The specs of the camera on the HTC Sensation XL are something HTC is crowing about, and with good reason. While Apple boasts about the eight-megapixel, backside illuminated camera in the iPhone 4S, HTC has quietly matched it when it comes to ticking off feature boxes.
In fact, the Sensation XL even noses ahead of Apple's handset for stills, thanks to its dual-LED flash and 1.3-megapixel front camera. But this is just text – how does it actually perform?
The first thing to note is that HTC has been tweaking the speed of its camera. It's quick to open, certainly, but the part that's been focused on is the time to take photos. There's almost no discernible shutter lag, so hitting the button on-screen and taking the snap is instant.
You can also apply live effects, adjusting the degree to which they're applied on the fly – great for taking that unusual, artsy snap.
There are plenty of scene modes too, including a Panorama mode, a Backlight HDR mode, Landscape and more.
And there are all sorts of other settings, including Face Detection mode, white balance presets, ISO settings, geotagging, a digital zoom and more besides.
Because the backside illumination is present, the Sensation XL opts not to use its flash in low-light situations surprisingly often. You may find yourself wanting to force it on – something we don't usually advise.
LOW LIGHT: The first of these images is with the flash, the second is without. As you can see, using the flash creates less even lighting in the photo that not using it, but the subject is crisper, with clearer, more accurate colours and much less digital noise.
DETAIL: Where the focus of the photo is (around the shadow of the tree trunk), all the leaves are picked out well. Things get quite soft in the background, but there's plenty of detail overall.
LANDSCAPE MODE: In Landscape mode, much of the detail you might hope for in the photo is lost, and it also comes out quite dark. It looks like the camera is struggling to correctly expose the sky and ground – something that cropped up a lot for us.
MOTION: The quick shutter speed means that you can get nice, crisp shots of moving subjects, even when the light isn't great. You can see every splash and ripple from this duck's entry into the water.
EXPOSURE: The main issue we had with the Sensation XL's camera was that it struggled with contrast. Here, we've exposed for the duck, but it's badly blown out any sunny parts of the frame. All other attempts made the subject too dark. We couldn't find a middle ground (the fact that it's one reticle to target both focus and exposure doesn't help).
CLOSE UP: These fungi have lots of detail in them, as does the grass, but the whole image is a little flat – the lack of depth of field lets it down, really. But it's still a great shot for a phone.
HDR: The HDR mode in the Sensation XL really does make a difference. In the top photo above, it's on, while it's off in the bottom one. You can how much it brings out the hidden details in the tree trunks, especially.
PANORAMA MODE: We found the Panorama mode to be a bit hit and miss. It only enables you to stitch three photos, which is a shame, and it was really, really picky about creating the lower of the above samples. It took us nearly a dozen tries to get it right – it just kept saying we were moving the camera wrong. The other worked perfectly first time, though. The results are pretty good, we have to say. There's some merging of cars in front of the buildings, but not much.