HTC One UltraPixel Camera: How Does It Stack Up?

When HTC first showed the world the One last month, it touted the merits of the camera's larger "UltraPixels". Theory says that larger pixels could produce better images than the competition. In practice? We're pretty damned impressed.

We compared the HTC One's camera to the cameras on the Nokia Lumia 920 and Apple iPhone 5, which were the top cameras in our recent smartphone camera Battlemodo. We tested the camera in low light, both with and without flash, as well as in daylight. The photos in this test are taken from identical spots in every case, so any differences in the framing of the images is because of slight differences each camera's field of view. In almost every situation the HTC One's camera performed above our expectations — and above its competitors.

In the image above, you begin to see what we're talking about. The camera's colour rendition and dynamic range is spectacular. The HTC One image is sharp and captures deep red in the roses as well as the correct green colour on the leaves in the background. Whereas the roses in both the iPhone and Lumia 920 images look plastic and overprocessed, the HTC One looks like reality.

Click each of the images below to blow them up much larger.

Low-light

In a low-light comparison, it's a close call between the Lumia 920 and HTC One. Where the former's colour saturation looks borderline unnatural, the latter is noticeably grainy. We say the Lumia 920 slightly edges the One, and both are clearly superior to the iPhone 5.

Winner: Lumia 920


Flash

In the past, we've been very impressed by the flash on both Lumia 920 and the iPhone 5, which makes the HTC One's competitiveness in this category a surprise. Its camera uses a softer flash, which illuminates the statue without blowing out any details. Very impressive.

Winner: HTC One


Daylight

In daylight you expect all of the cameras to perform very well, and indeed, they all do. All of the photos are great, although, again, it's a tossup between the HTC One and the Lumia 920. We quite like the contrast in the HTC One's image, but it's also almost unnaturally sharp throughout the image. Let's take a closer look, shall we?

Winner: HTC One and Lumia 920 (tie)


Daylight, 100% Crop

When you zoom in on the images, you see more evidence of what we were taking about before above. The HTC One's processing algorithms over-sharpen this image, which makes it look crispy compared to the softer more realistic edges in the Lumia 920s image. On the other hand, oversharpening improves detail rendition to a certain extent, so it's almost a question of personal preference in this case.

Winner: HTC One and Lumia 920 (tie)


Bottom Line

The HTC One's "UltraPixel" camera sounds like marketing palaver but actually makes for an impressive shooter. In each situation we tested, the HTC One's camera performed on par with — or better than — the competition. Whether it beats out the excellent Lumia 920 might come down to personal preference, but there's no denying the HTC One's camera exhibits such great low-light performance (both with and without flash) that it's clearly one of the best cameras on a smartphone you could actually buy.


Comments

    let's be honest: the daylight and low-light have a clear winner in the Lumia 920.
    The flash shot looks like it could have done with a few more attempts from each device, and the roses photo looks as though lighting had changed during the shoot.
    This doesn't give me any confidence around the UltraPixel photos, or the abilities of the reviewer :(

      it just depends on where they touched the screen to expose the picture

      I disagree, I think the One looks better in most of those shots. It's ahrd to eb sure without having seen the subjects but on both the first two images the Lumia920 seems to have got the colour quite badly wrong and even though the low light shot is less grainy than the One, the One's shot is not badly grainy and overall I think it is a better image.

        Yup. I would say that in these tests, especially for the particular flash scenario, the One managed to trump the 920. However I'll be waiting for more comprehensive testing (say, from a place like GSMA) and more user impressions before declaring a final winner.

        For example there's a lot to be said for good mics and OIS when recording video; and handheld shots in a pub or at a picnic are far more prone to shaky hands than carefully-composed test shots.

    Also gotta remember that you get "more" photo with the competitors shots.
    The HTC One Camera needs to surpass the competition in every environment to offset the fact it is of lower resolution.

      Why? Most of the time you will look at it on a screen of less than 2mp resolution so anything above that is wasted. A little extra to allow you to frame the subject better and crop is OK but that is really all you need most of the time.

        Agreed, but if you want to take a closer look at something, the low resolution is going to hurt pretty quickly.

    Looks like the HTC One runs the image through a sharpen filter before output.

      my HTC had a weird quirk where setting the sharpness to "0" actually meant it was sharpening the image by two increments. to completely remove any sharpness filtering i had to set it to "-2" (the lowest setting). possibly an issue here too.

    What about image stabilisation? The 920 has it and the iPhone has some sort of version too (is it a software or hardware implementation?)

      I think the HTC website did say that the HTC One comes with image stabilization.

    So in addition to being a great all-rounder, it's the ultimate 'night on the town' phone, if one were inclined to take snaps of your mates as they make the dark descent into debauchery.

    I want the #HTCOne for its: Camera Quality

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