Given the fairly minimal differences between HTC’s One M9 and One M8S, we thought the best way to illustrate one of the two major differences, the camera performance, was with an old fashioned shootout.
To that end, we’ve taken three handsets out and about around Sydney today, to demonstrate some different performance from each of HTC’s One M8, M8S, and M9 cameras. As you’ll see, there’s a few differences.. and they’re not quite what you’d expect!
Around the office
Starting this photo comparison on a Sydney day like today was probably always going to be difficult. It’s cold, wet and grey, and there’s not a lot of colour to be found. I started with two test subjects I often photograph with review phones: our front path and our frangipani on the balcony. These aren’t particularly scientific tests, but they do offer a reasonable range of colours, from the greens and yellows of the front lawn, plans and nature strip through to the reds and blues of the bricks and the sky.
Both the One M8 and M9 produced fairly muted colours, inside and out, and while the M8S was a bit more vivid, it didn’t have the same close-up, macro performance of the other two.
I can’t really pick a clear winner here, but I can pick one that wasn’t — the One M8 was a bit too dark, and the colours just weren’t quite right. The true colours, to my eye, are closer to the M9.
On the journey
After taking a few shots around the office I jumped on the bike and rode up to Brooklyn, via the Old Pacific Highway. It’s quite a beautiful road, as if made for motorcyclists, and while it wasn’t perhaps the nicest day for the ride (it’s a bit cold, and a bit overcast) it really could have been a lot worse.
On these photos, I think the One M8 and M9 are actually very similar in terms of colour, warmth and accuracy. The One M8S is clearly a little different, though I wouldn’t necessarily say better. I think the M9 takes the most accurate colouring here.
The Kangaroo Point cruise terminal at Brooklyn is a lovely place to sit and contemplate, and I’ve spent quite a bit of time there. It’s also quite picturesque, with views of the Brooklyn Bridge (no, not the famous one), the Hawkesbury River and some landscaped parklands as well.
The image composition here was a bit challenging; by the time I’d arrived, the weather had turned rather nice and much of the cloud cover had burned off. This made for quite bright scenes, which challenged the three cameras. The One M8 and M8S did a reasonable job, perhaps almost over-exposing in some instances. The One M9 was far more restrained, perhaps capturing things a little too darkly. The M9 also struggled with the macro shot, whereas the M8 and M8S seemed to do a better job of it.
Overall, I like the M8S’ handling here; it handled the different scenes better, and (to my mind) it produced a far more realistic photo, capturing the light and colour more naturally.
A final trick to test them
I love burning candles, especially those with a mild fragrance, and being as it was a bit dim inside, I lit a couple to brighten up the room (and my mood). I wanted to see how the cameras would handle this close up — a bright light source which would usually darken the rest of the colours around them. Anyone who has taken a photo of a lit candle can probably attest to this — even in a reasonably lit room, a candle will make its surroundings appear dark.
Here, both the One M8 and M8S picked up that it wasn’t actually a dark room, and captured both the colour and warmth of the candles, while still showing the lit wall behind them. The M9 fell for the bright flame, and darkened the surrounding image, making it appear as if the photo were taken at dusk.
Its for you to judge, but I don’t really like how the M9 handled this.
An unexpected conclusion
I had thought that HTC’s One M9 would win this hands down. It has the better sensor, it has more megapixels, and probably some more smarts behind it too. However, I think the One M8S really showed it up; the bigger maximum aperture (f/2.0 vs f/2.2) made a big difference in less-bright surrounds, and while it did tend to slightly over-expose in some settings, it captured — to my eye — a more balanced, accurate representation of the various subjects.
Considering the One M8S will see a fairly limited release in Australia, with only Vodafone taking it up at the moment, it is a surprisingly good performer. I think HTC has realised the Ultrapixel camera serves a better purpose as a front-facing camera than it does a primary rear-facing shooter, which really only leaves the One M8S and M9 in contention for the top billing.
The One M8 is a year old, and by every other measure, it’s the clear third-place winner, and the One M9 should (on paper) be the clear winner, but it just doesn’t turn out that way.
What do you make of the three sets of photos? Which is your pick?