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Phone is a mobile photographer's wet dream, but poor decisions abound with this one

Leave it to Finnish phonemaker Nokia Oyj. (HEL:NOK1V) to offer up one of the most consecutively exciting and frustrating smartphone announcements in the last couple months.  The company today showed off an amazing 41 MP smartphone, but then smashed the public's dreams, revealing that it would carry a variety of the soon-to-be-defunct Symbian OS and would only launch in Europe (for now).

I. Redefining the Smartphone as a Camera

The camera was among the first features to define what we today know as a "smartphone".  Before apps and app markets took off, before smartphones became the next generation of MP3 players, there were camera phones.

In the smartphone era, some phones -- such as Apple, Inc.'s (AAPLiPhone 4S -- offer pretty good images.  But most of these phones pack small 5 or 8 megapixel sensors.  Some -- like Sony Corp. (TYO:6758) have promised 16 MP (or greater) sensors, but such wonders have thus far not been available to U.S. consumers (for example, the 16 MP Sony Ericsson S6006 saw release in early 2011 -- but only in Japan).

But Nokia has wowed the world with its "Pure" announcement.  Today at the 2012 Mobile World Congress it unveiled an unprecedented imaging vision -- a 41-megapixel smartphone, dubbed the Nokia PureView 808.

First, the bad news: the cutting edge smartphone doesn't run Microsoft Corp.'s (MSFT) latest and greatest Windows Phone 7.5 ("Mango"), it instead runs Nokia's soon-to-be-defunct Nokia Belle (formerly Symbian Belle) operating system.  It seems silly to pack an OS of the past in a phone of the future, but at least the Belle release takes a fair bucket of polish to the old homely Symbian, which long stood as the world's most-used smartphone operating system.

The new phone packs a decent overall spec and price-point (weak points highlighted in red, strengths in green):

Nokia Pure
(Click picture to view in full screen)


II. A Superb Sensor

To understand a bit better what the phone's resolution number means, consider the 41 MP to be a "raw" metric of sorts.  While you can take 34MP images when shooting 16:9 images (7728×4354), or 38MP at 4:3 (7152×5368), there's also an "oversampling" setting, which in essence pre-converts your photos down to a more digestible resolution, taking 7 pixels and merging them into a single improved pixel.  In that sense, the new camera can act as a 5 MP camera "on steroids" with two resolutions.

Here's a white paper [PDF] on the technology.

The CMOS image sensor itself is a relatively massive 10x7mm (0.3937x0.2756 inches). Unfortunately the aperture is a fixed f/2.4 -- one place where even the best smartphone camera optics lag digital cameras.

For the non-photography inclined, the f-setting stands for the aperture settings.  This essentially fixes you to a large depth of field, but limits your artistic expression.  (A pretty good crash course on aperture settings and depth of field can be found here.)

Here are some (scaled) sample images from the insane sensor:

Nokia PureView 808

Nokia PureView 808
(Click picture to view in full screen)

Engadget has a full gallery up online.  Or grab some sample images [zip; large] direct from Nokia.

Now, back to the last piece of bad news -- the phone is set to launch in Europe in May 2012, but no U.S. release date has been announced.  U.S. photography buffs may consider an import, but for the rest of us, we can only hope that Nokia trickles down this marvelous lens/flash package into a high-end U.S.-available Windows Phone.  If it does that, it may have an international hit on its hands.

Launch colors will be red, black, and white.

Sources: Nokia [press release], [blog], Engadget [Image Gallery



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Hype or something else?
By nafhan on 2/27/2012 3:11:12 PM , Rating: 3
Would there be any reason (other than marketing) to make this a 41MP sensor instead of, say, a large (for cell phone) 10MP sensor?

I know larger sensor generally = better pictures, but this sensor is about 1/4th the size of an APS-C sensor, and those are mostly around 20MP, right now. I just can't imagine this being anything but VERY noisy for taking pictures in "high res" mode.

I could see the 5MP pics, though, turning out nice. especially if this does well at high ISO settings.




