Sunday, April 15, 2012

HTC One X camera review

Once upon a time HTC made very good smartphones with very bad imaging parts. Cameras so bad that when you bought a HTC smartphone that comes equipped with a camera you would assume it doesn't come with one. These days however, HTC phones comes with adequate camera sensors that does the job well. One would even argue that apart from Nokia and Sony (Ericsson), HTC now makes some of the best smartphones when it comes to imaging.

Now, the image quality on the HTC One X isn't the best. In fact images, even those taken in daylight, suffers from plenty of noise and evidence of over processing and sharpening. Having said that, high image quality isn't a deal breaker for a performance-focused smartphone. When I am carrying a cameraphone, what I expect it to do is be quick. And here is where the One X excels. Boy, the camera here is fast. It takes about three seconds in total to unlock the phone, press the touchscreen camera shutter and capture, autofocus and all. It's the sort of camera you want to be with if you are the type of person who does not like missing the moment then post right away on Twitter and Facebook.

But image quality is important too and the HTC One X doesn't disappoint. It won't dethrone the Nokia N8 - but seriously, if image quality is that important you would have carried a SLR already. No, the HTC One X takes good enough pictures for its intended use - posting pictures on Facebook and other social networks. In any case, adequate image quality won't matter for any serious photographers. It's what you do with the camera that matters. Regardless, the HTC One X's camera outputs images with image quality that is pretty good and is easily one of the better HTC camera phones I have tested.

That aside let's have a look at the One X's camera specifications. It has a 8MP back-illuminated sensor capable of capturing 1080p videos at a frame rate of 30fps. It is backed up by a single LED flash, that I found to be surprisingly powerful. All of these are pretty standard for any smartphone released in early 2012. But HTC has done wonders with the image processing. The white balance, an important feature that are often overlooked by most manufacturers, are mainly spot-on. Autofocus is fast and you can also tap on the screen to focus on any particular object.

With a focal length of 22mm equivalent, the One X's camera is one of the widest I have used on a smartphone. And with a rated aperture of f/2, which is rather fast for a phone, the One X allows you to get closer to your subject regardless of lighting. A faster lens will mean more light gets into the sensor, usually at the expense of depth of field, but isn't a issue with a sensor this tiny. My Lumia 800 has a focal length of 28mm but because it uses a larger sensor, so the field of view is similar to the One X. That said, the One X easily matches the Lumia 800 when it came to image quality (and even betters it when it comes to colour accuracy), even though the latter has a larger sensor.

It is nice to see HTC not employing some over aggressive JPEG compression to images taken. Image file size averages between 2.5 to 3MB in size, which is what you would expect from a 8MP camera. In comparison the Nokia Lumia 800 with its 8MP camera over compressed files down to around 1 to 1.5MB, partly explaining its meager image quality. Samsung on the other hand is equally generous with image compression, with its flagship Galaxy S II's camera outputting files that are usually between 2 to 3MB in sizes.
Panorama mode
The camera app offers quick access to image capture as well as video capture (up to 1080p with continuous autofocus). You do not have to manually switch between the two before capturing - simply press the right shutter button and it will start capturing in whichever mode it was selected for. Filter effects such as distortion, vignetting and 'depth of field' (ugh, I hate it when manufacturers misuse and abuse photographic terms like DOF)  is also applied in real time, shown on the viewfinder at all times so you can carefully plan your pictures around those effects. Three icons resides on the left side, one of each is a dedicated flash toggle. The settings icon is self-explanatory, allowing you to access options for image resolution, ISO, white balance, face detection, geo tagging, continuous shooting etc. Finally the final icon gives you access to scene modes including slow motion video, panorama, portrait, macro and low light photography.

