Editors' note: This article originally published May 6, 2012, and was updated on February 13, 2013, and again on May 4, 2013.
In a matter of months, the high-end smartphone camera spec rocketed from a respectable 8 megapixels to an altitudinous 13.
The Samsung Galaxy S4 and LG Optimus G Pro are the freshest examples of this megapixel push, but even last January's Pantech Discover (12.6 megapixels), last October's LG Optimus G for Sprint (13 megapixels), and especially mid-2012's 41-megapixel Nokia 808 PureView piled on the megapixels.
Yet even though the technology exists, quality can be just as uneven from phone to phone as it was when an 8-megapixel shooter was the "best" that money could buy.
Shootout!: Samsung Galaxy S4 versus HTC One and iPhone 5
Championing that perception head-on is HTC, the same company that not too long ago boasted about the 16-megapixel camera in its Titan II. Now, in its HTC One flagship, the smartphone maker dials down the megapixel count to 4 megapixels, which HTC fancifully terms "Ultrapixels," arguing that the lager pixel size throws back the blinds to let in much more light.
In this lies the reminder (something photography nuts will tell you) that it's quite possible for an excellent 5-megapixel camera to produce photos you prefer over a shoddy 12-megapixel camera. The number of megapixels alone is no guarantee of heightened photographic performance.
Instead, the formula for fantastic photos comes down to the entire camera module, which includes the size and material of the main camera lens, the light sensor, the image processing hardware, and the software that ties it all together. So let's dive in.… Read more