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