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Image Quality

A lot of the HTC One's early marketing efforts were focused on the camera's 4MP sensor. The sensor is the same size as on other current smartphones but fewer pixels means that the individual photosites are larger — approximately the same size as in an enthusiast compact cameras such as the Panasonic Lumix LX7. Of course fewer pixels in a camera runs counter to conventional marketing, which has always contended precisely the opposite, i.e. more pixels are better. This is presumably what has HTC prompted to come up with the term "ultrapixels." We're still talking megapixels here, but it definitely sounds more exciting.

The imaging sensor in the HTC One's camera module is the same size as most other current smartphones but comes with a lower 4MP pixel count and therefore larger individual photosites.

The core of HTC's argument is based around the idea that using fewer, larger pixels on a sensor that's the same size as the 13MP unit found in competitors such as the Samsung Galaxy S4 or Sony Xperia Z should offer better image quality. We would argue this is not always necessarily true. There’s a pretty strong argument that what really determines image quality when looking at the image as a whole is the total amount of light captured by the sensor, not by each individual pixel.

However, the HTC One's advantages are not all about pixels. The phone also comes with a fast F2.0 lens and optical image stabilization which offer unarguable advantages in low-light. The stabilization also helps to keep video footage steady. There is a good argument for using fewer pixels on a smartphone anyway. Images are typically shared online or edited at much lower resolution than 4MP and most users don't even come close to making use of their smartphone camera's full resolution.

Theory is one thing though, practical use is another. The actual image quality is determined by many more factors than just sensor and lens. Read on and have a look at our sample images below to see how the HTC One performed in our real life tests.

If you would like to see the HTC One in a side-by-side image quality comparison with the Samsung Galaxy S4, Apple iPhone 5 and Nokia Lumia 920 please also have a look at our comprehensive Smartphone Super Shootout and our comparison with the Apple iPhone 4S.

Daylight, Low ISO

In the well-illuminated scenes below the HTC is doing a decent job and produces good exposures and vivid colors. Close-up the images look a little over sharpened with some processing artifacts but the pixel-level detail is decent. That said, while these images are perfectly good for social sharing and onscreen viewing, most of the competition's higher megapixel-count sensor will simply capture more detail in this type of conditions. This is only relevant if you ever plan to print your images at larger sizes but worth keeping in mind.

ISO 114, 1/7860 sec
In good light the HTC One captures well-exposed images with good detail ...
ISO 113, 1/5486 sec
... but when examined close-up the images look slightly over-sharpened and generally overprocessed. There is also some luminance noise in areas of plain color.
100% crop
100% crop

While the HTC One's 16:9 aspect ratio is great for landscape shots, video capture and viewing on a 16:9 screen, it's not ideal for traditional portrait shots, or shooting any subjects in portrait orientation for that matter. Most subjects look more attractive in portrait orientation shots when captured in a 3:2 or 4:3 format. The latter is available on the HTC One, albeit at a reduced resolution of 3MP.

Skin tones on the HTC can look a tad too saturated but switching to the portrait shooting mode or toning saturation down a little in the menu helps.

ISO 100, 1.738 sec
In portrait shots skin tones can have a slightly cool touch but the images show decent detail.
ISO 102, 1/1038 sec
This shot is a tad underexposed and shows some sharpening artifacts up-close but again, detail is good for a 4MP image.
100% crop
100% crop

Like on most smartphone cameras things become more difficult when the shooting conditions are not ideal, as you can see in the samples below. Despite the larger photosites the HTC One struggles with high contrast scenes and you inevitably end up with clipped highlights when a high-contrast scene is exposed for the shadow areas.

We've also noticed significant softness at the edge of the frame in some of the HTC One's images. However, this is not visible on all images and usually only on one side of the frame, which leads us to believe that it is caused by the optical stabilization system tilting the lens. The effect was much more pronounced on an earlier unit we first tested at our London office, but it is still visible on the U.S. version we have here in Seattle.

ISO 101, 1/180 sec
Like on almost all smartphones, highlight clipping is an issue on the HTC One.
ISO 104, 1/2560 sec
Some, but not all, shots show distinct corner softness on one side.
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100% crop

We also found two color related issues on some of our HTC One sample shots. On the left image below you can see that the One has, just like the iPhone 5, a tendency to produce a purple flare if a strong light source is located just outside the frame. In our case this light source was the afternoon sun. The same picture is ideal to demonstrate another one of the One's flaws: purple fringing. If you look closely at the reflection of the sun on the water you can see very strong fringing which almost adds a purple tint to the lake surface.