RE: Hype or something else?
By BZDTemp on 2/27/2012 3:20:40 PM , Rating: 2
I'd say from looking at the big pictures (the zip-file) that image quality looks good. Of course they aren't low light pictures but still I will certainly say this is more than just marketing.


RE: Hype or something else?
By haukionkannel on 2/27/2012 4:03:48 PM , Rating: 2
Small sensor and high resolution normally means that you need a lot of light to get goos pictures, but all in all this seems a little bit overshot :-)


RE: Hype or something else?
By GulWestfale on 2/27/2012 5:12:00 PM , Rating: 3
from what i understand, nokia's goal here was to make the digital zoom worth using.
while with a conventional digital zoom the phone (or computer) simply blows up the image, thus destroying detail and sharpness; with this phone you could take a normal 5MP image but when zooming in on a part of the photo, the phone could show you the enlarged portion at a good resolution, since it did take the pic with more detail than is normal.

it's essentially a neat trick to get around the problem of having no zoom lens on a fairly flat phone, and the digital zoom being worthless. it takes a high-res pic, shows you a lower res one, and then shows details under zoom at the original, 41MP high res.

but you are right, this many pixels on such a small sensor is asking for trouble. my own sony a35 has 'only' 16MP on an APS-C sensor. two and a half times as many pixels on a tiny sensor like that, and you are bound to lose some detail and introduce noise.

on top of that, symbian is de facto dead, and the phone's built-in screen is so low-res, it makes you wonder why they bothered.


RE: Hype or something else?
By zodiacfml on 2/28/2012 4:01:17 AM , Rating: 2
+1

That's basically it.

The pixel size though, is comparable to current smartphones so they're not losing any.

Hmm...this is going to be an expensive P&S with less dynamic range.


RE: Hype or something else?
By MozeeToby on 2/27/2012 4:05:59 PM , Rating: 2
A sensor size of 10x7mm is ludicrous for a camera-phone, that alone is going to produce much better picture than we've all come to expect from phones. The latest iPhone for example has a 1/3.2" sensor, which puts its sensor area at ~12mm^2, less than a quarter what this phone has. Very generally, a bigger sensor means more light per pixel, which means less noise, faster shutter speeds, and less blurring.

Why the crammed 41 MP into the thing is a mystery to me, beyond it being for marketing purposes. Unless their 'combine 7 pixels into 1' technology also works to reduce salt and pepper noise on longer exposures.


RE: Hype or something else?
By haukionkannel on 2/28/2012 2:46:34 PM , Rating: 2
True... I did't read the sensor size. That is really big sensor! I does help picture guality very much, even more in low ligh...
Canon G1 X has 18.7 x 14mm sensor and that is highend "poket" camera that cost 750 euros... For pheno this is big, it is big even compared to normal poket cameras...
Holy bat cow!


RE: Hype or something else?
By nafhan on 2/27/2012 4:46:16 PM , Rating: 2
I took a look at the samples, too. They're actually acceptable quality, but, as you alluded, outdoors with good daylight is basically best case scenario. Not to downplay, though, as two phones back (for me) that was all I could expect at 1.3MP! Technology advancement = awesome.

Also... Unless they've done something cool with the storage, saving a 13MB/38MP picture onto the phone's internal or SD card will be SLOW, which would limit using this thing for action shots (such as the examples), and may be the main reason for defaulting to 5MP.


RE: Hype or something else?
By JasonMick (blog) on 2/27/2012 5:12:53 PM , Rating: 2
quote:
I took a look at the samples, too. They're actually acceptable quality, but, as you alluded, outdoors with good daylight is basically best case scenario. Not to downplay, though, as two phones back (for me) that was all I could expect at 1.3MP! Technology advancement = awesome.

Also... Unless they've done something cool with the storage, saving a 13MB/38MP picture onto the phone's internal or SD card will be SLOW, which would limit using this thing for action shots (such as the examples), and may be the main reason for defaulting to 5MP.

