Galaxy S4 vs HTC One camera comparison — Mega vs Ultra

May 10, 2013
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Camera Features

Some may argue that the Galaxy S4 camera’s new features are nothing more than plain gimmick. I find the new features cool, whether gimmick or not.

In its case, the HTC One’s Zoe camera has some endearing traits and functions that some people may find useful at certain times.

Photo effects and filters

Almost all smartphone cameras include a collection of camera filters and effects that you can apply to your photo to imbue it with a stunning effect, or to focus sharply on a portion of the subject while blurring the surrounding parts, or to tone it down to a more sober or somber mood, or to add the nostalgic feel of old photos, or to spice it up with funky or cartoonish fun, or even make it look like the image as seen by a fish.

Oil Pastel effect on the Galaxy S4

Oil Pastel effect on the Galaxy S4

Depth of Field effect on the HTC One

Depth of Field effect on the HTC One

The Galaxy S4 and the HTC One have these photo effects and filters at your disposal:

Galaxy S4 HTC One
  • Vignette
  • Grey-scale
  • Sepia
  • Vintage
  • Faded Color
  • Turquoise
  • Tint
  • Cartoon
  • Moody
  • Rugged
  • Oil Pastel
  • Fish Eye
  • Distortion
  • Vignette
  • Depth of field
  • Dots
  • Mono
  • Country
  • Vintage
  • Vintage warm
  • Vintage cold
  • Grayscale
  • Sepia
  • Negative
  • Solarize
  • Posterize
  • Aqua

One small but noteworthy difference between the two phones is that on the Galaxy S4, the effect thumbnails show mini previews of what’s currently on the viewfinder — thus, resulting in a live preview of some sort.

Filters and effects shade on the Galaxy S4

Filters and effects shade on the Galaxy S4

Effects and filters on the HTC One

Effects and filters on the HTC One

On the HTC One, however, you’d need to tap on an effect first to apply it to the image on the viewfinder. Also, the image effects and filters provided by the HTC One are recycled from the HTC One X and even the HTC Sensation. The HTC One also discards the name/label below each effect thumbnail.

Shooting modes

Shooting modes and scene modes have a singular purpose: to help you frame photos at the right exposure. Such  camera settings presets (e.g., exposure level, white balance, shutter speed, ISO) are mixed and matched according to various real-life shooting situations.

Such modes can save casual but savvy users a lot of time from fumbling around or experimenting with settings. In that sense, camera modes can also actually help device makers make their cameras stand out because not only do they make camera use easier but also make camera use fun.

Galaxy S4 shooting modes and other features

The Galaxy S4 inherits several of the shooting modes that we first saw in Samsung’s other recent releases (e.g., Galaxy S3, Galaxy Note 2, Galaxy Camera):

  • Auto Mode — automatically adjusts camera exposure to produce colorful and evenly exposed images
  • Beauty Face — corrects facial imperfections when taking portrait shots
  • Best Photo — shoots eight photos successively and lets you choose the best one after
  • Best Face — shoots five facial photos successively and lets you choose the best one after
  • Rich Tone — Samsung’s other name for HDR mode (read more about how to use HDR on your Android device)
  • Panorama — captures a panoramic photo
  • Sports — ideal for fast-moving subjects; also known as Action Freeze on the Galaxy Camera
  • Night — suggested mode for low-light or night photography

The Galaxy S4 camera app also introduces a few new fascinating and interesting shooting modes: Drama, Animated Photo, Eraser, and Sound & Shot.

