Anyone interested in the quality of the camera attached to their smartphone is probably aware of DxO Labs. The firm rigorously tests the image quality produced by new devices and gives it an overall score, the DxOMark. Google even used the high rating achieved by its Pixel camera in its own marketing campaign, such is the reputation of DxO's word. Since its release in late October 2016 the Pixel has been top of the DxO rankings, scoring 89 points. Until now, that is, as the newly announced HTC U11 has just come out on top, beating the previous leader by 1 point with at total of 90.
While it's important to remember that DxO Labs is ultimately a for-profit consultancy, and by no means an independent adjudicator (David wrote about this last year), the DxOMark is still an interesting benchmark. The current ranking on the site has the HTC U11 in first place with 90, the Pixel in second with 89 and several phones tied in third on 88, including the Samsung Galaxy S8 and HTC 10. The positioning of the devices below the new U11 at least seems to correspond with the general consensus in the tech community, so it would be safe to assume the camera on HTC's latest flagship is indeed very good.
According to DxO, the U11 camera offers very fast autofocus, good preservation of detail whether outdoors or inside, and low noise level in low light conditions. There was also praise for the color rendering and white balance, both with the flash on and without. As for video recording, the U11 is said to be fast and accurate, with very effective stabilization. The only gripes when taking photos or videos seemed to be with effects such as ghosting or color shading, particularly outside. Those negatives appeared to be pretty minor, though.
Comparison of noise levels in very low light conditions.
The camera module itself is remarkably similar to the one that shipped with last year's Galaxy s7, with an f/1.7 lens, a 12MP sensor, and dual-pixel autofocus. Thankfully optical image stabilization has also been included by HTC. Unlike the monstrosity on the U Ultra, the camera hump on the U11 is rather minimal, just a slightly raised circular rim.
One thing that makes the camera on the Google Pixel so great is the software optimization, so we can only assume that HTC has been able to work some similar magic. David wasn't really able to test the camera during his brief hands-on with the U11, but remarks that he's optimistic for good performance. We'll know more when we've had the chance to spend some time with it and give it a thorough review.