As the above op stated, the sensor on this phone is almost four times the size of the one found in the iPhone 4S, which is currently considered a leader in the phone camera pack. In other words, it can soak up a lot of light.

The problem is likely that you have limited ISO settings and the firmware is limited in shutter-speed flexibility. These settings mean that even this superphone likely will lag behind current-gen point and shoots.

Still with the massive (for a phone) sensor size, I'd imagine this will get much better INDOOR pictures (assuming proper higher ISO settings) than other phones.

FWIW, the images looked pretty good -- nice reduction in noise and they were slightly underexposed, which is typically what you want, as you can adjust it post-mortem versus overexposure.


RE: Hype or something else?
By nafhan on 2/27/2012 5:23:59 PM , Rating: 2
Not arguing with that. Mainly, I was trying to make the point that scenarios where you'd want to actually take a 38MP picture with this would probably never happen.


RE: Hype or something else?
By jvillaro on 2/28/2012 6:58:14 PM , Rating: 2
It does have an option for taking 38mp pictures (they demoed it) but that isn't the best use for it. It shines when it takes that amount of pixels and do the algorithms to oversample and get a 5 or 8 mp picture that essentially as perfect as you could get on a phone and can zoom the hell in to it and get incredible detail.


RE: Hype or something else?
By jvillaro on 2/28/2012 6:48:57 PM , Rating: 2
Look at the rest of the gallery from Nokia. There's a picture taken at night of the dancers in carnival at Rio. It has low light conditions and they actually moving (dancing) and the photo is superb.


RE: Hype or something else?
By someguy123 on 2/27/2012 3:40:35 PM , Rating: 1
It essentially downsamples the image as a means of denoising/color rounding. It can't really handle its peak resolution considering its sensor size. To achieve the marketed quality you'd need to interpolate the images down to 5MP, so in essence it's a high quality 5mp camera with a large, but very noisy zoom.


RE: Hype or something else?
By nafhan on 2/27/2012 4:29:34 PM , Rating: 2
So... what I said :)

Judging by the sample pictures (which are basically best case scenario, with perfect lighting) you could probably get a good ~20MP picture out of it - in those conditions. In less ideal conditions, this probably turns into a great 5MP pocket shooter.


RE: Hype or something else?
By AmbroseAthan on 2/27/2012 4:15:54 PM , Rating: 2
DPReview's first comments are up on this which helps explain some of the photography elements better.

The size of this sensor in a phone is quite amazing (physical size), so compared to most phones it will likely present much better pictures in normal or low-light. Its size is larger than most compact camera sensors.

http://www.dpreview.com/news/2012/02/27/Nokia-808-...


Most interesting...
By Shadowself on 2/27/2012 4:35:13 PM , Rating: 2
People on this site were slamming Nikon for coming out with a 36 MP camera as its high end prosumer camera. Posters were saying that the optics really didn't support that pixel density. Additionally, that at approximately 4.9 microns per pixel the pixels were getting too small and would introduce too much noise.

Then this phone camera comes out and people praise it. Yet the pixel pitch is only 1.4 microns -- less than one third the linear size of the Nikon's sensor and less than 1/12th the area!

Let's not even get into the quality of the optics and how many aspheric lenses are involved.

If any sensor, with today's technology, is overkill this one absolutely is.




RE: Most interesting...
By TSS on 2/27/2012 4:44:53 PM , Rating: 3
My thought's exactly. This "smartphone-camera" is nothing more then the smartphone equivalent of compensating for a small penis.

A good camera is made by the lens moreso then the sensor. And as soon as i saw that tiny little thing, i can't take this phone serious as a camera.

Yes, it works fine as a replacement for the disposable camera. Probably better for the enviroment, too. But there's not going to be any difference between a 10MP sensor and a 41MP sensor on a smartphone.

If you wanna be a photographer, Just get a Canon. If you wanna be a hipster, just get an Iphone.

