Here's what we think about HTC's RE camera now that we've used it a bit.
When HTC announced the RE camera in the fall of 2014, plenty of people were curious. HTC is branching out and building "lifestyle" products (their words, not mine) and started with an accessory that was odd-looking, yet intriguing. It didn't look like a handheld camera (or even a GoPro), but it had a 16-megapixel wide-angle lens and a promise of being able to take great pictures. We all had to try it.
Fast forward a few months, now that we all have had a while to give the RE camera a real-life workout, and it's time we gave our long-term impression about the handheld camera that looks like an asthma inhaler.
Strap in and have a read.
That picture is crazy. I don't even really remember taking it. I sort of recall pointing the RE camera toward the Arenas de Barcelona — an old bullfighting ring that's been turned into a mall — and hitting the shutter button a few times. That's it.
But that's also sort of the fun of the RE. For better or worse you don't really worry about the composition. You just shoot and hope. And sometimes you get a gem like this. (To be fair, that's with some Snapseed and Instagram love. Here's the original. Still not bad at all.)
For better or worse you don't really worry about the composition
I think to enjoy the RE you have to let go a little. Just have fun with it. And that starts by not paying too much for it. $199 is too much. Snag one on sale or second-hand or something. And try not to let the phone app frustrate you too much. Wifi Direct is still a little clunky. But it is what it is. And the RE is a great start to the non-smartphone side of HTC.
There've been two main criticisms of the HTC RE camera — the first focused on the quality of images that it captures, the second on the usefulness of a camera in this form factor, without any permanent viewfinder. Both have their merits, but for me the RE's greatest weakness is fairly straightforward — for a device that is literally just a camera, it needs to be a better camera.
When the smartphone I already have with me captures better photos than than the dedicated imaging device in my other pocket, the case for carrying the latter is hard to make. Given that this is supposed to be an on-the-go shooter, it's surprising (and disheartening) to see how frequently it captures blurry shots, even in relatively good light. The good news for HTC is that this is easy to fix — just source better parts, and license better image processing software. It's not like anything new needs to be invented here. The parts to make a better RE Camera already exist in the high-end smartphones of 2015.
For a device that is literally just a camera, it needs to be a better camera.
At the same time, the app interface isn't quite as user-friendly as it needs to be for a product like this. The RE is at its best when it's a carefree, accessible way to capture fun moments. And when your first experience of it is contorting your hands to press the power and reset buttons while dealing with a frustrating Bluetooth and Wifi Direct pairing setup that straight up fails on a number of popular phones, you're going to be discouraged.
What I'm convinced of, though, is the merit of this kind of product. Occasionally you'll capture something amazing using the RE — a shot you know you'd never have been able to take on a smartphone. If the next RE Camera is able to create more moments like this — with superior optics — while smoothing out the software kinks, HTC will have a really interesting product on its hands. As it stands, the current RE feels a lot like the version 1.0 product that it is.
The RE camera usually results in some fun photos I wouldn't normally have.
I wouldn't say anybody needs an HTC Re Camera, but it's one of the nicer ways to snap quick photos or videos when you know conditions are perfect. I am a huge fan of using this camera for timelapse captures, but have also found myself reaching for it instead of my phone when out with friends. The waterproof and damage resistant nature of the design means I'm cool with letting the kids run around and do things without worry as well, which usually results in some fun photos I wouldn't normally have.
This little sucker is pretty cool. Like Phil says above, probably not $200 worth of cool, but if you poke around open-box offerings or wait for the right sale, I'd totally recommend it for around $100.
While it looks a bit weird, it can take some really nice pictures. The wide-angle lens means that most of the time you're OK with taking a blind picture, or you can use the RE app for Android or iOS to use your smartphone as a viewfinder. I've found that once I dig out my Android, I usually am not going to take the time to also fire up the RE camera because there's a perfectly acceptable camera on the phone I had to pull out. The exception is when I want to take a picture "remotely," and the 30-or-so-foot range of the wireless connection allows for a bit of freedom there.
The 30-or-so-foot range of the wireless connection allows for a bit of freedom.
My biggest reason for wanting the RE — and one I haven't been able to try just yet because of mother nature — is using it underwater. I'm an avid fisherman, and I really want some of those live-action underwater shots of a nice trout or smallmouth getting landed. I think the RE will do a great job here, just as it would while playing in the pool or even doing a bit of snorkeling. I've played with shooting blind and think I have a good handle on just what the RE will see when I hit the capture button, so now all I need is the spring thaw.
Our final thoughts
The RE camera is a good (not great) first-generation product. We applaud HTC for expanding their non-smartphone offerings, and think they are on the right track here. The RE camera is fun, mostly easy to use, and something you'll likely get plenty of use from.
But we can't justify the retail price.
If you think you would have a use for a small and easy to operate hand-held camera, look out for sales and deals on the RE. As we approach closer to the second-generation, hopefully the price of the current inventory will drop and make it a bit easier on your wallet should you want to give it a try.