Tuesday, January 29, 2013

HTC Windows Phone 8X camera review

I have been using the HTC Windows Phone 8X extensively over the past two weeks, during which time my blog was unceremoniously, and rather cruelly taken off the web by Google with no explanations. It has since been restored, as you can see, again with no explanations. Rather than spend my time dwelling on how Google has completely dropped the ball, I spent the time not blogging with more time playing around with the 8X.

Last year's HTC One X was one of my favourite smartphones of 2012. The design was brilliant and the camera was stunning. While the 8X's design is an acquired taste, I have grown the appreciate it. The 4.3" size is also a welcome downsize from the ridiculous 4.7" form factor that every manufacturer seems to believe everyone wants now. HTC has set the bar high when it comes to image quality, so I was excited when the 8X landed on my lap. Here was a Windows Phone 8 device that can finally deliver on its imaging promise.

Well, not quite. Based on the specifications, the 8X and One X's 8 Megapixel camera are essentially the same, but short of gutting the two phones, I can't be sure. What I can for sure is thanks to HTC's own proprietary ImageSense chip, the camera is fast. On my previous WP8 phone, the Lumia 920, where it would take a second or two to focus, and then another to defocus, the 8X tends to require about a second, from focusing to capturing. Even my dedicated digital compact, the Canon S90, can't do that. The settings does not appear to be quite as extensive as on the Lumia 920, but you will have access to the white balance and ISO dials.

Sadly, the image quality doesn't appear to match the One X. It's close, but the images are noticeably more noisy, blotchy and over processed. The weather in Britain hasn't been the best these past week, so the 8X had to work hard. On the other hand, out of the 300 or so images I have taken, not one were out of focus. Colours, for most part, were accurate. Pictures, especially during cloudy days, tends to suffer from average dynamic range. This is expected, and can be fixed using the good old HDR mode - which is sadly absent from the 8X. On the other hand, the 8X excels with macro shooting.

The camera on the front is a different story. The front facing camera is a 2.1 Megapixel variety, fitted with a fast ultra wide angle lens with an aperture rating of f/2.0 aperture. It is also capable of recording in 1080p. The 2.1 Megapixel camera won't excite anyone, but HTC is gunning for the social users who love to take group shots of themselves for Facebook where 2.1MP is more than enough. On my tests, while a standard front facing camera would struggle with fitting two people in a shot, the HTC 8X could easily squeeze in four faces within the shot. HTC has not released any other details regarding the lens, but I suspect the focal length is roughly between 18-20mm in 35mm equivalent.
A typical shot taken with the 8X's 28mm f/2.0 camera
Taken with the 8X's front camera - notice how much wider the shot is
Pressing the shutter release button when using the front camera is a struggle, so thankfully HTC has equipped a helpful timer allowing one to press the button first, then compose the shot while the timer drops down. The image quality isn't great - in fact it is quite average, but it is still a step forward. Distortions are noticeable along the edges, but that's expected. Video calling hasn't taken off much, so the front camera, as a useful feature, is facing extinction. I can count with one hand the number of times I have used the front camera last year. HTC's decision to put some actual thought into making the front camera usable is admirable and I hope more manufacturers will follow their example.

So the main camera isn't quite on par as the One X, but it is the best still camera I have played on a Windows Phone 8 device yet. This record won't be held for long as I have already seen the potential of the Lumia 920. It is only a matter of time before its buggy and unusable camera firmware is replaced. Still, if you do decide to get a HTC 8X, you won't find yourself overly disappointed. The back camera is fast, and the quality is acceptable for printing and web posting. And while the front camera isn't revolutionary, the ultra wide angle lens allows for plenty of fun portrait shots that would otherwise be impossible - short of passing your phone to a complete stranger.
Due to Blogger limitation, the images uploaded are automatically resized. As an alternative, I have created these crops from the image samples posted above. These are 100% crops:

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