HTC One (M8) camera exposed: Two cameras are not always better than one

HTC One (M8) camera exposed: Two cameras are not always better than one

Summary: HTC officially revealed the M8 yesterday and I have been capturing lots of photos and trying to set up the best shots to use their software. It would have been easier if they'd just bumped up the camera resolution.

(Image: HTC)

HTC announced the HTC One (M8) yesterday, my review is available. I awarded the new HTC One (M8) an 8/10 rating, which is a solid rating. I would have awarded it a 9 or 9.5 if the camera resolution would have been improved, like many of us expected.

There are a ton of features in the new camera software so I wanted to post this more detailed article focused on just the camera software and performance. Taylor Martin posted an article on Pocketnow that echoes  my feelings of disappointment about the HTC M8.

People can take great photos with nearly any device, given the right lighting, setup, and expertise of the photographer. I am sure that many people will post great photos from the new HTC One (M8), but I wanted the new One to be better than a social networking portrait camera that is good just for online photos. I use my Nokia Lumia PureView devices to capture images of family, events, and activities that I later use for Christmas cards, photo books, scrapbooks, etc. It saddens me to see people capturing once-in-a-lifetime events with a low-resolution phone that lacks detail.

To be clear, the One (M8) camera is clearly better than last year's One (M7) so if you were satisfied with the One already then it is likely you will be happy with the M8. I love the M7, but don't love the camera so that is why I am disappointed with the M8.

I understand that high megapixel figures are not the lone measure of image quality, however I also strongly disagree with HTC's statement that "megapixels are a myth." That's a statement made by them to justify their UltraPixel strategy, but just isn't true.

A combination of megapixels, camera sensors and lenses, and camera software is what makes for a great photo experience. Nokia has it right with their PureView cameras, with Sony getting much better with their latest Xperia line. Apple has been able to create a solid camera experience as well.

I posted all of my comparison photos in this public Flickr set that includes images from the HTC One (M7), Moto X, and Nokia Lumia Icon. Feel free to browse through those unedited photos to judge the HTC One (M8) for yourself. I also included a few select images in this post for your convenience and quick comparison. Now let's take a closer look at the software.

HTC's camera software is pretty fantastic and if HTC would have included an 8-megapixel UltraPixel camera, or something capable of capturing more detail, then it is likely the HTC One (M8) would have been my next smartphone, and still may be when T-Mobile eventually launches it.

Camera capture interface


HTC made some improvements in the camera capture interface with one change I would like to see improved upon. When you launch the camera you can tap the four circle icon to launch six circular shortcut buttons for Camera, Video, Zoe camera, Selfie, Dual Capture, and Pan 360. If you want to take a mix of photos, videos, and Zoes, then it seems to me you may want to consider living in the Zoe camera mode. With this mode you can tap and hold to take one photo or hold down the button to take Zoes and then videos. If you hold the button for three seconds or less, a Zoe is captured; any longer, you go into video recording mode. The problem here is that the button is covered by your finger, so it's tough to see when you transition from Zoe to video. I think HTC should add a countdown timer above the capture button.

In camera mode if you press and hold the capture button then you will switch to rapid burst mode, unless you turn off that setting. Speaking of settings, within the camera mode you tap the line of three dots to access settings such as ISO, white balance, exposure value, filters, auto, night, sweep panorama, anti-shake, portrait, landscape, and macro.

There is also a manual setting and when you select this option you will see buttons for all your settings. Similar to the way Nokia Camera is designed, vertical lines will appear that you can slide up and down to fully control the capture settings. You can even create a custom manual camera setting that you can use in the future and even have show up on your quick camera button screen.


Some of the same ISO, white balance, exposure value, filters, and other advanced settings are also present in video mode. Zoe camera mode has no settings options and is designed to capture 20 still images in three seconds. There are quite a few settings in Selfie mode, including a timer, HDR, and filters. With a 5-megapixel front-facing wide-angle camera you can actually take some decent selfie photos. Dual capture lets you put yourself in the photo you are taking with the standard camera. Pan 360 lets you capture a full 360 view and is pretty slick and is much improved over apps like Photosphere.

Duo Camera effects

HTC included a small camera lens near the top center of the back, but it's not used to capture photos. It's there to provide depth data so that you can apply several different effects. Keep in mind that to use these Duo Camera effects you must capture images in fully automatic mode. You also need to keep your finger away from this secondary camera or a warning will pop up that it's blocked. Avoid holding the capture button too long or burst mode takes place and then there will be no option for editing your photos.


Tap edit when reviewing an image and the available options will appear. If you did not take an image in fully automatic mode, then the effects will not be available for your use. The first effect is UFocus that lets you select the focal plane in your image. The other plane(s) are blurred, giving you a central focus on your selected object or area. This tool is easy to use and I found that it performs fairly well. You can see before and after shots in my image below.


