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