HTC One M9 in silver and grey

European versions of the HTC One M9 received a pretty substantial update at the start of June that claimed to improve many aspects of the phone, most importantly in the camera department. The fixes centered around better automatic exposure to keep photos in bright environments from getting washed out, while also improving low light shots by cutting back on noise and blur. Fringe cases where green or yellow hues were showing up on photos in harsh conditions have also supposedly been addressed.

Understanding the limits of how much can really change with a single update, we found it worthwhile to do some side-by-side comparisons between an updated One M9 and another device that has yet to receive the update, and see how the photos compared. This is what we found, and what you can expect to see on your M9 once it receives the update.

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In good lighting

One of the most noticeable issues with the One M9's camera has been its automatic exposure. In bright lighting conditions, if you leave the camera on auto it often cranks up the exposure so high that you lose a lot of contrast and sharpness in a shot. That has always been mitigated somewhat if you dive into manual mode and handle it yourself (or choose HDR manually), but considering that other cameras can handle these situations in auto mode it's good that this latest update aims to fix the issues.

These shots were all taken back-to-back, once with the new firmware and again with the old firmware. Both devices had their camera apps reset to default settings before taking pictures as to give them both an equal shot at taking a good picture.

New firmware (left) / Old firmware (right) — click images to view full screen

Both photos directly above were taken with HDR mode turned on

For the most part, both new and old firmware produced similar pictures when taken in auto mode. Flipping quickly between the pictures side-by-side the new firmware seems to more accurately choose a white balance that reflects the actual shot, and the pictures looked a bit sharper when we zoomed in on them. Some pictures were nearly identical between the two firmware versions. Even with the new firmware the One M9's relatively low dynamic range still tended to wash pictures out, and we still wish there was an auto HDR mode available because of this.

In lower light conditions

Without OIS on board the M9 is limited in what it can do in lower light situations, and the image processing hasn't done it any favors either. The new firmware is supposed to cut down on the blur and noise introduced into low light photos, which was a clear issue on the old firmware that was instantly noticeable in most low light shots.

New firmware (left) / Old firmware (right) — click images to view full screen

Photos in less than ideal lighting conditions are still a struggle for the M9 even with the new firmware, but it's clear when seeing them side-by-side that low light shots have improved. Shooting in auto mode with little available light — ranging from a room in shade to evening outdoor scenes — yielded much better results in general with the new firmware. In all but one photo objects were crisper with far less blur and noise, which was particularly apparent when zooming in on the photos. Just like daytime shots the white balance seemed marginally better as well.

Just like before there's little difference in results between auto and night modes on the M9, and though the camera performance in these tough situations is much improved, it still doesn't rival the likes of the Galaxy S6 and LG G4.

A better camera experience?

The latest firmware that has landed on some M9s — and will hit others soon enough — improves the camera experience as a whole, but you're still dealing with most of the same issues that you know on your M9 today. Daylight shots have better white balance and exposure, but can still get washed out and lose detail if you're not careful. Low light shots are sharper with less blur than before, but still don't consistently match pictures you can get out of other leading phone cameras today.

It's encouraging to see HTC releasing meaningful camera updates to the M9 months after the phone first went on sale, and this is certainly an update you should be happy to receive.