(Pocket-lint) - We've just reviewed the HTC One M9, HTC's flagship for 2015. One of the aims of this new device was to address the criticism of the camera on the HTC One M8.

In the process of testing this camera for our review, we wanted to compare its photos to a couple of rival devices. Many have highlighted the Samsung Galaxy Note 4 as offering a great camera experience and we've always liked the results from the LG G3.

We've been carrying all three phones, snapping pictures in parallel to see how they all cope with everyday circumstances. Primarily the aim was the compare to the One M9, but we've decided to share some of these results to demonstrate how they stack up.

The specs: A recap

The HTC One M9 has a 20-megapixel sensor, with f/2.2 aperture, 27.8mm lens. It has a front 4-megapixel UltraPixel sensor (with 2µm pixels), f/2.0 aperture and 26.8mm lens.

The Samsung Galaxy Note 4 has a 16-megapixel sensor, with Smart optical image stabilisation, f/2.0 aperture. It has a 3.7-megapixel front sensor, f/1.9 aperture.

The LG G3 has a 13-megapixel sensor, optical image stabilisation, f/2.4 aperture and is known for its laser autofocus. It has a 2.1-megapixel front camera. 

Real world shoot-out

All the devices were in default modes, the normal camera mode, in exactly the way that most people would take a photo. This isn't about colour charts or lab testing, it's about the results you get in the real world, as real people would, pointing and shooting.

Outdoors in bright conditions we found the HTC One M9 to have a slightly green/yellow cast to pictures. That's especially evident in this picture looking at St Martin-in-the-Fields from Trafalgar Square.


HTC One M9 looking a little green

Both the Samsung Galaxy Note 4 and the LG G3 produced much richer images, with bluer skies.

Looking closer, however, you'll see that the extra pixels of the M9 don't result in more detail - the clock from the Note 4 is much clearer.


HTC One M9 (left), LG G3 (centre), Samsung Galaxy Note 4 (right)

Under closer inspection, some of the top branches of the trees just aren't there on the HTC, with detail lost as the noise is processed away. The stone spire colours of the Note 4 and LG G3 are much more true to life, ultimately, the Samsung Galaxy Note 4 delivers the best results.

Sunset magic

With the sun dipping at the end of the day, nature has its chance to paint the skies. Serenity descends, the river calms and we stalk the sunset with smartphones.


HTC One M9 colours aren't accurate

All the phones give good results, but the HTC One M9's performance is very much as it is in daylight. There's a slightly yellow-green cast again. There's still drama, but the sky is more grey than blue and the water is green. That colouring warms the orange slightly, but it's not realistic to the actual scene.


HTC One M9 (left), LG G3 (centre), Samsung Galaxy Note 4 (right)

The LG G3 moves things in the right direction and the sky turns bluer. The Galaxy Note 4 boosts that blue, although the cloud is starting to change too, moving away from the deep grey it should be. Of the two, the LG is closer to the actual scene, but the Note 4 is brighter, giving more fine detail up close and looking more impactful. There's certainly the most shadow detail on the Note 4.

Adding that HDR boost

With that first sunset captured in normal auto modes, there's the opportunity to cheat a little and roll out the HDR mode for more drama. All three smartphones offer HDR. LG has an auto HDR option, although we often toggle that off to retain control.

Samsung's HDR mode is a single tap, and gives Live HDR view, which is really handy to see what you'll get, while HTC's HDR mode is an option in the settings. On the HTC, we've saved HDR as a custom camera, so it's just a swipe away in the interface in the camera app.


HTC One M9 gives plenty of HDR drama

All three produce great results. HTC's lightening is the most vigorous, and there's still a hint of the colour tint, although in this scenario it doesn't really matter. Interestingly HTC steps down from full resolution to produce the HDR image. It's wider angle lens pays dividends here too, showing more of the landscape.

Samsung's result is typically bluer, which is the trend we're spotting across these photos. Arguably Samsung adds drama, HTC is a little more ethereal, but in the process, HTC has a little more definition in some areas that Samsung loses in the deeper tones. LG sits in the middle, but all work well.

The dark side

In low light conditions, we snapped a couple of Lego Minifigs posing for the camera. It's a close shot and in this instance, the phones were supported on the leading edge of the shelf to reduce motion blur, although both the G3 and Note 4 offer optical image stabilisation.


HTC One M9 (left), LG G3 (centre), Samsung Galaxy Note 4 (right)

The HTC One M9 is poor. The photo is both dark and noisy, which isn't a pleasing result. Both the Note 4 and the LG G3 cope better, but the LG G3 gives the cleanest and brightest image that's really impressive.

The Galaxy Note 4 is reasonable, but you can still see plenty of noise and it is darker, with much more muted colours than LG. Kudos to the LG G3 here: its picture is our new wallpaper.


LG G3 gives great results

It's worth noting that the HTC One M9 does have a night mode, as well as manual modes, but you'd have to engage them manually. Night mode aggressively boosts the brightness, manual mode would let you take a longer exposure, but you'd need a tripod to keep things steady.

Flower power

As it's spring, there's an abundance of daffodils and plenty of chances to see what these cameras will do. Here the HTC's colour cast isn't so noticeable, because it matches the colours of the image. There's detail in the petals, but the colour is muted overall, flatter than the others.


HTC One M9 (left), LG G3 (centre), Samsung Galaxy Note 4 (right)

LG steps out with the brightest image, giving a vibrant trumpet, blasting out spring in all its glory. Samsung delivers better colour and vibrancy than HTC, but it isn't as bright as the LG G3. The Galaxy Note 4 is the closest to the real thing.

Return of the Jedi

Finally we have some group shots of assembled Star Wars Lego. Shot indoors, in reasonable conditions, we see how these devices perform in middling conditions, where there's plenty of detail to capture, artificially lit.


HTC One M9 is a little muted

The HTC One M9 shows that green tinge slightly, as the surface isn't as bright and white as it should be - the edges of the frame are also darkening and colours are a little muted. There's plenty of noise in the background, although that's something all the photos show to an extent.


LG G3 (left), Samsung Galaxy Note 4 (right)

The Note 4 and the LG G3 shots are both better, both brighter than the M9 and noise control is better, as are the representation of colours. The LG G3 gives the sharpest shot, better focused across the scene, but both Samsung and LG give good results.

Quick conclusions

These examples are limited in some regards, but the results are typical of those we've found when comparing these devices in other photos. The discolouration given by the M9 is one of the criticisms highlighted in our HTC One M9 review, alongside that low light performance that really doesn't stand up to rivals.

The Samsung Galaxy Note 4 is widely regarded as the best Android cameras around (the competition against iPhone 6 Plus and various Lumia handsets is not something we'll address here) and in our tests we'd still say it hangs on to that accolade.

The LG G3 has given us some great results over the past year and is still very capable and consistent. It also seems that the G3 is great for shooting Lego - and who doesn't want that in a camera?

In all seriousness, the HTC One M9 struggles to keep pace with some of last year's devices when it comes to camera performance, which is something of a worry, as this is what HTC was looking to correct in its new handset.

Writing by Chris Hall.