The next option is called Foregrounder. With this tool you can add sketch, zoom blur, cartoon, and colorize backgrounds. Colorize lets you tap on different areas of your image to toggle colors on and off.


The seasons effect gives you the ability to add falling blossoms, dandelions floating through the air, falling leaves, and snow to your images. You can save the result as a still image or as a video to share with others.

Dimension Plus gives kind of a 3D-effect where moving your display up, down, right, or left changes your perspective of the image. You can choose to save your perspective and even make multiple images from one captured image.

A rather silly effect is called sticker and lets you add hats, glasses, and other items to your subjects. Copy & paste lets you copy people from one image into another. The Touch Up option is the same as provided on the HTC One (M7). I never saw full consistency with this tool before, but there are some handy options.

While some of these software enhancements are fun, their results can also be sketchy. I found the Dimension Plus option to be interesting, but most of the time objects just ended up smearing and looking odd. UFocus and Foregrounder were the only two I would likely use moving forward while the rest are just silly gimmicks to me.

Still image filters, frames, and tools

Several different filters can be added after your image is captured, giving the image a bit of a different look. You can also turn on filters before taking your photos to get a preview of what your captured image will look like.

Frames simply gives you different options for adding borders to your images. Other available tools include draw, rotate, crop, flip, and straighten.

Image Match

To help you better organize and manage your images, which is especially helpful if you take a lot of photos, HTC added technology to filter images that have similar faces or subjects. After HTC provides you with the results, you can select the images that make the most sense to your filter and help improve the image match results.


I already thought the HTC One (M7) gallery was pretty slick with the ability to view Zoes right in the gallery, but HTC enhanced it a bit more on the M8. Images and video are organized by timeline, albums, and locations.

In the timeline view, you can pinch and zoom to switch between events, day, month, and year, similar to what we see in iOS 7. Swipe from right to left to view your content by album and then swipe again to view images organized by location. You will also see Highlight Videos appearing in each of these broad categories at the top of your gallery page. Tapping to open them then gives you the ability to fully edit Highlight Videos.

Highlight Videos is improved with much easier ability to choose your desired content, select a new theme, and even add in custom music selections. You can remix your video and share it with family and friends. I understand that eventually others will be able to provide content for these on a cloud service through HTC.

Captured with HTC One (M8)
Captured with Moto X
Captured with Nokia Lumia Icon


The HTC camera experience is overall a great one that gives you the ability to perform "photoshopping" on the go with your HTC One (M8). The areas I am not completely happy with can be improved over time, much like they were on the M7. However, there is still a lack of data and detail captured by the UltraPixel camera module, so I may just be waiting for the 2015 version of the HTC One.

Topics: Mobility, Android, HTC, Smartphones

Kick off your day with ZDNet's daily email newsletter. It's the freshest tech news and opinion, served hot. Get it.


Log in or register to join the discussion
  • Well

    The Moto X looks like it has some more detail but the Nokia Lumina looks less detailed than the HTC so.. Also it seems to have a shorter FOV. I have a M8 on the way so I'll take pics and compare them to my 8MP EVO 4G LTE Camera, because that phone takes gorgous pictures!
    • Moto X

      This is why I draw my own conclusions with my own eyes and can't trust other viewers opinions. In the 3 pictures of Centurylink Stadium the Moto X wipes the floor with the competition. I'm actually surprised at how much dynamic range that camera has. A simple look at the rendition of the cloudy sky on the HTC M8 show just how poor the dynamic range is. The camera on the M8 is so poor it cannot even render the entire sky, just the middle portion. A look at the competition below shows more contrast and greater detail in the dark looming clouds. If you look at the M8's rendition just to the left of the arch and above, there basically isn't any clouds because it's camera can't pick up the subtleties. A look at the competition's shots and it's clear that the cloud does extend a little bit past the left arch of the stadium.
      • @Maha888

        Actually, the only conclusion you can draw is about the camera software and used lighting measurement in the auto-mode. The moto x is a correctly exposed photo, while the other two are overexposed. It's entirely possible that the chosen measurement method on the moto is perfectly adequate for this sujet, but it might completely fail on an other when the other two softwares get it right.

