Dissecting HTC’s Ultra Pixel Camera technology

This month HTC will officially unveil its new flagship to the mass market, of which the camera one of the most hyped feature. It works in conjunction with a burly processing power of 1.7GHz built on a Quad core Qualcomm Snapdragon 600 processor working hand in hand with HTC’s second iteration image chip on a 1080p screen. When it comes to the Megapixel race count its only 4 Megapixel, yes you read it right, only 1, 2, 3 and 4 Megapixel. But will this help secure an HTC come back with its competitors implementing over 3 times the megapixel count than on the HTC one?

HTC claims that it produces higher quality still images and video than its smartphone competitors and a superior photographic experience compared with most dedicated point and shoots. HTC aims to replace the regular point and shoot camera with a smartphone camera as a natural evolution. The irony of the point and shoot was that it wasn’t really point and shoot as they
offered way too many decisions for people.” With the HTC One, “there’s a reductionism in the things people have to do before they shoot so they don’t leave the moment.” says Symon Whitehorn, director of special projects for HTC.

Let’s try to understand this camera and see if it will be a make or break decision for you before you consider buying.

 “Do Megapixel Matter?”

Every high-end smartphone camera can take a picture during the day but night shots have always been a challenge. So HTC decided to tackle this challenge that only Nokia’s pure view technology on the Lumia 920 has tried to solve. They have done so by implementing what they dubbed as the Ultrapixel technology.

So what does this mean? What HTC did, they practically got the same sensor physical dimensions on the HTC One X which has 8 Megapixels and they applied a 4 Megapixel instead. This means that each individual pixel on the sensor is larger and captures more light. The Ultrapixel is a pretty straightforward principle, HTC managed to put the largest possible individual pixels so as to absorb more light without creating more noise. With an aperture size of f/2.0, HTC claims that their new camera’s aperture will allow in 44% and 69% more light than the iphone 5 and Samsung Galaxy SIII respectively. The improved image quality is helped by the HTC One’s more advanced 1/3-inch CMOS sensor, ImageChip 2-optimized image signal processor, and optical lens system. Thus each pixel should capture over 300 percent more light than comparable 8-
or 13-megapixel cameras.

This is a direct exposure of the mega-pixel myth which touts that the higher the Megapixel the better the image. Okay let’s try to use an analogy, assuming you are given a bucket and several cups and you are asked to collect “photon” rain drops using either of the two. It’s obvious that you would need much more cups to collect the equivalent amount of water as that in the bucket and you wind up getting noise between the cups as opposed to it all falling into one big bucket.

With Ultrapixel being larger than ordinary pixels, fewer pixels take up more space on the sensor—buckets rather than cups. According to HTC, the 2.0 micrometer UltraPixel has twice the surface area of the 1.4 micrometer pixel found on typical 8-megapixel cameras as illustrated below, and even more over the 1.1 micrometer pixel on 13-megapixel cameras

 

Thus photos from the HTC One should display greater color accuracy. It also means shooting with less flash. “You get really natural looking photos without using a flash,” says Whitehorn. “We modulate the flash to be very subtle for good skin tones. People don’t want to use the flash, so it’s not blowing out skin tones or the foreground.”

Another merit of the Ultrapixel is that the actual file size of each image is smaller, requiring little, if any, compression for sharing, uploading, or storing, while at the same time maintaining the original image quality.

“Contribution of the image chip2”

Behind every successful Ultrapixel shot, there is an imagechip at work. HTC’s ImageChip 2 technology goes to work providing
continuous auto focus, real-time video HDR, lens color shading compensation, and de-noise processing. Its algorithm boosts
focusing speed to an almost instantaneous average of less than 200 milliseconds per full distance scan. Video dynamic range can be boosted to match the human eye. The sensor captures interlaced frames up to 60fps with high and low exposure values, while the HTC ImageChip 2 hardware processes the frames in real time to create the HDR frames. HTC also uses the image chip to process and compensate for color shading which means that pictures won’t have dark spots at the edge of the frame. De-noise processing removes noise captured both on the main camera and the front camera.

Have you ever taken a picture or shooting a video and every time you take the image or video is blurry? 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. HTC is the only Android OEM that has decided to borrow from a technology that already exists in dedicated cameras and has installed an Optical Image stabilizer. No more sensor manipulation, optical image stabilization is at play and it is a physically moving lens as shown above. So how does it work? In collaboration with the built-in imaging gyroscope which 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.

Stabilization of such caliber is required for slower shutter speeds. HTC claims 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.

All this technology HTC has managed to cramp into its low resolution camera has managed to help them achieve some software trickery with features like Zoe. I will not talk a lot about Zoe until we receive our review unit and we put this camera to actual test and know whether all of these fine camera imputes are compelling and how well they function.

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