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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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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.


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