        I know that people are mostly going to use auto-mode on their smartphone (I do too), but if they really wanted to compare the cameras, they'd have to take manual pictures so you can compare hardware and picture processing. As it's done here it's mainly just how well the auto-mode works.
  • Ridiculous premise

    The entire premise of this article is ludicrous. If you want great shots, use a real camera; at least an entry level DSLR or a full frame camera. Mobility and instant access is all that any of the phones on the market can offer you. As someone who gets accepted to juried photography exhibits on a regular basis, I see lots of images from a broad variety of photographers. Those taken with any phone are a joke and are only suitable for posting on social media or sending to family and friends. Real photography requires at least a DSLR or a high end film camera such as a Leica or Hasselblad. Expecting excellent photography from a phone is like listening to MP3s on an iPod instead of vinyl through a McIntosh amplifier; or riding a Harley vs a Ducati; or driving a Corvette vs a Porsche. Excellent experiences require excellent equipment. This article was a complete waste of the author's time.
    • Real people

      Real people take most of their real photographs with the real equipment they have on them, which is their smart phone. Since they are invested in their family, friends and social media, it makes sense that they want some minimum level of camera functionality from their smartphones, and it is big news when a flagship phone either raises the bar or falls to meet those basic needs.

      The only ridiculous premise I find here is that a professional camera snob came reading a smartphone article expecting DSLR quality from a smartphone. Maybe in ten years, but then DSLR's (or whatever replaces them) will also be so much better. For now folks just want to know if they can get a clear sharp photo, reasonable response time, etc. from their phone's camera.
      • I agree with the OP

        You are right that the best camera is the one you actually have with you. But I'm with the OP on using smartphones for images that you want to treasure. If I'm making a trip to France or going to Niagara, I'm not going to be carrying my smartphone as my main camera. If I'm taking photos of my newborn, I'm going to have my DSLR with me.

        Smartphone Cameras are great for casual photos. There are no smartphone cameras (perhaps save the Nokia 1020) that are going to do the job for anything other than uploading quickies to social media or something similar. And most smartphone cameras are great for that. The uPixels are great for one very common use case of causual photography - a dinner with friends or an outing in the night. Low light photography will benefit from uPixels rather than MPixels.

        Having said that, even for casual photography, you really do need at least a 6 MP camera. So I think HTC probably did miss the boat on this.
        • High pixel is a myth!

          Unless you have 2k or 4k monitor, the resolution on a computer display is maximized at 1920*1080=a little over 2million. So 4 Mpixel is way more than necessary. Especially for people who mainly use it for social networking, because you are not always viewing the photo in full screen. For people who want take a photo for their new born or whatever "precious" moment they think 4mpixel is not good enough, there are plenty of high pixel camera phones on the market. In fact, it's head to find any flagship smartphone which has resolution lower than 10mp (except Apple and htc). HTC doesn't need to do the same as everybody else. The young social networking group is big enough to make this phone successful.
      • re: Real People

        I agree that casual photos are what people expect from all current smartphones. The primary point of my post was that dissecting the nuances and relative merits of marginal devices is an exercise in mental masturbation. As much as I love having my smartphone to give me all the info I need in the palm of my hand, it's not a true computer and isn't what I'd choose to use if I had a full-screen desktop or laptop in front of me. It's good at many things, but not great at any one thing. I certainly wasn't expecting DSLR quality from my smartphone. I use it for casual photography where the final product is acceptable in a casual, non-professional environment. I've been waiting to get the final specs on the new HTC and was just reading this, one of the many articles on the subject. Aside from what looks like a decent but not phenomenal camera, the new HTC looks like it is the most well designed phone out right now, and a great replacement for my current PoS, the Moto Droid Bionic, which I'll joyfully run over with my car when I get the HTC.
      • Never satisfied

        All these phones take great pictures for a PHONE! Tealstrat is right, if you want a professional picture, then purchase the proper technology for that purpose. Now everyone wants our smartphones to replace the purpose of another business and put more people out of jobs. It's so pathetic reading comments of how a PHONE 'S camera don't take as good as pictures as a DSLR, or a 400 dollar Nikon, are you kidding. What happened to people that only wished for there phone tooperate smoothly. Now when are to the point of, can't believe they put a 8 megapixel or in HTC'S case, a 4. This is a phone people, maybe if all we are concerned about is how many pixels are in OUR PHONE, maybe we need to start re evaluating what being NORMAL is all about.
    • Drawing parallels

      "Expecting excellent photography from a phone is like listening to MP3s on an iPod instead of vinyl through a McIntosh amplifier"

      Whoa! No way!
      while I love the sound of a tube amp, I know I'm listening to excessive even order harmonics and know full well it is not the definition of high fidelity. I also know I can get the same "SOUND" using DSP with tube amp filters.
      I'm pretty sure I can digitally resample any mp3 with tube-amp filter and then use an ipod (modded 5.5) to play it back thru a nice class B amp (say a Mark Levison design HK Sig 1.5) and you would pick the ipod over the vinyl/tube combo in a double blind test.
    • You are only talking about...

