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HTC U11 Camera Review: Best mobile phone camera of 2017?

The HTC U11 arrives packing a fresh new UltraPixel 3 camera, but is this 12-megapixel snapper one of the best mobile cameras of 2017? Here’s our full HTC U11 camera review, including full photo and video samples so you can decide for yourself.

While the new U11 flagship phone from HTC packs a whole host of enticing features to win your hard-won bucks, it’s the camera tech that really caught our eye. Last year’s HTC 10 sported one of the best mobile shooters of its time and now the HTC U11 seems to continue that good work in style.

Specs-wise you can expect a 12-megapixel camera with fast autofocus, f/1.7 aperture lens and optical image stabilisation. HTC’s new HDR Boost feature claims to offer solid contrast with no shutter delay, while you can shoot RAW images and up to 4K resolution video too.

So far, so drool-worthy. Of course, specs and jargon doesn’t get you anywhere; it’s all about the results. Here’s our full HTC U11 camera review after spending a few days with the phone.

Check out our HTC U11 vs Galaxy S8 vs Xperia XZ Premium vs Pixel vs iPhone 7 Plus camera comparison, to see how the U11 stacks up against the best mobile cameras right now. And take a look at our round-up of the best mobile cameras in 2017 for other great shooters.

HTC U11 Camera Review: App and user experience

HTC sure knows how to cobble together a camera app. The U11’s interface is pleasingly simple to use, both streamlined and yet fully functional.

On the main screen you’ll only find a couple of essential shortcuts, including the flash toggle and a button to switch between the front and rear cameras. Tap the shutter button to take a shot and the video button to shoot a home movie. That’s quicker and easier than swiping through menus to swap to the video mode, like on most other modern mobiles.

At any point you can drag out the settings menu, which allows you to skip through a small number of camera modes. These include Pro mode, which offers full manual controls as well as RAW image capture. You can also snap panoramas and choose from a variety of video modes, which we’ll cover later.

You can jump straight into the camera app from the U11’s lock screen, like on most handsets. However, HTC has also added a quick-boot function which can be used at any time – even when the phone is hibernating. This is the new Edge Sense feature, which can detect pressure to an accurate degree on the edges of the device.

Squeeze the HTC U11 and you can load up the camera in under a second, ready to shoot an action photo or quick video. It’s similar to the Moto phones’ double-twist gesture and very effective, not to mention fast.

Snapping photos on the U11 is an absolute joy, thanks to that nippy autofocus. Boot up the camera and the lens locks onto your subject pretty much instantaneously. You can also swap between near and far focus in no time at all, with perfect results. That action is just as quick as Samsung’s Dual Pixel autofocus on the Galaxy S8, which few other handsets can come close to.

You also have the now-obligatory burst shutter mode to play with, if you’re trying to capture an action shot. This allows you to take several snaps in super-quick succession, simply by holding your finger on the shutter button.

HTC U11 Camera Review: Photo quality

All of the above would of course be completely moot if the HTC U11’s camera pumped out ugly, grainy photos. That was never going to be the case, however. HTC’s UltraPixel 3 snapper really is one of the best mobile cameras around right now, just as French optics expert DxO Labs claimed in its own testing verdict.

One of the features which HTC has highlighted is the new HDR Boost feature, which is a step beyond other auto HDR modes – if the manufacturer is to be believed. Well, we’re certainly struggling to argue. Our test photos all boast fantastic light balance, appearing universally bright even when dealing with high-contrast scenes.

We tried shooting a number of scenes featuring both light and dark areas, such as candles flickering in a dimly lit room and buildings framed against a sunny sky. In each case, the U11 managed to pick up impressive levels of detail in the dark spots – more so than many rivals including Apple’s iPhone 7 Plus.

Low light performance in general is also strong. HTC’s flagship camera can produce bright results once again, with limited grain to ruin a shot. In fact, the U11 was just as strong as the Galaxy S8 when the lights went down, on full auto mode at least.

For everyday shots in bright daylight, the U11 continues to impress. You don’t get quite as much detail packed into every photo when compared with the Sony Xperia XZ Premium’s 19-megapixel shooter. Yet despite this, our test shots looked great when blown up onto a big screen. On maximum resolution, you certainly won’t be disappointed.

Moving subjects are also handled perfectly. Just check out this shot of a windmill, which at the time was spinning at a rapid pace. Kids and pets are caught just as perfectly in motion, making this a great choice for parents and dog lovers.

Have a squint at our gallery of selected test photos below for some more shots taken with the HTC U11’s camera.

HTC U11 Camera Review: Video quality and features

You can of course shoot your home movies on the HTC U11 too, with Full HD resolution by default. This can be bumped up to 4K if desired, for some Ultra HD footage. However, there is a six-minute time limit if you choose to do so, most likely to keep the handset from overheating.

Our test video came out as well as you’d expect. That UltraSpeed focus once again latches onto your subject in double-quick time and adjusts well to changes in lighting conditions. Detail levels are solid enough for viewing back on a TV or projector, without any kind of blockiness or other issues. You can even enable 3D audio thanks to the U11’s multiple mics, for a surround sound experience.

However, the U11’s image stabilisation isn’t quite as effective as a couple of its strongest rivals. The Samsung Galaxy S8 and Sony Xperia XZ Premium both produce smoother results when moving and shooting at the same time. The difference is minimal when recording at Full HD resolution, but jack it up to 4K and the U11 is noticeably more jerky.

Check out our test video clips below.

You can also shoot slow motion video and timelapse footage with HTC’s flagship phone. Nothing to rival Sony’s Super Slow Motion mode sadly, but they’ll do the job in a pinch.

Check out our full HTC U11 review and take a look at our round-up of the best smartphone cameras in 2017.