Is the HTC One's UltraPixel camera worth the risk?

Anna Scantlin
Contributing Editor from  Kansas City, MO
| July 18, 2013

Cameras on our smartphones have become one of the biggest deciding factors for many people when it comes to choosing their smartphones. What was once considered nothing more than a back-up plan just in case you didn't have your normal camera handy actually became such a demanding feature that it has since been improved upon so much that some people don't even see the need to carry around a digital camera anymore (and who needs them when you have phones like the Nokia Lumia 1020 that feature a 41-megapixel camera?) But even some of the lower megapixel cameras can serve just as well for regular day-to-day purposes.

For several months we've been debating on whether or not the megapixel count in a camera really matters or not. There has been points made that while megapixels do count when it comes to image quality, there is a stopping point for the average user. It's kind of like the question of how high def can you make a screen before our eyes aren't able to tell a difference? At some point megapixels don't matter, but exactly when that point is is still very much up in the air.

HTC took a gamble by putting a 4-megapixel camera inside of their flagship device that was set to shake the world this year, the HTC One, although this 4-megapixel camera isn't just any regular 4-megapixel shooter; it's actually called UltraPixel, which basically means that HTC took to the sensor of the camera to produce "big pixels". These bigger pixels supposedly make an image better. I could go into details about it, but it seems like every description I've come across of what makes UltraPixel work requires a lot of math, decimals and things that I'm not very good at dealing with, so I'm going to leave all of that stuff to the photography professionals. The bottom line here is that HTC thinks they can prove to you that you don't need more megapixels in order to produce a beautiful, clear image. To an extent, I agree. Megapixels aren't the only defining factor of what makes a great camera. Otherwise, 8-megapixel shooters like the iPhone 5 and the Nokia Lumia phones would all take identical pictures, and at least to me, there are notable differences between the two.

Just as HTC took a gamble with the 4-megapixel UltraPixel camera, I took a gamble by picking up an HTC One today to check out what this new camera has to offer. The one thing that made me nervous about choosing the HTC One over the Galaxy S 4 was that I did, in the back of my mind, have serious doubts about the camera quality. As it turns out, I didn't have a whole lot to worry about.

I've been messing with the HTC One's camera for a couple of hours now in several lighting situations. I have to say that I am impressed with the quality of a camera that claims to have a 4-megapixel camera. As in, it's not the worst camera I've ever used on a smartphone by far. It does perform exceptionally well in low-lit situations, which is exactly what it's glorified for. Also, the camera is very quick at taking pictures. I think it's the fastest picture-taker I've ever used. Other phones take a few seconds to adjust and then save the picture, but within one or two seconds the photo is done and ready in the album to view. I also have to give props to HTC for allowing the mode or edits to be selected after the shot has been taken, not before, which is what most cameras will have you do.

There are a lot of great points about the HTC One's camera, but I did notice that the photos are not as clear as the pictures I was taking on the Samsung Galaxy S 4, which uses a 13-megapixel camera. The Galaxy S 4 definitely offered a lot more detail when it came to pictures, but one of the main issues I was having with it was the fact that it took longer to actually take the picture and I also had to preselect which mode was best to take the picture in. This is very time consuming and, for the most part, when I use a mobile phone camera I'm looking for quick shots that can pick up the action as it's happening. While the HTC One didn't do a perfect job of creating an image quickly, it did a pretty darn good job of it. For basic everyday use, I would rather have quick captures with decent photos than long, drawn-out captures with detailed photos. However, I know this isn't the case for everybody.

I've also found that the HTC One does a better job of keeping natural colors, which I'm not sure how I feel about it. Personally, and perhaps this is due to my genertation's skew of needing to place a filter over everything (and I mean everything; we actually have to clarify when we don't filter things now. I had a friend the other day post a photo of porkchops and she used the hastag #nofilter), I've always preferred more vibrant and colorful photos. In this aspect I was more pleased with the outcome of the Galaxy S 4 photos from the get-go. On the other hand, HTC does provide you with filters and adjustments to edit with after you've taken the photo, so people like me who find more vibrant photos visually pleasing do have more options after the photo has been taken.

Everybody has their own views on the HTC One's UltraPixel camera and how well it really stands up to other cameras that feature more megapixels. For me, the only downside I can see is the fact that the photos skimp on the finer details, but the camera can still take a pretty picture. For the most part I have been pleased with the outcome of the photos, but moreso the options that HTC gives you when it comes to editing the photos after you've already taken them. Zoe is also a huge plus feature in the One, although I haven't made a Zoe that I've liked enough to keep yet. Honestly, I'll take anything over that awful front-facing camera on the iPhone 4S. If I had a dollar for every pixel I saw on the photos from front-facing iPhone 4/4S camera, I would have three dollars. Ultimately, the answer to my question, in my opinion, is that the 4-megapixel UltraPixel camera shouldn't hold anybody back from thinking that it's a poor camera choice. Is it the best? Not in my eyes. But the camera software that HTC included in the device does help make it one of the most pleasant camera experiences that I've ever had in a smartphone.

Readers, what are your thoughts on the UltraPixel camera? Has the thought of a 4-megapixel camera, UltraPixel or not, stopped you from taking a leap into the HTC One? Let me know what you think in the comments below!

Images via Digital Trends, Phandroid

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