Our mighty camera comparison pits the HTC U11’s UltraPixel 3 camera against the best mobile snappers out there: Samsung’s Galaxy S8, Sony’s Xperia XZ Premium, the Google Pixel and Apple’s iPhone 7 Plus.
One of the HTC U11’s most compelling features is certainly that all-new 12-megapixel camera tech. This 12-megapixel f/1.7 shooter has already been bigged up as the best smartphone camera in 2017 so far, by French experts DxO Labs. So we thought we’d compare the U11’s super snapper against some of our favourite mobile cameras that we’ve recently reviewed, from Samsung, Sony, Apple and Google.
Here’s the results of our full camera comparison test and check out our best mobile cameras round-up for more of our favourite smartphone snappers.
HTC U11 vs Galaxy S8 vs Pixel vs iPhone 7 Plus vs Xperia XZ Premium camera comparison: app and usability
All five of these phones use their own camera app, as designed by their manufacturers. That means you can expect a different user experience depending on which handset you choose.
The HTC U11’s camera app is one of the best in this round-up, proving surprisingly streamlined yet fully functional. You can swap between photo and video modes with just a quick tap, while the on-screen icons are limited to the most essential stuff like the flash and switching between the front and rear cameras.
Samsung’s Galaxy S8 offers instant video shooting via an on-screen button, which is handy if you record a lot of home movies. The others require a bit of swiping to jump into video mode, which takes a little more time.
All five cameras here deliver manual controls however, while the HTC U11 and Galaxy S8 also offer RAW image capture. You can of course expect plenty of bonus modes too, with the Galaxy S8 and Xperia XZ Premium coming top for variety of extras. For while the U11 plays it quite straight, the Sony and Samsung cameras offer the likes of emoji stickers, cartoon effects and other fun tricks for shareable pics.
All of these phones offers a shortcut to the camera app via the lock screen, to jump in and take a quick shot. However, the U11 is one of the best in the shortcut department thanks to that nifty Edge Sense feature. This allows you to leap into the camera with just a squeeze of the phone, even when it’s hibernating. Very cool, and it works a charm every time.
HTC U11 vs Galaxy S8 vs Pixel vs iPhone 7 Plus vs Xperia XZ Premium camera comparison: Autofocus
The HTC U11 is again one of the best in this round-up when it comes to autofocus.
When you load the camera app, that UltraSpeed focus lens snaps onto your subject immediately, ready to take a snap. Switch between far and near focus and the lens reacts instantly, to ensure a crisp shot.
You do get a little lag between taking each shot however, so the U11 isn’t the ‘fastest’ snapper in this round-up. Apple’s iPhone 7 Plus and the Samsung Galaxy S8 are tied for that honour, with no kind of processing down-time when snapping shots. Of course, these phones do offer some kind of burst shutter mode, which comes in handy when snapping an action shot.
HTC U11 vs Galaxy S8 vs Pixel vs iPhone 7 Plus vs Xperia XZ Premium camera comparison: Photo quality
When it comes to image quality on full auto mode, any of these premium-priced phones are more than capable for your everyday shots. Not too surprising, given the steep asking price of every handset here.
That said, there are clear differences between the photos produced by the HTC U11 and some of the other smartphone snappers here.
The U11 matches all of these phones except for the Xperia XZ Premium for levels of detail captured in photos. Sony’s mighty 19-megapixel camera offers finer detail, which is particularly obvious when images are viewed back on a TV or other big-screen display. Still, photos from the HTC U11 and the other three phones here look great when checked out on a telly or projector.
Where the U11 really excels is the balance of brightness across a range of conditions. High contrast scenes are well handled by all of these cameras, but the U11 produces clean, well-balanced photos on a whole other level. Shoot a monument against a bright sky, for instance, and you’ll still capture plenty of detail on that monument.
For everyday shots, we’d say there’s next to nothing between the Pixel and S8 cameras for photo quality on auto mode. You can expect realistic, lifelike results from either the Samsung or Google handsets. Sony’s Xperia XZ Premium is another winner, offering very similar photo quality boosted by that increased detail and some really vibrant colour reproduction. In fact, we found the Xperia XZ Premium to be pretty much the equal of the U11, offering warm, attractive hues and well-balanced, bright and attractive photos.
We found the hues on some of the iPhone snaps were a little off, with crisp whites occasionally appearing more yellow. Still, the results were often attractive, dipping only when lights were turned down low.
Sticking with low light shots, the U11 is just as brilliant as the Pixel phone and marginally beats the S8 and Xperia XZ Premium. You once again get great balance, with more detail in areas which appeared slightly murky on other mobiles. In these tests, the iPhone was the clear loser thanks to its dark and grainy results.
Check out a selection of our test photo samples below. Click a photo to open full-sized in a new window.
Xperia XZ Premium
iPhone 7 Plus
HTC U11 vs Galaxy S8 vs Pixel vs iPhone 7 Plus vs Xperia XZ Premium camera comparison: Video quality and features
You can shoot up to 4K resolution video on any of these phones, although the Xperia XZ Premium and – to a much greater extent – the iPhone 7 Plus push the Ultra HD recording feature away. You won’t find this in the resolution settings, as you will on the other phones here.
The U11 offers 3D audio recording thanks to its multiple mics, which is cool when you listen back on a pair of good headphones. There’s no option to record super-smooth 60 frames-per-second Full HD footage, however – something you get on all of the other phones except for the Pixel.
All five phones here can capture great-looking footage, even at Full HD resolution. Changes in lighting conditions and focal range are easily handled, no matter which mobile camera you choose.
Samsung’s Galaxy S8 and the Sony Xperia XZ Premium are the winners when it comes to image stabilisation, however. Move and shoot at the same time and you’ll get pleasingly smooth footage. Apple’s iPhone also offers judder-free results. The Pixel and U11 are very close behind, held back only by a slight vibration with each step which proves ever so slightly distracting.
On 4K resolution, Samsung and Sony’s phones are clear winners for stabilisation. There’s almost no drop in quality, with next to no stutter as you walk. The iPhone 7 Plus is also almost as strong, while the Pixel and U11 show clear judder.
Any of these handsets offer up timelapse and slow motion video recording. Sony’s shooter goes a step further with its Super Slow Motion mode however. This allows you to capture truly stunning footage at an incredible 960 frames-per-second. This mode takes a little bit of getting used to, but it’s a step above the competition once you’re accustomed to the narrow timeframe.
We have full 4K video samples and more from all of these phones at the Recombu YouTube channel.
Check out our full HTC U11 camera review, and take a look at our other camera reviews below: