Breaking the Megapixel Myth

With the introduction of the new HTC One, we’ve made a bold decision to drop out of the megapixel arms race, in which manufacturers continue to cram pointless megapixels into their cameras, instead of focusing on what is important: creating the best quality pictures for consumers. To do just that, we’ve introduced the UltraPixel, a truer measurement of quality photos.

The idea of the megapixel being the most important measurement is a “big fat lie.”

First let me explain what the megapixel is and why it isn’t the end-all be-all of camera quality measurement; if I may quote David Pogue, reviewer for the New York Times, the idea of the megapixel being the most important measurement is a “big fat lie.”

The megapixel speaks to the number of pixels a camera’s sensor can capture when it’s exposed to light, so in theory the more megapixels the better. However that’s really only half the equation. The other half is the size of the sensor, which determines how much light the camera can bring in. The dimensions of the smartphone dictate a finite size for the camera lens, the only way to increase the number of megapixels on this sensor is to decrease the size of the pixels, which can be extremely detrimental to image quality.


Low-light camping photo taken with HTC One.

Same camping photo taken with phones from two leading competitors.

Same low-light camping photo taken with phones from two leading competitors.

The smaller the pixel, the less light each one collects. This results in more image distortions and other photo defects. As Sam Biddle over at Gizmodo once said, “Small pixels suck. Like a crowded fraternity basement, a small, high-megapixel phone sensor creates images mired by discoloration and noise.” So if you’re buying a nice DSLR and planning on printing large photos, then more megapixels may be beneficial. It’s still not the primary factor in any scenario, but in smartphones it’s become a truly misleading statistic.

Small pixels suck. Like a crowded fraternity basement, a small, high-megapixel phone sensor creates images mired by discoloration and noise.”

So how is the UltraPixel different? We took a fresh look at how a smartphone camera should work. Our UltraPixel Sensor has the largest individual pixel size available in a smartphone, which enables each pixel to capture up to 300% more light*. This means you can take better pictures in real-world situations, such taking those foodie shots in your favorite dimly-lit restaurant. We’ve made other improvements too, which we believe makes the HTC One camera far and away the best smartphone camera out there, without compromising HTC’s renowned design style.

If you want to learn more about what HTC is doing, you can read the whitepaper we put together outlining all the improvements to our camera.

*More light than the current crop of 13MP smartphones and 200% more than 8MP models.

  • dtstrickland

    Can’t wait to use this camera! I’ve got two small children, so this excites me quite a bit. Thanks HTC!

  • http://www.facebook.com/david.davtyan70 David Davtyan

    I actually shoot photos and videos of my child, so do wait to get the HTC ONE – just only even for ultrapixels. Of course the stereo sound, and other quality realated pluses too… Thninking of buying the GALAXY NEXUS 4 but now I am in a doubt, most likely I will buy HTC ONE if I see that HTC makes updates more frequantely like Samsung does.

  • http://www.facebook.com/rbwayne Robert Bruc Wayne

    so it is about a 6 meg camera? in rese the size of pixels = less room= less megs. so you ate all about increasing the sensor size, and decreasing the amount to achieve a larger pixle. Now why did Canon not think of that?

    • Tony Hedges

      Canon don’t use a small image sensor. They have more room to use a bigger physical size sensor.

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Stanley-See-Boon-Seng/577474736 Stanley See Boon Seng

    This is great move of HTC since the day one I saw the first 13 megapixel on phone (I think it is from sony ericsson). But the pic quality is not really good though. Will look at more samples from HTC One to make some comparison.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=100001452282854 Pradumn Ar

    I had a doubt in my mind if the 8 or 13 mp sensor was used to algorithm the ultra 4 mp photos in htc one before this article..
    but now i have my answer its a 13 MEGAPIXEL CAMERA used to algorithm since if a 13 mp camera lets u enter 100% light into it then a 4mp will definitely let u in 300%.. i.e 3 times more..
    so a good lightning will surely be provided by the htc one…

  • http://www.facebook.com/Richard.Sadler.NZ Richard Sadler

    You guys should take the same picture with the HTC One X, then the HTC One

  • http://omrams.com/ Amassine Omar

    I like this new technology. Can’t wait to use this phone, thank you for your work

  • http://twitter.com/Chaos_Theory10 Samir Rakhmanov

    1 word:
    Lumia 920

    well ok… it was 2 words.

