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Getting personal with the HTC One (M8)
After weeks of speculation and buzz across the internet, the all new HTC One (M8) finally arrived last week, and we think it’s fair to say that it’s definitely lived up to the hype.
The original One was always going to be a tough act to follow, but HTC have really pulled out all the stops – the HTC One (M8) has more screen, more power and more battery life, to name just a few things from the list of advances on its predecessor. But the one thing that really stands out for us is the HTC One (M8)’s amazing camera capabilities.
With two rear camera sensors, the M8 offers functionality that we’ve never seen in smartphone imaging before. For example, UFocus can emphasise the background or foreground of your pictures after they’ve been taken, allowing you to add a level of depth to your images that really focuses on your subject. With Dimension Plus, you can add an interactive Parallax to your images, so when you tilt your phone, your images really seem to come to life.
These are just a few of the innovative features that the Duo camera brings to the HTC One (M8), and we’re really impressed by what it can so. So impressed, in fact, that we got Symon Whitehorn – HTC’s Imaging Specialist and part of the team responsible for the Duo camera’s design – in a room by himself. Then we peppered him with questions:
Why is Duo camera the long-awaited ‘killer feature’?
We’re looking to close the gap on real cameras. For a long time, one of the barriers for smartphones is that their cameras have remained pretty ‘dumb’ – we’re actually putting ‘smart’ into the smartphone camera. We’ve had smartphones for a while – now it’s time for the smart camera.
How long have you been working on the Duo camera?
It’s been more of a continuous, evolutionary process. Intensely, we’ve been working on it for about a year, but I’d say Duo camera’s wider development has taken place throughout our entire ultrapixel journey – like a continuous path.
Where did the inspiration for Duo camera come from?
Essentially, we took inspiration from our own biological system – the human body’s stereoscopic vision – our eyes – and the brain which interprets what we see. I think that most of the history of engineering has been about replicating biology and ourselves, so yeah – our inspiration’s come from understanding the optical nervous system of people.
How did the development go? Were there any stumbling blocks?
Yeah – we had to write very smart algorithms to figure out how to interpret the data, like edge identification (identifying the edges of objects) and things like that. As we see processor power increasing, we can run much higher levels of algorithm, but we also needed to strike a balance between that and usability.
Did you always want to get into this field of work?
Always – right from the early days being a frustrated photographer, haha! I’ve always been obsessed with ‘the image’ rather than just photography. I’ve always loved the creation of imaging; some of my heroes have been the great photographers. I was lucky enough to spend time with the guys from Eastman Kodak who invented digital photography, and understanding how those principles work is a really interesting journey.
Any behind the scenes stories about the development of the HTC One (M8)?
For the bokeh effect (the blurriness in the background of photos with a shallow depth of field), we went out and shot things with old glass – we even shot some stuff on old film to make sure we could really get the right feel to our effects.
What’s next in smartphone photography?
I think breaking the focal length barrier is the next big thing – using genuine optics to achieve genuine zoom instead of digital enlargement. Another area that I’m hoping we’ll see some real progress in is mems technology, which is microscopic engineering. It’s exciting – just when you think there are no new barriers that we can break, it turns out that there actually are.
What are your top tips for taking a picture with your phone?
I think the fundamental tip I would give is that to shoot like a photographer, you have to have an image in mind before you shoot it. A great photographer tries to create an image with feeling, with an emotional connection – humour, drama, tragedy, whatever it is – they have that feeling in mind when they get ready to take the shot.
Do you have any teasers or hints on what’s next for HTC’s camera technology?
Hmm. Well, aside from the natural technological evolutions such as 4K, we’re looking at really building on Duo camera. For us, I think it’s as much about the creation tools – we kicked open the door with Zoe, and one of our greatest successes last year was with Video Highlights, which threw out the video editor and instead created a smart video from your content. In the M8, we’re extending that capability quite significantly. We want the publishing and broadcasting element of smartphone photography to grow. We’re investing heavily in the concept of ‘what to do with your content’ and we think that’s going to be a really exciting theme for HTC.
Do you see an independent line of HTC cameras in the future?
There’s no direct plan for independent cameras at the moment, but our focus is very much on imaging – it’s always something that we’ve been good at, and you’ll see us accelerate on that aspect going forward.
Any final thoughts for camera enthusiasts looking for their next phone?
We’d love to see those people contribute to the dialogue – the user community is very important for us. For far too long, the industry’s been talking about pixels and lenses and numbers, and very often you’ll find that those people can’t take a good shot, while some of history’s best photographers were far from being tech-heads. We’re not so interested in hearing about specs and details – although we’re good at that and we understand it – we really want to see great imagery and the direction it’s going in, and we rely a lot on users to tell us more about that.