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Three-way shootout: smartphone cameras

Jenneth Orantia (via SMH) | June 5, 2013
Jenneth Orantia puts the cameras of the iPhone 5, Samsung Galaxy S4 and HTC One to test.

The usual suspects such as a night-time mode and panorama option are joined by unique shooting options such as dual-mode, which lets you add a 'selfie' thumbnail picture to photos or videos using the front-facing camera, and drama, which takes multiple exposures of a moving object and merges them into one composite photo. They're gimmicky features, to be sure, but they're fun to muck around with nonetheless.

As to the bread-and-butter of everyday photography, the Samsung Galaxy S4's 13-megapixel camera shines - especially when the sun happens to be shining, too. In good lighting conditions, the Galaxy S4 proved to have the best camera out of the lot, producing sharp, colour-accurate photos that had plenty of detail.

It's only when you take the Galaxy S4 out of its comfort zone that it starts to struggle. Action photography isn't the Samsung's forte, and more often than not it would blur the moving object rather than freeze it.

Its biggest shortcoming, however, is low-light photography where the flash isn't employed. Where both the iPhone 5 and HTC One were able to extract some detail from dim scenes, the Galaxy S4 simply threw in the towel and rendered most of the photo pitch black. Manually activating the Galaxy S4's night mode helps, but since it keeps the shutter open longer to let in more light, you're likely to end up with a blurry photo.

If you can't beat them, create a new playing field. Pardon the mixed metaphor, but that's the cynical interpretation of the new "ultrapixel" sensor in the HTC One. Rather than go the usual route of competing on megapixels, HTC has invented its own 'ultrapixel' unit of measurement that describes the larger pixels used in the camera's sensor.

This has left the HTC One with a middling four-megapixel camera that, according to HTC's marketing boffins, is able to let in 300 per cent more light than competing 13-megapixel cameras. This promise definitely holds up in practice, and it's astonishing how effective the HTC One's camera is at wringing light out of a dark scene. For low-light photography, the HTC One consistently produced brighter and cleaner (less noisy) photos than the iPhone 5 and Galaxy S4, even though it had a tendency to introduce odd colour artefacts as well.

The HTC One also excels when it comes to macro and action photography. The exceptional auto-focus captures razor-sharp photos when you get up close, and it can also render a sharp freeze-frame of a moving object almost every time - a feat the iPhone can pull off intermittently and the Galaxy S4 not at all. For everyday shots, the speedy performance means you're more likely to capture fleeting moments with the HTC One than you are with the other smartphones.


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