HTC U12+ camera review: Knockout results

103
DxOMark Mobile

Launching the U12+, Taiwanese manufacturer HTC has really upped its game for photography, packing its latest flagship device with top-end imaging features. The HTC U12+ shoehorns in a 12Mp sensor and wide-angle (27mm-equivalent) f/1.75 lens with OIS for the primary camera, together with a secondary 16Mp sensor and telephoto (54mm-equivalent) f/2.6 lens for 2x optical zoom. Running Qualcomm’s latest Snapdragon 845 chipset, there’s plenty of power for imaging tasks, along with a “Pro” photography mode for greater manual control and RAW-format file support.

HTC’s Ultraspeed Autofocus 2 system offers phase detection and laser-assisted autofocus; there’s a bokeh simulation mode for artificially blurring the background in portraits; and a dual-tone LED flash unit. For video enthusiasts, the HTC U12+ can capture movies at 4K resolution up to 60fps. Our engineers have been busy getting to know the HTC U12+ ahead of the launch, shooting thousands of stills and hours of video, and we’re delighted to unveil the official DxOMark scores in our comprehensive review.

Key camera specifications:

  • Dual camera setup
  • 12Mp main camera with 1/2.55″ sensor (1.4µm pixel size), f/1.75 lens and OIS
  • 16Mp secondary camera (1.0µm pixel size) with f/2.6 2x telephoto lens
  • Phase detection and laser-assisted autofocus
  • Dual-LED flash
  • 4K video at 60fps

About DxOMark Mobile tests: For scoring and analysis in our smartphone camera reviews, DxOMark engineers capture and evaluate over 1500 test images and more than 2 hours of video both in controlled lab environments and in natural indoor and outdoor scenes, using the camera’s default settings. This article is designed to highlight the most important results of our testing. For more information about the DxOMark Mobile test protocol, click here. More details on how we score smartphone cameras are available here.

Test summary

With an overall DxOMark score of 103 points, the U12+ offers a significant improvement over its predecessor, the U11, placing it alongside some of the best smartphones we’ve tested. The HTC U12+ excels for still photography, achieving a Photo score of 106, thanks to outstanding performance for color and autofocus, as well as very good results for artifacts, flash, zoom, and bokeh. It’s not perfect: opportunities for improvement include HDR exposures, which display slightly limited dynamic range compared to those from the best flagship competitors; noise is also visible in low light; and although zoom shots are excellent at 2x using the telephoto lens, details are lost at longer ranges.

Achieving a video score of 95, the HTC U12+ is well-balanced between photo and video. Video strengths include accurate indoor and outdoor exposures, with good color rendering and excellent autofocus subject tracking.

Bright light

The HTC U12+ delivers stunning images in bright light, with good exposure, neutral white balance, and nice color rendering.

The HTC U12+ captures stunning images outdoors or in bright light conditions, recording a good range of tones, neutral white balance, and well-rendered hues that are bold, but not overly saturated. The auto HDR feature kicks in fairly consistently when required to capture more detail in the brightest and darkest tonal regions. Although the dynamic range capabilities of the HTC U12+ aren’t quite as impressive as some of the best premium devices we’ve tested, HDR results remain very good. Texture preservation is also excellent in bright light, recording lots of details in intricate areas both in static images as well as in those with some subject movement.

The HTC U12+ is very good for both noise and texture, capturing good detail preservation with minimal noise in bright light. In fact, the build-up of luminance noise we often see in areas of uniform color, such as the blue sky, is pretty much nonexistent in HTC U12+ images. Some ringing and color fringing artifacts are evident along high-contrast edges, but they’re only really noticeable when zooming in tightly on images, and not too concerning.

Low light and Flash

The HTC U12+ is a very capable smartphone for photography indoors, capturing accurate exposures with good detail and well-saturated color.

The HTC U12+ is also a very capable performer in both indoor and low-light environments, making it a great smartphone choice for photographers who want quality images in challenging conditions. Exposures are accurate and very usable down to extreme low light (5 lux), rendering fairly neutral white balance under artificial light sources, nicely-saturated color, and minimal color shading. Autofocus performance remains super-fast and accurate even in very low light, so you can be confident of getting a sharp shot when you request it, regardless of the lighting conditions.

