HTC U12+ Camera

In broad daylight, the HTC U12+ camera performs very well. This time we have taken the Huawei P20 Pro on a photo safari to give you an idea of how the HTC phone fares against one of the highest rated mobile camera on the market. For full-size photo samples, head to our U12+ Flickr album.

comparison image Acomparison image A

The HTC U12+ camera did really well in the first daylight photo test. It has a slight detail advantage because of the slightly higher megapixel count, but more importantly, the color and exposure settings came out well. On the same picture, the Huawei P20 did really well too, but some detail is lost, and the photo is a bit noisier.

comparison image Acomparison image A

In our HDR test, the HTC U12+ shows great details in the leaves. However, this comes at the expense of the colors in the background which are a bit washed out. The whole point of HDR is to preserve both. The P20 Pro did better with the car color, but the image quality is clearly not as good in the upper-left foliage.

In low-light, thew HTC U12+ does very well, and most people will be happy with the results. We’ll push things a little bit to detect differences with competitors. In general, the HTC U12+ is tuned to slightly over-expose in low light. It might be because it makes the photos look better on the phone’s screen or perhaps it is an artistic decision at HTC.

When we took similar photos with the LG G7 ThinQ (Retail firmware), we noticed that the LG G7 offers a more natural exposure, but was sometime slightly off with the color balance. The HTC U12+ images are sharper than LG’s G7 because the G7 uses a binning system that boosts the brightness bu reduced the resolution by 4X.

comparison image Acomparison image A
comparison image Acomparison image A

A close comparison with the Galaxy S9+ shows that the S9 comes out with a better low-light photo quality. The details are better preserved and the noise is lower, but without excessive filtering. In short, the HTC U12+ lands somewhere in between these two.

Technical analysis of the main HTC U12+ Camera (Rear)

With four cameras, HTC is jumping hard in the world of Portrait photography, known for the background blur effect called Bokeh.

In the HTC U12+, the camera aperture of f/1.75 is good, although recent phones have pushed the edge with f/1.6 (LG V30, LG G7) and f/1.5 apertures (Galaxy S9). The weak point of the LG G7 is the small sensor, which will affect noise and details in low-light. In broad day light, it’s much less of an issue. In this case, the brute-force method of Samsung with an extremely large aperture pays off.

The primary camera’s 12 Megapixel number should never be used as a default indicator of photo quality. In dim lighting situations, the high Megapixel count (>12) does not sway the outcome. Keep in mind that the physical size of each sensor pixel is critical.

With higher megapixel counts, sensing pixels (sensels) may have to be smaller. The primary camera of the U12+ has 1.4 micron sensels, which is on the larger side of things. The HTC U12+ primary sensor size is comparable to the Galaxy S9’s (~23 mm²) and both are in the upper-range of the market. Only the Huawei P20 Pro has a freakishly large 40.15 mm² sensor.

It is better for the overall photo quality to gather more light with fewer (but bigger) sensels than the opposite. It is a balance that needs to be found. Today, 12 Megapixel seem to be the best sensor trade-off between sharpness, low-light and autofocus performance.

On a sunny day or in very bright light situations, Megapixel could be a useful metric for photographic detail and sharpness. For example, on a sunny day, a cityscape photo with a higher megapixel count could lead to finer details. Between 12 MP, 16 MP and 21 MP differences in small details can be quite noticeable, if printed or viewed on a large and/or high-PPI display.

Image Stabilization

The availability of an Optical Image stabilization (OIS) module on the primary camera increases the potential for capturing sharper images in daylight, and brighter images in low-light situations.

OIS helps to improve image clarity and higher low-light performance by offsetting minute hand-shaking motion. OIS makes it practical to leave the shutter open longer to gather more light (longer exposure). Optical and digital stabilization are entirely different, with digital stabilization suitable to improve video recording smoothness

For video recording, the HTC U12+ has Electronic Image Stabilization (EIS), which is designed to make the video less jerky by filming with a narrower field of view and using software to shift the image around to stabilize it. EIS in itself does not help still photography or low-light photography, but the same kind of technology could be applied to photo post-processing.

Autofocus

The autofocus of the U12+ camera is based on Phase Detection technology. Phase-detection AF that started in discrete AF sensor chips in the DSLR days. Then it got integrated into the camera image sensor. It works by adding specialized AF pixels sensors that would tell if specific points in the image were in-focus.

This method is very advanced, and the AF capabilities work well in most cases. AF performance is more or less proportional to the number of hardware AF sensels. Typically, this number can go from dozens to hundreds of Phase-Detection AF points. Phase detection AF is an excellent system, which is only inferior to Dual-Pixel AF, the current most powerful AF technology with thousands of active AF points.

The HTC U12+ is as also Laser-assisted. This is built upon the principle that a lot of photos subjects are either away (infinity) from the camera, or are very nearby (macro). By projecting an infrared pattern (structured light) and looking at how it bounced back to the camera, it is possible to very quickly determine if we need to focus far or close. When in between, Phase-Detection takes over. Laser-AF is an optimization for two standard cases.

With Laser, unneeded forward/backward focus-motor motion is avoided, thus making AF faster. The system can also handle some in-between situations, but not all. It is possible to fall back to other AF techniques.

Selfie Camera (front)

The front camera delivers very decent selfies with Bokeh in good lighting. I took a Galaxy S9+ to compare the front cameras. I wanted to see how the dual-camera setup of the HTC U12 compares to the single camera of the S9+. The verdict is clear: as expected, the dual-camera system produces bokeh which has much fewer artifacts.

Having two lenses allow the camera app to better determine what is the background and what is the subject. Both cameras produce a good photo, but a closer inspection on the S9 photos reveals more blurring artifacts than the HTC U12+ where the Bokeh is just better.

Bokeh Aside, I found the S9+ Selfie camera to produce better, more detailed, details and texture. Even after disabling the beauty mode of the HTC U12+, a close inspection of the skin details clearly show finer details on the Samsung phone.

Some people use “Beauty” Apps to blur the face even more, so it’s up to you to decide what you want. From a photographic point of view, I think that the Galaxy S9+ is a bit ahead in the details department.

Selfie Camera Technical Analysis

The difference in texture/details can be partly explained by the technical differences between both selfie cameras. Although the U12+ has two identical cameras in the front, the secondary one is used only as a sensor for bokeh depth calculation.

The primary module that takes photos has an f/2.0 aperture vs. f/1.7 on the S9+. It also has a ~20% smaller sensor as the Galaxy S9+. Combined, those two factors contribute significantly to the difference in photo quality.

That said, the HTC U12+ selfie camera has video stabilization while the S9+ front camera does not. If you plan on recording yourself often, or want less shaky video, that can be important. The XPERIA XZ2 had a similar capability.

Overall product rating: 8/10

Filed in Cellphones >Reviews. Read more about Android, HTC, HTC U12 Plus.

Display
6"
2880x1440
IPS LCD
537 PPI
Price
~$799 - Amazon
Camera
12 MP
F1.75 Aperture F-Stop
OIS
Weight
188 g
Battery
3500 mAh
Non-Removable
No Wireless Charg.
Launched in
2018-05-23
System
6GB RAM
Snapdragon 845 + MicroSD
Storage (GB)
64, 128
Related Articles
User Comments