  • Drama — Captures stills of a moving subject and combines them into one photo, resulting in a dramatic portrayal of an action — somewhat similar in concept to slo-mo for videos. Here’s an example:
Sample of Drama Shot photo from Galaxy S4

Sample of Drama Shot photo from Galaxy S4

  • Animated Photo — Captures a still frame, with parts that move or animate. The file is in GIF format. Here’s an example:
Sample of Animated Photo image from Galaxy S4

Sample of Animated Photo image from Galaxy S4

  • Eraser — This works like Burst Mode, but with some intelligence thrown in. If you’re expecting photobombs to suddenly drop in while you’re taking shots, set the camera to Eraser Mode. The phone automagically detects moving or unwanted objects from the photo and asks you whether to remove or restore the objects (e.g., passersby).
Sample of Eraser Shot photos from Galaxy S4; Left -- unwanted objects highlighted; Right -- cleaned up image

Sample of Eraser Shot photos from Galaxy S4; Left — unwanted objects highlighted; Right — cleaned up image

  • Sound & Shot — Captures a still frame and the background sound at the time the photo was captured. A Sound & Shot photo will only work in the Galaxy S4. If you share a Sound & Shot photo, you’ll only be sharing the JPEG photo but not the sound file.

The Galaxy S4 also includes other cool stuff in its camera app such as the following:

  • Dual Shot — Simultaneously use the front and back cameras to take pictures or videos. By default, the back camera takes the whole viewfinder, while the secondary camera uses a resizable and floating window. You can switch views, if you like.
Sample Dual Shot photo from Galaxy S4

Sample Dual Shot photo from Galaxy S4

  • Auto Night Detection — automatically set the camera for low-light shooting to produce clear and bright pictures without using flash.

s4-auto-night-detection-Screenshot_2013-05-08-21-02-31

HTC One shooting modes and other features

Meanwhile, the camera app on the HTC One brings a modest bunch of shooting modes:

  • Scene Mode
    • Normal
    • Portrait
    • Landscape
    • Backlight
    • Text
    • Macro
  • Night Mode
  • HDR Mode
  • Sweep Panorama Mode

Does that list look familiar? The HTC One doesn’t introduce new shooting modes. Instead, it carries over most of the shooting modes and features from predecessors like the HTC One X, but the collection seems to be enough to make most people enjoy basic photography.

HTC Zoe

HTC Zoe is a brand-new and intriguing feature on the HTC One. When Zoe is enabled, the camera captures 20  still frames in quick succession, plus a 3-second MP4 video. Somehow, the set of photos increases the likelihood of framing a perfect shot.

one-zoe-ui-Screenshot_2013-05-09-01-53-00

In Zoe mode, the camera is always precapturing images and saves the last five precaptured frames just right before you press the shutter. Then, it captures the sixth frame at shutter press, and 14 more still frames thereafter.  The resulting photo sequence set and MP4 video are called a “Zoe.”

You can play back a captured Zoe in the Gallery app, which, much to our delight, displays animated thumbnails of the Zoes. It’s like looking at a photo album in the magical world of Harry Potter.

On the Zoe playback screen, you can pick a frame to extract and save into a single image. Just slide to the frame that you want, tap Menu, and choose Save Frame. It’s a rather roundabout way to capture a photo, but it can also help get you that perfect, or at least near-perfect, shot.

one-zoe-save-frame-Screenshot_2013-05-09-01-47-07

A 3-second video/photo sequence is good raw material for other interesting stuff, too. This idea seems to be what’s behind HTC’s answer to Samsung’s Drama Mode, Best Face Mode, and Eraser Mode.

one-zoe-retouch-Screenshot_2013-05-09-01-47-32

By tapping on the Retouch button on an open Zoe, you can apply certain interesting effects, such as the following:

  • Sequence Shots — similar to Drama Mode in the Galaxy S4. This feature extracts a preselected series of frames (some of which you can discard) and composes them into one image, resulting in some kind of dramatic movement effect.

Sample Sequence Shots photo from the HTC One

Sample Sequence Shots photo from the HTC One

  • Always Smile — similar to Best Face in the Galaxy S4. This feature is ideal for face shots. It detects faces in the photo and then lets you choose one headshot with the best smile.

Sample Always Smile photo from the HTC One

Sample Always Smile photo from the HTC One

  • Object Remove — similar to Eraser Mode in the Galaxy S4. This detects photobombs and other unwanted objects that accidentally get captured in your photo’s background, and then lets you decide whether to remove those.