The U12+ boasts a respectable compromise between detail and noise, ensuring that intricate details are captured in many low-light images; and although noise is evident in low-light conditions, it avoids unsightly chromatic noise. Flash performance is also a highlight for the HTC U12+, with minimal corner shading and noise, as well as accurate white balance for pleasant colors and true-to-life skin tones.

Zoom and Bokeh

Using the 54mm-equivalent telephoto lens on the HTC U12+’s secondary camera, close-range zoom shots up to 2x magnification offer very good image quality. Fine intricate details are preserved, and artifacts are well-controlled at 2x zoom in both indoor and outdoor shots, with the device struggling only in low light. Zoom performance isn’t as good when using longer zoom ranges, however; and although the HTC U12+ offers a fair compromise between detail preservation and noise reduction on long-range zoom shots, good sharpness is challenging for the device at 8x magnification or at 4x in low light.

In the short-range zoom samples below, the U12+ shows a level of detail that is very close to that of the Apple iPhone X. Ringing around hard edges is a little stronger for the U12+, however.

HTC U12+, 2x zoom
Google Pixel 2, 2x zoom
Apple iPhone X, 2x zoom
HTC U12+ crop
Google Pixel 2 crop
Apple iPhone X crop

The HTC U12+’s bokeh simulation mode creates a slightly stronger blur in the background than many of its premium competitors, and works well for both indoor and outdoor portraits. Blur transitions are smooth, with blur applied to both foreground and background. Levels of noise are consistent across the picture. Depth estimation isn’t perfect, though, with some masking errors visible around the subject.

HTC U12+, bokeh mode
Huawei P20, bokeh mode
Apple iPhone X, bokeh mode

Photo scores explained

With a total photo score of 106 points, the HTC U12+ achieves one of the highest scores for still images in our testing to date. The overall Photo score is calculated from sub-scores in tests that examine different aspects of its performance under different lighting conditions. In this section, we’ll take a closer look at these image quality sub-scores.

Exposure and Contrast (87)

A very good, if not outstanding, exposure score, thanks to accurate test chart exposures under controlled conditions in the lab, and pleasant results in our natural test scene evaluation. Exposure scores were excellent for both outdoor and indoor images, with very acceptable results in low light, recording usable results down to 5 lux. HDR kicks in reasonably consistently when required in tricky high-contrast scenes, capturing good detail in both the highlight and shadow regions. HDR pictures are also very clean, with well-controlled noise and artifacts, but overall, the dynamic range and HDR effect isn’t as strong as with some competitor flagship devices.

HTC U12+, high-contrast scene
Huawei P20, high-contrast scene
Apple iPhone X, high-contrast scene

In our backlit portrait natural scene, the U12+ adjusted exposure for the principal subject, but sacrificed large amounts of detail in the bright background outside the window.

In our backlit portrait natural test scene, the HTC U12+ delivers an accurate exposure of the principal subject, but overexposes and loses detail in the highlight outside.

Test chart exposures in the lab were excellent even in extreme low light (5 lux), recording a bright image with good color saturation.

HTC U12+ low-light exposure analysis of an image shot handheld in the lab at 5 lux.

Color (87)

The U12+ achieves an outstanding score for color, thanks to accurate white balance in all conditions, together with excellent color rendering in outdoor shots, and very good results in low light, too. In the comparison shot below, you can see that the HTC renders colors a touch more naturally — less saturated than the competition.

HTC U12+, color rendering
Huawei P20, color rendering
Google Pixel 2, color rendering

Colors are vivid and pleasant without being too saturated, and although some minor color casts are visible in some indoor pictures, they’re reasonably well-controlled and not very concerning.

The HTC U12+ consistently renders neutral white balance and accurate color.
In our lab analysis under low light (20 lux, tungsten), the HTC U12+’s white balance remains neutral, with nicely saturated color and minimal color shading.

