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HTC One Max - Camera Quality

Andrew Williams

By Andrew Williams

Reviewed:

Summary

Our Score:

7

HTC One Max – Camera

The HTC One Max is the third phone to use HTC’s UltraPixel camera. But what exactly is UltraPixel technology all about?

The term ‘UltraPixel’ is just an HTC marketing term, but what it refers to is genuinely interesting. Rather than bumping-up the megapixel count to produce a more impressive-sounding camera, the HTC One Max decreases the number of megapixels in order to result in larger sensor pixels.

HTC One Max 6

Detail is sacrificed, but you get superior low-light performance and improved dynamic range. For the spec-heads out there, the HTC One Max uses a 1/3-inch sensor of four megapixels, resulting in sensor pixels of two microns a piece - much larger than the Galaxy S4's 1.1-micron pixels. The lens has an f/2.0 aperture, which is among the fastest you’ll find too.

Let’s see how the UltraPixel trade-off pans out.

Detail and Exposure

At pixel level, it’s very clear that the HTC One Max is incapable of capturing anywhere near as much detail as the competition. A four-megapixel sensor can only do so much.

One Max 4

A solid photo, but not one that holds-up to zooming-in

The One Max's camera is one of the least detailed in its class at 1:1 pixel level

However, the HTC One Max is a pretty reliable snapper. Dynamic range is well above average when using the normal shooting mode, making your photos appear (from a distance at last) detailed and vital even when the day is a bit… miserable.

Photos do get particularly noisy towards the edge of the frame, though. In short, don’t expect to be making a poster out of your HTC One Max photos – they’ll look rubbish.

Depth of Field

Shallow depth of field effects are the best way to produce arty-looking photos without spending much time setting up a shot. A good camera will be able to blur-out the background of an image to make the subject ‘pop’ all the more. It’s so effective that some phones have started using fake shallow depth of field modes to mitigate the limitations of their cameras.

The HTC One Max is capable of above-average shallow depth of field effects. It’s not quite the superstar bokeh (that’s the blurry effect) performer that the 1020 Lumia is, but it is superior to the Galaxy S4 and iPhone 5S in this respect. The film-like grain that’s seen across the phone’s photos helps to add to the artsy vibe too.

HDR

High dynamic range is a mode that merges multiple photos at different exposure levels. Automatic HDR modes like the HTC One Max’s take these shots in very quick succession so that you don’t need to use a tripod as long as you have a steady-ish hand. It's dead easy to use.

HTC’s HDR mode is extremely effective in most conditions, largely avoiding the cartoonish effect of some other phone marker’s attempts. It’s even more effective than Samsung’s too.

One Max 3

Sometimes the HDR mode is amazingly effective...

However, it’s so aggressive that we wouldn’t recommend it for everyday shooting. The effect is just that bit too strong, taking away your ability to use shadows as part of a photo’s composition.

It also has a habit of overexposing areas of an image - it’s more concerned with revealing shadow detail than solving overexposure in skies (which can also be fixed with the best HDR modes). The overall level of exposure is raised, meaning it's not much good for 'cooling down' bright skies.

One Max 5

...but sometimes it just causes overexposure

(the above photo was taken in the same lighting conditions as our 'detail' benchmark shot)

Low light and Flash

One of the main aims of the HTC One Max’s UltraPixel camera is to improve low-light performance. Not only is the Max’s low-light performance better than most, it’s also better than the HTC One’s according to our head-to-head tests.

The Max’s shot is not dramatically less noisy, but white balance is far better. Colours are spot-on with the HTC One, while they’re a way off with the original HTC One. We imagine this is likely to be an improvement of HTC Sense 5.5, or another sequential upgrade our HTC One hadn’t received yet, but it’s good news regardless.

One Max 1

As we'd hoped, low-light performance is good. (shot without flash in a dark room)

One Max 2

In fact, it's significantly better than the HTC One (update may fix this)

To give some context to these shots, phones with middling or poor low-light performance leave the scene very dark, with ill-defined objects.

Performance and Camera

The HTC One Max’s camera app is mostly a joy to use. It’s simple, with an almost bloat-free interface. There are no unnecessary visuals here - as seen in Samsung's Galaxy phones.

It also puts the most commonly-used features at your fingertips. ‘Normal’, ‘Night’ and ‘HDR’ modes are right up at the top of the menu system (and are the ones we use most). As we found with the HTC One, Zoe mode is given undue prominence - HTC is pretty proud of it. However, as we found with most of Samsung’s more involved modes, most people probably won’t use it.

