HTC has been persistently working on their UltraPixel branding for their smartphone cameras. The UltraPixel cameras have come a long way from their HTC One days, and what we’re seeing on the HTC U11 is only testament of the Taiwanese company’s prowess with imaging. The primary camera on the HTC U11 has a 12 megapixel resolution, just like most other flagship smartphones, but this camera boasts a pixel pitch of 1.4um. We were very excited to test out the HTC U11’s camera, given that DXO claims it to be better than the Google Pixel XL, the best Android smartphone in the market up until now.
Let’s first get the controlled studio tests out of the way. In good light, the camera shot our target at ISO179 in auto mode. We noticed that the test target image came out looking extremely good. Firstly, the image is sharp uniformly across the frame, meaning the centre and the corners are impressively sharp. The colour saturation was surprisingly balanced with only the red swatch showing just slight sign of oversaturation, but that is common across all smartphone cameras. The resolution of detail is excellent, as is detail retention, evident of the fact that HTC isn’t aggressively compressing the JPG files. When it comes to the low light test, the camera pushed the ISO to ISO4722, which is far higher than we had anticipated the sensor could go. In our low light sample, we noticed a number of very interesting things. First, HTC isn’t applying aggressive noise reduction, so low light photos might have some noise, but they won’t look like they’ve been completely devoid of any detail. The grain isn’t pleasant, but it is better than seeing completely noise free images which look like water colour paintings.
In real life, it would appear that the claims of the HTC U11 having a camera that could give the Google Pixel XL a run for its money may be true. In our use, we discovered that the auto focus worked very well, being able to lock focus on the intended subject in almost every situation. We had good luck with subjects that were well lit, backlit and even in situations where the light was not the best. Reliable auto focus is the hallmark of a good camera, and a very important prerequisite to being able to even take photos.
While JPG output from the camera is more than satisfying, the HTC U11 also offers a pro mode where you can control every important setting and even shoot in RAW. If you do decide to take on the headache of the extra editing you need to do with RAW images, you will notice that the images end up with slightly more dynamic range and noticeably better detail retention. The only problem we faced with the HTC U11 was the slight lag in-between shots if you’re shooting in RAW, but that should not be a problem unless you’re shooting action and absolutely need RAW images.
If you’re wondering about video, the HTC U11’s excellent imaging sensor brings the same colour, contrast and detail to video as well, regardless of whether you’re shooting 4K or 1080p. The optical image stabilization works really well, but what really stands out about the video is the sound. HTC has used great mics and software to ensure that videos record clean audio, especially when vocals are concerned. Low light video performance could have been better, but then again, we are yet to see a smartphone camera that breaks down under low light.
The HTC U11 has one of the best cameras on an Android smartphone available today, period. The Google Pixel XL has a great camera as well, but the HTC U11 does slightly edge past the Mountain View’s flagship. If you’re a photography enthusiast who needs a smartphone that can also double up as a solid camera, the HTC U11 will fit into the mould very well.