Today I've spent a lot of time looking at the HTC U11 primary camera sample images taken by 賴 柏瑋 on Flickr. Not that I was overwhelmed with what I saw, because I expected the HTC U11 to perform good, buy this was maybe more than I was expecting. The HTC U11 low light was performance was really out of this world. You can check out all the U11 sample images right here on flickr.com.
The great thing about watching sample images on Flickr is that it's easy to view the EXIF data and see what shutter speed and ISO the image was taken at. It helps you better understand the results that you see. For example, if you look at a low-light image with a lot of noise, you might say to yourself that the HTC U11 is too noisy for night photos, only to later found out that it was taken in a very dark place and was shot at a very high ISO. So seeing the ISO help me get a pivot point for analyzing the HTC U11 rear camera's performance.
When shooting at low ISO sensitivity, around 200 ISO, you can see that the image is very clean with almost no noticeable image noise. However, if you look closely at a dark tone area, you can see some degree of noise, but it's very well controlled. Details are just tack sharp, which is really impressive. This is one of the thing that really amazed me with the U11 rear camera, just seeing how sharp the image is.
Going around ISO 500, the HTC U11 still maintains relatively low noise levels. For me it looks that there is very little processing involved because I couldn't find any JPEG artifacts caused by high degree of image processing algorithms that suppose to reduce noise in the image, but sometimes affect the details in the image. The noise pattern was excellent, like very fine dust-like noise pattern. This noise type is the best noise pattern, because it's much easier for removal using noise-removal algorithms. Even at that ISO sensitivity, image and texture details are maintained really well. There is a small degree of loss in the fine details, but nothing too significant. It'a actually one of the best results that I've seen for quite a long time on a flagship smartphone.
Another great thing that you just can't miss is how well the HTC U11 preserves color as you climb up the ISO speeds. The color just look the same like the image was taken at low ISO. Usually at higher ISO there is a significant low in dynamic range and the image starts losing its punchy colors, but the HTC U11 rear camera has shown excellent color depth and contrast throughout, even at ISO 900 (the image with the Chinese food on the table), you can see very vivid punchy colors, excellent sharpness and very little noise. This stand hand in hand with DxoMark findings, as they also mentioned low noise level in low light conditions in their review.
The HTC U11 has a fast f/1.7 aperture lens and the Sony IM362 image sensor with 1.4-micron size pixels and an Optical Image Stabilization. This explains why even at those dark shooting conditions, the HTC U11 didn't cross the ISO1000 mark. The fast aperture lens, the big pixels and the OIS helped the camera get plenty of light without needing to use higher ISO sensitivity. This is probably build in the algorithm to favor lower shutter speeds due to the on board OIS system. You can see that in the many HTC U11 sample images on that album that I've linked to. One of the images with the "HumbleHouse" building was shot at ISO419 at 1/30s shutter speed. There was very little light outside, buy the camera got enough light to maintain a relatively low ISO. Another example is the image with the light bulbs on the trees which was shot in ISO192 and 1/40s shutter speed.
Of course this is great news, because lower ISO means less noise, but even if the U11 camera needed to climb up the ISO speed, you can rest assured that even then you would have gotten a relatively clean image.
AS I mentioned, the colors look superb on those images. It's amazing how splendid those images look because of the high-end camera tech in this phone. Just keep in mind that a slower shutter speed means that moving subjects can appear blurry and we can see an evident for that in the image with the cars on the road.
I think it's important to note that many of the HTC U11 sample images most probably taken with HDR on, which can explain the great results that we see in front of us. Nonetheless, no matter which technology is used, the result is what matters at the end of the day. The HTC U11 put itself in a leading position as one of the best mobile phone cameras to date. The low-light performance plays a significant part because this is really what differentiate a good camera with a lesser one. We want to be able to get high-quality images not just when shooting in daylight, but when the sun starting to set or when we shoot at night or in dark indoor places, like in a restaurant, a bar in museum. We want to rely on the camera to replace our conventional digital camera and that we can take images regardless of the hour of the day. That in mind, the HTC U11 does stand out from many other phones and it does that with a big bang with its stunning colors, super sharp detailed photos and very low noise, with if you want to remove, you can do that very efficiently using noise reduction software because of the fine noise patterns.