HTC hasn’t exactly carried a reputation for great cameras in recent years. What began as a bold idea in 2013 with the One M7’s Ultrapixel technology, a statement against the megapixel race in favor of “larger” pixels for pulling in more light, ended in bad execution in the form of an underwhelming 4MP sensor.
Last year, HTC pushed forward with its unique Ultrapixel design, and added a depth sensor above for artificial bokeh and other effects. Again, it didn’t go over so well, so this year the company retraced its steps and put a new and improved 20MP shooter into its M9 … can you guess? Yeah, it flopped this time, too. But we’ve had our hands on the One M9+, an incremental step up from its current flagship smartphone the One M9, which combines the 20MP lens with the depth sensor into an amalgamation of the past three years of HTC’s imaging technology. So is this finally the HTC phone to buy for a great camera?
Our HTC One M9+ review unit was sent to us courtesy of dbrand, maker of high-precision vinyl skins for phones, tablets, and more. Pay them a visit at dbrand.com, and tell them that Pocketnow sent you!
I brought the M9+ to an outdoor art gallery downtown with a friend, and experimented with the 20MP Toshiba sensor. It was a good time to explore the range of the camera, since the day shifted from bright and sunny to rainy and back, giving me some varying lighting to shoot in. Overall, I was able to take some reasonably good photos, with a fair amount of detail and more true to life colors than other HTC phones I’ve used in the past.
As it gets later in the day (about 9 PM in the gallery below), the sensor still manages to hold its own quite well, especially given the pretty average f/2.2 aperture. The good news is that there’s surprisingly little digital noise, and the sensor takes in more light than others of the same aperture, despite it not utilizing the Ultrapixel design that’s since moved to the front camera. This is where you’re going to start noticing some wonky things going on with the exposure though, most noticeably in my flower shots below. There’s a very obvious difference between shots — the photo of only yellow flowers ended up a bit darker than in person, but the focal flower remained crisp in the shot, with a good amount of bokeh behind it. In the photo of both red and yellow flowers, the camera overexposed heavily, and while there’s some depth separating the different colored flowers, they all lack detail, and colors bleed into each other pretty heavily.
Finally, you might also be curious about the video performance. After all, the M9 and M9+ are HTC’s first 4K-capable smartphones, and they offer a bevy of additional shooting modes like Split Capture for using your front and rear cameras simultaneously, for … whatever you’d use that for. Sadly, this isn’t the camera to replace your dedicated camcorder any time soon. Video looks completely lifeless with flat colors, and a lack of OIS means shaky video galore. On the bright side, audio comes out pleasingly clear, and does a good job at filtering out background noise, including even passing vehicles behind a talking subject.
We’ll have more photo samples in a later piece going more in depth with the One M9+, but for now I’ll say this: having used the M9 as my daily driver since its release, the One M9+ camera is a small but noticeable improvement, and while it won’t blow anyone away, it’s far from a bad camera.