    • http://twitter.com/stonelaughterRL Tom Kelsall – Pleb

      What about it? Did you read the article AT ALL?

    • Hayden Smith

      In case you mean that the Lumia 920 has Optical Image Stabilization

      The HTC One has even BETTER Optical Image Stabilization, its faster by up to 4 times!

  • http://www.facebook.com/sid22sharma Sidhant Sharma

    wow exciting to know about ultrapixel … may this technology to india as soon as possible so we dont need to carry cameras seperately for any occasions 🙂 since i buyed my htc .. i became a big fan of htc keep ur innovations updating best of luck

  • http://twitter.com/KyriakosC Kyriakos C.

    I’m a huge fan of HTC (Touch Pro 2, HD7, Flyer, Sensation) but my Nokia Lumia 920 is better than that camera when it comes to low light. I’ve taken photos in pitch black, no flash, and I get images that were as if I took them mid-day. Also, there is absolutely no science behind this “experiment”, just the evidence of an uncontrolled test.

  • djmuzi

    hmm the first photo is the worst one in terms of color. HTC has to tweak it until launch!

  • http://www.facebook.com/maurizio.prati.7 Maurizio Prati

    Why not a single big pixel? U can catch more light! So, no sd, no battery removable and a camera used last century! Well done!

    • http://blog.htc.com/ Larry Meadows

      One of the better tests of the camera was done by CNET Asia comparing the HTC One to the iPhone 5. The results are at http://asia.cnet.com/htc-one-v… and they speak for themselves.

    • Hayden Smith

      One Big pixel would result in an image that’s just a big square of color…
      Pixels are what make up the dots on an image

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=696112190 Ahmad Abdel-Aziz

    Interesting read.
    Thank you very much, Simon.

  • Hayden Smith

    I’m sure it wouldn’t look amazing on huge displays but don’t forget, 4Mp is still a 2688 x 1520 resolution photo!

  • http://www.facebook.com/zhangbo.han.7 Zhangbo Han

    The only point of bigger pixel size is reducing cost!!!! What ever your pixel size is, the total sensitivity won’t change if the lens, total detecting area and time of exposure are fixed. Smaller pixel size means more detail and more noise. Bigger pixel size means less detail and less noise.

  • http://blog.htc.com/ Larry Meadows

    Actually, the better quote from GSMArena would be “The biggest bullet point in the features list is the camera – a 4MP
    “ultra-pixel” camera. Yes, the resolution sounds too low, but this
    camera marks a first in the mobile phone imaging world, which puts it
    next to the Nokia 808 PureView and Lumia 920.” http://www.gsmarena.com/htc_one-review-902.php.

    Even GSMArena recognizes the leap ahead in the camera.

  • http://www.facebook.com/beckbandi Beck András

    Those who think the more pixel the merrier,should dig into digital photography a bit more. My 6 Mpixel Nikon from 2007 end make waaaay better pictures than ANY smartphone today because of bigger sensor/bigger pixel. I’m happy HTC took this way ,hopefully others will follow,as done in compact/bridge cameras. Finally they stopped the Mpixel war out there as it’s pointless after a point. Good move HTC,I’ll try this baby 😉

  • http://www.facebook.com/MattHale1984 Matt Hale

    I can’t believe you guys at HTC think you can get away with deceiving your customer base with this utter bullocks. Using a cheap 4mp camera and then calling it “UltraPixel” is total rubbish. Of course if you reduce the megapixels to a third you get 300% more light. But that’s not the way you get a better camera and you know it; you increase the size of the hole you let light through (aperture), and then you increase the size of the light collecting area so that you can have more megapixels and more light at the same time. I’m very disappointed to see you do this HTC as I’ve always been a loyal customer ever since I entered the smartphone market 10 years ago. I’m sorry to say you have forced me to jump on the Samsung Galaxy S4 bandwagon with this deceptive marketing.

