HTC raised eyebrows when it announced the UltraPixel camera that features on the HTC One, leaving many commentators sceptical about how the handset’s imaging capabilities would stack up. The reason? Many reports said that the device only had a four megapixel camera, a significantly lower figure than many other high end handsets.
The truth is however, the HTC One’s camera sensor uses three layers of four megapixels and these pixels are larger than those on most smartphone cameras. This allows the sensor to capture more light and create a sharper, more detailed image than that four megapixel figure suggests.
With this innovative camera came HTC Zoe, another bit of creative functionality that allows you to capture three second video clips in place of photos then edit parts of the image to create a perfect shot.
Upon opening the HTC camera app you are presented with what at first looks like a typical Android photographic interface. The dual-capture buttons seen on earlier versions of the firm’s Sense UI are present, allowing you to take photos whilst also recording video.
Other functions are present, such as effects that can be added to photos that will show up as the image is being captured. Housed in a menu at the bottom left of the display are many technical functions such as those that allow you to adjust white balance and resolution.
On the left of the screen is a button that switches on the Zoe camera function. When activated, this disables the normal image capturing function and instead takes a three second clip when the shutter button is pressed.
Capturing a clip is as straightforward as taking a photo, although we have found that the results are better if the camera is held very still. Any movement affects some of the editing functions that are presented post image capture.
Once a clip has been recorded a sliding bar that appears along the bottom of the screen allows you to skip through the individual frames to find one that you like. Having been captured over a few seconds it’s possible that someone could have blinked at one point of the clip or not been looking directly at the camera. In cases such as these, you can choose a frame when everything lines up, or you can go on to edit the Zoe clip further.
When you’ve settled on a frame, there are several options which make use of the fact that the picture is a part of a longer clip (as opposed to a singular image). Going into the Edit and Retouch options brings up a row of icons across the lower part of the screen, two of which we’ll focus on here.
Always Smile is the optimistically titled function which uses facial recognition to pick people out in an image. Once highlighted, you can scroll that part of the image backwards or forwards through the clip with the selected portion of the frame then being merged seamlessly into the rest of the image.
This is one of the definitive features of Zoe and is perfect for those moments that we mentioned, when someone blinks as the shutter closes. The function allows you to isolate their face and move only that part of the image to a time when they had their eyes open, saving a photo that may otherwise have been spoiled.
The other function that makes use of the short clip that was recorded is Object Remover, which helps you to take unwanted things out of an image to create a better photo. Imagine the scene; just as you’re taking a photo someone walks into the background of the shot and spoils it. Having captured a Zoe clip there is no need to worry – the object Remover function will highlight parts of the image that it thinks shouldn’t be there and give you the option to remove them.
This feature effectively rolls that area of the photo back a few milliseconds in the same way that Always Smile does, then merges the altered area into the rest of the photo.
With both of these functions we found that holding the phone perfectly still helps when editing a photo later, as the parts that have been altered with Object Remover and Always Smile sometimes appear as slightly distorted otherwise. We also found that while Object Remover’s performance is incredible, the facial recognition that underpins Always Smile finds it hard to pick out anyone who isn’t facing the camera square on.
Once you’ve picked a frame from your Zoe clip and edited parts of it so that it looks perfect it can be saved as a still image, allowing for the same kind of editing that could be done with images captured using a standard smarphone camera.
Instagram-style photo effects can be overlaid onto images and frames can be added set a picture off. Photos can also be cropped, rotated and straightened to make sure they fit whatever it is you have planned for them.
Beyond this, the retouch menu which houses the Always Smile and Object Remover functions has several other options within it. These centre on adjusting faces within the frame and allow you to remove red eye and any shiny reflections that may be bouncing off people’s foreheads. There is also a bizarre function called Eye Enhancer that allows you to enlarge people’s eyes within a photo, making for some odd results.
While these functions are interesting they appear to use the same facial recognition technology that underpins the Always Smile function and therefore suffer from some of the same problems. Unless someone is directly facing the camera, the handset struggles to recognise a face within the picture.
Overall, the Zoe camera function on the HTC One is an incredible innovation which rethinks the way in which photos can be taken. HTC has made some bold moves with the HTC One, not least including what could be termed a 4 megapixel camera (as unrepresentative as that figure may be) and the Zoe camera feature is an extension of th
At the launch event for the flagship smartphone, Peter Chou, CEO of the Taiwanese firm, talked of wanting to change the way people think of mobile photography so that rather than capturing photos, they record ‘moments’ instead. Zoe allows you to do this, picking out the perfect frame from an image and adjusting particular elements to create an ideal photo. There are some troubles, such as those with facial recognition, but overall Zoe is a fantastic innovation which works brilliantly and could be appropriated by other manufacturers.