HTC Desire HD Review, a Photographer’s Perspective 15

Up until recently, I’d always viewed mobile phones from a purely communications point of view. They were used to send and receive messages, auditory or textual, and that was it. This isn’t to say that that I was somehow a Luddite when it came to mobile devices. I have both an iPod Touch and iPad. I had just always compartmentalized my devices: this is for listening to music and podcasts, this is for mobile computing, and this is for making phone calls. And while my phone could take ‘fun’ photos, they were only suitable for Facebook and Twitter and barely so. If I wanted to take real pictures I had a real camera.

And then an HTC Desire HD came into my possession (thank you to you-know-who) and my opinion changed. Well, a little.

It only takes one photo to realize that the camera on this thing is more then just a glorified pinhole as is the case with most cellphones. Yes, it’s 8MP, which is more then enough to get decent prints from, but that’s not what I mean. What I mean is that the camera actually has the mechanics of a camera. As I pan the phone…err…’camera’ around, gears turn as the AF kicks in. This is important because it means the the lens aperture is large enough that autofocus is actually needed and the AF isn’t just some software-layer interpolation. It’s the closest thing to a ‘real’ camera that can be physically shoved into a phone.

And that brings me to the first problem: fitting an actual glass lens with proper AF mechanics into a phone means a rather large bump on the back. The HTC Desire HD is already a large phone, but it’s made larger by the camera. The camera lens actually sticks out of the back, making me feel real uncomfortable whenever I set the phone down. Do I set the phone down on the front and risk scratching the LED display or the back and risk scratching the lens?

Applied to street photography, which is what most interests me, there are certainly some benefits. The most obvious of these are it’s pocketable size and inconspicuous profile. Something else that I personally consider a big plus is the “always connected” nature of the device. For example, SugarSynch automatically backs up every photo I take into the cloud. With the push of a button, I can send that same image instantly to Dropbox, Flickr, any FTP site, and so on. Micro SD cards aren’t known for stability, but with a feature like that it’s never on my mind.

Of course, there are downsides. It is a phone after all. The biggest issue for me is the relatively slow AF speed. It was truly annoying at first because the camera did a forced ‘final focus’ after hitting the shutter button, creating a horribly long shutter lag. Eventually I discovered a software setting that disabled this. Another issue are the slow shutter speeds. If the day is a dull one, expect some blurring. One final nitpick, and one that I’m sure will be addressed in a future HTC Sense update, is auto-white balance when the flash fires. Having a dual LED flash is really nice, but when it fires the auto-WB seems to shut down. For example, if I am in a heavily fluorescent-lit room and I take a photo with the flash, the resulting photo has a green cast.

So does this replace my E-P2 as my primary street camera? Of course not. Here’s how I see it: Every soldier carries a primary weapon. An assault rife. But they also carry a Swiss army knife in their pocket.

This is the Swiss army knife.

About Brian

Brian Q. Webb is a photography enthusiast from Los Angeles, California who spends most of his time in Taipei, Taiwan. He is especially interested in street photography as well as large format portraiture and pinhole photography. He also likes to shoot lifestyle portraiture and occasionally acts as an agent for foreign newspapers wanting event coverage in Taipei. He was also on the staff of deviantArt and is co-founder of PhotoMalaysia, the largest photography community in that country.

  • craig ferguson (@cfimages)

    RT @photojazz: Just Blog’d: HTC Desire HD Review, a Photographer’s Perspective

  • Brent

    Interesting post. I love street photography and always carry an iPhone, but have never got into the habit of shooting with it.

  • Brian

    @Brent I’m in the habit of taking my E-P2 everywhere I go, but going by the philosophy that the best camera is the one you have in your hand, this isn’t a bad option. :-)

  • Ron In L.A.

    Brian, I think you’ve pretty much captured the way I look at it too.

    I have the HTC Evo 4G and run the Retro Camera app as opposed to the base camera and love it.


  • Brian

    @Ron I have Retro Camera, too. It’s the Android version of Hipstamatic on the iPhone. I didn’t mention it in this article because I was focused more on the software.

  • Dilip (@dilipbhoye)

    RT @cfimages: RT @photojazz: Just Blog’d: HTC Desire HD Review, a Photographer’s Perspective

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  • Jitender

    If its a camera phone that one is interested in, i suggest the nokia N8…but the desire is way better in staying connected…

  • Brian

    @Jitender I’m not totally sure. The “Carl Zeiss” name on the lens is just Nokia licencing the use of the name and not actually using german glass. Other companies do the same thing. The next time you go to an electronics store, check out the lenses on the dP&S cameras. You might be surprised at how many have “Carl Zeiss” printed on them. The manufacturers pay a few bucks and get to use the name. The N8 does have more megapixels, but at the tiny sensor sizes we’re dealing with on mobile phones, more MP can mean a reduction in image quality and not an increase. The more densely packed photosites are, the more they will interfere with each other and cause a loss in detail.

  • Adam Pierce

    I have a Desire HD also and use it a fair bit for taking photos. I have found that sometimes the JPEG algorithm messes up the photos. It’s totally random, sometimes they are really nice and other times the whole frame is full of JPEG artifacts. Do you get this on yours?

    Also, how do you turn off that last-minute auto-focus? That would be a really useful trick.

  • Brian

    @Adam The autofocus settings are application-dependent. The built-in HTC photo app doesn’t have the option. retroCamera (which is free & I like to use a LOT) allows you to set your focus to fixed-infinity.

    Yeah, I have the same issue as you regarding compression artifacts. Again, the compression amount seems to be adjustable, but whether or not you can adjust it depends on the application you use to take the photos. With the HTC photo app, it seems to occur in photos that have more detail to them.

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  • Rahul

    Hi Brilliant article. but the main reason why i came across your article in the first place was because i wanted a solution to the shutter speed lag as you mentioned. theres around a second gap from the time you click the shoot button till the time the photo is actually taken. and it really is annoying as iv noticed the focus gets all messed up. i read about the software youre using ‘retro cam’. does it solve this problem ?

  • Brian

    Thanks much! Some photo applications (like Vignette, which is what I’m using now), have a settings option to fix the focus. The will place the focal point at a few feet and turn the AF off.

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