Although HTC's flagship went from having two cameras on the U11 to four on the U12, it isn't the first HTC flagship to have a dual camera setup. The HTC One M8 had a separate depth sensor for adjusting focus after taking the shot. It even offered a not-so-convincing artificial blur-effect.
This is the first time HTC has put a dual camera on its flagship since 2014 on the HTC One M8. This is also the first time that HTC puts a dual front-facing camera on its flagship for taking selfies with artificial bokeh.
The two main cameras are comprised of a 12MP wide camera with f/1.75 aperture and a 16MP camera with a telephoto lens and an aperture of f/2.6. This second camera, of course, brings artificial bokeh and 2x optical zoom to the HTC Camera experience. For some reason, it would only shoot 12MP photos despite its higher native resolution. The front-camera also gets artificial bokeh selfies despite having neither OIS nor autofocus.
This new camera is HTC's UltraPixel 4 while the U11+ had UltraPixel 3. It uses dual-pixel autofocus like the U11+ and Samsung's Galaxy S9, but this new version brings the addition of laser-assisted autofocus. Also new is HTC's improved HDR Boost 2.
The camera UI has shortcuts for the video camera and portrait modes along with a beauty toggle, resolution chooser, flash, and HDR Boost. Additional camera modes are in the menu drawer and include Panorama, Pro, Video, Hyperlapse, and slow-motion.
Pro mode gives you control to white balance, ISO up to 800, shutter speed up to 32 seconds, and focus control. You can even save three sets of custom manual controls for using again at a later time. We are also glad that the camera app offers a dedicated video viewfinder.
Like the U11 and U11+ did, the U12+ uses image stacking to process an image with HDR Boost with both the front and the rear cameras. We do believe that one of the cameras benefits from HDR Boost while the other does not.
Here are some camera samples. Photos are generally warm in color temperature while details are excellent. Dynamic range is great and colors are true to life. This camera does offer a RAW shooting mode when you switch to the Pro for total control over the images you want to edit.
Something we have noticed, however, is that the camera is quite dependent on HDR Boost. Just keep in mind if you leave HDR Boost on at all times, you may encounter some blurring of people or objects that are in motion.
There's a distinct texture that appears in these blurry people, but it's only noticeable when you really zoom in. There's also a strangely distinct texture within the phone's organic bokeh. In pictures that are more close-up, you can see the natural f/1.75 bokeh of the camera.
What it looks like is happening is the post-image software is trying to reduce noise within the bokeh. This seems to happen more when the camera sees an organic bokeh and HDR Boost is enabled. Otherwise, photos with a much deeper bokeh like the image of the little white daisy flower don't appear as processed.
HDR Boost works quite well and can really brighten darker areas or suppress highlights from blowing out the image. Dynamic range does appear to struggle in scenes where there's a lot of light in the sky behind the subject.
Something that we've noticed with the U12 is that HDR Boost works best when it is set to "Auto". In fact, shooting in HDR On, or HDR Off reduces the amount of resolved detail compared to the HDR Auto setting. Check the image comparison chart below so you can see the difference. This being the case, we'd recommend permanently leaving this setting to Auto.
HDR Boost does improve the imbalance, but if you'd rather not trust the camera for really drastic dynamic range shots, set the exposure manually by tapping on a focal point and sliding the exposure up or down.
Now that the U12 has a dual camera, we can now perform 2X optical zoom while taking pictures or videos. 2X zoom works well in photos, but there is some more noticeable noise in the image, particularly in lower-light conditions.
In low-light, the HTC U12 does quite well, particularly when shooting with HDR Boost. Naturally, moving objects are far more prone to blurring in these lower-light conditions. If your scene is static, you can get some very nice-looking night-time photos with the U12+.
The last sample above is a low-light selfie. This low-light selfie doesn't look amazing, but it doesn't look half-bad either.
The U12+'s second camera allows it to take portrait style "Bokeh" photos. These are best captured when the subject is between 50 and 200 cm (between about 20 inches and 6.5 feet).
We found that photos taken with the Bokeh mode contain a bit lower amount of details when taking Bokeh shots indoors. We got the best results outdoors with our subject well-lit in direct sunlight. We also saw that Bokeh images taken indoors had more resolved detail within closer range.
You can see how the HTC U12+ stacks up against competitors in our photo compare tool. The library is pretty extensive.
