Nokia 808 PureView was a bigger hit than expected by most. Yes, it had the super-fantastic mega-awesome camera but many criticized the rest of its specs such as the low screen resolution, less-popular Symbian OS, thickness etc. But despite all that, the almighty camera alone was good enough to make all the media fall in love with it and then some. Anyways, I want one soooo badly but I can’t really afford one right now and it doesn’t help when it’s not even going to be released in Australia where I live. Very upset indeed. I would have loved to write up my own 808 Pureview camera review much like my previous N8 camera review. =(
Nonetheless, I still had some questions about its specs, its capabilities, what Damian@Nokia had in store for us in the future etc so I shot off an informal email and thankfully he responded. We ended up having a few emails going back and forth exchanging our thoughts. I am basically going to copy and paste most parts of the email but please note that not all the numbered questions below were actually asked as a question. Damian just responded to some of my thoughts and I just included them as part of this post as I thought it was worth sharing.
Questions & Answers
1. What is the maximum ISO value capable by the 808’s sensor technically?
“1600 is the maximum available”
2. Why was it limited to 1600 when it surely could have done at least 3200 or 6400 going by the noise level shown at 1600?
“There is actually more gain applied than n8. N8’s ISO range was 100 – 800 which is 8x gain, whereas 808 is 50 – 1600 which is effectively 4x more gain than the n8. This was made possible through various improvements in the sensor processing as well as of course oversampling.”
3. Is there a possibility to get an update that enables higher ISO later?
“Theoretically possible, but we spent a LOT of time considering this and felt that in manual ISO providing 1600 was the best way forward for those users who knew what they were doing. In other modes it’s limited to 800 to ensure very high satisfaction related to what we knew would be a very high expectation. The challenge we have sometimes is in making sure people respond in a positive way. We know we can’t please everyone. So whilst some may tolerate the higher noise level, others may aim to create a negative reputation based around noise being higher than expected. We wanted to make sure we really delight people, sometimes that may mean a trade-off in the eyes of some to achieve that. It’s always very challenging to cater for so many different opinions. It’s one of the main reasons we spend so much time listening to people to try and get the balance right for as many as possible.”
4. What is the auto-ISO range used when recording videos? (I know you don’t do videos but just in case you knew)
“It’s equivalent to 800 ISO”
5. Is the ADC used in 808 Pureview 12bit or 14bit?
“Not sure if I am allowed to reveal such info…”
6. It seems it’s quite clear that PureView technology will be used in future WP8 Nokia phones. I admit that I’m walking on thin ice here but are you able to even hint that what we will see relatively soon (within 2012-2013) could possibly be the “same” (sensor size/MP count) or “better” than what we currently have in 808 PureView?
“What we have stated is that you will see PureView used in future products, but we have not stated when or in what way. PureView is about high performance optics, high performance sensors and leading edge image processing. Those elements can be used in a number of different ways and you will see us applying these in dfferent ways.”
7. Will we ever see a real enthusiast version of a device using PureView? (full manual aperture/shutter speed control, RAW support, jog dial or rotating lens ring controls etc) Basically more of a high-end compact camera with phone capabilities. =)
“There is a lot of change currently and I expect a lot more to come. Looking at what digital cameras is like looking in the rear view mirror. As DP review reported this week as a result of the soon to be available camera extras for Lumia products, the camera industry is now moving slowly and being left behind, still stuck to years of legacy. We are breaking free from that legacy and the 808 is the first true example of this. This means we will NOT implement elements just because they are in digital cameras, but only if we feel they make sense for the variety of users we aim to serve.”
8. Were any of the listed features that I put down as my wish list to you&Nokia been in any way mentioned in any part of your meetings? (I mean in general. I’m not saying that I was the first for any of these ideas) Such as: Displaying more exposure information at time of exposure/focus, custom function volume buttons, noise reduction setting, shutter speed priority mode etc)
“What I can say is that all of those we had discussed already ourselves. Some may come in the future, while others are not possible and others we chose not to do for various reasons, most likely because there is a missing enabler of some kind. In summary if they come they come, if they don’t, probably a very good reason why not.”
