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HTC One Photo Comparisons #HTCOne

26 Apr

Yes, I obtained myself the HTC One. It is my second HTC phone, the first being the Nexus One. I don’t usually like HTC as in the US, they don’t sell their phones unlocked (Nexus One being the exception, sold by Google). However, looks like HTC is changing their ways, by offering their latest flagship, the HTC One, unlocked, straight from their own website. And unlike Apple that delayed their unlocked iPhone availability in the US to push people buying from the carriers, HTC is making the One available pretty much at the same time as the carriers. This is quite unprecedented, as most phone OEMs are only selling their handsets locked with the carriers in the US. HTC finally joins Apple, Sony, and Google, in selling unlocked handsets.

Aside from being unlocked, one of the most talked about feature of the HTC One is its camera, namely that it’s just a paltry 4MP. Considering how other phones are pushing 8 to 13MP cameras, it’s actually refreshing seeing HTC taking a different path. Despite being 4MP, the One’s camera has a much larger sensor than most phones, 1/3″. That is nothing in the world of digital camera, but in phones, it’s quite “big.” Having a bigger sensor means more light exposure on each pixel, thus better low light sensitivity. Of course, lay consumers will balk at four megapixel, so HTC is branding it as “UltraPixel.” In most HTC One’s marketing material, you won’t see 4MP being mentioned anywhere.

Why the gear switch from the megapixel war? Consider the most common usage of smartphone cameras. Most of the time, they are used in low-light situations (indoor social events, parties, etc), the worst situation for a camera with such tiny sensor and cheap optics. Also, most of the pictures are posted online, in social networks, where they are resized to less than 4MP at best, with most are around or less than XGA resolution. Not many people are going to print the picture taken by their 13MP smartphone camera into a poster. HTC recognize this, thus the focus on low-light capability by sacrificing the resolution.

I’m going to do a completely unscientific comparison between the HTC One camera and carious other devices.

First contender is the iPhone 4. People now talk about 8 to 13MP camera and laugh at HTC One’s 4MP, yet just a few years back, everybody was praising Apple iPhone 4’s 5MP camera. The iPhone 4 is still available for sale from Apple. Second is the Nexus 4, the reference Android handset from Google. It didn’t receive good reviews for its 8MP camera, but for $349, you get a 16GB unlocked stock Android phone running the latest OS. Not too shabby for the price. I also include a cheap Samsung flip-style camcorder that I bought from Costco a while back for $100, the Samsung HMX-W200. It is designed to be a flip-style camcorder, but has picture taking mode at 5.5MP. And finally, I also use the Canon S90, a compact camera that propelled the enthusiast high-end compact category. It’s old, uses an old CCD sensor compared the latest CMOS ones in the S100/S110, but it’s still a good size sensor for a compact, 1/1.7″ at 10MP.

First test is indoor, with some natural light going in. All pictures are straight JPEG from the devices, resized with iPhoto. No other post processing done. Now, count up your sins! 😀

Well, we can already see the advantage of the HTC One, having a fairly bright and clean picture . The iPhone 4 did okay, but the picture is pretty noisy as it’s jacking up its ISO. Same thing with the Nexus 4. The cheapo Samsung camcorder didn’t stand a chance. The S90 wins, obviously.

Next test is indoor with only a background artificial light. The room is fairly dark, so this is a good test to see how these devices do. In addition, I got my S100 back from Canon repair, so I added it to the mix. The S100 is the successor of the S90/S95 Powershot lineup form Canon. Its improvements over the S90 include CMOS sensor, higher megapixel count (12.1MP), and newer image processing. Let’s see how they do.

Well, what do we have here. The HTC One did a very good job. Its colors are off, but the picture is the brightest, and when resized for Facebook or twitter, it’s pretty good.

My conclusion? Any cheapo digital-cameras/camcorders are done for. Most of the products in this category offer hardly nothing more than what your recent smartphone can already do. Even if they have optical zoom, a lot of times the lens in these devices are so slow that it’s rather useless in low-light settings. Worse, most only offer auto-mode. The only advantages are models that are water proof, but there’s the Xperia Z. Sure, theses low-end cameras/camcorders are cheap, but your recent smartphone can probably do the same, if not better job.

Mid to high end digital cameras can still survive though. Most of these cameras offer at least more controls than just auto, with many offer aperture priority and shutter priority modes, or even complete manual modes. High end compacts like the S90/S100 can capture in RAW, which is a huge advantage. I used my S90 and S100 here in complete auto mode, just to level the playing field with the other devices. However, I’m sure I can get better results if I used RAW and do some post processing.

Back to the HTC One. Not too shabby. I like what HTC is heading here. Enough of the megapixel war, and focus on things that might be more useful for the lay consumers. Another advantage of the 4MP camera is the file size. Here are the file sizes on the JPEGs coming out of the cameras as reported/rounded by iPhoto.

iPhone 4. Test 1: 2MB. Test 2: 1.7MB
Nexus 4. Test 1: 1.9MB. Test 2: 1.5MB
HTC One. Test 1: 1MB. Test 2: 985KB
Samsung W200. Test 1: 1.5MB. Test 2: 870KB
Canon S90. Test 1: 2MB. Test 2: 2.2MB
Canon S100. Test 2: 2.2MB.

As you can see, for the results, the HTC One offers a very good file size and picture quality for the storage space. Higher megapixel photos will take even more space, and they are just wasting your phone’s storage space if in the end, you are simply going to resize them for social networks. The only disadvantages of the 4MP count is when you crop. You have less pixels to play with, so if you do some major cropping, you are left with really low pixel-count picture.

Overall, HTC did a great job with the HTC One, and they are heading the correct path imo. If you are a pixel peeping enthusiast, you probably already have an actual camera to begin with. As for those claiming 4MP is not enough for large poster prints, how often do you actually do that with your current smartphone? Again, you probably already have a real camera that will do the job better. The HTC One will be a great camera for social events and social networks, and as the tech improves (better sensitivity, larger sensor, and potentially higher megapixel count), I can’t wait to see future iterations of the UltraPixel camera.

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