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Does the HTC One M9’s new update actually improve the camera?

HTC’s latest OTA update (1.40.401.8) arrived for UK, European, Middle Eastern and African owners of the One M9 last week, with promises of improved camera functionality. We’ve tested it out and here’s the results.

The One M9 took few risks, changing very little over the previous year’s One M8, although HTC did ditch the low-res Ultrapixel camera for a fresh new 20-megapixel snapper. Sadly the One M9’s camera was still a weak point, producing flat images and falling over in low light conditions.

HTC’s latest update is supposed to come packing some camera enhancements, including greater auto-exposure balance to cut down on washed-out images, less noise and blur in low light, and more realistic colours in harsh light. With that in mind we took to the streets of London to see if there was a marked improvement after the update (which was a hefty 500MB) compared with before.

In each comparison shot, the left photo is pre-update and the right photo is post-update.

Daylight standard shot

In overcast conditions, the One M9 camera can still capture plenty of detail but once again images are rather lifeless compared with rival phones. Colours don’t exactly pop off the screen and if anything the shot is slightly more over-exposed, in areas such as the rooftops.

High contrast HDR off

HTC’s update doesn’t appear to have changed anything here. The One M9 still captures a decent amount of detail in darker areas of high-contrast scenes, coping well even without HDR mode activated.

High contrast HDR on

The biggest difference we noticed after the update concerned the camera’s HDR mode, which now seems to over-expose shots a lot more than before. Considering the update was supposed to counter over-exposure, that’s a serious disappointment.

Artificial light

We were hoping for more detail in artificial light after applying HTC’s update, but our studio snaps were once again lifeless and colours rather muted.

Low light

One of the biggest disappointments of the One M9’s camera is its low-light performance, something that isn’t corrected in this latest update. Rival cameras capture us standing in front of a mirror, shooting ourselves with the phone – but on the One M9, all you can see is a sliver of light coming from the doorway.

Mixed focus

Again, no real change here. The lens deals with focus effortlessly, locking onto your target quickly and cleanly and producing some sexy bokeh in the background.

Macro shot

Get up-close with your intended target and you’ll still get a detailed shot, but once again there is minimal difference between the camera samples pre and post-update.

Overall, we’re really struggling to see any difference in our snaps after applying the update. The major change seems to be with exposure levels, but not in a good way, as it’s now seemingly easier to over-expose your shots, especially with HDR mode activated.

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