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HTC One 2 M8 Camera Explained: Is it just a gimmick?

Andrew Williams

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HTC One 2
HTC One 2

HTC One M8 Camera Explained: Is it just a gimmick?

All eyes are on the Samsung Galaxy S5 in the phone world at the moment, but we're also on the eve of discovering what the HTC One M8 is all about. And some of its tech sounds a lot more interesting than what Samsung has to offer.

Right at the top of the list is the HTC One 2 camera. It uses two rear sensors, but not for the sort of 3D photo fun that proved such a flop in the HTC Evo 3D back in 2011. Instead, it wants its photos to look much more like those of a high-end camera. However, as much as we love HTC's desire to innovate, we fear the company may have a gimmick of another flavour on its hands, rather than a mobile phone camera breakthrough.

What is the HTC One 2 camera all about?

HTC is yet to officially announce the second flagship HTC One phone, but our friends over at Pocket-lint have already been told by a source about how the phone's camera will function.

Rather than using a single sensor and lens like almost every other phone on the planet, it has two separate sensors on the back.

At first we thought that the two sensors would take on photo duties in different lighting conditions. You'd use the UltraPixel camera for low-light shots, and a normal one for bright, sunny days. It makes sense as an idea, as the one big problem with the single 4-megapixel UltraPixel camera made to date (seen in the One Max and One Mini as well as the original) is that it simply doesn't offer enough detail.

Just check out our Galaxy S4 vs HTC One photo comparion to see what we mean.

However, what the second sensor is actually used for is quite different. It isn't used to reap 'normal' image data but depth data – hence why it can afford to be a good deal lower-res, or lower quality, than the already pretty low-res UltraPixel sensor. It doesn't make the picture, but rather tells the camera's brain more about the photo taken with the primary sensor.

How it is likely to work in rudimentary terms seems obvious. The 'depth' sensor is offset from the main sensor by an inch or two, and the disparity in the positioning of objects can tell the HTC One 2's camera processor how far away an object is. For example, if you held a finger 10cm away from the phone's camera, it would appear quite different to the two sensors. However, the positioning of a hilltop church 2km away would be almost identical through their eyes. It's the basic principal of parallax in action, and is how 3D cameras discern depth.

What can the HTC One 2 camera do?

By giving the HTC One 2's camera processor depth data, it can effectively single out objects in a scene, applying filters or processes to the foreground but not the background, and vice versa. It's rather ingenious, and the prime use for this is to create a 'shallow depth of field' effect.

Traditionally this is used make photos of relatively close-up objects look more dramatic and vital. By blurring the background, the foreground appears all the more sharp – it's used extensively by portrait photographers, and to great effect.

We expect HTC will use photographer buzzwords such as 'bokeh' in its presentation of the HTC One 2's camera, but the effect is fundamentally fake. It's an automatic 'photoshopping' of your shots. It's not the real deal.

To get to the reason of why we should care, we need to look a little into how real shallow depth of field effects are created. And it's primarily about the lens.

Lenses that create great bokeh are generally those with wide open apertures – the hole where the light gets in. Every camera lens (even mobile phone ones) has an f-stop rating that relates to how wide its maximum aperture is, and the lower the number, the wider the aperture can go. And – generally speaking – open apertures produce more pronounced shallow depth of field effects.

Mobile phones have fixed apertures – the HTC One's is f/2.0, for example – but 'proper' cameras tend to have moving blade systems that open up and close the aperture as needed. However, in pure number terms top-end phone cameras lenses are pretty good. An f/2.0 dedicated SLR camera lens with a focal length of 50mm would able to create superb bokeh (in theory), so why can't an f/2.0 phone?

Creating out of focus backgrounds is a process or diffraction. The light that forms these blurry background bits is bounced around by the various lens elements so that it appears totally different to the way our own eyes would perceive it.

It's not just a blur, it's a form of distortion. Tiny phone camera lenses married to tiny phone camera senses just can't perform the same optical feats. And nowehere is this clearer than in the best examples of bokeh-ified light sources. The HTC One 2 couldn't hope to do anything like this. HTC One pic

What the HTC One 2 does offer is a sort of Instagram-generation equivalent. It's 40 per cent of the effect for two per cent of the effort. And given the sound physics that the UltraPixel idea is based on, we're disappointed to see HTC invest so much in such a photographic 'cheat'.

It is something that makes us all the more appreciative of the Nokia Lumia 1020. That phone has a genuinely pretty large sensor, and is capable of some real depth of field fun. Sadly, pretty uninspiring sales of the phone haven't exactly seen Nokia reap all that many rewards for its efforts.

Are we being snobs?

However, we are – on a level – being snobs here. If it is remotely as effective as the 'forty per cent' we pulled out of a hat earlier, it offers positively loads of creative potential. And that is something to be valued.

If it does manage to awaken a few would-be photographers, the HTC One 2 also has the potential to work as a great gateway phone, one that could give thousands the photography bug. We just hope that HTC doesn't sell the phone as another step to eradicating the need for dedicated cameras full-stop. Because while its effects may look like those produced by £1,000 cameras, they're really the McDonalds Happy Meal equivalents.

Next, read our HTC One review

nondimwit

February 25, 2014, 8:01 pm

If HTC would release the phone maybe we could say for sure one way or the other if it's a gimmick or not... I thought they were releasing it this morning?

Guest

February 25, 2014, 8:06 pm

so just like the s5?

