HTC One imaging in depth: UltraPixel camera and Zoe Share

Saying that the HTC One has piqued our interest is an understatement. The handset, which was announced today in London and New York, combines ultra-refined design with a uniquely tweaked Android experience, something we've covered in our hardware and software posts. Still, it's the UltraPixel camera that's raising the most eyebrows. We briefly played with the shooter and witnessed the new Zoe functionality first hand. It's clear that HTC is making a bold move with the imaging technology used on this phone, but what does it really mean in terms of specs and performance? Let's dive into the nitty gritty after the break.

HTC picked the word UltraPixel to brand its latest camera, just like Nokia coined the term PureView for its devices last year. The idea behind UltraPixels is to combine a physically large sensor with big pixels capable of gathering more light. With the HTC One, the company chose a 1/3-inch BSI sensor with 2µm pixels which absorb 330 percent more photons than the 1.1µm pixels typically found in modern handsets. This is combined with a fast 28mm f/2.0 autofocus lens similar to what's available on the One X, but slightly recessed for protection. Better yet, this shooter features optical image stabilization (OIS) just like the Lumia 920 -- it's able to compensate for motion in 2 axes (pitch and yaw) up to 2,000 times per second. With big 2µm pixels (that's Fujifilm X10 territory), a fast f/2.0 lens (vs. f/2.4 on the iPhone 5 and f/2.6 on the Galaxy S III) and OIS, the HTC One is poised to excel at low-light photography. A single LED flash is provided for those extremely dark circumstances.

HTC One imaging in depth UltraPixel camera and Zoe Share

We're pretty sure you've noticed the giant elephant in the room by now -- the lack of any mention of pixel count. That large sensor packs just four megapixels (!) and while anyone who knows digital photography understands that's plenty, it's still a daring move in a market driven by the megapixel myth. We'll take four million 2µm pixels over eight million 1.1µm pixels any day, but we think it's going be an uphill battle for HTC to educate the average consumer. The HTC One packs a new image signal processor (ISP) called ImageChip 2, which enables continuous autofocus in less than 200ms, and provides real-time lens compensation plus noise reduction. It also supports 1080p HDR video recording at near 30fps and 720p at 60fps with a dynamic range of about 84dB. The ISP implements a buffered capture cycle with pre- and post-shutter recording, for functionality similar to Scalado's Rewind / Remove, Nokia's Smart Shot, Samsung's Best Face and BlackBerry's Time Shift.

All this camera technology culminates with one particularly cool feature: Zoe. Named after the Greek word "life" and hinting at old zoetropes, this feature captures a 3-second 1080p 30fps H.264 video clip along with a 16:9 2688x1520 JPEG picture each time the shutter button is pressed. In burst mode, the HTC One is capable of taking 4-5 full-size stills per second while recording 1080p video. The resulting 3-second clips become animated thumbnails for your photos in the gallery. When you're ready to share your memories, smart content editing, cutting and sequencing software is used to create and upload a Zoe -- a professional-like highlight reel with images, clips, effects and music that remixes your content on the fly, complete with theme and music track synchronization. There are six themes and six music tracks to choose from, and you're given the option to deselect photos or videos. Once uploaded, the result can be shared via Zoe Share, which generates a standard URL that's valid for 30 days -- think of it as Vine on steroids, but less permanent.

In addition the the main shooter, the HTC One comes equipped with a 2.1 megapixel front-facing module with f/2.0 wide-angle (88-degree) optics that supports 1080p video capture. Dual HDR microphones provide distortion-free stereo audio recording in a wide variety of conditions, including loud venues. Unfortunately, our time with the UltraPixel camera was too short to formulate a solid opinion, but based on our experience so far, HTC's latest shooter is poised to delight both shutterbugs and casual users alike. On thing's for sure: we can't wait to take the company's latest imaging flagship for a spin.