HTC U11 Camera Review: Key Features
|Camera Name||HTC U11|
|Date announced||May 2017|
|Price at launch||£649/$649|
|Sensor size||1/2.55 inch BSI sensor|
|Effective pixel count||12MP (HTC UltraPixel 3 with 1.4μm pixel)|
|AF system||Phase Detection|
|Screen||5.5 inch 1440 x 2560 pixels|
|Video resolution||4K (3840 x 2160 at 30fps), 1920 x 1080 at 30/120fps|
|Selfie camera||16MP, BSI sensor, 3.6mm f/2.0 lens|
|Storage||64GB internal plus microSD up to 2TB|
|Dimensions||153.9 x 75.9 x 7.9 mm (606 x 2.99 x 0.31 in)|
|Weight||169 g (5.96 oz)|
The smartphone market is an increasingly crowded place and with each launch manufacturers have to fight harder to make their mobiles stand out from the rest. Thankfully for photographers the camera specification and performance is a key area where they can score points from one another.
With a comparatively large (1/2.55-inch) backside illuminated (BSI) sensor that has 12 million pixels, phase detection autofocusing (PDAF), multi-axis optical stabilisation, 4K video capability and an aperture of f/1.7, the HTC U11 is an attractive proposition. That larger sensor, sensible pixel count and wide aperture should add-up to low noise levels – something that is further aided by multiple image capture and merging.
In a bid to attract enthusiast photographers, the HTC U11’s camera has a Pro mode in which it’s possible to select jpeg or raw (DNG) and jpeg capture, and adjust aspects such as white balance, exposure compensation, sensitivity (ISO 100-800), shutter speed (32-1/8000 sec) and focus.
Perhaps the most novel feature of the U11, however, is Edge Sense. This enables you to activate the camera by squeezing the sides of the phone. You can even use it to take shots if you like.
In addition to the main camera there’s a 16Mp selfie camera which also uses a BSI sensor.
HTC U11 Camera Review: Build and Handling
The U11 is HTC’s flagship smartphone and it has a high quality look and feel with a thin profile and attractively curved edges. Available in red, blue, silver and black, the U11 has a high gloss finish that makes it stick in your hand about as well as a oiled fish. Thankfully it’s supplied with a low-profile plastic case that makes it a little easier to keep hold of.
By default there’s no dedicated shutter release button but you can set the volume control to act as one if you want an alternative to the on-screen button or using Edge Sense.
While I found Edge Sense useful for activating the camera, the occasional lack of response and brief delay between squeezing the phone and it responding meant I didn’t use it for capturing images. On the whole I went for the on-screen button.
I managed to not drop the HTC U11 during the time I had it, so I didn’t fully test the Corning Gorilla Glass 5 screen protection, but it survived being carried in a variety of pockets and bags and doesn’t seem easily scratched. Helpfully, the U11 is also waterproof – although you need to take care that the USB port is dry before connecting a cable.
The U11 is an Android phone and that means the main features and settings are all easy to locate and use. The camera itself is also easy to operate with aspects such as HDR and flash being set by tapping the icons in the corner of the screen and others being accessed via the menu that appears on tapping the central-top icon. From left to right the menu gives access to Settings, Selfie Video, Selfie Panorama, Selfie Photo, Slow Motion Hyperlapse, Video, Pro, Panorama and Photo.
There are just a few options under Settings, Touch autoexposure, Grid display, Geo-tag photos and shutter sound. Everything is self-explanatory and you’ll soon get to grips with using the camera.
The screen is clear and bright, providing a good view of your subject in all but the brightest conditions when, as usual, reflections become an issue. It’s also very responsive to touch and the focus point can be set with a light tap. It’s noticeable that you can’t set the focus point butting-up against the edges of the frame.
HTC U11 Camera Review: Performance
The HTC U11 is DXOMark’s current leading smartphone for image quality and it’s easy to see why. It produces high quality images that leap from the camera screen and look good on a computer. The detail level is good, with some fine details being especially impressive at 100% on-screen.
Images taken at the far end of the digital zoom don’t stand close scrutiny as detail levels drop significantly in comparison with those taken at the widest point, but they usually look fine at normal viewing sizes.
Exposure is generally good with the camera getting a good balance between the subject under the focus point and the background. It doesn’t underexpose dramatically when faced with large bright areas and the HDR (High Dynamic Range) feature works well to brighten shadows without introducing lots of noise.
In addition to off, there are two HDR options, On and Auto. Both produces natural results that don’t look overtly HDR in nature. I recommend leaving the camera on Auto as it proves useful a variety of situations and scenes with moving elements don’t suffer unduly from ghosting.
Colours also look good, being vibrant without excessive saturation. White balance is generally handled well to produce attractive looking images in most situations. Blue skies normally look good but the brightest areas are a little prone to turning cyan.
There’s slight vignetting visible in some images, but it doesn’t leap out at you and is well within acceptable boundaries.
Although it’s possible to find the odd example of chromatic aberration if you look for it along high contrast backlight edges, it isn’t a major issue or especially noticeable. You may also see some slight ringing around some strong edges.
Focusing is fast even in low light, but (not unusually) I struggled to get sharp images of a flower being buffeted in a strong breeze.
The selfie camera also puts in a good performance with the Make-up mode softening skin a little and being kinder to your subject than the standard mode.
Video quality is also high with the autofocus system and extensive depth of field provided by the sensor and lens combination doing a good job of keeping your subject sharp. In video mode the flash turns into a constant light that gives pleasant, even illumination.
HTC U11 Camera Review: Verdict
The HTC U11 looks and feels great but I recommend using it with a case that gives it a bit more purchase, without one it’s liable to slip from your grasp as you pull it from your pocket to take a photo.
HTC has kept the camera controls relatively uncomplicated and simple to navigate so everything is easy to find and use. While it’s possible to take control over aspects such as white balance and shutter speed, there are relatively few occasions when you’re likely to need to do so as the U11 handles most things well on its own. The large screen gives you a good view of your subject and captured images are every bit as pleasing.
HTC’s Edge Sense is a nice addition for starting up the camera but be prepared to give the phone a double squeeze every now and again.
HTC U11 Camera Review: Sample Images