suggest. The obvious difference is file size; the 808 PureView’s shot is a 10MB JPEG file, whereas the One’s JPEG is 837 kB – less than a tenth of the size.

For the second test, the phones were put into Night mode, and flash forced off. The 808 was set to a lower resolution, 8MP, to see if the pixel binning function made a significant difference in the ultra-low light.


Lumia 920

808 PureView

Here, the 808 doesn’t do so well – an f/2.4 lens, compared to the f/2.0 lenses in the One and the 920, meant it struggled to capture enough light for the photo, and the shakiness due to the slow shutter speed really shows.

The Lumia 920 fares much better than the 808 – with its optical image stabilisation, it comes away with the brightest, clearest image of the three. It’s not quite perfect focus, but not bad in the near-zero light.

The One does an middling job here – understand that this is a pretty extreme situation for a phone camera, and even my main camera (a Fujifilm X100) struggles to acquire focus and expose correctly in this light. The most severe issue here is horizontal banding across the image, something that’s quite difficult to improve in editor.

Overall, a reasonably good effort from the One, but not an overall winner – though I’d say it’s at least in the same playing field as the Lumia 920 and the 808 PureView, which is high praise and definitely puts it above the other Android phones on the market today. I’m not ready to call any measure of superiority based on two unscientific tests (especially given the lack of control over the environment), so I leave you, the reader, to make your own judgment.

Once we have our hands on a review sample and can truly put the One’s camera to its paces in more controlled environments, we’ll be exploring what it’s really capable of!

Written by : Norman juggles a computer science degree, software development, photography and a love of mobile phones. He loves to geek out on the latest hardware, and isn't afraid to speak his mind if a product upsets him.
  • Bugbog

    The only thing I can definitely ascertain from all the comparison shots, is that the poster is a poor photographer!

    • deathdealer351

      well a real photographer is not using a phone for their shots. This is for mum and dad taking pics of their kids rolling around on the floor.

      • Bugbog

        Be that as it may, anyone/everyone can take a poor photo. The point of this comparison is to see what the best photo with each camera looks like, then make a decision accordingly!

        • http://twitter.com/darkhorse166 Norman Ma

          You’re not going to get the best photo in these conditions, no matter the phone. In good conditions, without the time and space constraints of a press event, obviously much better photos can be taken – and that’s something I’ll be looking at in more detail.

          I consider myself a decent photographer – my personal photography site is at http://photo.normanma.net if you wish to assess that claim independently. :)

          • Bugbog

            Fair enough!

      • GG002

        Hey, I’m a real photographer and sorry, but I don’t want to carry 4kg around my neck all the time. A good mobile phone can get a casual photo taken with sufficiently good results. #1 Lesson in photographer: It’s about the photographer, not the tool.

  • bromley8

    nokia lumia the best camera smartphone right now. I am getting one

    • http://www.clubnokiard.com/ Frankie Bloise

      I have a Lumia 920, get yours, you wont regret!

      • Ziad Mohamed

        I went to store see the yellow lumia 920 yesterday…It was the first time I see it in real life…for me it’s not bulky as I see in videos and I love it’s weight sooooooo much…the screen was clear and very crisp…I didn’t feel the HD Puremotion + by making any thing different with 60 Hz…but at all it’s slim and not that bulky as (macro videos make it on you tube) and it’s great piece of beauty…I saw Note 2 and played with it too…the Note 2 was very very very smooth and fast more than the lumia actually…but it takes while to open camera unlike nokia lumia and sure the design was very ugly comparing to Lumia 920…you are very lucky to have one :)

    • http://twitter.com/darkhorse166 Norman Ma

      I’m a big fan of the Nokia Lumia 920, but I’ve found its image quality doesn’t hold a candle to the 808 under optimal shooting conditions. I know I write for an Android website, but give me the 808 camera with the 920 software and I’ll line up for it. ;)

      • GG002

        Let’s hope the Nokia EOS gets that smashup!

      • pranav rai

        Try open image > options (…) > edit > crop,rotate,auto fix > click on the magic wand icon.

        Instant sharpness boost. Try this only on pics taken in bright daylight.

    • JNawaz

      For a moment I thought you would go for the HTC when you said “I am getting one.” LOL

  • http://twitter.com/elbinignacio ELBIN IGNACIO

    The lumia 920 you used the upgrade of WP has a portico?

    • http://twitter.com/darkhorse166 Norman Ma


  • http://twitter.com/warex3d warex3D

    I’m pretty sure this Lumia has not been upgraded to portico ;)

    • http://twitter.com/darkhorse166 Norman Ma

      It most definitely has (build 10211); I checked that specifically. ;)

    • http://www.facebook.com/people/Levar-Mouzone/717959225 Le’var Mouzone

      If it was or not it took way better pictures then the others

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=1168218484 Pyi Thein Maung

    I want to get a Hands-On with the htc One , Where and When can i see them in Sydney ?? I want to know ,can Anyone tell me ? Thanks :)

  • koenshaku

    I almost bought the 920 off contract but decided that nokia will have something better by the time my contract is up, so I am sticking with my current handset for now. But yeah my manager and my brother have one and yes I think it is the best handset out right now overall. Now if they would just release instagram already..

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Levar-Mouzone/717959225 Le’var Mouzone

    the Lumia 920 hands down is the better camera phone. First picture the Lumia 920 had clear rich color, the light was color was how it was suppose to be.

    the second picture you can definitely tell the Lumia 920 was better, look at the skyline the clouds are visible. Much more rich in color then any other picture.

    • http://twitter.com/darkhorse166 Norman Ma

      For the second picture, the One and the 808 are actually more accurate in communicating what the scene’s light was like. Some people prefer accuracy, some people prefer richness, so one manufactuer isn’t going to make everyone happy.

      • http://www.facebook.com/ounkeo Wansai Ounkeo

        low light photography is not about absolute accuracy as your eyes see the scene. Our eyes have great range but they aren’t particularly sensitive. If you take a low light photo according to the acuracy of the lighting condition, it will likely turns out a giant black blotch. No one appreciates a photo like that; nor should the photographer.

        Instead, in low light, we rely on the camera to capture what it is we cannot see. There is light there, we just can’t see it as well as the camera can. That is why we have things like long exposure. It linearly captures the existing light over time. It’s as accurate as a pitch black photo except it’s much nicer to look at and appreciate.

        Typically, a camera that takes pitch black photos because the scene is near pitch black only means one thing; the camera is defeated by the scene.

  • Vito DeCarlo

    I’ve had the Lumia 920 since November 9th and have taken at least a couple of hundred photos. I cannot say enough good things about this camera!

  • kalval

    Technically the 808 still gets more light with its f2.4 lens because the sensor is 1/1.2 inch, or around 8 times the surface area of the HTC and 920. That means it catches a lot more photons. Unfortunately in 38MP mode there are so many pixels for those photons to hit, so the low light results aren’t great. If you took the same photo in 8MP or 5MP pureview mode I’d wager you’d see much better results due to how it combines and analyses pixels giving about 4X the per pixel area of the HTC. The effectiveness of this method is increased further by using combinations of neighbouring pixels and error checking to deliver greater accuracy.