Oh btw, the scaled pictures look aweful. Just look at the guy in the green shirt's hands, they're jagged and blurry from the scaling. If you're gonna post samples, post the original source file or don't post anything at all. Those pictures tell me nothing. Other then i'd expected the colors to be more vibrant, but once again, that can be due to scaling.


RE: Most interesting...
By Mint on 3/9/2012 2:24:47 PM , Rating: 2
You really didn't pay attention to the details, nor do you have much of a grasp about the physics of photography.

No, a good camera is NOT made by the lens moreso than the sensor. If you take an indoor picture on a 1/3.2" sensor with the perfect lens, it will have terrible quality compared to an average lens on a 1/1.2" sensor. Lenses have a limit on how much light they can let in for a given focal length.

Unless Nokia really screwed up with the lens, or the sensor has other drawbacks, a picture on this cameraphone downsampled to 10MP will blow away one from a Canon ultracompact. Only when digital zoom is used on this phone will a Canon have a chance.


RE: Most interesting...
By SPOOFE on 2/27/2012 5:22:30 PM , Rating: 2
quote:
Posters were saying that the optics really didn't support that pixel density.

And at apertures above f/5.6-f/8 or so, most optics won't. What's the narrowest available aperture for Nokia's super-cameraphone, now? :)


RE: Most interesting...
By TakinYourPoints on 2/27/2012 11:12:21 PM , Rating: 2
People here are praising it because it is in a phone. This product is terrible. Get a real camera and a real smartphone if you want it, not a single device that is mediocre or worse at both.


RE: Most interesting...
By jvillaro on 2/28/2012 7:26:06 PM , Rating: 2
"This product is terrible"
Really? They just announced what is essentially the best camera phone on the market and by all accounts of dedicated photo enthusiast bloggers and writers probably better than any P&S camera and you think this product is terrible?
You seriously have issues man.


RE: Most interesting...
By TakinYourPoints on 2/29/2012 2:53:29 AM , Rating: 2
Symbian is a dead end. Judge it on the whole, not one component. Put this in a WP7 device and it'll be worth talking about.


RE: Most interesting...
By SPOOFE on 2/29/2012 3:10:12 PM , Rating: 2
Note that you're judging it based off one component, too. :)


RE: Most interesting...
By TakinYourPoints on 3/1/2012 2:18:18 AM , Rating: 2
The operating system and ecosystem around it is a pretty simple one to judge a product on. :)


Nokia Belle OS
By Infms on 2/27/2012 3:57:50 PM , Rating: 5
The decision to use the Nokia Belle OS isn't perplexing, it's because the Broadcom SoC's that Belle phones use can handle very high pixel count camera sensors whereas the Qualcomm SoC's currently used in WP7 phones can't.




RE: Nokia Belle OS
By haukionkannel on 2/27/2012 4:06:59 PM , Rating: 2
Yes! Good point indeed! I am guite sure that we may see this kind of windows phone when next mobile version of windows for the phones is released. (mobile win8?)
I has higher hardware specks than in mobile win7, so it would allow more umph to toys like this!


RE: Nokia Belle OS
By MrMilli on 2/27/2012 4:01:43 PM , Rating: 3
True and to add to that, this technology has been in developement for five years. So all the software was developed for Symbian.
Might I add that Belle on my N8 is just great. I don't see a reason to downgrade to the feature set of WP7.


RE: Nokia Belle OS
By Ushio01 on 2/27/2012 4:43:15 PM , Rating: 2
Hmm


RE: Nokia Belle OS
By jvillaro on 2/28/2012 7:04:34 PM , Rating: 2
Also, they stated that they took 5 years to develop this technology, so they have been always working on and for Symbian. In order to get it the fastest to the public, they had to go with Belle, but are already working to put it in WP. It's logical to expect they put it in WP8 where Nokia is getting a lot more input that WP7/7.5


Incorrect terminology
By SPOOFE on 2/27/2012 3:04:12 PM , Rating: 2
quote:
Unfortunately the focal length is a fixed f/2.4