In some shots we also found a strong magenta color shading at the center of the frame. It's most visible in shots with an area of plain color at the center of the frame like the blanket in the photo on the right but if you look closely you can also see it in the indoor still life and the second portrait in the low-light section below. This is a common problem caused by the edges and corners of the frame receiving light from the lens at a very oblique angle. This means it’s most problematic when you have wide angle lenses whose exit pupils are close to the sensor. Like purple fringing normally this is corrected for by the software, so you don't see it. It's therefore surprising to see how badly the HTC is dealing with it.

ISO 175, 1/38399 sec
In this shot you can clearly see the purple cast caused by the sun just outside the frame and the heavy purple fringing on the surface of the lake.
ISO 230, 1/20 sec
This shot shows significant color shading in the center of the frame. In reality the entire blanket has the same gray color.
100% crop
100% crop

Low Light, High ISO

In low light the HTC One is capable of producing a cleaner, more noise-free image and giving brighter, more colorful images than most higher-resolution competitors. It's difficult to isolate the effect of the ultrapixels in this context as both the ISO and the fast F2 lens play a role, but in a way that’s academic, it's the end result that counts. The difference becomes less obvious when images are scaled down to the same size as the HTC One output but is still visible as we demonstrated in this article.

Thanks to its fast lens and optical stabilization the HTC can keep the sensitivity low, even in very dark scenes like the cityscape on the left. The scene on the right was shot indoors and the phone only pushes ISO up to 188 which means you still get an image with good detail and textures, despite the lower light. However, this approach to Auto ISO will get you the occasional blurry image, so it's always good to take not one but several shots of a low-light scene. This way you make sure you've got at least one good one.

ISO 564, 1/15 sec
This night shoot is well exposed and pretty clean, despite the high ISO.
ISO 188, 1/24 sec
For this indoor shot the HTC keeps ISO very low, resulting in good detail and a fairly clean image.
100% crop
100% crop

The HTC One does a better job at shooting portraits in low light than most of its competitors but the very slow shutter speeds mean that subject movement can be an issue and in mixed-ligh situations, like the image on the left, skin tones can be a little off.

ISO 736, 1/15
This low-light portrait is a touch soft due to subject movement but noise is well under control.
ISO 522, 1/17 sec
There is a lot of noise and artifacts in this image but, despite the slow shutter speed, it is sharp and still shows some detail at a 100% view.
100% crop
100% crop

As explained above, the fast lens in combination with the optical image stabilization allows the HTC to keep the ISO down even in low-ligh situations. However, we would occasionally be happy to accept a touch more more noise in return for a sharper image. When shooting in low light the HTC's shutter speeds are often so slow that you really want to take more than one image of a scene if you want to be certain to get a sharp capture. Moving subjects will inevitably show some motion blur.

ISO 102, 1/30 sec
These images were taken in low light indoors, yet the HTC almost sticks with its base ISO ...
ISO 188, 1/24 sec
... resulting in very low noise levels but some camera shake. When in doubt, it's worth pressing the trigger more than once to make sure you've got at least one sharp image.
100% crop
100% crop

Flash

We were impressed by the HTC One's flash performance. The options are the same as on most other current phones — Auto, On or Off — but the unit appears to be more powerful than most, allowing the One to keep the ISO at a lower levels than the competition for flash photography. Flash exposure tends to be on the conservative side but that keeps skintones from clipping and avoids the "deer-in-the-headlights" look of some other flashes. The red-eye effect is very much under control too.

ISO 101, 1/138 sec
This shot is perfectly exposed and there's enough ambient light to get some detail in the background as well, giving the image a "slow-flash mode appearance".
ISO 118, 1/120 sec
This flash shot is again very well exposed, but in very dark environments the One's AF can slightly struggle. We took various shots of this subject and in all of them the focus is slightly off.
 100% crop
 100% crop

Comments

Total comments: 40
Simon Paton
By Simon Paton (6 months ago)

HTC ONE camera in HDR Mode or: Best 3rd party app for HDR Mode?:
-HDR Camera +
- Camera HDR Studio
- HDR camera
Hi all. I have the update 4.3 Android version. I've been told to use HDR Mode in camera settings to get best photo in low light or when there is bright and low light. Overall, I am happy with the photos. I compared a friends Sony Xperia z1 camera with my HTC ONE camera. Overall, if you do not crop, zoom in or want to blow up your pictures into photos, its a great camera. However, when it comes to HDR Mode, I was told to install a 3rd party app for this as HTC's HDR Mode is not consistent and was told some 3rd party apps are better for HDR. These are:

* Camera HDR Studio
* HDR camera ( i believe this free app has full HDR features from HDR Camera +). Not sure if that's true? Anyone know?
-HDR Camera +

Can anyone suggest one over the other for my HTC ONE?

