HTC One M8 has a depth-sensing camera for refocusing photos, extended depth of field

by Liam McCabe

posted Tuesday, March 25, 2014 at 12:15 PM EDT


If it wasn’t obvious before, it should be now: Smartphones are the place to find real innovation in cameras.

The new HTC One M8 was announced this morning and like its predecessor, its camera is one of the headline features. The designers upped the ante even further this time around, packing a forward-thinking set of photo features that’s more fully realized than most cameras out there today.

While the M8 uses the same 4-megapixel “UltraPixel” camera as its predecessor—which was noted for performing quite well in low light—the real kicker is that HTC added a depth-sensing camera to the rear of the phone as well. It’s the first commercially available phone with that piece of hardware, and opens up all sorts of cool computational tricks, like refocusing photos after they’ve been captured, and extending the depth of field in a shot. It’s like a Lytro, in a much smaller, cheaper, simpler setup. A new 2.5GHz Snapdragon 801 processor helps speed the processing along, and HTC claims to have improved battery life by 40 percent, which will also help with the heavy processing workload. The front-facing camera has also been updated to a 5-megapixel unit.

The HTC One M8 has a 4-megapixel "UltraPixel" camera, as well as a depth-sensing module, located above the main unit. Photo: HTC.

Progress in computational photography is blasting along right now. There are the Nokia PureView phones, which make great use of their large, pixel-dense sensors for tricks like good digital zoom and a refocusing app (which works by taking multiple 2D photos on different focal planes, rather than capturing 3D depth information in a single shot). Last week saw the debut of the Oppo Find 7, which creates 50-megapixel composite shots for decent digital zooming. And there have been hints that Apple is working on a plenoptic camera of its own. This is going to be a very exciting year for the future of photography, and most of it is going to take place around smartphones.

For more info on the HTC One M8, check out any tech blog.