8: Conclusion & GalleryNext
HTC One M8 Camera Review
Lars Rehm | Published: May 27, 2014 at 18:14 UTC53
Conclusion - The Good
Conclusion - The Bad
There is a lot to like about the HTC One M8. With its excellent build quality, all-metal body and vibrant screen it immediately feels like a premium device when you hold it in your hands and use it. It's loaded with imaging and non-imaging features alike and thanks to top-notch hardware components always feels snappy and responsive in operation.
Unfortunately the HTC is being let down by the image quality of its 4MP camera module. It delivers decent exposure and color across the ISO range but cannot match the level of detail captured by its peers and is plagued by a variety of image quality issues and artifacts that we would not expect to see even on cheap compact cameras.
The DuoCam is a unique new feature that makes the M8 stand out but cannot make up for the sensor's image quality problems. Ufocus and the other DuoCam features need more work to improve the image results and turn DuoCam from a gimmick into a genuinely useful function.
Overall the HTC One M8 has a lot to offer for gadget lovers and users who like to spend time playing with and testing features, but mobile photographers who are concerned about image quality are better served elsewhere. Samsung's, Sony's and Nokia's current high-end models, the Galaxy S5, Xperia Z2 and Lumia 1520, have to make do without the DuoCam but otherwise offer similarly comprehensive feature sets and are clearly ahead in the image quality department. Apple's iPhone 5s comes with a more streamlined imaging feature set but in terms of image quality is still one of the best options.
Features & Operation
The One M8's camera app is easy to get to via shortcuts on the home screen or the volume rocker and opens up swiftly, giving you a good chance to capture that decisive moment. Once you've opened the app its abundance of modes and parameters can, especially for novice shooters, feel a little overwhelming at first.
The menu structure is not always quite intuitive either but the One M8's camera app offers a degree of user control that is matched by very few competitors. You get control over image parameters, such as saturation and contrast, you can create your own custom modes and there is a proper manual mode that allows you to set shutter speeds that are fast enough to freeze motion or slow enough to create blur effects when you want them.
In terms of the sheer number of imaging features there a very few smartphones that can keep up with the HTC. Its abundance of cameras modes and functions will keep you busy for a while but the One M8's headline feature is of course the DuoCam. While it's fun to play with the subject isolation effects offered by the Ufocus and Foregrounder functions, the image results are rather sobering.
The system struggles to properly isolate subjects from the background and the focus transition is very abrupt, giving the images a "fake" look. In its current state of development Duo Cam is not more than a gimmick and if you want to shoot a portrait with perfect subject isolation and smoothly blurred background no alternative to an APS-C or full-frame DSLR and fast prime lens.
Further imaging features include the Zoe camera we had already seen on the original One and the Dual Capture function that allows you to take an image with front and rear camera at the same time. The Pan 360 mode offers the best UI of a spherical panorama app that we've seen so far but, like in the sweep panorama app, the stitching of the image output is far from perfect.
Unfortunately the One M8's camera shows many of the flaws that we also saw on the original One and the image output cannot match the device's excellent build quality or comprehensive feature set. The camera maintains good exposure and color across the ISO range, with only occasional slight underexposure in bright lighting conditions or when shooting with flash. However, when viewing images at larger magnifications it's obvious that in good light the HTC's 4MP sensor cannot resolve the same levels of detail as its higher resolution peers.
In addition the images are blighted by strong moiré and fringing and on sunny days portions of the sky frequently turn cyan, presumably caused by channel clipping. The small image size also means that you have very little flexibility when cropping a photo, for example for posting on Instagram or similar image sharing sites, and that the digital zoom is virtually unusable.
In lower light the M8's "ultrapixel" sensor has no discernible advantages over the competition's 13, 16 or 20MP chips either. Both noise and softness through noise reduction are visible from low ISO levels and become more intrusive as you go higher up the range. From ISO 1250 upwards very little fine detail is left and the highest settings should be reserved for emergency use. The lack of a focus light means that the focus gets very slow in very low light, with an increased risk of out-of-focus images.
The Final Word
Since their introduction with the original One HTC's "ultrapixels" have not been able to convince us in any device. The One M8 is no different and the underwhelming image output from its camera stands in stark contrast to the phone's otherwise excellent performance, build quality and comprehensive feature set.
In the recently announced One Mini 2 HTC has already swapped the predecessor's "ultrapixel"-sensor for a more conventional 13MP unit. We can only hope HTC will make the same decision for the One M8's successor, so that we get to use HTC's innovative imaging features in combination with an image sensor that is more adequate for a phone of otherwise such high caliber.
There are 42 images in our HTC One M8 samples gallery. Please do not reproduce any of these images on a website or any newsletter / magazine without prior permission (see our copyright page). We make the originals available for private users to download to their own machines for personal examination or printing (in conjunction with this review), we do so in good faith, please don't abuse it.
Unless otherwise noted images taken with no particular settings at full resolution.
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