Conquring Low Light: iPhone 5s iSight vs. HTC One Ultrapixel

In early 2013, HTC released its One smartphone. It featured the company’s new Ultrapixel camera, which aims to produce quality photos with fewer megapixels. More recently, Apple unveiled its new smartphone, the iPhone 5s set to release tomorrow, with an improved iSight camera.

HTC is purposefully looking to wow crowds with an arguably small 4-megapixel camera, while Apple is sticking to its 8-megapixel device. Before deciding which camera leads the pack, however, it’s worth investigating just how each company is approaching the smartphone camera market and what they are both doing to improve low-light photography.

The Ultrapixel
According to Luke Westaway, an editor at CNET, HTC purposefully lowered the megapixel count in its Ultrapixel camera to break away from the megapixel war. Westaway notes that HTC says it is “doing the right thing for image quality” by stepping away from the trend that’s sweeping away its competitors: marketing the idea that more megapixels equates to a better camera.

HTC’s Special Projects Director Symon Whitehorn argues that a smaller number of megapixels can have positive effects, the most important being that the HTC One may take better pictures in low light than competitors, writes Westaway. On the same size image sensor, megapixels get larger when there are less of them, Westaway explains. And with the Ultrapixel camera, the 4 megapixels can absorb more light than 8 megapixels.

The 5s iSight
Seth Barton at Expert Reviews provides a succinct summary of what Apple has packed into the new iPhone 5S. Its iSight image sensor, he says, is 15 percent larger than the one found on the iPhone 5. And that is Apple’s way of attacking the low-light images situation.

While HTC lowered its megapixel count, Apple simply increased the size of its smarphone’s sensor. Looking back to the logic used above, the iPhone’s larger megapixels will now be able to take in more light in dark areas than the previous version of the iSight. As a result, its images should be less grainy and more impressive to users.

Comparing the Two
Indeed, users can see an increase of up to 13 megapixels in some high-end smartphones. But that large number comes at a cost. More megapixels means larger photos, an increased need for storage, and longer transfer times when emailing or downloading images to a computer. And, like all photographers will note, small megapixels won’t always create a clear image in low-light situations.

In the end, much of what cameras can do is left to the user. Smartphone cameras are limited due to their size, but advances have been made by many companies to tackle the problems that smaller cameras encounter. In the past, low light has plagued small sensors. Camera technology is constantly improving, however, and the Ultrapixel and iSight are conquering the field in two opposing ways.

Image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons