HTC has been in our optical rodeo way too many times. Camera bad. Camera worse. Camera disaster. Sounds like drama much? Probably, but those assessments prove well against the changing camera landscape on smartphones. And each time we find ourselves in the wake of iteration after disappointment after innovation, we put the chips on the table on the Taiwanese OEM’s death knell. The company can’t get away with this anymore, right? Why is it so hard to do something that we, the media and the tech salon lurkers, characterize as a task so damn easy? Is the camera team incompetent, colorblind or both? Are they sincerely against the high-res, high-quality picture-taking grain on philosophy? Or has HTC given up on competing in that aspect entirely?
I don’t know. I personally get by with HTC’s cameras just fine, thank you very much.
What I do know is that we have this HTC Aero rumor that retires the controversial UltraPixel sensor concept for the company’s next big release. Rather, it will favor some camera technology that’s “unique and totally different than the product line on the market smartphones that time.” You can thank Google Translate for that gem. And if you haven’t clicked on the source link, you should, as it has more meaty bits of info for you to parse.
If you don’t have time for an article exploring the UltraPixel and HTC’s philosophy on cameras (as of 2013), then let’s just focus on the core of things and we’ll work in context as we head out. For starters, this did not start with the original HTC One and the UltraPixel.
I purchased my first real smartphone in early 2012 from Sprint. You know what I got for free? The HTC EVO 3D.
It was an overall great performer and even without the gimmick in its name, the camera could milk some decent shots every once in a while. Really. It was the same case back then as it is now. Exposure evaluations varied wildly from spot to spot, there was a bit too much oversharpening and colors could’ve been a bit more energized. But it was a five-megapixel smartphone camera in the year 2011. It performed just fine for its time.
You know what happened with the four-UltraPixel cameras on the One M7 and One M8. Keep in mind that these cameras weren’t being put out in a vacuum; 13-, 20.7- and 41-megapixel sensors were in Samsung, Sony and Nokia smartphones at this point. All of them produced better raw output any day of the week than the HTC cameras. While we here said that the UltraPixel modules were pretty good morsels in their own right, they objectively didn’t keep up in material parameters and image processing.
But between them, we saw many other phones make their way to the fray. From the Desire Eye to the HTC One E8, HTC’s had a lot of experimentation to do with plenty of different sensors. The end product has always been middling, sometimes even worse than the paltry four-UltraPixels can cook up. There always had to be something off or wrong about these sensors or the optics on top of them. All this kinda makes you wonder when the last time was when we referred to an “excellent” HTC camera.
HTC has made the case for its software enhancements, especially on the in-camera experience and during post-processing, too. I gotta admit, these effects look pretty funky, but sometimes at the end of the day, a good moment shouldn’t be edited. And the only software enhancements for those kinds of pictures should be where it counts. That was the major failing of the HTC One M9 right up through release time and the initial market soaking. Skies were always white and details were snowed over. And thus, HTC’s bad camera legacy continued.
So, will the HTC Aero fall short again? Or could this be the magic bullet the company needs? Will HTC stop bleeding money? Will the end of the world come because of all this? A bunch of you don’t care much about smartphone cameras, as evidenced here, but I welcome thoughts from all bunches of our audience. Comment below.