Autofocus (100)

The HTC U12+’s phase detection and laser-assisted autofocus is outstanding, achieving one the best scores to date. In our benchmark lab analysis, where we defocus between shots and delay both a short and long time before requesting focus, the HTC U12+ was lightning fast, finding focus consistently and accurately in all lighting conditions.

After defocusing the device, the HTC U12 found focus consistently and accurately after both long and short delays, even in low light (20 lux).

Texture (71)

The HTC U12+ captures excellent detail and texture, especially outdoors, coming very close to some of the best devices we’ve tested. In the bright light comparison shot below, you can see that there is very little between the U12+ and the flagship Huawei P20 and Google Pixel 2 phones in terms of rendering fine textures.

HTC U12+, texture
Huawei P20, texture
Google Pixel 2, texture
HTC U12+, texture (crop)
Huawei P20, texture (crop)
Google Pixel 2, texture (crop)

The HTC U12+ records outstanding acutance of around 80% in static scenes in both outdoor and indoor lighting conditions down to 20 lux. Although it records fewer details in very low light, scores are still good at around 60% acutance in extreme low light (1 lux, candlelight), capturing good texture and colored details.

HTC U12+ crop at 1000 lux
Huawei P20 crop at 1000 lux
Samsung S9+ crop at 1000 lux
HTC U12+ crop at 20 lux
Huawei P20 crop at 20 lux
Samsung S9+ crop at 20 lux

One thing the HTC U12+ is particularly good at is color detail in low light, especially when compared to devices that use a secondary monochrome sensor, such as the Huawei P20. If you look closely at the crops below taken at 20 lux, you’ll see that the U12+ is noticeably better at preserving color detail in low light than the Huawei and the Galaxy S9 Plus. In the HTC picture, most of the color detail on the 1 Yuan note is still visible (particularly in the detailed area in the left bottom corner of the note), while in the P20 image, the note looks nearly monochrome. The Samsung is better than the Huawei at preserving color, but captures softer detail than the U12+.

HTC U12+, 20 lux, handheld (crop)
Huawei P20, 20 lux, handheld (crop)
Samsung S9 Plus, 20 lux, handheld (crop)

Noise (72)

The HTC also achieves a very good score for noise, with particularly low levels of noise in outdoor shots. There is noticeably less luminance noise in areas of uniform color, such as the sky, compared to the Huawei P20 and the Pixel 2 in the samples below. Noise remains very well-controlled in shadow areas in outdoor images, and overall the HTC U12+ strikes a good compromise between noise reduction and detail preservation.

HTC U12+, noise
Huawei P20, noise
Google Pixel 2, noise
HTC U12+, noise (crop)
Huawei P20, noise (crop)
Google Pixel 2, noise (crop)

More luminance noise is visible in low light, and it’s not quite as smooth as some of the best-performing flagship competitors in this regard. Low-light results remain very good, however, and the HTC U12+ avoids unsightly chromatic noise.

HTC U12 crop at 300 lux
Huawei P20 crop at 300 lux
Samsung S9+ crop at 300 lux
HTC U12 crop at 20 lux
Huawei P20 crop at 20 lux
Samsung S9+ crop at 20 lux

Artifacts (72)

Artifacts are very well-controlled overall, with no major concerns. The most obvious optical flaws are ringing and colored fringing, which are occasionally visible along high-contrast edges in bright scenes, but they’re only really noticeable at close inspection or on a large-scale display. We also observed some image ghosting (when moving subjects are sometime rendered with a halo or outline) in some scenes. The ghosting effect isn’t very strong, but it occurs frequently and is no doubt connected to the HTC U12+’s multi-frame processing technologies.

Ringing and color fringing artifacts can be visible along some edges — for example, around the giraffe in this image.
Ghosting artifacts can be visible on moving subjects, such as the person in this image.
Crop
Crop

Flash (93)

An excellent score for flash, thanks to the HTC U12+’s dual-LED unit capturing some of the best flash pictures we’ve seen. There are no significant problems for flash pictures, with good exposures on both flash-only and mixed-lighting pictures, fairly accurate white balance that produces natural skin tones on portraits, and a very good compromise between texture and noise. The flash output is well-centered, with minimal light fall-off that ensures good flash intensity in the corners of the frame, and with the HTC recording a low level of noise and artifacts.