Zoe captures a sliver of video along with each photo, letting you create little animated montages of your daytrips (etc. etc.). However, it also ruins the immediacy of the camera, and gives much less satisfying feedback for each picture taken.

We’ll be blunt – we don’t get Zoe. As cute as some of the results produced by HTC’s marketing team might be, we don't find it satisfying to use in the real world. It's for real show-offs only - part of HTC Sense 5.5 is that it makes your Zoe video montages easier to share online.

Use the more traditional modes, though, and shooting is a joy with the HTC One Max. Focusing is fast in anything but terrible lighting, there’s no significant shutter lag and the delay between shots is tiny. As much as we love the Nokia Lumia 1020’s camera for its superior image quality, this one is a whole lot faster.

Creative Modes

Like the iPhone 5S, the HTC One Max gives you easy access to a bunch of creative filters. You get the standard colour filters, as well as more dynamic ones that create a fisheye and mosaic effects.

Video Capture

The HTC One Max can capture decent-quality video, but it doesn't make it one of its key features. We've started to see phones that can take 4K video, but the phone makes do with 1080p. Given how few people own a 4K TV (or will own one in the next two years) it's not something to mourn.

It does have video HDR, though, which applies the same principles we saw in HDR stills to video. It's a great feature, and a sign that this is a top-end phone, but we found the results to be a bit flickery-looking when dealing with changes between bright and dark areas.

You also get fast motion (60fps) at 720p and slow motion - however this is only captured at a disappointing resolution of 768 x 432 pixels. The Note 3 manages 720p.

Front Camera

As well as a feature-rich main camera, the HTC One Max has a decent front camera. It's a 2-megapixel f/2 sensor that shoots video and stills at 1080p resolution.

It employs pretty serious noise reduction that leaves images looking heavily processed. However, it is good fun. There's an HDR mode for the front camera, and you can apply the same sort of 'live' creative filters you have access to with the rear camera.

Carrier pricing updates & information supplied by WhistleOut

Eric Zachary Ryder

December 30, 2013, 8:57 pm

Totally disagree with half of this review. I just came from a Note 2, and the screen on the HTC One Maxx is better, bigger, and more satisfying to hold in my hand. It's heavier than the Note 3, but it doesn't feel like it is. I think HTC Sense has come a long way and this is the first phone I've had in years where I won't be using the ADW Launcher EX. I love the Blink Feed. The sound is great, though some apps start with a nasty buzzing sound; I may return it and try another unit. I am pissed off that my IT Dept has a stringent security policy that, apparently, won't let me take advantage of the fingerprint scanner - which is half the reason I bought the phone (!!!). So I don't have to enter a password every time I turn the phone on. But... maybe they'll change.

Christian Oswin Pond

January 13, 2014, 4:06 am

That my good sir, is when rooting/romming comes in handy, or you could try to factory reset/RUU it and any corporate blocks will be overwritten :)

Eric Zachary Ryder

January 13, 2014, 5:15 am

Actually, I have rooted my phones many times in the past. Since I wrote this post, I tried an old app I used to use for Exchange email and it worked great; No more forcing me to put in a password every time I turn on the phone. Since, I think protecting a phone is a good idea, I use an app called Disable Lock, (something like that), which lets me use my phone at home all day, connected to my wifi, and only asks for a password when Il eave the house. I also returned and exchanged the phone and have no buzzing sound anymore; So I;'m ah happy camper. :)

powdereddonuts

March 28, 2014, 2:15 pm

Zoes are awesome. Go to an event, snap like 20 of them and then go into the gallery and you have a ready-made video. I've used it quite a bit and friends are always impressed with the videos and the editing quality.

Andrew Puckett

April 21, 2014, 3:58 am

Great Display, i just wander about movie playback

veronicathecow

July 8, 2014, 11:03 pm

Avoid like the plague! In 3 months I have had 5 faults, returned it twice, last time took 21 days! Promised a call by HTC "Escalations" twice and no one has bothered to contact me. Power socket failed, auto brightness not working, speakers distorting, microphone poor, and random crashes followed by it switching itself on when jsut sitting on a desk. Add to that appalling battery life and poor build quality.

Saharish Fida

October 24, 2014, 10:48 am

htc one M8 is best calling phone.Loudspeaker is excellent

Tommy Blayer

November 23, 2015, 12:40 pm

I bought HTC One Max just before one month and With its 4G, WiFi, Bluetooth, and its 16 GB internal memory everything is awesome. HTC One Max is equipped with 1.7 GHz and Android 4.3 Jellybean operating system that is really too good.

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