HTC's UltraPixel camera: Why 4 megapixels doesn't matter

News 15:52, Feb 19 2013

The HTC One features UltraPixel tech, but only 4MP, should you be concerned?

UltraPixel technology is a buzzword being thrown around with regards to the HTC One camera unit. HTC proudly stated that the megapixel war is over -- my impression is that it was over a long time ago -- and so it introduced its UltraPixel camera. However, it's nothing new, nothing terribly special and you should actually be happy about it. I'll tell you why.

When HTC says "UltraPixel," it's just a word it coined to refer to larger pixels on its camera sensor. Bigger pixels means a greater ability to collect light, and as I've mentioned in one of my smartphone photography tutorials before, photography is all about capturing light.

Camera sensors are the subject of compromise: for any given sensor size you can have a lot of pixels at the cost of smaller sized pixels, or you can have fewer but larger pixels. You can't break the laws of physics here unless you enlarge the sensor itself. Historically, cameras with bigger pixels have had better low-light performance and less digital noise and grain in its images.

So with the HTC One, a small compromise was made -- bigger, but fewer pixels. The truth is, this is much better for you as a casual smartphone photographer. The only time megapixels should matter is when you're making large prints, or you're severely cropping your photos 25% or more. Otherwise, bigger pixels means better image quality and low-light performance. These are things that matter in everyday camera use.

So if you're turned off by the fact that the HTC One has a 4MP camera, don't fret. Its pixel size is double that of what you'd find on the iPhone 5 or Samsung Galaxy S3, and when you're viewing those photos on Facebook or Instagram, the differences might be negligible.

I happen to take thousands of photos each week on my iPhone 5, but if I were given a choice between the bigger pixels or the bigger resolution, I'll always choose the bigger pixels. All day, every single day.

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