What is HTC One UltraPixel camera
At 4 mega pixels the camera in HTC One seems incredibly low and out of place at a time when competitors like LG and Sony are talking about 13 mega-pixel cameras in their phones and most flagship devices, including the iPhone 5 and Galaxy S III, sport an eight mega-pixel shooter.
But there is a method to the camera madness in HTC One.
The company claims that the pixels in HTC One camera are better pixels compared to what other smartphones have. This is the reason why the camera in the phone is called UltraPixel camera.
At the launch event in the US HTC's design director Jonah Becker said, "For years, people have been misled about what is important in a camera — what matters is not pixel count, but pixel size... We're talking about real image quality, not just megapixels for the sake of megapixels. The era of the megapixel is over."
HTC is not the first company to criticise senseless mega pixels race that defines the smartphone industry. Nokia did the same earlier when it launched PureView 808, which despite its 41 mega pixels tag, clicked pictures in just five mega pixels by default.
Once the launch event got over, HTC published a few details on its website. A few weeks ago there was a rumour that HTC One would come with a four or five mega-pixel camera but use the Foveon image sensor that was considered better at handling pixels. But that turned out to be a false.
Instead of any new technology, HTC is using a new approach to photography. This is something Damian Dinning, who was head of Nokia's imaging department before he left the company in November last year, highlighted with a tweet. He wrote, "Did I miss something today?? Thought HTC were introducing a breakthrough camera?? Read the whole press release but no, couldn't find it."
However, lack of any breakthrough technology doesn't mean the HTC One camera is not unique. As companies cram more mega pixels into a phone, which can't accommodate a bigger image sensor due to space constraints, the size of pixels is getting smaller. Theoretically, this is bad. Smaller pixels capture less light compared to bigger pixels and hence tend to produce pictures with noise or grain.
HTC is going back to the basics. It is using an image sensor that needs to support just four mega pixels. This means the HTC One pixels are much bigger compared to the pixels in other smartphones and are likely to capture more light.
HTC claims that most smartphone image sensors currently have a pixel size of around 2micron square. In comparison, the pixels in HTC One camera have a size of around 4micron square each. This, says the company, allows pixels in HTC One to capture up to 300% more light than pixels packed in other smartphones. The image sensors in DSLR cameras like Nikon D90 have a pixel size of nearly 29micron square.
But pixel size is not everything. Good images depend a lot on factors like quality of lens and image processing algorithms. HTC claims that it has also improved the way the image processor work with the pixels to create final image as well as equipped the device with an optical image stabilisation (OIS). This feature should reduce the blur that is introduced in images due to shaky hands. OIS, along with a F2 lens, which can capture more light due to wider aperture, should also help HTC One users during photography in low light.
Nokia's Lumia 920 smartphone too has optical image stabilisation.
In actual use, the camera in HTC One is likely capture very good images with excellent dynamic range and low noise. The images may have a smaller size compared to those captured with other smartphones but that is not likely to affect user experience because four mega pixels photos are big enough for all practical purposes. But whether the camera in HTC One can beat the camera in iPhone 5 or Nokia PureView 808 is not clear at the moment.