Ummm, no. You somehow corrected this in the next paragraph (in fact, it is the APERTURE that is a fixed f/2.4), but the focal length is ultimately a measure of the angle of view you'll capture. And we don't know the focal length because, well, it's not mentioned anywhere in the article. :)




RE: Incorrect terminology
By Brandon Hill (blog) on 2/27/2012 3:03:05 PM , Rating: 2
Fixed ;)


RE: Incorrect terminology
By JasonMick (blog) on 2/27/2012 3:09:03 PM , Rating: 2
quote:
Ummm, no. You somehow corrected this in the next paragraph (in fact, it is the APERTURE that is a fixed f/2.4), but the focal length is ultimately a measure of the angle of view you'll capture. And we don't know the focal length because, well, it's not mentioned anywhere in the article. :)

Fair enough, thanks.

Was in the process of merging together two sentences... had looked for focal length info, but couldn't find it, hence the confusing sentence. :)

It's fixed now.


Reason why Nokia Belle...
By sviola on 2/27/2012 3:05:59 PM , Rating: 2
quote:
First, the bad news: the cutting edge smartphone doesn't run Microsoft Corp.'s (MSFT) latest and greatest Windows Phone 7.5 ("Mango"), it instead runs Nokia's soon-to-be-defunct Nokia Belle (formerly Symbian Belle) operating system. It seems silly to pack an OS of the past in a phone of the future, but at least the Belle release takes a fair bucket of polish to the old homely Symbian, which long stood as the world's most-used smartphone operating system.


From what I have understood after reading a lot of stories in this is that it came out on Nokia Belle because it was already in development when Nokia decided to go Windows Phone.

And they'll release this camera on WP in the near future.




RE: Reason why Nokia Belle...
By Ihmemies on 2/27/2012 3:23:30 PM , Rating: 2
Near future = next year -> an eternity in current smartphone enviroment.


By Denigrate on 2/27/2012 4:48:11 PM , Rating: 4
Nokia's hardware has never been the issue. The issue has been they really never marketed their most bad arse products like they should have. Maemo was great, and had they commercialized it, Nokia would still be the world leader in Smartphones.




By jnemesh on 2/27/2012 7:01:16 PM , Rating: 2
By the time they engineer a WP7.5 or WP8 version of this phone, the whole platform will be dead, so if you like the camera, you had better import the Symbian version!




High Horses,
By radium69 on 2/28/2012 12:17:38 AM , Rating: 2
Some people really need to get off their high horses...

The Nokia N8 is a decent phone, especially when upgraded to Symbian Anna or Belle.
Some of you really need to stop being;

a. a fanboy of apple
b. shortsighted
c. compare DSLR's with phone cameras

Nokia used this technique to get a nice scaling, and having a nice picture when zooming in. It's not meant to compete with DSLR's.
Don't care what some people say, but I find it useful to have a nice cameraphone in my pocket when I want to take decent pictures. And no iphone pictures are not enough for me!

It's a nice step in the right direction, and it's a nice upgrade from my current N8. The N8 has quite a big fanbase and also was number one selling Symbian^3 phone.

Atleast Nokia still cares about customers that bought their phone a year or two ago.

Stop being rabid fanboys. And embrace technology




Why invent terms?
By maven81 on 2/29/2012 10:30:07 AM , Rating: 2
"there's also an "oversampling" setting, which in essence pre-converts your photos down to a more digestible resolution, taking 7 pixels and merging them into a single improved pixel."

Um... that happens every time you scale down an image in a program like photoshop. The algorithm (say bicubic - sharper) will look at the data from neighboring pixels, and merge them to create a smaller image. What I'm hoping they are talking about is binning, which is reading out pairs of pixels at the same time, which treats them as one large pixel. Binning is always done in multiples of 2, so 2 by 2, or 4 by 4, or 6 by 6 etc.
I wish more cameras supported binning, because usually the way they create a smaller image is by dropping pixels. Only reading out every second pixel, or only reading out every 4th pixel etc.




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