Flash exposure without any additional light sources.
Flash exposure with 5 lux tungsten illumination.

Zoom (50)

A good score for zoom, which is especially capable at 2x magnification in both indoor and outdoor lighting conditions, where the HTC U12+ captures the best detail we’ve seen. Few artifacts are recorded at 2x magnification in all conditions.

HTC U12+, close-range zoom at 1000 lux, handheld (crop)
Huawei P20, close-range zoom at 1000 lux, handheld (crop)
Samsung S9 Plus, close-range zoom at 1000 lux, handheld (crop)

At medium- and long-range zoom distances, using the digital zoom between 4x and 8x magnification, the HTC U12+ offers a fair compromise between texture and noise. It’s not quite as good as some of the best competitors at these zoom levels, but results remain very acceptable, especially when shooting in bright light.

HTC U12+, 5x zoom
Huawei P20, 5x zoom
Apple iPhone X, 5x zoom

Bokeh (50)

A very acceptable score for the HTC U12+’s bokeh simulation mode, which renders a strong and striking background blur intensity, with fairly realistic transitions in front of and behind the portrait. Depth estimation is good, if not outstanding, with mostly accurate subject masking; and although some small errors and artifacts are occasionally visible at close inspection, they’re not overly concerning when viewing images on the device’s display.

THE HTC U12+’s bokeh simulation mode renders a fairly strong blur in the background, with realistic transitions in front of and behind the subject. Good depth estimation ensure that segmentation artifacts are only really noticeable when viewing images at large scale.

Skin tones and details are also rendered nicely, and the shape of the bokeh is good, giving a nice circle shape to spectral highlights when shooting in lower light. In the comparison below, you can see how the HTC applies stronger blur to the background than its competitors.

HTC U12+, bokeh effect
Huawei P20, bokeh effect
Apple iPhone X, bokeh effect

Video scores explained

The HTC U12+ achieves an excellent Video score of 95 points, with no significant weak points, and is a good all-rounder for shooting movies. We calculate the overall video score using the following video sub-scores: Exposure (84), Color (87), Autofocus (95), Texture (54), Noise (80), Artifacts (81), and Stabilization (92).

The device’s key video strengths are very accurate autofocus, with no field of view variation, as well as good tracking capabilities that ensure that faces and objects remain in sharp focus as you pan or move closer to your subject. In addition, “lens breathing” is digitally corrected. The HTC U12+ also captures some of the best video exposures we’ve seen overall, with excellent results in both indoor and outdoor conditions. Dynamic range in videos is also very good, with the detail captured in the brightest and darkest regions of high-contrast scenes putting the U12+ on par with some of the best devices we’ve tested.

White balance is generally accurate, and color rendering is excellent in both outdoor and indoor videos. Color is also very good in low-light videos, capturing slightly more saturated color compared to many flagship competitors. As with stills, the HTC U12+ offers a nice balance between texture and noise in video files, too. Detail preservation is excellent in bright-light videos, and although less detail is recorded in low light, noise is very well-controlled, producing some of the smoothest low-light videos we’ve seen. In the graphs below, you can see that in terms of spatial noise the HTC is on a similar level as the Huawei P20 and Google Pixel 2 in bright light, but noticeably ahead in lower light. The situation is similar for temporal noise, where the HTC records the lowest levels in our comparison.

HTC U12+: spatial noise
HTC U12+: temporal noise

Together with the excellent autofocus producing sharp videos with minimal focus hunting, the HTC U12+’s effective stabilization also ensures that videos are smooth and pleasant on playback. Shooting movies in all lighting conditions, any unsightly motion effects in both static and walking videos are well-controlled, as is the “jello” effect. Sharpness between frames is consistent as well.