      ... the technical aspect of a photo. If we have all day to prepare for a photo we want to take, we can bring optional equipment. But a photo opportunity. can occur at any time, and unless you always drag around your D800 with 25-70 2.8, you will only capture it if you have an alternative device. Fir the overwhelming majority this will be a mobile phone, and the purpose of articles such as this is to find the best one of the current breed. A dslr comment such as yours just proves a lack of understanding of the entire topic. I would like to believe you get accepted to exhibitions based ob your ideas and compositional skills rather than equipment.
  • Much missing

    This is a nice overview of the new features. There are a few missing points. 1. I would expect that with fewer megapixels, low light performance should be improved. This isn't covered. 2. The photo for the M8 has really awful contrast, such that the highlights are all saturated to white and low-lights are all crushed to black. If this can't be fixed while staying in "auto" mode, then the camera really is as disappointing as you imply.

    As for Megapixels, if you feel you need more than 4 or 5 megapixels from a phone, you should really consider what you're doing with them. Yes, you can't crop down to less than half the pixels before a 4x6 or 5x7 print will start to soften. Printing a full frame at 8x10 could be a little soft too, but not egregious if the pixels are well used. But 99% of the time, a user's mobile phone photo is going on Flickr or Facebook where no one will view it on more than a 2 megapixel monitor... Once JPG has done its worst, You're probably losing a ton of those 8 or 10mp competitors provide anyway. It would be interesting to look at file sizes of the M8 vs. others. That might be a good indicator of how much information is truly present in the photo from each camera.
  • Funny thing is

    Funny thing is you don't need two cameras to make this work. NOKIA refocus does it quietly by taking multiple shots and giving us option to focus the choice of us later.
    • Useless

      I have the Nokia phone and I played with refocus function. It's an interesting idea but pretty much useless to be honest. You will probably play with it the first week or so then never want to touch it again. From a user point of view, I want to take good pictures, and I warn that with a push of a button, No refocusing, no editing, just pressing a button. Period.
    • This is HTC

      Thanks for the insight, but I like the approach HTC is taking
  • Megapixels are a myth

    "Quality optics matters more than megapixels"
    • the weakest link

      if megapixels is the weakest link, all the best optics in the world can't make up for the lack of sensor definition.
      Always prefer overkill in sensor specs than underkill.
  • HTC One M8 camera still best of the bunch

    Matthew, actually, looking at your Flickr album, HTC One M8 photos have the best image quality and the Nokia Lumia photos have the worst image quality.
  • Perspective

    Love this discussion. Have had to use a wide variety of phones/wireless devices over the years as part of my professional responsibilities. I have also had my share of dedicated high pixel cameras from DSLR to point and shoot. Each device has had its merits. Each had it's faults.

    Loved my pager, and my Palm Pilot. The Blackberry was as good as it gets, until it got better, so much better that when was the last time you saw Blackberry anywhere except in a "last gasp" article? Wrote to them years ago and suggested they license their OS. What do I know?

    Even had a flip phone. The Motorola RAZR 'beam me up Scotti" model. Then someone stuck a light sensor on a device that handled calls and did some basic data transfer. Called it a camera phone. Who the hell needed a camera on a phone, a camera that was basically useless?

    That wasn't so long ago. Thanks to competition, the same type of competition from AMD that broke Intel's lock on chips, today we have a plethora of wireless devices in countless shapes and sizes from which to select. Too bad the same didn't happen to Microsoft. Nothing like competition to drive options, quality and creativity. Did I mention Microsoft?

    The author is using an electron microscope to examine a bar of gold. Look hard enough and you will find imperfection in anything. It's context. What is the imperfection and does it impact your use of the object.

    Bought an M7 last year. Slept with it. Was never out of my hand. Rigor grip. Couldn't put it down. But I did, after taking a succession of pics that were inferior to the 13 MP sensor on my Note 3. Yes. Zooming and cropping was an achilles heel for the M7. I couldn't use anything cropped from the M7. Reluctantly gave that baby away.

    Who needs a camera on a phone?

    So, what does that say? We can talk and talk about megapixel count and size large and small, and dual lenses, and on and on endlessly. It's the results that matter, not how you get there. As beautiful and highly crafted as the M7 is, and as deeply imbedded that hunk of finely honed metal was in my hand, the M7 didn't meet the requirements of my activities of daily living. That said, my right palm still remembers feeling the M7 spooning in it. I'm thinkin' this is where the mental masturbation reference applies.

    Went from the M7 to a Nexus 5. Loved it for six months. It's now failing. Cheap is cheap?

    What a coincidence... time for a new phone. Ordered an M8 from Google Play last night. I'm hoping the California buyer's remorse period and Google's return policy don't have to be invoked.

    My right hand is starting to twitch...