9. I can understand how high ISO noise could result in “See I told you, what do you expect cramming 41MP into a tiny sensor?” type of comments. But at the same time, I also feel that it’s little things like this which make it less of a camera than it could be. It’s a double-edged sword I know. As you are oversampling anyways, you could have made ISO 3200 option only available at 5MP or 3MP PureView mode and not Full resolution. (Note – this was not a question and was part of our email conversation later on)
“The idea of possibly having a higher ISO setting just in PureView mode is an interesting one, will take a look, but can’t promise anything, I think there was another limitation to 1600 as well but can’t remember what it was as it was academic in the end because of the reasons I outlined before.”
10. Many actually now think lower mega pixel (=density) has better IQ. Nearly all of my friends/collegues care more about low noise without flash than zoom/crop/high MP also. If Nokia made 808 Pureview with same size sensor but made it 5MP with RAW/advanced features/ISO12800 capability, I would snap one up no matter what! (Note – this was not a question and was part of our email conversation later on)
“Regards to 5mp vs 41mp, this wouldn’t have enabled zoom and that was our main driver behind the hi res sensor. 5mp sensor of the same size actually would not give any dfferent performance. Calculations have shown that the with the oversampling our performance is the same as would be possible with a same size 5mp sensor. So this way you get the best of both :)”
I would like to thank Damian Dinning again for taking time answering my questions and exchanging our different thoughts.
This is the true successor to the Nokia N8 which right up until the announcement of the 808 PureView phone, was still regarded as the best camera phone of all time. Now that title will now be changed to the 808 PureView and it might stay this way for a very very long time. I have reviewed the Nokia N8 camera back when it was first released even before its Anna OS update let alone the new Belle update. But even so, it was still the best camera on a mobile phone that I have ever used. Now it’s second best. Nokia has already acknowledged this fact by posting up a very bold statement on their existing Nokia N8 information page as can be seen below.
Some will say the new 808 PureView is still is using the dreaded Symbian just by hearing the word “Symbian” even though they’ve never even seen/used Belle let alone Anna or ^3. Yes, I highly doubt I’ll be able to convert dedicated iPhone or Android users to Symbian Belle or Carla (aka Belle FP1) and I won’t even bother trying. However, I will tell you that it is no where near as “bad” as you might think and in some ways, it’s actually just as good or better. Overall, it’s a very very capable OS that gives you multiple home screens with interactive widgets, icons, shortcuts, capable multi-tasking, plenty of apps and games, the best free offline navigation app and so on. It is also coupled with the fastest hardware that it has ever ran on so you shouldn’t have any issues with its performance either. Anyways, I won’t bore you with talking about the OS as this is not why I’m writing this article. Here is a video by Nokia of how Belle looks like and what its new features are. (808 PureView uses a newer Belle with the FP1 update that has many more improvements still)
As I don’t have a 808 PureView yet, I cannot really talk about its OS performance etc. So I will also concentrate mainly on spec comparison as well as its amazing camera for now. Here are some introduction videos by Nokia which should get you up to speed with that the 808 PureView is all about.
So what is PureView?
Simply put, it takes a photo or video at the sensor’s full resolution then resizes it to a smaller size to make it more manageable while improving its image quality and providing loss-less digital zoom. This means that this large high resolution sensor’s raw data is used to its full potential even when you are shooting at lower resolutions. This technology isn’t exactly new in the digital camera world but the extra-ordinary pixel count of 808 PureView’s camera sensor makes it more effective than anything else currently available in the industry.
Damian Dinning (Nokia Imaging) explains what PureView technology is http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=D3rIu7ug59Q
So what has been improved from the N8?