Conclusion: HTC keeps up with the best

With improving technologies pushing the possibilities of smartphone photography forward, and mid-range devices offering very capable results, there’s pressure on manufacturers to keep their flagship devices at the top. With a new flagship in the shape of the U12+, HTC has done just that, successfully implementing its first dual-camera in some time with aplomb. Given its excellent exposures in most lighting conditions, good dynamic range, a nice compromise between texture and noise, and outstanding autofocus performance, you can be confident that the HTC U12+ will deliver in a wide range of environments. Class-leading optical zoom shots at 2x magnification and an effective bokeh simulation mode also bolster the HTC U12+’s suitability for budding smartphone portrait photographers. Add to that a very solid video performance, and the HTC U12+ will turn some heads in the smartphone market.

103
DxOMark mobile
HTC U12+
106
DxOMark Mobile
photo
95
DxOMark Mobile
video

Pros

  • Very fast and accurate autofocus
  • Pleasant color and accurate white balance
  • Accurate exposure and wide dynamic range
  • Good detail and texture preservation
  • Natural and attractive bokeh simulation

Pros

  • Effective stabilization
  • Good tracking and accurate autofocus
  • Pleasant white balance and vivid color
  • Good exposure and dynamic range
  • Generally low levels of noise

Cons

  • Visible artifacts in HDR images
  • Visible noise in low-light images
  • Low detail in long- and medium-range zoom shots indoors and in low light

Cons

  • White balance instabilities indoors
  • Loss of detail in low light
  • Overexposed highlights in HDR scenes
  • Uzik

    Terrible bokeh

    • Pio Ste (K3F4S)

      Bokeh is a lot about software which can be easily fixed. HTC’s one isn’t bad.

      • Uzik

        Yes, but it was not fixed many days before release. Blind testers? Bad code? Hard to fix in short terms?

        • Jan Fric

          Actually you can change the intensity of the bokeh manualy at HTC U12. It even offer possibility to get rid of it afterwards.

    • nova putra

      yes, i’m aggre, but i think can be overcome with camera mod

  • Humchadakatte Bhavanishankar

    please review nokia 7 plus.

  • Pio Ste (K3F4S)

    Very good job HTC!

  • Martin Jeřábek

    No LG Why Dx why. HTC in test but LG no why?

    • Kevin Mok

      LG feels ashamed to give their LG7 for DxoMark to test.

    • Dordoni Alessandro Del Socacci

      Because they’re not quite in the same level as other flagships. Rubbish sensor with way too aggressive post processing, and of course the outcomes… well… they aren’t that good.

    • Jason Aristo

      LG is shame of their device after a big lost of V30, look at V30’s result, terribly at only 82, nobody would expect G7 for sure

      • RuR

        Only because it has an actually useful wide-angle lens instead of a regular portrait+tele lens.

  • Emanuel Caesar

    did they pay you? its just released and you have the score already? where is one for OnePlus 6?

  • Mohammad Kadeeb Alban

    Its amazing …

  • Dordoni Alessandro Del Socacci

    I was much more surprised by how well P20 performed since I thought it had somewhat lacklustre camera compared to other flagships. The zoom performance seems to have been better than Mate 10 Pro’s only “fine” Hybrid Zoom and it even beats out some phones with true optical zoom…interesting.
    And that’s part of reasons why I was disappointed with U12+’s zoom performance, I mean it has 16MP telephoto lens with OIS, how can it be worse than iPhone X with only 12MP telephoto sensor? Some finer tuning seems to be needed here.
    With that said, it is still a great camera phone from HTC. They pretty much fixed every single issue U11’s camera had and now they are easily in top 5 in terms of photo quality. Well done.

    • Moisés

      If you choose 12MP for telefoto, it will probably look better than iphone.

      I like when ppl scale all photos to besame resolution. Easier yo compare.

    • Weipin Chen

      Zoom performance of U12+ worse than iPhone X? If you’re talking about sharpening, yes it seems U12+ does apply less sharpening. But the advantage of 16MP still allow U12+ to render contours more smoothly. Look at “01 40 88 90 00” or “FITNESSBOUTIQUE” on the wall in both pictures, you should be able to see my points.

    • JZ VR

      How is the third highest (used to be second) ranking camera lackluster? Watch the S9+ vs P20 video done by the guy in Canada, P20 takes better photos than the S9+.

      • JZ VR

        Rechecked actually the P20 ranks second for photos,107 vs the HTC’s 106.

