Apr 03 AT 1:10 PM Nick Gray 19 Comments

HTC One (M8) Camera Experience: Blurring Out the Competition

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Besides the stunning design of the HTC one (M8), the most talked about feature of HTC’s latest flagship smartphone is its Duo Camera. Today, we’ll be taking a close look at the HTC One (M8)’s unique imaging setup and see if HTC has managed to delivery an improvement over last year’s UltraPixel camera on the original HTC One.

The tech

The Duo Camera on the back of the HTC one (M8) is comprised of two sensors – a 4.1 megapixel (UltraPixel) main sensor and a 2 megapixel depth sensor. That’s right, the secondary camera on the back of the new HTC One isn’t really used for much besides recording how far different objects are from the camera.

The UltraPixel camera sensor on the HTC One is basically the same as last year’s model. The sensor’s 4.1 million 2.0 um pixels allow it to capture 300% more light than traditional smartphone camera sensors. Paring the BSI (back side illuminated) UltraPixel sensor with an f/2.0, 28mm lens means the HTC One’s images are less blurry in everyday situations and much brighter when lighting conditions are not optimal. HTC has also reduced the auto-focus time on the new One down to 300 milliseconds. Optical image stabilization did not make the cut this time around. HTC claims that the technology simply isn’t compatible with its Duo Camera setup.

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In an effort to further improve the performance of the camera in low-light situations, HTC has equipped the One (M8) with a white and yellow dual-LED flash. Having two different colored LEDs allows the camera to produce a more natural color tone when the flash is used.

Software and Effects

HTC’s camera software has always been a few steps ahead of the competition, so it’s no surprise that HTC has dramatically improved the camera experience on the HTC One (M8). The camera app on the new One has been rebuilt from the ground up, refining previous UX elements and delivering a plethora of new features along the way. The app is simplistic, giving you easy access to the controls you’ll need the most while allowing quick access to more advanced features.

Shooting

Capturing an image with the HTC One (M8) is as easy as ever. Open the camera, press the shutter button and you’re set. The 300 milliseconds auto-focus shutter speed is slightly faster than that of last year’s One, allowing you to capture the perfect shot the second you press the button. If you’re not a fan of the on-screen shutter button, HTC gives you the option to using the volume rocker as a dedicated hardware shutter button.

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The HTC One (M8) retains the quick camera launch functionality that HTC introduced on previous versions of HTC Sense. If you turn your phone’s screen off while in the camera app, you will immediately launch back into the camera the next time the screen is turned back on, bypassing the lock screen or any password settings. But HTC didn’t stop there. The camera all can be launched with a new Gesture Control: with the screen off, hold the phone in landscape mode, press the volume rocker and the One (M8) will turn the screen on and open the camera app. The feature is extremely useful for when you want to pull the phone out of your pocket to quickly snap a picture.

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If you want the HTC One (M8)’s camera to simply do its thing, you can leave it in Auto mode and snap away. HTC’s Auto settings are fairly decent, implementing accurate white balance tones and accurately adjusting the ISO and exposure levels in most situations. But HTC’s stepped up its game with a fully customizable Manual mode, which gives you the optionhtc-one-m8-camera-app (1) of manually tweaking white balance, exposure, ISO, shutter speed and the focal point. If you want to reuse specific settings on a regular basis, you can save your own presets and quickly access them from the main camera mode screen.

Capturing standard images is nice, but HTC has also improved itshtc-one-m8-camera-app (2) Sweep Panorama and Pan 360 (HTC’s take on Photosphere). Using the Sweep Panorama setting is more intuitive than ever. Press the shutter button (while in landscape or portrait mode) and start panning left or right. The phone will start capturing the scene. HTC’s Pan 360 has been floating around on a few devices since last fall, but the latest version is honestly the best OEM implementation we’ve come across and may actually be better than what Google offers with stock Android. There are times where you’ll have to re-take a Sweep Panorama or Pan 360 shot, but the results seemed to turn out fairly well.

Pan 360 sample from the HTC one (M8)

As much as we love the new look and functionality of the camera app, there is one thing that we really don’t like. HTC decided to remove the video capture button from the main screen, forcing users to go into a dedicated video mode if they want to capture video and then switch back to camera mode to capture pictures again. While most camera apps have a toggle between video and image modes, HTC’s previous implementation was quick and allowed you to capture a moment without having to think about which mode the camera was in.

Editing

In addition to the traditional rotate, crop, flip and straighten tools, the HTC One (M8) does have its own preset and manual filters for fine tuning your images after they’ve been captured. But things get a little more interesting with the editing tools that take advantage of the M8′s Duo Camera.

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    Ufocus background blur

    UFocus: This is where the Duo Camera technology on the HTC One (M8) comes to life. Applying the UFocus feature uses the depth information captured by the second imaging sensor to apply a blur effect to the image. Tap the area of the image that you want in focus and the software will blur the background or foreground accordingly. The result is a dramatic bokeh effect which you typically see in images captured by professional-grade cameras

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    UFocus and Zoom blur

    Foregrounder: If you want to get a little more creative with your images, the Foregrounder feature uses the depth information captured with every image to apply a Sketch, Zoom Blur, Cartoon or Colorize effect to the background of your image.

