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HTC One (M8) And One (E8) Review: A Flagship And Its Sidekick

Camera Features And Example Photos

Before we test camera performance on the HTC One (M8) and (E8), consider the company's previous-generation product. Last year, HTC went a unique direction with the One (M7)'s camera. Instead of making its focus larger sensors, light-gathering and fast response time were prioritized instead. A photographer will tell you that those both needed more work in the mobile space, and HTC's UltraPixel camera consequently did a solid job capturing photos. I tend to agree that this is the right direction to take customers.

Now, what changed with the M8? The rear-facing camera carries over the same UltraPixel hardware from last year's M7, leveraging a 4 MP sensor. It has the same light-gathering ability (thanks to a large f/2.0 aperture) and fast response time (attributable to fewer, larger 2.0 micrometer pixels). So, its basic strengths and weaknesses don't change. 

To that platform, HTC adds a second rear-facing 2.1 MP sensor to capture depth data. This is actually the front-facing camera from last generation's One (M7). Together, both sensors enable HTC's UFocus feature, which lets you alter bokeh after a picture is taken. I adjusted the effect in the images below; the shots that follow reflect UFocus applied to foreground, mid-range, and long-range objects:

UFocus is a practical capability able to add drama to any image you may want to adjust later, and the phone processes the effect almost instantaneously. Notable limitations apply, though. It can't be used in low-light conditions. It doesn't work in conjunction with the flash. And it isn't usable with HDR enabled. At least for me, this isn't a must-have feature. But there will be those who discover it, play around with it, and spend time getting more artistic about the way they shoot pictures. An amateur at a wedding might have fun setting up cool shots, for example.

As for the lower-priced One (E8), it sports one 13 MP sensor instead, so UFocus isn't available. The E8 employs a single LED, rather than the M8's dual-LED flash, and the camera's response time is slower than HTC's flagship, too. Still, it's in line with what we've come to expect from smartphones. If you covet high-resolution shots, it might even be preferable.

The One (M8) and (E8) share the same 5 MP front-facing camera, offering more than twice the resolution as last year's HTC One (M7).

HTC streamlines the One's Camera app to further drive home its speed-of-service directive. Open it and you're presented with a simple screen highlighting the button used to capture pictures, another button for picking a camera mode, flash status, and a settings option.

Press the mode button, and you're able to choose between the standard camera, Video, Zoe camera, Selfie, capture from the front and rear cameras, and a Pan 360 option. Only the Zoe camera (short for zoetrope) necessitates explanation: it lets you shoot 3.6 seconds of video or 20 photos at six frames per second from the same interface. Zoom is disabled in this mode. However, HTC claims the result is a more complete memory than just capturing stills.

You can assign zoom functionality to the volume rocker buttons, or you can use them for taking pictures. The settings are accessible once you dig deeper into the normal camera mode, where you'll find a plethora of scene options, including HDR. There's even a manual mode for the enthusiasts who place value on dialing settings in as precisely as possible.

I took some comparison pictures with the One (M8), and really appreciated its fast response time and strong low-light performance. The camera does have a tendency to bias toward overexposure, though. Let's compare the device's quality compared to Nokia's Lumia Icon/930.

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HTC One M8

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Nokia Lumia Icon

The first shot tests low-light response. HTC's One (M8) gives us a brighter image, while the Lumia delivers finer detail.

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HTC One M8

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Nokia Lumia Icon

With their flashes enabled, both cameras fare much better. The Lumia again facilitates crisper detail at a warmer color temperature, while the One (M8) tends toward green.

HTC One M8

Nokia Lumia Icon

Shooting another poorly-lit subject, HTC's One (M8) outputs a darker image compared to the Lumia Icon/930, which, again, better reproduces fine detail.

HTC One M8

The One (M8) lacks vibrancy in the above comparison.

HTC One M8

Nokia Lumia Icon

Shooting outdoors on a cloudy day exposes lots of difference between these two devices. At least to my eye, the Lumia wins, capturing more detail (best seen when you blow the image up), whereas the One (M8) appears muted and under-saturated.

HTC One M8

Nokia Lumia Icon

Although the One (M8) shows off its light-gathering abilities in this nighttime shot, it also suffers from more noise, less detail, and a yellow tint compared to the Lumia Icon's version. What you can't see in these examples is how quickly each camera works. The One (M8) is simply faster than Nokia's offering, imparting more confidence that we'd be able to capture a brief moment. It's an important consideration that detracts from many otherwise-strong smartphone cameras.