Sample Object Remove photo from the HTC One

Sample Object Remove photo from the HTC One

Video recording modes

Galaxy S4 HTC One
  • Normal
  • Limit for MMS
  • Slow motion (720p HD)
  • Fast motion (1080p Full HD)
  • Normal
  • Slow motion video (768×432)
  • Fast HD (60 fps)
  • Video HDR (Full HD)

Both phones can record fast motion and slow motion videos. The S4 can record slow-motion videos for playback up to 8x slower than normal, with 720p resolution, and framerate of 15 fps. The HTC One has slow motion video recording of up to 96 fps in 768×432 resolution.

For fast motion, the S4 is capable of up to 8x faster video capture at 30 fps, retaining its 1080p resolution, while the One can record up to 60 fps Full HD fast motion videos.

The HTC One, though, has one thing that trumps the S4’s video-recording capabilities: its rear camera can record High Dynamic Range (HDR) videos in 1080p Full HD. On the S4, HDR is available only for photos via the Rich Tone shooting mode.

To see some sample videos, see the section on image quality comparison.

Flexibility

Flexibility is an important factor in a smartphone camera, too. There are occasions when you’d want to save on disk space, and, therefore, go for a smaller image resolution. There are times when you’d want to manually adjust the white balance or the contrast instead of relying on what the phone throws at you.

Can the Galaxy S4 and HTC One let you do stuff like that? This table might give you some idea:

  Samsung Galaxy S4 HTC One
Image sizes Primary Camera

  • 13MP (4:3)
  • 9.6MP (16:9)
  • 8MP (4:3)
  • 6MP (16:9)
  • 2.4MP (16:9)

Secondary Camera

  • 2.0MP (16:9)
  • 1.6MP (4:3)
  • 0.3MP (4:3)
uniform size/resolution (4 MP, 2688×1520)
Image adjustments Pre-process

  • Exposure

Post-process (after photo capture)

  • Auto adjustment
  • Brightness
  • Contrast
  • Saturation
  • Adjust RGB
  • Exposure
  • Hue
Pre-process

  • Exposure
  • Contrast
  • Saturation
  • Sharpness
Video quality/resolution Primary and secondary cameras

  • 1920×1080 (16:9)
  • 1440×1080 (4:3)
  • 1280×720 (16:9)
  • 320×240 (4:3)
Primary and secondary cameras

  • Full HD 1920×1080
  • HD 1280×720
  • MMS 176×144
ISO Values Auto, 100, 200, 400, 800 Auto, 100, 200, 400, 800, 1600
White Balance
  • Auto
  • Daylight
  • Cloudy
  • Incandescent
  • Fluorescent
  • Auto
  • Incandescent
  • Fluorescent
  • Daylight
  • Cloudy
Physical shutter key None, but volume keys can be set as shutter, zoom lever, or video record button None
Grid called Guidelines; can be toggled can be toggled

The Galaxy S4 gives you greater freedom to choose image sizes. The HTC One makes you stick to just one size: 2688×1520 (4 MP) pixels. Do take note that the higher the resolution, the bigger the file size.

For image adjustments, the Galaxy S4 offers more options for image adjustments such as exposure level, brightness, contrast, hue, etc. although most of them can be done only after photo capture. Both are capable of 1080p Full HD and 720p HD video capture. The S4 can record at as low as QVGA (320×240) resolution, while the HTC One is capable of an even smaller MMS (176×144) resolution.

Video size settings: Galaxy S4 (left) and HTC One (right)

Video size settings: Galaxy S4 (left) and HTC One (right)

The HTC One camera also can be set to operate at ISO 1600; on the Galaxy S4, the highest ISO level is only 800. This means that the HTC One, when set to use maximum ISO, can produce brighter photos than can the Galaxy S4.

Moreover, the Galaxy S4 lets you assign the volume keys as shutter, zoom, or video record button. This capability is unavailable on the HTC One.

In the next section, find out more about the unusual heat generated by the HTC One when used as a camera. I’ll also begin comparing image quality of studio shots and indoor shots from both the Galaxy S4 and HTC One.

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