Prediction: HTC One's camera will not live up to the hype
Ok, so today we saw the HTC One being announced, and I have a prediction: The HTC One's camera will not live up to the hype.
before you dismiss my argument as simple fanboy rhetoric, I will explain my thinking, and I am willing to bet, that when the phone finally arrives, people will be disappointed by the HTC One's camera.
Lets consider camera phones from the past few years. We have seen an explosion of megapixels, with the HTC Titan II sitting at the peak (lets not throw the Pureview 808 into the discussion yet). However, the sensor size itself has not actually increased by much. Thus what ended up happening was, image quality was pretty decent, but only if viewed on the phone screen or a computer monitor. once you blow it up, and view it full crop, the image quality quickly turns out to be horrible.
Now what HTC is doing with the one, is completely opposite to what they did with the titan II. What ended up happening is, they reduced the pixels, but increased the pixel size. In my opinion, what HTC is doing is on the right direction, but they should have pushed it further.
Now lets consider the pixel size for many popular current cameras:
iPhone 5, S3, Lumia 920 - 1.4 µm
Nokia n8 - 1.75 µm
HTC One - 2.0 µm
Canon PS G12 - 2.70 µm
808 Pureview 8mp - 3.17 µm
808 Pureview 5mp - 4.01 µm
Canon EOS 60D - 4.30 µm
Canon EOS 1D Mark III - 7.20 µm
We can see that HTC One has a much larger pixel size than many other popular models like the iphone, s3, and Lumia 920. However, in my opinion, its not enough, the pixel size of the One is the same as the very well received Nokia n82.
On paper, the Nokia n82 has actually pretty similar camera to the HTC One. Their pixel sizes are the same, with the n82 possessing a 5 mp camera, and the HTC one possessing a 4mp camera. Of course, the n82 is a much older device, and as such, on the software side, it has many deficiencies.
Now when we compare full crops from the HTC One (from GSMarena) and the Nokia n82, we can see some curious things. but first, the images (I've circled some points of interest on the HTC one's image)
Note how there is a bit of "purple" on the top of the phone, how there is noise on the black background, and how the text on the screen cannot really be resolved. Also, notice how the camera struggles with the hard edges.
Notice how fundamentally, the HTC One does not completely pulverize the Nokia n82 (of course, a lot of that is software issues, as the HTC one hasn't launched yet). But this shows a major issue that the HTC camera team has run into.
On phones such as the Titan II, nobody cared about full crop performance. You took 16mp pictures, and you view it on a 800 *480 screen. However, on the HTC One, full crop performance is a must. 4mp is still much more pixels than what the screen can display (1080p is 2 million pixels). However, it isn't that much more than 1080p, and in many cases, because of aspect ratio issues, the camera wouldn't even be utilized at 4 megapixels.
What I'm trying to say is, in most cases, cellphone camera's produce horrible results at full crop. You can see a lot of noise, and image quality is usually quite abysmal. There are a few exceptions, such as the Pureview 808, but in general, you want to stay away from full crop.
However, the HTC one's 4mp camera comes pretty close to 1080p, which is the screen resolution they would be viewed at. And in this case, the sensor and optics do not hold up. In fact, most cellphones and compact camera's produce bad images at full crop. In order to produce good full crop images, you either need a much bigger sensor, or you can pixel bin.
This is why I estimate, that the HTC One's camera will probably be lacking. The pixel count is low enough (and the screen's resolution high enough) that you would be pretty much dealing with almost full crop images, yet the pixel size and the optics does not allow the sensor to produce a very image when examined at full crop.
PS: There is also a pretty high chance that the HTC One will run into the same issue as the lumia 920- soft images in good light. here is an explaination for the 920: http://forums.wpcentral.com/nokia-lumia-920/216709-heres-why-920s-camera-takes-such-terrible-daylight-landscape-shots.html
The HTC One has a similar aperture, so i am willing to bet it will run into the same issues.
Edit one: looks like the HTC one is barely doing better than the Lumia 720:
HTC one on top, Lumia 720 on bottom. Notice that there is little actual difference in the amount of light that can be gathered. And this is against the 720, a mid range Lumia, not the flagship 920. (The blurryness in the 720's image is probably because it is closer to the camera taking the video, and thus, it cannot be effectively focused on)