0 upvotes
jeffw0502
By jeffw0502 (9 months ago)

The HCC One ultrapixel camera has to be the worst i have ever owned. The colours are totally different from the real life colours, tending to be faded. The video function is jerky. The worst of it though is its big design flaw. If you are taking a photo in reduced light and it doesnt have to be dark, if you have a tv or monitor in the picture, all you get is a bright white screen. A trait of the ultrapixels apparently according to HTC, a big design flaw according to me. The HTC One will definitely be the last HTC phone i purchase.

0 upvotes
rfsIII
By rfsIII (Jun 12, 2013)

Wonderful review. I have a question about the typical Connect visitor and how our usage of the tools play into the relative weighting of the scores. Do we the readers shoot mainly stills or mainly video or are we split 50/50? And what do we use our pictures and videos for? Is it more for work, social media, or for our art?
How does the use to which your typical visitor puts their camera phone affect the score? Do good still scores have more weight than good video scores or are they equal?

Comment edited 46 seconds after posting
0 upvotes
Muzika38
By Muzika38 (Jun 7, 2013)

Hi guys! Great camera review it did guide me a little bit on what to do on certain conditions.

Anyways thought I would also ask further help from you guys. Well just want to ask how should I work around the purplish haze on the camera?

Usually this occurs when using it at night when pointing the camera in very dark places with limited light source. The purple haze always show up in the dark parts of the picture. This only happens on dark places. Taking pictures in well lit places is perfect.

And by the way the purple haze usually disappear when I set the iso lower than 800 but obviously the the picture becomes dark anymore rendering it unusable. Tried also using HDR mode on under that circumstances and it just adds up a white foggy view + the purple haze combined. And yeah same thing happening on night shots. Tried checking the exif and it always shows I am getting ISO 800 to 1000+ when using it in those dark places.

0 upvotes
Lars Rehm
By Lars Rehm (Jun 10, 2013)

Hey, the purple haze is caused by strong light sources that are just outside the frame. So if you take a night picture and have street lamp just outside the frame you've got a good chance to see the effect. We have also seen it in bright light with the sun just outside the frame. Your best bet is to frame your shot in a way so that you haven't got any light sources in the critical area.

1 upvote
dpLarry
By dpLarry (Jun 5, 2013)

All I know is that I have great 2,3&5 megapixel pictures and that's all I need for a phone cam. I'd rather have low grain good low light than a massive grainy pic.

1 upvote
Daniel L
By Daniel L (Jun 5, 2013)

Continue from previous ....

Normal operation - Android is not as polish as iOS and transitions is jerking. It's like going back to Windows Vista after using mastering OSX. It's a sick feeling.

I want a bigger screen size phone and better Google Map integration with Google account, i think i got it from HTC One but the cons, in my case, far exceed the pros. I'm so going back to next iPhone (with bigger screen)

0 upvotes
Daniel L
By Daniel L (Jun 5, 2013)

Here's my take having switched from iPhone4s to HTC one, i preordered mine and being using it since then...

HTC COO just step down and they are restructuring company quality control, that explained why my HTC one have three cracks from normal use. What a joke. Is this thing make out of "glass"? I never have to worry about iPhone screen scratch, let alone crack! I didn't even drop it!

This thing run hot, hot to touch just using Google Map on the car. Nothing more frustrating that having to reboot your phone while using Google Map on the drive. It hangs, and stuttering so bad, i have to reboot the damn phone. Crappy OS can't help even with fastest processor on earth.

HTC sync manager is a piece of junk ( On OSX), even the support told me to buy 3rd party software/app. That says, you have to pay if you are synching your data with your itunes.

If you like IPod music player. You are going to hate anything android have to offer, I have to pay an app to get something usable. Conti

0 upvotes
dpLarry
By dpLarry (Jun 5, 2013)

my friends switched to htc one said its amazing.