24k

February 25, 2014, 8:37 pm

No did I read it was being released this morning. All of the articles indicated that HTC will introducethe one 2 on March 25.

davijoh723

February 25, 2014, 8:38 pm

Not until March 25th I believe..

swat

February 25, 2014, 8:42 pm

They have a special unveiling on the 25th of March in London. They like to release their phones outside of MWC. They did the same when they released the current HTC One.

JayQ330

February 25, 2014, 9:02 pm

Was the galaxy S4 just a gimmick, what about the S5? At least this gimmick has a great looking screen, metal quality build, unibody... Camera's built from Qualcomm & phototronics... if Qualcomm built the hardware from scratch I doubt it's for gimmicks ex: pulse sensor; anyone camera lens can be used for as a pulse sensor.

PG Man

February 25, 2014, 9:44 pm

No it's gonna be on their own event in ny on March 25th

Kevin Davies

February 25, 2014, 10:54 pm

I mean this is a no-brainer, no matter what technology HTC try to put on their camera, and all that ultrapixel stuff is good but they need more pixels no matter what

Mark

February 26, 2014, 12:27 am

Obviously it's not a gimmick, if you delve deeper into the development of their camera system and who they have been working with to develop it. Read this article (http://www.pocket-lint.com/new... and then go and research, like I did, Corephotonics to get a better understanding of the technology and concept behind the dual camera system.

Mark

February 26, 2014, 12:28 am

Obviously it's not a gimmick, if you delve deeper into the development of their camera system and who they have been working with to develop it. Read this article (http://www.pocket-lint.com/new... and then go and research, like I did, Corephotonics to get a better understanding of the technology and concept behind the dual camera system.

ramborouser

February 26, 2014, 12:44 am

Calling a rumored feature a gimmick sounds a bit premature. But assuming it is accurate information, couldn't you make your same argument for any new mobile phone camera technology? Aren't they inherently living in the shadows of the dedicated cameras, since they aren't dedicated cameras? Why are DSLR users/enthusiasts so threatened by mobile phones trying to mimic such features? The goal by phone manufacturers is to make a camera that people want to buy, obviously. People want cameras on their phones because most people always have their phones close by. Most people are not professional photographers, so they want a camera that takes pictures that resemble professional quality without the learning curve or cost. That's it.

rlagarto

February 26, 2014, 3:55 am

Double camera lens is not the MEMS camera technology that stores the deep of field information in the file so you can move focus after taking the photo. always sharp images is a great advance, and yes the resolution of those photos are only 5 megas, more than that will result in a huge file.

Kamaldeep Ahluwalia

February 26, 2014, 4:31 am

At least they are trying to deliver something new for 2014. S5 gave us nothing.

JayQ330

February 26, 2014, 5:26 am

So in other words they can use just one lens to make a Bokeh photo? Basically then any software can do this like my Gs4 & nexus 5 with an app? I guess it would be a gimmick unless it is needed for the focus altering after shot & the extra features besides just "bokeh" but hopefully this isn't just for reads or galaxy fb'ism. I'll wait for a video review to see if it's possible with an app since it's a gimmick...

andyvan

February 26, 2014, 9:24 am

Not true. S5's Hybrid AF system is quite interesting.

andyvan

February 26, 2014, 9:26 am

The thrust of argument is we'd sooner see larger sensors, as per the 1020. It's still early days, though, and as Andrew points out in his conclusion, it it provides the level of effect we anticipate it's going to please lots of people all the same.

William Ross

February 26, 2014, 12:46 pm

And has anyone seen the gigantic camera lens on the Nokia? Seriously, who wants to use that thing as a phone? Phone manufacturers have a tough job when it comes to cameras because in order to truly get awesome pics you need a large lense with an optical rather than digital zoom. And, that just gets ugly as a mainstream cell phone feature! Hence, why the Nokia is a great phone with a great camera that's sitting on store shelves rather than bulking up consumer pants pockets.... Ha!

William Ross

February 26, 2014, 12:53 pm

Mark, your link doesn't work! Do you have another?

andyvan

February 26, 2014, 2:33 pm

Fair argument, though I think Windows Phone has more to do with that. Reckon an Android phone with that kind of camera could do very well.

Guest

February 27, 2014, 2:51 pm

http://www.pocket-lint.com/new...

Nate Ebner

February 27, 2014, 10:20 pm

Try opening it again. Then go up to the URL bar, and delete the ) at the end, hit enter, and voila!

mothergoose85

February 28, 2014, 2:16 pm

And if it had a smaller chassis (imo). The Z1 compact is a trend that needs to be followed by other manufacturers - if Sony did a Google Edition of that device can you imagine how many they'd sell?

Or is that just me as a phone geek?

Scoopo16

March 3, 2014, 9:07 pm

I'm hoping that this is the type of technology HTC have in mind for their dual lense:
http://www.gazelle.com/thehorn...

Guest

March 14, 2014, 1:38 am

no... it has two cameras... and therefore two lenses... thats how it makes the effect. did you even read the article?

JayQ330

March 14, 2014, 4:18 pm

Yes I read the article & I read other articles about the new & some already released/unreleased flagship phones being able to get the bokeh look with just one lens & it's built in software. So I don't know what gave you the impression that I didn't read the post except that you don't read much to know about the techniques that phones use with software editing. I like the fact that HTC is using 2 lens to achieve their image effects & I'm sure it's faster than software edited versions & in positive that one of the 2 cameras can take a black & white or inverted background while leaving the front normal for some creative photos. Hopefully you come across more like a wannabe know it all... Low

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