HTC One UltraPixel Camera Versus the CompetitionS

When HTC first showed the world the One last month, it touted the merits of the camera's larger "UltraPixels". Theory says that larger pixels could produce better images than the competition. In practice? We're pretty damned impressed.

We compared the HTC One's camera to the cameras on the Nokia Lumia 920 and Apple iPhone 5, which were the top cameras in our recent smartphone camera battlemodo. We tested the camera in low-light both with and without flash, as well as in daylight. The photos in this test are taken from identical spots in every case, so any differences in the framing of the images is because of slight differences each camera's field-of-view. In almost every situation the HTC One's camera performed above our expectations—and above its competitors.

In the image above, you begin to see what we're talking about. The camera's color rendition and dynamic range is spectacular. The HTC One image is sharp and captures deep red in the roses as well as the correct green color on the leaves in the background. Whereas the roses in both the iPhone and Lumia 920 images look plastic and over-processed, the HTC One looks like reality.

Click each of the images below to blow them up much larger.


Low-light

HTC One UltraPixel Camera Versus the CompetitionS

In a low-light comparison, it's a close call between the Lumia 920 and HTC One. Where the former's color saturation looks borderline unnatural, the latter is noticeably grainy. We say the 920 slightly edges the One, and both are clearly superior to the iPhone 5.

Winner: Lumia 920


Flash

HTC One UltraPixel Camera Versus the CompetitionS

In the past, we've been very impressed by the flash on both Lumia 920 and the iPhone 5, which makes the HTC One's competitiveness in this category a surprise. Its camera uses a softer flash when close up, which illuminates the statue without blowing out any details. Very impressive.

Winner: HTC One


Daylight

HTC One UltraPixel Camera Versus the CompetitionS

In daylight you expect all of the cameras to perform very well, and indeed, they all do. All of the photos are great, although, again, it's a tossup between the HTC One and the Lumia 920. We quite like the contrast in the HTC One's image, but it's also almost unnaturally sharp throughout the image. Let's take a closer look, shall we?

Winner: HTC One and Lumia 920 (Tie)


Daylight, 100-percent crop

HTC One UltraPixel Camera Versus the CompetitionS

When you zoom in on the images, you see more evidence of what we were taking about before above. The HTC One's processing algorithms over-sharpen this image, which makes it look crispy compared to the softer more realistic edges in the Lumia 920s image. On the other hand, oversharpening improves detail rendition to a certain extent, so it's almost a question of personal preference in this case.

Winner: HTC One and Lumia 920 (Tie)

Bottom Line

The HTC One's "UltraPixel" camera sounds like marketing palaver, but actually makes for an impressive shooter. In each situation we tested, the HTC One's camera performed on par with—or better than—the competition. Whether it beats out the excellent Lumia 920 might come down to personal preference, but there's no denying the HTC One's camera exhibits such great low-light performance (both with and without flash) that it's clearly one of the best cameras on a smartphone you could actually buy.