0 upvotes
Richard Shih
By Richard Shih (Jun 5, 2013)

Perhaps you received a lemon. I've never experienced any of the slowdowns you reported and the only time it runs relatively warm is when I've been playing a 3D game for 10-15+ minutes, but by no means unbearable.

Can't speak for the sync manager as I either pull content off the phone via web services or just through Windows Explorer.

0 upvotes
GURL
By GURL (Jun 5, 2013)

I understand that a camera specifications page (à la DSLR) would be misplaced in this review but saying nothing at all about the recorded angle of view looks strange. All phone cameras are equivalent in this regard?

Comment edited 55 seconds after posting
0 upvotes
Lars Rehm
By Lars Rehm (Jun 5, 2013)

it says "28mm equivalent focal length" in the spec list on the first page

1 upvote
captura
By captura (Jun 5, 2013)

I bought an HTC One last year. Never worked properly. When I sent it to HTC they returned a 'repaired' unit with a different serial number and it was defective too, but with different problems. Buyer beware!

0 upvotes
Lars Rehm
By Lars Rehm (Jun 5, 2013)

Can you provide any specifics? What was wrong with it?

0 upvotes
Richard Shih
By Richard Shih (Jun 5, 2013)

HTC One X or One X+? The One was released this past March.

2 upvotes
Sirandar
By Sirandar (Jun 5, 2013)

I was an avid HTC user and would love to keep buying them BUT microSD is simply a must have feature and HTC no long supports it.

If you use your phone for music or as a picture mobile viewer for a large picture library nothing can currently replace or even remotely compete with microSD. Otherwise microSD is pretty optional.

0 upvotes
Richard Shih
By Richard Shih (Jun 5, 2013)

Unfortunately lack of external storage seems to be the common trend with more and more services being put into the cloud. Though HTC's base model has 16GB more than most other phones' base models, there are alternatives if microSD are a must. :)

0 upvotes
Impulses
By Impulses (Jun 6, 2013)

4" USB OTG cable with a thumbnail sized microSD reader can go a long way towards mitigating the need for an internal microSD IMO... For a lot of those things it's actually more convenient than removing your case, lid, and possibly battery just to get at the card... I've yet to remove the 32GB card inside my EVO LTE (One X variant) but I've been getting a lot of mileage out of that USB OTG cable.

0 upvotes
HowaboutRAW
By HowaboutRAW (Jun 5, 2013)

Wouldn't the option of recording in raw make sense here? Those picking an "ultrapixel" camera would likely understand how useful raw can be.

Then: Why on earth did HTC forgo a swappable battery? This is one of the great advantages that the Samsung Android phones and the new Blackberry Z10 have over the iPhone.

0 upvotes
dpLarry
By dpLarry (Jun 5, 2013)

RAW in a phone cam?? Please.

(My macbook pro has an excellent fixed battery. No regrets. better than previous macbooks with batteries that come off. It can be replaced if necessary at the store.)

0 upvotes
HowaboutRAW
By HowaboutRAW (Jun 8, 2013)

dpLarry:

Yes, because raw capture would improve color, white balance, exposure, and also offer a bit better noise control. You know improve the photos, at the simple cost of more storage space. (The same point applies to small water proof tough cameras.)

As for your Macbook, hope you don’t own the new 15 inch Macbook “retina”.

Then, it’s not so much about where or how to replace a built-in battery, it’s about when the phone stops working after some hours of use, and you don’t have AC power because you’re out and about, or/and you don’t have a charger with you.

Milwaukee, Makita, Dewalt, Bosch would all be laughed out of the battery powered tool business if they stupidly shipped tools with only built-in batteries. And the same goes for Panasonic, Sony, Samsung, Nikon, Canon, Olympus, Fuji, etc and the camera business.

So to get around this problem with the iPhone you have to have an external battery, sometimes built-into the case. (Still a dumb "feature" of the iPhone or HTC1.)

0 upvotes
zodiacfml
By zodiacfml (Jun 5, 2013)

i thought the camera is really good since the shadow areas are better in the htc one. i hope to see the same philosophy on a larger sensor though.

0 upvotes
gil12
By gil12 (Jun 5, 2013)

Many of the reviews seem to skip over the fact that the pictures can be greatly improved through in camera adjustments. The review notes over sharpening by default but does not bother to lower it in the settings. It has been rumored that reducing sharpening to -1 greatly improves pic quality. Why is this not done?

