It's all about balancing sensor size, pixel size and file size, says HTC's Symon Whitehorn
One of the more controversial engineering decisions made in the new HTC One was the choice to go with a 4-megapixel rear camera, but with advanced optics and larger individual pixels. After all, we've been conditioned to see the overall megapixel count as a rough way of judging camera quality. But as HTC's been keen to hammer home since the phone's announcement, pixel count isn't the be-all and end-all of digital imaging.
In an interview with ComputerWorld, HTC's director of special projects Symon Whitehorn -- a former Kodak executive in charge of the manufacturer's imaging efforts -- goes into more detail about the benefits of HTC's new "UltraPixel" sensor, consisting of four million, 2-micron wide pixels.
It's really [a matter of] becoming very rational about the megapixel count rather than using it as a marketing metric, which people have been doing before. Lots of megapixels have their place -- usually in a bigger device. The price the industry is starting to pay by cramming more and more megapixels into a smaller and smaller sensor is loads of added noise and all-over performance.
For 99 percent of what people do with their images, they actually don't need the high megapixel count. We'd rather give them the sort of performance that is real-world usable.
Whitehorn says one of those benefits is improved low light performance, something we highlighted in our review of the HTC One. But it turns out one of the HTC One's other main camera features is reliant on the smaller image size -- namely HTC Zoe.
The by-product of [a 4-megapixel sensor] was looking at what people are really doing with their images and how many megapixels they really need. In 90 percent of the cases, four megapixels is more than enough.
That also gives us a super manageable file size, which lets us do lots of cool things with Zoe. We couldn't do the dual-path encoding we're doing now, shooting video and stills at the same time, with a very large file size. If it was a 14 megapixel sensor, you'd end up just choking the whole system.
Whitehorn's comments suggest that the HTC One's 4-megapixel sensor isn't just an arbitrary hardware decision, but a choice based on HTC's suite of camera software too. Like all hardware decisions, the HTC One's rear camera setup is a compromise between cost, practicality and physical limits. Many of the year's other leading smartphones will be opting for 13-megapixel image sensors, and we'll be eager to see how they stack up against the HTC One in the months ahead.
Further insight into the brains behind the "UltraPixel" camera can be found over at the source link.