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HTC One debuts UltraPixel technology, but is the phone's camera all it's cracked up to be?

Jackie Dove | April 9, 2013
Is the HTC One's UltraPixel camera better than all the others? HTC's Symon Whitehorn explains why it is.

Optical image stabilization

Image blur is a perpetual problem with smartphone shooting of both stills and video, and the HTC One seeks to improve photographic sharpness and clarity for both. Its camera can capture full size photos at a shutter speed of up to 1/48 of a second, compared to 1/30 of a second of competitors and its own 2012 HTC One X.

The company has installed a physical optical image stabilizer into the HTC One, technology already found in dedicated digital cameras, but not, thus far, in smartphone cameras. Says Whitehorn, "It's optical image stabilization because it's physical--it's physically moving the lens, we're not manipulating the sensor.... It's the only Android phone on the market that does that."

When the built-in imaging gyroscope detects the motion of the camera, the lens moves in the opposite direction of the motion to counteract the shake. The lens can tilt an average of 1 degree in all directions from its center point, and can counter motion from various angles. The camera counters motion on two axes, detects pitch and yaw, and adjusts for those movements 2000 times a second.

This sort of stabilization is necessary with slower shutter speeds, and HTC testing showed that the stabilization technology works at shutter speeds as slow as 1/7.5 of a second. The camera will rarely need to shoot at that speed, though, due to the sensor's ability to capture low light photos at faster shutter speeds of up to 1/48 of a second.

Zoe and highlights

The UltraPixel camera's marquee feature is HTC Zoe--derived from the Zoetrope concept of creating motion from a series of static shots. With Zoe engaged, you just tap the on-screen shutter and the camera automatically captures up to 20 still photos and a three-second video, tailor-made for social networking. You can also drag through the video to extract a still image from it. In Zoe Mode, you shoot both HD video and still images in burst mode simultaneously and the camera records both before and after the shutter tap. When you're done creating Zoes, you can share them with others on HTC's Flash-based Zoe Share Website, where they reside free of charge for six months.

This sort of door-to-door service puts HTC in charge of the shooting and sharing sequence, allowing users more creative space to conceptualize in the moment. "I've been observing the convergence between still and video photography and that the distinction between the two is starting to erode," said Whitehorn. "At the same time people's desire to not only share but to become publishers and broadcasters is growing, and the Zoe feature is really an amalgamation of those trends."

Whereas Zoe captures three seconds of video and stills at the same time (and a brief interval before the shutter tap), the HTC One's highlight movie of 30 seconds is automatically stitched together based on all the video, images, and Zoes you shoot each day, set to HTC music. You can save highlight reels as MP4 files or share them via Facebook or e-mail. "You shoot Zoes, events, and videos and they all go into an amalgamation, and from that your highlight reviews are curated...It's sort of like an Instagram for video," Whitehorn says. "What's really nice is that it's all done in real time. We found that one of the biggest pain points for people is that they can shoot video fine, but that they couldn't do anything with it. Everyone seems to stall when they get to the conventional video editing software. So we throw the editing software out and do something for people--we'll make it for them and they can refine it. That's really the philosophy."

 

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