    • http://www.jasondunn.com/ Jason Dunn

      Hey Matt. Have you checked out our whitepaper on our UltraPixel sensor? I’ve added a link below. I think you’ll find it interesting as it gives more context around the light-capturing prowess of our sensor. You’re right that a larger aperture lets in more light, but that’s not where it ends. The pixels on the sensor have their own light-collecting aspect; it’s not just about the size of the sensor, it’s about the number of pixels on the sensor (and their size). I’ve done head to head comparisons between our phone and an iPhone 5 and in a dimly lit area there’s zero comparison – the HTC One captures much brighter, and better, images.


      • hohopig

        Thing is, did you increase the OVERALL sensor size together with the individual sensor size? Seems like you didn’t, so this remains an act of compromise instead of a true improvement in terms of quality. It will make sense for it to produce pictures with good quality in low light and macro setting, but seems inconclusive when it comes to mid and long distance shots, especially if you intend to port it to your desktop or to print it out.

        And why only iPhone 5? Why not other android phones WITH quality camera as well?

        • http://www.jasondunn.com/ Jason Dunn

          Creating a smartphone is a balancing act; you balance performance with power consumption, screen size with in-hand usability; the sensor size with the phone thickness, and ultimately ALL the components against BOM (bill of materials) cost. Your “no compromise” phone would be an inch thick and cost $1500 each. A few thousand people would buy it, and no more. That’s not the way a successful phone is designed.

      • Mohit J

        Really ? Is this all you guys can come up with ? Improved low light and some negligible OIS at such a tremendous cost of resolving power ?
        What about details in daylight ?
        1) The BIGGEST and most important use of a smartphone camera is its ubiquitousness: the fact that a smartphone camera is present in situations where no other camera is present.

        2) And THAT includes to a great degree, shots taken in good lighting.
        3) And THOSE photos from this 4MP Ultracrapixels are going to be hopeless – apart from lost details, I can barely even do a reasonable zoom / crop etc of any of the photos I take from an HTC One.

        4) Have you done any statistical / EXIF-data / crowd-sourced / photo-sharing-website data etc studies of the percentage of smartphone photos taken in good light Vs in low light ???

  • Calandra Smyly

    i love taking pictures with my fam and friends .in the need of a new phone

  • hohopig

    No you guys should take a picture with long distance object and in bright daylight. It seems that most of the review restrict its photo to either low light shots OR close up shots 🙁

  • http://www.jasondunn.com/ Jason Dunn

    A 1080p display is only displaying a 1920 x 1080 pixel image. Our sensor displays 4 megapixels worth of data, which is twice as much. It will look as sharp and crisp as a Blu-ray image, assuming the image you take with the phone is a great picture. 🙂

  • Ovi

    There is more than enough light for each pixel to take in to make an absolutely perfect picture. The problem is that the sensor technology we can manufacture right now is not there yet. So it’s a simple solution to a simple problem. I do not really see it as innovation. A higher MP camera, with a sensitive enough CCD would obviously be better. Also the lens is just as if not more important than the sensor after a certain point (about 4 MP).

    I do not see major leaps in the lens technology like a bigger compound lens or using sapphire glass, etc. The lens on the back of a phone doesn’t have to be only 3 mm in diameter. One of the few that put in some effort was the Asus Transformer Infinity, which I have because of it. Still not amazing.

    Without some R&D I don’t know if 4 MP for how large each pixel is is the best ratio, but I trust HTC did said R&D.
    Still one of the best phones in existence right now. 🙂 I really don’t like the iPhone and see it as purpose-built for simpletons to be honest.

    I’m an engineer in this domain. Bottom line is if you want to take pictures and you can have a dedicated camera, the difference is significant. I just got an Canon EHPH 330S (I believe.. maybe 530) for under $200.

  • Pingback: Review: Updated: HTC One()