Just How Effective Is The HTC One's "UltraPixel" Camera?

Are you on the lookout for a high-end smartphone that can take decent photos? We pit the HTC One's controversial four-megapixel camera against the Samsung Galaxy S III's eight-megapixel camera. The results may surprise you.

When HTC debuted the specifications of its flagship One smartphone this week, one thing really stood out: its four-megapixel camera. On paper, this sounds like smartphone suicide - most flagship phones on the market today boast between eight and twelve megapixels. However, HTC reckons its new 'UltraPixel' technology can trump its rivals, particularly when it comes to low light photography.

UltraPixel is basically a fancy marketing word for HTC's newly developed 2┬Ám pixels, which allow the camera's sensor to capture more light. To use the company's own analogy, it's like capturing rain in a bucket — the bigger the bucket, the more 'rain' you can collect. (You can read a more thorough overview of the technology here.)

"Camera quality is completely separate to megapixel counts — the belief that more megapixels means better pictures is a big fat lie," said HTC Asia's senior marketing director, Darren Sng, during last night's launch.

"So we created a new type of pixel that is double the size of what you find on other sensors, which allows it to capture 330 percent more light."

Sng claimed that the HTC One camera produced sharper, more detailed photos with less noise and better colour accuracy than the market's leading smartphones, including the iPhone 5 and Samsung Galaxy S III.

"When you compare the HTC One to some of the leading megapixel smartphones, you can tell that HTC One is clearly on top." Bold words, but how do they measure up in practice?

Last night, we got the chance to test out the HTC One's four-megapixel camera for ourselves. To put it through its paces, we took identical shots with the HTC One and our Samsung Galaxy S III, which sports an eight-megapixel camera with a maximum resolution of 3264x2448 pixels.

We stuck to the automatic modes on both cameras and kept the flash disabled. They say a picture tells a thousand words, so we'll let the results speak for themselves. [Click on each photo to enlarge]

Outdoors Test: Samsung Galaxy S III (left) vs. HTC One (right)

Indoors Test: Samsung Galaxy S III (left) vs. HTC One (right)

Window Test: Samsung Galaxy S III (left) vs. HTC One (right)

Update: we have taken the photos from the low-light test down after the EXIF data revealed that the flash had been fired in one of the images, therefore rendering the test irrelevant (this was an oversight of HTC PR who accidentally sent us the wrong photo). Sorry for any confusion.


    That's impressive! Am looking forward to a comparison against the Nokia 920!
    I'm fine with resolutions >3.2MP, especially if you get a great pic. Light capture is where it's at, baby. High-res, dark blurry shots are the blurst.

    That low light comparison looks dubious at best.

      Not sure what you mean by dubious - I took the shots in the same location from the same position.

        Of what, exactly?

        According to a Gizmodo commentator, the EXIF data on the second image says that the flash was used...?

        EDIT: and let's just ignore the fact that the first one has a shot of someone's legs and boots, while the other does not.

        Last edited 22/02/13 4:28 pm

          Confirmed - the EXIF data clearly shows the photo was taken by an HTC_PN071, 1/11th second exposure, flash was set to auto - and it fired.

          Not only careless, that'd almost have to be deliberate. How could you not notice the flash going off in that dark space?

      The first one, the outdoor test, isn't consistent with the others... did you perhaps get the images mixed up?

    So it only works well in low light?

    I thought the s3 looked better in all the shots bar the last one.

    Lifehacker uses HTC One. IT'S SUPER EFFECTIVE!

    Last edited 22/02/13 2:03 pm

    Why bother doing comparisons if you don't even get the photos to meter exposure on the same point? The first photo has the Samsung attempting to capture the detail in front (overexposing the sky) while the HTC has gone for the detail in the sky (under exposing the front).

    Also note that the Samsung has a significantly narrower field of view (in my opinion a good thing, the wide field of view on my iPhone is often frustrating). This is important as small wide aperture lenses are easier to build for wider fields of view, which means the HTC has other advantages than simply a different sensor (I admit, I probably could have gone and looked up the respective specs, but I am not the 'journalist/writer' here).

    A valid conclusion to this would be "we are unable to tell if the HTC's interesting claims have any truth to a complete lack of ability to compose photos or adjust for variables".

      Hi Spinner, the point of the test was to compare both camera's auto-modes when used in the same location and position. Any variables were negligible. The majority of users stick to auto mode when they use their phone camera, which is what we tested.

