HTC One M8 Camera Review
Lars Rehm | Published: May 27, 2014 at 18:14 UTC53
The HTC One had arguably the best imaging feature set of any smartphone when it was announced in 2013 and with its Duo Cam and related features the new M8 has even more to offer. The M8 comes with an abundance of features and pre-installed apps and you could literally spend days exploring and experimenting with the phone's imaging features alone.
In this section we are concentrating on the M8's new Duo Cam and other imaging features that are most useful and often used by mobile photographers. Many of the original One's imaging features have not changed on the One M8 and are still available on the new model. This includes the Zoe Camera and its Object Removal, Always Smile and Sequence Shot modes. The Highlight Movies, Night Mode, Backlight Mode, effect filters and image adjustments all were available on the predecessor as well. We have covered all of those features comprehensively in the features section of our HTC One review.
Duo Cam Features
The HTC One M8 is loaded with HTC-specific apps but the most talked about feature at its launch was the Duo Camera. The M8 comes with the original One's 4MP "Ultrapixel" sensor but in addition has a lower-resolution secondary camera that is not capturing image but depth information. This means the camera has some idea of the distance of objects from the lens. There are a number of new features that then use this information, for example to apply blur or a filter effect to the background.
None of the Duo Cam features are applied at capture. As long as you don't cover the secondary cam with your finger depth information is saved in the image file and the Ufocus, Foregrounder, Seasons and Dimension Plus effects can be applied in the gallery app. It's worth mentioning that the Duo Cam Features are not available when shooting in Macro Mode.
Ufocus lets you set the focus point by tapping on the screen, and then blurs those parts of the frame that are not in the focus plane. The idea is to isolate the subject of an image in the same way as you would do when shooting a portrait with a large-sensor camera and a large aperture.
Unfortunately this only works in a limited way. In the samples below we can see that Ufocus is indeed isolating the subject by blurring the background but can't do so in a way that makes the end result look like the real thing. Zooming in you'll see that the mode can't mimic the smooth blur fall-off you'd get from a DSLR and fast lens. Things are either sharp or totally blurred, there is no middle ground. In the first sample below the front of the subjects face is in focus but the sides of the head, ears and neck are already blurred to the same degree as the background.
The second sample was taken at the same time and place, with the same lens to subject distance, yet the result is noticeably better. The background is less blurred and the entire head of the subject is in focus, making the image look more realistic. That said, there still is no sharpness fall-off and looking at the edges of the foreground subject it's obvious that foreground/background separation is far from perfect.
Similar problems can be observed in sample number three below. The blur factor goes from 0 to 100 percent without any intermediate steps. In this image this is most noticeable on the leaf-covered ground. Again Ufocus is struggling to isolate the subject in a precise way in this image. Small background areas around the subject are still in focus. The same effect is visible on the plant in the foreground to the left.
When taking pictures of a more complex shaped object Ufocus finds it even harder to separate foreground and background. This can be clearly seen in the background areas that are enclosed by the bicycle frame and wheels in sample number 4. The app gets confused and doesn't seem to have any idea of which part of the bike belongs to the foreground and which to the background of the image.
In its current state the performance of the Ufocus feature is a little disappointing and nowhere near the smooth sharpness transition you would get from shooting with a DSLR and fast lens. The center focus functions in apps like Snapseed or Pixlr are not any more realistic than Ufocus but achieve more pleasant results. The Lens Blur effect in Google's new camera app appears to do a better job, too, without the need for a secondary camera. We'll have to wait and see if HTC can improve the system's performance with a software update.
Foregrounder is another function that uses the secondary camera's depth information but instead of blurring the background (or foreground) it applies one of four filter effects. Whether you like those effects is a matter of taste but Foregrounder suffers from the same problem as Ufocus: the foreground/background separation is not very precise and you end up with filter effects on areas of your image where you don't necessarily want them.
The first sample is the same portrait as above. We've applied the Sketch filter to both fore- and background and as you can see there is some "filter bleed" going on as the app has not been able to precisely isolate the foreground.
For the second sample we focused on the monument on the market square and then applied Zoom Blur to the background which works pretty well in this case. the Foregrounder effects are fun to play and experiment with but the novelty factor wears off pretty quickly.
Seasons adds a zooming/panning effect and a season themed animation to your images and modifies color and tones which, to a degree, lets you turn a summer scene into a winter wonderland or simply add an extra element to an otherwise not very interesting scene. You can save either a still image or a 5-second 720p video. The latter is definitely the better option if you want to show off what Seasons can do.
At approximately 13MB per video you probably should go easy on your Season captures but if you're running out of memory you can always switch to still images. The effect is kind of entertaining when you try it the first time but we suspect it'll be sparsely used after a few initial sessions. As with some of the other Duo Cam features the novelty factor rubs off pretty quickly. The video below shows the Maple Leaf effect.
In Dimensions Plus mode you can slightly change the angle of view on an image by tilting the phone left, right, up or down. You can save a still frame or a Dimensions Plus file. Unfortunately the latter can only be viewed on your device.
As you can see in the samples below the effect slightly crops the original image and is overall fairly subtle. Objects that are close to the lens can also end up distorted. Admittedly Dimensions Plus is more impressive when viewed on the phone screen but still, it's arguably a feature that most users can easily live without.