A few simple tips and tricks to help you to take great shots on your M9
The HTC One M9 marks a change in course for the Taiwanese manufacturer, as it relocates its Ultrapixel camera around the front, and settles on a traditional high-megapixel shooter for the main camera. The M9's 20-megapixel shooter has been one of the main points of contention among HTC fans and critics since the phone's arrival. It's not a bad camera, but it does require a little tweaking in order to get the best results.
We'll take a look at some basic tips for getting the most out of your M9's camera after the break.
1. Suggested camera settings
The HTC One M9's rear camera can use a little adjustment to get good results in various lighting conditions. It's worth starting by switching to shoot in the camera's native aspect ratio of 10:7. (By default it's set to 16:9 to fill the phone's screen.) Go to Settings (cog) > Crop and select "Regular (10:7)." Shooting at the camera's full native resolution means you're free to crop photos to your liking after the fact, and you're always capturing as much detail as possible.
Tweaking the max ISO setting can give you clearer night shots — if you've got a steady hand.
We've also found the M9 takes slightly undersaturated photos compared to many of its competitors, however HTC's image adjustment options will let you tweak things to your liking. We've nudged the Saturation bar up to 0.5 and we're generally pleased with the results.
M9 owners have also been getting good results by limiting the camera's max ISO (sensitivity) to 200 or 400. An extensive write-up by xda poster Hamdir shows that with proper stabilization, this can make a big difference in low light shots. At lower ISO levels, there's much less visible noise, leading to clearer shots. The trade-off is that you'll need to hold your phone steady in darker conditions, as the phone needs to keep its shutter open for longer.
If you find you're getting blurry image in low light at ISO 200, consider bumping up to 400 or even 600. Or alternatively, take a few shots at once, as there'll be a greater chance of capturing a crisp, blur-free photo.
There's also been much discussion over image sharpening on the M9, with some forum posters showing that low-light images come out better with the Sharpness slider (under Settings) set to -0.5 or -1. (Or rather, that HTC's camera software tends to slightly over-sharpen images at the default level, leading to an increase in visible artefacts in low-light shots.)
We've had mixed results with this setting, so if in doubt it's worth experimenting and seeing what looks best to you. When you've found your ideal settings, you can save a camera preset by tapping the grid icon (four circles) and then "add."
2. Don't be afraid to zoom
Back in the days of the M7 and M8's Ultrapixel cameras, you'd be foolish to try and zoom in when taking photos, as there just wasn't enough detail. With the M9's 20-megapixel sensor, though, there's a bit more breathing room.
Using digital zoom by pinching the screen or using the zoom slider won't get you any more detail, but it can allow to frame a shot a little more easily.
You can also set the volume buttons to zoom in and out. Go to Settings > General settings > Volume button options and switch to "Zoom."
3. Know when to use auto-exposure
The M9's camera app, like most, lets you tap the display to set autofocus and auto exposure based on a particular point. And when you're shooting outdoors, especially in bright conditions, it's tempting to quickly tap the horizon and check that your landscape is properly exposed.
But on the M9, this doesn't always produce the best results, and we've found it's often better to trust HTC's auto exposure algorithm, even if landscapes appear underexposed in the on-screen preview.
When you view your photos later, you'll often find outdoor shots are much more evenly exposed than they originally appeared. This is partly due to the realities of using a smartphone display in bright daylight — details in darker areas are more difficult to make out.
However the M9's relatively narrow dynamic range is also a factor, meaning if you tap on a landscape to set AF and AE, then the camera tends to blow out the sky, producing an over-exposed shot.
There are other instances where you absolutely should take advantage of tap-to-focus — if, for instance, you're shooting a portrait and your subject is clearly too bright or too dark. As is a running theme with the M9's camera, with a little trial and error you'll soon learn when it's best for different kinds of shots.
4. Know when to use HDR
We've already mentioned the M9's finicky dynamic range, which can lead to portions of shots becoming under- or over-exposed. One sure-fire way around this is to use HDR, accessible through the modes menu (tap the camera icon). HDR takes multiple exposures and combines them into one image that — hopefully — shows detail in both bright and dark areas of the same scene.
Because the M9 lacks hardware stabilization, you'll need to hold your phone steady while taking HDR shots, or you risk producing blurry images.
As when taking regular photos, we've found it's generally a good idea to let HTC's camera app work out the correct exposure and metering for the scene, rather than tapping to set exposure levels based on one point.
5. Experiment with manual mode
The M9, like other HTC cameras before it, has a highly capable manual shooting mode for anyone wanting to exert complete control over their camera. Found under the modes menu, manual mode lets you tweak white balance, EV (exposure value), ISO, shutter speed and focus.
Naturally, manual mode is something you'll want to do when you've got time to properly set up a shot and take a few test exposures. But with a little patience (and practice) it's possible to get some fantastic shots using HTC's manual sliders.
We've found manual mode helps significantly when taking low light shots, allowing us to tweak ISO and shutter speed to produce clear, relatively noise-free shots with minimal hand-motion. As we've said before, if you find you're getting blurry shots, try bumping up the ISO and shutter speed until you find the sweet spot. When you do, you'll be rewarded with low-light images far superior to what you'd get in Auto mode.
6. Use macro mode to take stunning close-ups
Using macro mode for macro shots might seem obvious, but the HTC One M9's macro mode is among the best out there, and if you're using your M9 for close-ups for tiny things, it's worth exploring. (Find the flower icon under the modes menu to activate it.)
Macro mode, as you'd expect, favors close-up subjects, and focuses on them much more easily than plain old auto mode. So if you've ever become frustrated pecking on the screen trying to focus a macro shot, this dedicated shooting mode should make things significantly easier.
We've gotten some great-looking macro shots out of the M9, with beautiful bokeh effects. And the phone's typically high shutter speeds make it pretty easy to capture sharp, focused pictures of moving subjects too — for example a flower waving in the wind.
7. Fix up your photos after the fact
We'd all like to get perfect shots every time, but sometimes it's worth spending a little extra time with image-enhancement software to turn a good photo into a great one. HTC includes a wide range of photo editing tricks that are worth a look. But for the best results, we recommend downloading Google's Snapseed app.
Snapseed has wealth of image tuning options to explore, including a few that are ideal for fixing up the most common M9 camera quirks. For under-exposed landscapes, try bumping up the shadows. For washed-out pics, bump up the saturation or contrast. White balance look a little off? Adjust the temperature slider.
HTC One M9 owners, how are you getting on with the phone's camera? Let us know down in the comments, and join the discussion on the HTC One M9 forums.