  • RuR

    OnePlus 6′ turn…

  • Jason Aristo

    well done HTC! still the king of mobile camera to me!

  • Moisés

    LOL….

    Look at bokeh of the other phones, we can easily see everything.
    My old Xperia does way better, I can even choose how blurry I want

    • Bob

      U can here too..

  • nova putra

    what is this htc awakening

  • JZ VR

    P20’s better.

    • Also consider that if you take a 40MP .dng with the P20 Pro, you can convert it using Lightroom/Photoshop with no degradation, preserving quality, unlike the jpgs that comes out really bad at 10MP (for what I saw in the many galleries online at least)

    • GCHQ

      Sure, Jan 😂

  • usersparadise

    In all categories it offers medium quality. More or less the same than U11. There´s only a zoom lens now. And for that you give it the second highest score??? What are the specific differences to the U11? And where are real low light and HDR pictures? In Paris there are too many spots for it and you only show pictures indoor and daylight.

    • Waqar Zahid

      You’re blind buddy. You need an eye check. It takes better pics than S9.

  • Erik

    waiting for the new Sony ZY2 Premium

    • GCHQ

      +1

  • Miki So

    Waiting for One Plus 6 camera test.

    • GalGadot

      Hmmmm, will dxomark will test it?

      • GCHQ

        The camera is bad

  • Tomcat雄猫

    The HTC 10 scored a “measly” 88 and still impresses my circle of family of friends, even though they use phones like the Edge 7 and iPhone freaking X (come on DXO, I though my phone camera would be the weakest in my circle, doesn’t seem so in my case). Cannot wait to upgrade to the HTC U12+ and completely obliterate their minds. Actually, that may not happen… One big thing about a phone camera is not about the DXO score, but about how the user utilizes it’s capabilities and limitations. I remember the time when I took much better photos with an HTC One M9 compared to an HTC 10 (and pretty much every one I know using iPhones with a much higher score, maybe my parents are just terrible with phone cameras?)

    • Moisés

      Htc never gets all credits they deserve.
      U11 is excelent, I would buy one if it had front speakers. The gray is gorgeous.
      Htc does not work where I live.

      • GCHQ

        U11+ is better

  • Moisés

    Thanks… Very complete review.
    Unlike XZ Premium and Moto Z2 Force, poorly written.

  • Meddy

    Great job HTC.

  • Meddy

    HTC U12+ seems bit batter then p20 pro .huawei is sharpen the image with software processing when can be seen on zooming the picture .U12+ should be No1 camera phone in the list not 2nd……HTC deserves more.

    • Kim Wahlund

      Its not the p20 pro its p20 read again

    • GCHQ

      The Huawei P20 and P20 Pro pictures are oversharpened.

  • Tomasz G.

    Iphone X is still the best

    • GCHQ

      You need glasses. I like Apple but the HTC U12+ is superior.

    • Francesco Bacchini

      Do you live on planet Mars for saying that?
      Check out: Pixel 2 XL (still the best after one year), S9+, P20 Pro or HTC U12+.

  • yugi

    I only see 12MP on a “tele” camera. Where is 16MP?

    • Moisés

      Maybe the default setting is 12MP. Or they just used 12 to compare to other that use 12 too.

    • GCHQ

      DXOMARK will update the review.

  • Moisés

    Paul Carroll is the best reviwer here.

    • GCHQ

      +1

  • Waqar Zahid

    The photos look phenomenal. HTC has outperformed once again. Too bad their devices don’t sell much. Their phones are very satisfying & get updates soon unlike Samsung or such.

    BTW, good job DXOMARK for being fair & reasonable in your review/rating.

  • Waqar Zahid

    BTW all these people angry at the score must be Samsung fanboys who are angry that HTC U12+ has scored better than S9+. Haha

    • Scott Morey

      It beat the Pixel 2 even worse

  • finally htc made a come back

  • Alvin

    I’m begging you, DxOMark. Please review Xperia XZ2 and Nokia 8 Sirocco.

  • Francesco Bacchini

    Please, review Sony Xperia XZ2 and Nokia 8 Scirocco.

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