  • Seasons: Ever wish you could manually apply a seasonal effect (blowing flower petals, leaves or snow) to an image? Now you can with the Seasons effect. The final product results in a slow pan and zoom of your image while the selected season debris gently blows in the wind.
  • Dimension Plus: Because you have two cameras on the back of the HTC One (M8), the camera software feature list wouldn’t be complete without a fancy 3D effect. Dimension Plus uses the depth sensing data to virtually compose a 3D image which can be viewed by tilting the phone or swiping your finger across the screen.

These main features are also accompanied by a Copy and Paste trick that allows you to copy people from other pictures and paste them into another and a Sticker option that gives you a few dozen hats, glasses and scarves to dress up your subjects if their attire is unacceptable to you.

While most of the features are gimmicky at best, UFocus does have a certain appeal. The bokeh effect can look really good, but only if the image if framed just right. In many situations, applying UFocus will ruin the integrity of the image with dramatic lines between the object that are in and out of focus. Either the depth information captured by the Duo Camera isn’t accurate or HTC’s software isn’t able to accurately apply the blurring effect.

Zoe and Video Highlights

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The Duo Camera features on the HTC One (M8) are fancy and new, but Video Highlights and HTC Zoe are definitely back and better than ever. For those of you not familiar with the two features, HTC Zoe allows you to simultaneously record video and a burst of twenty images. With the video and images you can create highlight videos, sequence shots with multiple exposures or even remove moving object from the scene. Yes, that annoying photobomber that jumped into the frame at the last second will be magically transposed from your perfect shot.

Capturing a Zoe is still as easy as ever, but HTC has baked in a few new features that make Zoes even more practical than ever. Select Zoe mode and hold the record button, and the new HTC One will work its magic. But you’re no longer limited to three seconds of video as you were with previous versions of Sense. If you want to record a clip that’s longer than three seconds, hold the record button for longer and the One (M8) will continue to capture video after the three second mark. You also have the option to capture a single image while in Zoe mode. A single tap of the on-screen shutter button while in Zoe mode will capture a single picture. These additional options are extremely helpful, because you don’t have to switch out of Zoe mode when you want to record a longer video or capture a single shot.

Just keep in mind that any pictures captured in Zoe mode can’t be manipulated with UFocus or any of the other Duo Camera effects.

Screenshot_2014-04-03-10-32-41Once you have captured your Zoe, you’ll want to head into the Gallery to create your Zoe. Yes, the terminology is a bit confusing, but HTC is sticking with the Zoe name for two distinct features on the HTC One (M8). From within the Gallery, you can select a pre-defined Event (a group of videos and pictures taken within a specific timeframe or location) or your own handpicked items from the galley to create a short video montage with background music and “professional” transitions. The concept is the same as it was last year, but users have far more customization options over timing, order and music selection. Once you’ve tweaked your Zoe to your heart’s content (I typically spend less than 30 seconds making manual changes) you can save the video file and share it to Facebook, YouTube or any other video service of your choice.

Taking pictures of a day at the beach or of a party is nice, but a 30 second Zoe video can share the full experience of the event.

The results

We could write a couple thousand words, describing the pros and cons of the Duo Camera on the HTC One (M8), but we’ll keep it simple. The UltraPixel sensor on the new One is great for capturing low-light images or fast moving action in good light. Images can be grainy at times, but they are far brighter than what you get from competing smartphones. While the sensor on the One (M8) is essentially the same that we saw on last year’s One, we did notice the white balance has improved when capturing low-light images. There are still dramatic contrast issues with bright areas in dark images being completely blown out, so don’t expect to capture any decent pictures of the moon and a clear night.

The new dual-LED flash setup on the HTC One (M8) can easily be overlooked by those who don’t like the look of pictures taken with a flash. But we suggest giving it a try – you’ll be surprised by the results. We compared results between the new One and last year’s model and found the new flash was a lot quicker and delivered images that were not completely blown out by the flash. We still prefer keeping the flash off, but there are times when switching it on won’t completely ruin the feel of the picture you want to capture.

In well-lit situations, the UltraPixel sensor comes up a bit shy. White balance and color tone are typically spot on, but because there are only four megapixels of data to work with, the images are not as sharp as what we’re used to seeing from 2014 flagship devices.

On the flip side, the 5 megapixel front-facing “Selfie” camera on the HTC One (M8) is the best we’ve ever used. Pairing the large sensor with a 88-degree wide angle lens produces selfies that are actually worth sharing with your friends.

Take a look at the images below and you’ll get the picture.

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Conclusion

The HTC One (M8) will probably win a few awards for design, but we can guarantee that it will not make the list of best cameraphones of 2014. The unique Duo Camera on the One does allow for some extra creativity when you need an extra touch of flare for your Instagram of Facebook pictures, but it’s low megapixel Ultrapixel sensor simply can’t compete with most other smartphones.

That said, you shouldn’t write off the HTC One (M8)’s camera completely. If you count yourself among those who simply share pictures on social media, the Duo Camera may be the perfect camera setup. It’s quick, better than most in low-light and its UFocus, Zoe and Video Highlights appear to be fine-tuned for those who want to share an incredible moment without having to think too much about how they are capturing the shot. Add the best “Selfie” camera on the market to the list and the HTC One (M8) has a pretty compelling overall camera experience.

It all comes down to what you’re looking for. Do you need a phone that captures pixel perfect images, or a phone with a camera experience that allows you to capture sharable moments?

Nick is a tech enthusiast who has a soft spot for HTC and its devices. He started HTCsource.com (the first HTC blog) back in 2007 and later joined the Android and Me family in the summer of 2010.

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