Here is a link for the telephoto camera as well. Just a reminder, it actually shoots at 12MP, and the phone will only let us use it under good lighting conditions. Hence, the low-light samples are actually from the main snapper.
The front-facing cameras are not bad. Selfies come out a bit soft though. Details aren't the best of any other front camera out there, but direct sunlight definitely helped us get the best out of this one.
Something to keep in mind is that HDR Boost is best used in brighter lighting conditions. It does a good job of bringing highlights down to an acceptable level. If you were to take the same kind of Bokeh selfies outside in the late-afternoon on an overcast day, you'll find that HDR Boost actually doesn't work in favor of the image. It still tries to bring down the highlights, even though they don't need to be, resulting in an image with darker tones and unnecessary contrast.
In the next two selfies, you can see an example of when HDR Boost doesn't work in the image's favor.
The general consensus with HDR Boost that is that it can be set to Auto with the main cameras, but the front-facing camera should use it in overly-bright lighting conditions.
The selfie camera already softens facial features, so the contrast between the artificial blur and the softened subject doesn't make for a very stunning combination. Also, like the main cameras, the Bokeh selfies reduce the amount of resolved detail compared to non-Bokeh'd snaps.
Overall, we found the U12's front-facing camera to be a bit too soft in most lighting conditions. Selfies taken in bright sunlight will appear sharper than any resulting indoor photo. Otherwise, colors look a bit muted compared to the shots we took with the main cameras. The actual Bokeh is just okay when looking at the boundaries around our selfies up close. The shots look nice, but these selfies won't win any awards.
Beauty mode has several adjustments: smoothness, brightness, face width, and eye size. We took some with the auto setting but found it to be too much for our taste. We prefer to use very mild beauty mode if any.
Here's a group selfie taken by the U12. We do wish it was shot without HDR Boost as you can tell that this photo's shadows are a bit exaggerated.
The U12+ can take panorama images in portrait or landscape orientation. Resolved details look pretty good, but vertical resolution is lost when you sweep the phone parallel to the scene. You should flip the phone to a vertical orientation. The horizontal panorama has a height of 1,524 px while the vertically oriented panorama we took was 3038 px in height.
The U12+ has HTC's Sonic Zoom feature, formerly known as Acoustic Focus in the U11. What this does is zooms in on the subject that's directly in front of the camera by suppressing surrounding noise. It does this with the four microphones outfitted around the phone. We found that it worked fairly well, but won't work well in windy environments.
While Sonic Zoom isn't all that new, Audio Boost is. It does the same thing that Sonic Zoom does only without actually zooming into the video. The feature works to reduce ambient noise and focus audio on the subject in front of the camera.
There is a dedicated video viewfinder, which we do appreciate. There are plenty of shooting modes including 4K video recording at 60fps and slow-motion video recording of 1080p footage at 240 fps. Aside from Audio Boost and Sonic Zoom, there are a couple of other audio recording modes: 3D Audio and Hi-Res. 3D audio is the default audio and records two channels with "virtual" surround sound thanks to the four pickup microphones. Hi-Res audio records in the FLAC codec into the MKV video format.
This video format is not a one or the more widely used ones, so the chance that you'll run into playback compatibility issues is quite high. You may need to download a third-party video player like VLC.
The U12+ produced excellent video samples of New York City traffic. Aside from some noise in one of the buildings behind the road, we didn't find the U12+ really hunting for focus as we've seen other phones do. HTC did a great job with the autofocus.
60fps video is smooth as butter and details are top-notch. We're glad that HTC was able to make a device that can shoot 4K at 60 frames per second.
1080p samples look just as good in the lesser resolution. Keep in mind that the 1080p mode will offer both optical and electronic image stabilization while 4K can only be stabilized with OIS.
Though, there are a couple of things worth mentioning when it comes to the video viewfinder. While taking our video samples for our comparison tool, we discovered a bug: it seems that the video viewfinder is feeding from one camera while the actual video is being captured with another one.
If we want to be technical, this caused a vertical displacement of the video image so the precision of the viewfinder was only slightly off. Also, this only appears to happen when taking video in full HD-res. Fret not; this should be easy to fix with a future software update.
You can do some pixel-peeping on video stills as well, using our extensive comparison database.
Naturally, we are including telephoto samples into the mix as well. Again, we remind you that the U12+ only elects to use its secondary camera when the light is abundant. A lot of the noise in low-light can thus be attributed to digital zoom.
And just for the sake of thoroughness, here are the 1080p versions of the same sample shots, as well.