        I think you missed the point of what he was saying though. In the first image (S3) it appears as though the exposure/focal point was on the balcony whereas the second image (HTC) is appears as though the exposure/focal point was on the background/sky. If you were using manual settings rather than auto, the point you are aiming at wouldn't matter but since it was in auto mode, the point you aim at makes a big different to the exposure and focus of the shots. The other shots seem to be good comparisons, just that the first one has this focal point issue, making them not really comparable.

        The HTC certainly seems to be capturing a lot more colour points than the S3 and has a better dynamic range.. but is this a result of the software or the hardware?

          Your efforts are lost.

          Don't get a writer to test cameras. Reading this review was about as useful as a bald man using a comb.

          Both photos were taken from the same position and angle - what the camera chose to make the focal point is important, particularly for the majority of users who never use manual settings.

            Soyou're saying that the HTC has poor subject choice, since the average user is not going to be wanting to take pictures of the sky in that situation?

              In the given situation, yes.

                That's a really odd way to do the comparison, you're introducing exposure compensation as an external variable by not having the same subject for each photo, that doesn't seem like an appropriate way to compare the quality of output from two sensors.

                If you actually want to compare the capabilities of the two sensors you have to set them an identical task so that the comparison is meaningful.

            To be honest, in that first set of images it looks like they were in fact taken at different angles - the centre points of the images are different, and the horizon in the HTC shot is below the halfway point. I don't know how Android phones figure out what exposure to use on auto mode, but surely that would have affected it.

            Also, this is coming from an iPhone user so I could be wrong, but can't you just tap on the screen once to set the focal/exposure point, even in auto mode? I'm pretty sure the kinds of people who want to see these comparisons would know how to do that...

            Now when you say same position and angle, you were using a tripod and phone mount? or....

            You don't have to use manual mode to make the phone meter on a different subject.

    If you turn the lowlight feature on a GS3 (4.1.2) i'm sure it'd be way better than a blank photo.

    And those ultrapixel is just ultraPRmarketingcrap

    what low light feature??

      It's in the latest firmware update, a 'low light' mode that works surprisingly well. You don't get much fine detail but you do get a useable photo.

    Just how effective is using a pretty girl to lure people in to read about a camera in a phone?

    The "UltaPixel" camera has a very different chip behind it. It consists of three layers of 4M pixel sensors. The technology is proprietary to HTC. It is similar to Foveon chip used on many SLR camera. The better performance is not coming from software tricks.

      No it doesn't. It has a standard sensor with fewer, larger photosites. The x3 stuff was a rumor.

    It's the result of hardware. Software can not enhance/correct a picture if light is not detected by the hardware first. The 'ultra pixel' camera has three layers of 4m sensors, in additional to having larger pixels.

    One question I do have is which of these is showing the most accurate colour? the S3 is clearly more in the blue spectrum and the HTC more in the red.. only the person who took the photo can say what the true colour was like at that time, so I'm curious which is more accurately describing the scene in terms of colour?

      The photos were taken in the late afternoon -- in terms of colour accuracy, I'd tip my hat to the HTC over the Samsung.

        That's what I was thinking too.. but of course it's hard to know without being there :)

    i think ill still be buying the sony xperia z

    Indoors test the left one is taken by htc lol

    Why was the comment remarking on the exif data showing that there was in fact a flash used in the second low light image deleted? If that's true, it should be officially responded to.

      Nevermind, that was on Giz! My bad. But still, the question is valid.

    Hi, you say that all pictures were taken at the same angle etc. So, did you use a tripod? I ask this because it appears that they were not, infact, taken at exactly the same angle. Go to the first set of pictures, and draw a line going directly in the middle horizontally and vertically, see where the lines meet, and compare. As you can see, you aimed at completely different things, resulting in different types of pictures.

    How about the last set, in low light. They have completely different angles, one shows more of one wall, and other shows more of the other wall. Not to mention the feet... Then, the HTC has flash set to auto, whereas the Samsung has flash set to off. How is this a fair comparison? If one uses the flash, the other should also.

    Clearly you don't know how to compare cameras, so for anyone who actually wants a review of camera performance, look elsewhere. And compare this to something like the Lumia, or 808 Pureview.

Join the discussion!

Trending Stories Right Now