The One X also comes with built-in HDR mode. HDR works by allowing the camera to capture three simultaneous images, an overexposed, underexposed and 'normal' image and then using the information on all three images to produce a single image with high dynamic range contrast. This technology was borne out of necessary to compensate for the poor dynamic range that currently plagues most digital cameras including high end DSLRs. A small image sensor like the one found on the HTC One X will no doubt suffer from poor dynamic range, and in this case having an easy to use HDR mode helps.
Sans HDR
With HDR
Sans HDR
With HDR
So far so good, but there is one major downfall with the HTC One X - it is buggy. For every ten images it saves, at least two gets corrupted. After a mere hour of testing, I have identified the problem, so to HTC I ask - did you beta test your products before selling them? I know issues happen with all phones, but the bug here is so severe and so easily replicated, I just had to ask.

No reviews I have read of the HTC One X has mentioned this defect once, but like I mentioned previously, it is easily replicated and in fact well reported by users on various forums. I suspect many reviewers never bothered changing the image capture setting to 4:3 aspect ratio, when the image sensor is put to full use. If they did, they would have stumbled upon this bug sooner or later. Why? Becase taking pictures with 4:3 aspect ratio uses the full sensor thus resulting in image file size bigger than what you would get when using a widescreen aspect ratio (who takes images with widescreen anyway, especially when you can crop later?).

In any case, the HTC One X has huge issues saving images with great amount of details - for example even a picture of a brick wall or flowers. In fact looking at the file sizes of image files that were not corrupted, none were above 3MB (apart from panoramic pictures), so I suspect that the HTC One X's camera buffer is unable to output anything larger than 3MB. The number of images the HTC One X was unable to saved during my testing period is so huge, that unless HTC provides a bug fix soon, I can't possibly recommend the HTC One X as a camera if imaging is important to you. Fingers crossed HTC doesn't sweep this under the carpet because the One X's hardware deserves a lot better than this.

Update (18/04): HTC has released an OTA firmware update that fixes many bugs, including the serious camera bug that corrupted images over 3MB in size. Good one HTC!

Image samples:
Filter samples:
'Depth of Field' (sigh...)
More HDR samples:
Video sample:


Anonymous said...

thanks for pointing out the camera bug. i thought it was my set only. its impossible to take pictures with great amount of details as it will not get saved.

Toons said...

Hi, thank you for the review. Really clears up some doubts i had abt the HTC One X. I am looking for a camera phone with good image stabilisation as i have shaky hands. Is the HTC One X able to capture clear images even when my hands shake a little?

Anonymous said...

Hi, thank you for the review. Really clears up some doubts i had abt the HTC One X. I am looking for a camera phone with good image stabilisation as i have shaky hands. Is the HTC One X able to capture clear images even when my hands shake a little?

Jon Choo said...

There is no built-in image stabilisation hardware, AFAIK.

But thanks to inclusion of fast lens, the camera captures images quicker than most comparable cameraphones, so you will find less shakes. Most of the images I took at daytime has an exposure of between 1/1000 and 1/1500 seconds!

You may see evidence of movements when shooting in HDR but that is always expected.

Anonymous said...

Thanks for the good review. I thought my One X was the only one that was defective as it also does not save images with high amount of detail when shot with 4:3. Please HTC fix this!

Some One Who Knows... said...

I'm sure HTC or xda-developers will fix that, besides that, AWESOME phone! :)

Fredrick Russell said...

Thanks for sharing detailed information about HTC one x camera review. your post has cleared up many doubts which i had. I was about to buy this mobile, but after reading your entire post, i have decided to go for other mobile phone. Thanks once again.

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Cristi said...

HTC One x camera is crap, images are so pixelated from camera noise that they are not usable. I'm not sure what phone was used for this pictures but from the HTC One X phones I tested all image were severely crippled by noise. good pictures are taken only in very good day light, anything else is just crap. I talk from experience, I own an HTC One X.

Anonymous said...

The video camera on HTC1X ( or the 1x plus) is the worst. so many shakes that it gives me a headache watching the video after. Videos tend to be little choppy too at 1080p and i have never gotten 30fps