1 upvote
Lars Rehm
By Lars Rehm (Jun 5, 2013)

We speak about sharpness adjustment on the feature page but, as for camera reviews, we do most of our tests at default settings as this is what almost all users take their pictures with. Frankly, on the HTC most users probably wouldn't even find the settings in the menu :-)

1 upvote
zonoskar
By zonoskar (Jun 5, 2013)

Again a phone that exhibits this annoying color shading. Why does this only occur in phones and not in any of the compact camera's? How difficult is it to design a phone without this 'featue'? This is the main reason why I almost never get usable pictures out of my Lumia 920 (and other phones).

0 upvotes
Hclarkx
By Hclarkx (Jun 6, 2013)

No sensor actually measures colors properly. There is always a need for a "profile" to adjust the color information provided by the sensor to the true colors. The profile is developed by the phone manufacturer and that's where the colors go awry. Hopefully a calibrated monitor is used to prepare the profile! The bottom line is that the colors are only as good as the profile that corrects the sensor output. I'd guess people like Datacolor are working on an app to fine tune color in the phone. They already have this for pad screens.

0 upvotes
Bass3d
By Bass3d (Jun 5, 2013)

Nokia 808 Pureview has not been beaten so far in this area.
I think it's at least two years ahead in camera and flash performance

0 upvotes
HowaboutRAW
By HowaboutRAW (Jun 5, 2013)

And could be even further, if the 808 recorded and shared raw data.

0 upvotes
JAkira
By JAkira (Jun 5, 2013)

Some of the indoor photos taken with the HTC One that I've seen exhibit the "pink spot" problem that has plagued several phone cameras, like my old Samsung Galaxy S2 Skyrocket. This is one reason I passed on the HTC One and went with the Galaxy S4, which does not seem to have this problem. The replaceable battery and MicroSD card slot are nice, too.

0 upvotes
panteraaa
By panteraaa (Jun 5, 2013)

phones back then had lower pixel count. were their sensor smaller?

0 upvotes
coudet
By coudet (Jun 5, 2013)

Nice phone, just the camera seems to be poor. Ultra pixels, ultra crappy IQ.

0 upvotes
ConanFuji
By ConanFuji (Jun 5, 2013)

Good work on the amount and quality of samples. It's really nice to browse it.
I skipped to the conclusion, and saw 75%.
I thought it would be more meaningful if there's a relative score.
We want to know if it takes better pics than the Note 2 or other phones which sets the bar.

0 upvotes
Lars Rehm
By Lars Rehm (Jun 5, 2013)

we're working on a scoring comparison widget for our smartphone reviews but not quite there yet :-) For now I recommend you open the two reviews side by side.

0 upvotes
joe6pack
By joe6pack (Jun 4, 2013)

This is at least the 3rd article from dpreview alone involving comparison of the image quality of HTC One. Don't you guys have something better to review?

0 upvotes
Lars Rehm
By Lars Rehm (Jun 4, 2013)

This is arguably the most popular smartphone for imaging this year, so I think it is in order to publish a full review (this article) and include it in a couple of comparison shootouts but we will keep your feedback in mind.

8 upvotes
JadedGamer
By JadedGamer (Jun 5, 2013)

... but that is just because the new iPhone is not out yet... :D

0 upvotes
Lars Rehm
By Lars Rehm (Jun 5, 2013)

well, when it's out we'll publish a review and probably a couple of shootouts as well, so we can all make up our own mind :-)

1 upvote
hwttdz
By hwttdz (Jun 4, 2013)

I finally realized why I dislike the name ultrapixel so much, because 1 ultrapixel = 10^42 megapixels. It's an si-prefix.

0 upvotes
LKJ
By LKJ (Jun 4, 2013)

Where did you hear that?

Official SI prefixes go as far as 10^±24, and ultra isn't one of them.

IMO the only reason you need to dislike "ultrapixel" is that it's ridiculous and marketing driven. :)

Comment edited 2 times, last edit 6 minutes after posting
6 upvotes
hwttdz
By hwttdz (Jun 5, 2013)

I got it from Wolfram alpha, of course I don't know where they got it. Maybe it's part of some other standard?

So I guess it bothers me because it sounds like a prefix.

0 upvotes
Total comments: 40
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