4GEE Testmodo Challenge #5: Our Readers Test the HTC One M8 Camera

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After fondling the Samsung Galaxy Note 3, and the Nokia Lumia 1320, our three intrepid reader-reviewers have been trying out the HTC One M8 for the past couple of weeks. First up to the plate is the M8's camera -- how did they get on with its ultrapixel sensor and Duo Lens Camera technology?

The depth camera on the M8 is a tad gimmicky in places but really sets the scene for what's to come in future phones. I'm a little sad to have lost some valuable pixels as a compromise for Ultrapixels, and no doubt a higher megapixel camera will likely be included in HTC's next iteration. More pixels is a good thing, bigger pixels is a good thing... But can't I have both? The UltraPixels produce better images in low light but at a very slight cost to everyday images.

There is no doubt that the M8 takes lovely photos. A comparison with other high end phones such as the iPhone 5S and the Samsung Galaxy S5 shows that the M8 doesn't take quite as nice photos, but it certainly isn't far off. Images taken are generally crisp and have a good colour balance and for 99 per cent of things I might do with an image, this phone does the job well.

HTC's Duo Lens Camera with Ultrapixel sensor allows for extra fast autofocus times (around 300ms), on par with the Samsung Galaxy S5, and also provides the ability to apply some rather nice effects too. Since the camera knows the depth of each object in the picture, it can apply effects to only the foreground (or only the background) while leaving the other areas untouched.

UFocus allows you to touch an area of a photo you've already shot, and focus on that area, whilst defocusing from other parts of the photo. Pictures are worth one thousand words, so they say, so here are some examples:

Original photo

Focus on foreground

Focus on background

Are the effects perfect? Absolutely not! There is blurring between the foreground and background divide and occasionally sections are misidentified and are blurred erroneously. Is it fun to have though? Absolutely! It is a great feature to play with for creating interesting photos.

The HTC One M8 can shoot slow motion in 720p at 96 frames per second, meaning you get fairly crisp yet smooth slow-motion, which I'm a big fan of. The following two videos were taken simultaneously; one filmed on the HTC One M8 and the other on the Samsung Galaxy Note 3:

Juggling - M8

Juggling - Note 3

Juggling combined

The M8 produces a much higher quality video than the Note 3's slow motion. Although the Note 3 claims to support 720p, the result is very pixelated and suggests a high level of interpolation.

After having filmed in slow motion on the M8, you can choose to edit the video and adjust the playback speed choosing between full speed, half speed and quarter speed. You're also able to select one section of the footage and apply a speed change to it -- but only one. It's great that you can do this to make one part of the video really pop in slow motion before returning to full speed, but also sad that you can only choose one section. If only the HTC software let you apply different speeds to different sections. To be clear, this is a software limitation only so hopefully can fixed by a future update or third party app. If you can do it on an iPhone, I want to be able do it on this phone.

Juggling - Variable Speed

Zoe, despite being confusingly-named, is HTC's equivalent of Google's Auto Awesome Movie. Zoe takes photos and videos you've taken and makes logical groups of them to form events. You may have taken multiple photos over the course a day, but the photos you took over lunch will become automatically grouped together. You can edit these groupings if necessary.

For any group, you can create a Zoe. Or rather, you can create a video that was created by Zoe. Or a video that is hosted on Zoe? Terribly confusing naming but a good feature nevertheless. For this video, Zoe can automatically choose some of your media with the inclusion of filters and happy-sounding music. If you want a little more control, you can choose which media is included, which music is used and which effect should be applied, if any.

Instantly, you have a video which acts as a nice summary of that event. Once you're done, you can save the video locally or share it directly to YouTube, Facebook, Dropbox etc... With ridiculously fast 4G upload speeds (vastly superior than my home or work's upload speeds), there is no reason you can't share to YouTube directly whilst still out and about. Here is my Zoe walking around Arthur's Seat, Edinburgh:

I can see me making lots of these little "life summaries". They are much better to show someone than still photos; much more entertaining and engaging. With fast 4G internet from EE at the ready, these videos are slick and easy to share too, meaning I don't have to wait until I find Wi-Fi to share (and therefore less chance of me forgetting to do it).

Craig Russell is an Edinburgh-based software engineer working in mobile app development. Read his blog here and follow him on Twitter here.

It's unlikely you'll get your hands on something as slippery, sexy or shiny as the HTC One M8; it really is well designed and lovely to behold.

HTC doesn't subscribe to the whole "more megapixels" philosophy and instead adopts a less-is-more approach with a 4MP Ultrapixel camera. Ultrapixels are larger than ordinary camera pixels in order to let in more light. Therefore low-light camera performance should be better, however, due to the low number of pixels, zoomed in photos may lack detail.

Over the past week I have taken probably a 100 or so photos in various conditions. While I've been somewhat frustrated by the lack of detail when zooming into my pics, I've been more than happy with the colour, clarity, speed and low-light performance of the HTC One M8's camera.

Normally I don't really mess around too much with photo effects and the like as these have become somewhat out of fashion now. However, I found the HTC's Zoe function quite amusing, as it made my photos a lot more interesting and fun to watch.

For those unfamiliar, Zoe was introduced with the original HTC One phone. It's very similar to Google's Auto-Awesome feature which takes a bunch of your photos, adds music and effects and turns them into little videos automagically. You're able to tweak which photos comprise the video and which filter effect to apply, which also determines what music track is applied to the video. You can use music from your own music library on your phone but I quickly found that Facebook's copyright policy doesn't allow for copyrighted music to be applied to videos that are uploaded (and rightly so!)

This is where EE's 4G service really comes in handy as these little Zoe videos can easily be a few hundred MB in size and uploading these to Facebook or YouTube over 3G could become rather tedious.
I also tested out a regular video recording in a setting where there was a lot of light behind the subject and you can see that here:

It's not bad (if you'll excuse the singing!) even though it's a little dark. I refrained from using the dual-LED lights on the HTC One M8 which are blindingly bright (my daughter certainly wasn't too happy when I took a flash photo of her fairly close up).

The other novel feature of this phone is the Duo Lens Camera setup. This allows for depth of field modifications after you've take a photo (like a Lytro camera). This allows you to refocus the photo on the foreground or background after you've taken the shot. Google has just released a camera app which tries to do something similar with its Lens Blur mode, but I found theirs far less easy to use as it requires you to raise the phone upwards during shooting, which just isn't a natural feeling when taking a photo.

Here are some examples of HTC's Ufocus feature where I've taken a normal shot where the foreground and background are sharp; the background sharp, and then again with only the foreground sharp. A sharp foreground and blurred background really makes portraits look special in my opinion. See for yourself:

Foreground and background in focus

Background in focus, foreground out of focus

Foreground in focus, background out of focus

Interestingly, I found myself in situations where my wife was asking me to take photos instead of her taking them as she felt the HTC One M8 camera was superior to that of the iPhone 5S. Since I was using EE's 4G network too, I was also able to upload photos and Zoe videos far faster than my wife could (result!)

Overall, I'm sold on the benefits of HTC's Duo Lens Camera and Ultrapixel technology but I would still prefer a few more Ultrapixels in there. Perhaps in the HTC One M9...?

London-based Baij Patel is the IT Director at Twentieth Century Fox, and reviews movies and gadgets in his spare time on his blog. Follow him on Twitter here.

Our third reader, Amanda Foley, was unwell this week so we will update this Testmodo challenge with her results when she's on the mend.

Check back for the next Testmodo challenge on the 8th of May, and follow our Testmodo winners' tweets using the hashtag #testmodo4GEE.

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