April 25, 2015
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HTC may have things figured out when it comes to design and build quality, but one aspect the company has had issues with when it comes to their flagships is the camera experience. HTC has been working hard to change that reputation, with a slew of devices aimed at showcasing their camera prowess, leading up to the current flagship.

The HTC One M9 packs a traditional 20 MP rear camera, while moving their Ultrapixel tech to its better-suited position up front. We’ve already seen an overview of the camera performance in the comprehensive review of the device, but now, we take an in-depth look at the camera in this HTC One M9 camera shootout!

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Like most other smartphones out there, most of the good shots this camera was able to take were in broad daylight. All of these photos are taken at the full 20 MP resolution, and as you can see, the color saturation is quite good, but may not be as saturated as what you get with some of the other players in the Android world.

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As a daily driver, the HTC One M9 camera isn’t a hard one to use, with it very easy to access and switch between the various modes available. However, the camera app can be quite fidgety, especially when you’re trying to trigger things like HDR mode, which requires a few different presses to activate, as well as to turn off. Speaking of HDR mode, it does somewhat mitigate the exposure issues that happen in the camera app, but can be hit and miss. While taking scenery shots with the subject off in the distance, they do look good, but there is some grain present as seen with a closer look, because of the use of the digital zoom of the camera app.

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Without the availability of optical image stabilization, you do need steady hands to take the photo properly. The lack of OIS is felt even more prominently while shooting video, which can turn out very shaky if shot without very steady hands.

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Going back to the exposure issues that were mentioned earlier, this happens because the One M9 camera app focuses on spot metering, you have to find just the right spot in order to get the exposure that you want in the photo. If you go into a dark area, the entire photo gets pretty light, and vice versa. This is where using the HDR mode makes a world of difference, evening out the exposures, and adding some saturation to the photo, making it even more disappointing that it is a mode that takes some fidgeting to get to.

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There are of course, a few other modes available, such as Panorama, which does allow for some really good shots, but do have some stitching issues, which can be chalked up to human error more than anything else. As mentioned, the front-facing camera is now of the Ultrapixel variety, which allows for some great shots and self-portraits, especially when indoors. There are also different effects available such as Face Fusion, adding particle effects to a photo, the ability to put two photos together with a number of different effects to get one nice shot. All of these effects are a lot of fun to use, especially Zoes, that makes a return with the latest flagship, which is a very nice way of recapping a particular day.

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As we move into indoor shots and those in poor lighting conditions, the main gripe I have with the One M9 camera is that its performance is quite inconsistent, in terms of sheer quality. When taking shots indoors, or outside at night, there is a lot more grain in the images, and unfortunately, there is a noise reduction going on that makes all of the photos quite smudgy, with the degradation more and more evident as lighting conditions deteriorate.

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From what I can tell, the main reason why the HTC One M9 has a problem with low light shots is because of the two things it typically does in these situations. The first being that it bumps the ISO to very high levels, which adds a lot of grain to photos, with the second being the lowering of the shutter speed, which comes with its own issues, requiring you to keep your hands as steady as possible because of the longer amount of time needed to bring in all of the light in order to get the proper exposure. You will likely end of taking multiple shots in those situations, and more often than not, the images will turn out blurry.

100% crops

Which brings us back to the issue of consistency. While able to take some great shots in prominent lighting, the grain comes out in even indoor shots, and the noise reduction that the camera app uses in post processing doesn’t do much to help the situation.

Ultimately, the camera of the HTC One M9 is not a bad performer by any stretch of the imagination. Unfortunately, the reason I may not be using it all the time is because I prefer to have a smartphone camera that can take a good shot in any situation, and that isn’t always the case with this device. Many users have confirmed though that you can go into the Settings to make some changes that do allow for better photos, but given the fact that you do spend a lot of money to get a phone like this, the out of the box experience should have been good right off the bat.

Joshua Vergara
Writer, blogger, and videographer - Josh is a former support technician that learned much about technology by fixing everyone else's. On the side, he wrote and performed spoken word, maintained his own personal blogs, and began his own video podcast. Now, he's here at Android Authority looking to put it all together!
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