1. User replaceable battery. (N8 battery was not user replaceable unless you were the type to always carry a screw driver handy. So this is a big difference for those who like to carry spare batteries.) 2. Addition of LED for video light during video recording. (Some asked for it and Nokia listened. 808 now has both LED and Xenon lights. Is this a first on a smart phone? I’m not sure but it might be?) 3. Physical answer / hangup front buttons. (I wish ALL phones had these considering it is a phone after all! Usability wins over fancy design in my books and these definitely are handy for phone calls) 4. Larger 4″ AMOLED and CBD and curved glass. (It now has a more respectable 4″ screen size and it also has a better screen filter for increased contrast over the N8 even in bright outdoor situations) 5. Ultra high performance stereo microphone. (According to Nokia, it has the best stereo microphone of ANY smart phone period. Most high-end phones record up to 110dB but the 808 can record up to 140dB distortion free so you can even record rock concerts at CD quality) 6. Jaw dropping 1/1.2″ size 41MP multi-aspect camera sensor. (The megapixels is amazing but the size of the sensor is even more surprising as it’s bigger than nearly all compact digital cameras) 7. Faster Carl Zeiss f2.4 aperture lens. Wider 26mm focal length at 16:9 mode. (It’s faster/brighter and is wider. This means it is better during low light, allows shallower depth of field and capture more at once) 8. Corning Gorilla glass in-front of camera lens. (This means that it should be far more scratch resistant than the N8’s front glass as my N8 ended up with a nasty scratch on it) 9. Faster 1.3ghz single core cpu. (It seems the CPU and GPU is the same as what Nokia 700 uses but just clocked higher. But the news is that FP1 update will also increase other Belle devices’ CPU to 1.3GHz!) 10. Doubled amount of RAM to 512MB. (This seems to be overlooked in most web sites but this is a massive increase that will surely result in noticeable performance improvements everywhere) 11. Secure NFC support (Handy if you have NFC enabled Nokia accessories or for anything else that utilizes NFC. I’ll certainly be enjoying this with my Nokia Play 360 speaker and BH-505 Bluetooth headphone) 12. Brighter Xenon flash (LED flash just isn’t good enough for flash photography so this is another excellent feature they kept. Also, Juha Alakarhu (Head of Nokia Imaging) states that it is double as bright as the N8!) 13. Much improved camera app (Better touch interface, slide to zoom, touch AF for both photo&video, viewfinder grid, more focusing modes, live histogram during exposure compensation etc)
What does it keep from the N8?
1. HDMI output (Need to confirm but it may have been increased to 1080p output as N8 only supported 720p output. I’m very glad Nokia kept this feature.) 2. USB OTG (USB host function can come handy for hot-plugging in a USB memory stick, card reader, another phone, external HDD etc and transfer files between them) 3. MicroSD card support (Specs state it supports up to 32GB but maybe it will work with 64GB SDXC cards also if lucky. Either way, this is a must have feature for me so I’m glad it stayed.) 4. Lock side slider. (Used to instantly unlock/lock the phone without even needing to touch the touchscreen. Another superb feature which is lacking in other phones!) 5. Two stage physical camera shutter button (This is pretty much a given for such a camera-centric mobile phone. A phone without this just don’t care about photography / usability period.) 6. Lanyard hole for wrist straps / neck strap (Many phones do not have this simple yet potentially phone-saving feature and I’m not sure why.) 7. Symbian Belle OS (Although 808 comes out of the box with the newer FP1 update that has nice GUI / performance improvements. Some are now saying this is actually called Carla so technically it’s better than N8’s Belle) 8. Same 640×360 nHD resolution (Maybe this is one thing which they shouldn’t have kept the same. But as far as I know, it’s due to a limitation of Symbian OS.) 9. Mechanical shutter in the camera (This ensures that you do not end up with rolling shutter effects that can cause ugly jello effect during fast movements) 10. Built-in Neutral Density filter. (I’m not sure the density value is but I would assume it’s at least a ND4. You can also manually activate the ND filter, turn it off or set it to activate automatically.) 11. FM Transmitter (This handy feature remains built-in so that you can listen to your music in cars that has no dedicated misc-input socket or Bluetooth without needing to buy any extra hardware)
Is there anything worse than the N8?
1. Micro SIM card. (Well, for some. For people with multiple phones and swap SIM cards frequentyly (e.g. for reviewers) this can be quite annoying) 2. No 2.5mm charger socket. (N8 was able to be charged by 2.5mm or MicroUSB. It was a luxury not a necessity really but it was handy if you were copying a large file via USB OTG and your battery was low for example)
My take on the camera of the 808 PureView so far
From what I know and have read about the 808 PureView, all I can say is that the camera portion is something that I am quite sure won’t get beaten within the next 2 years by another mobile phone from a different manufacturer in terms of resoluion or its large sensor size. Image quality wise, it definitely won’t get beaten in terms of resolvable detail at its maximum 38.4MP image anytime soon either. In terms of low noise ISO however, it could get beaten if a competitor comes up with a high quality 1/2.3″ or bigger sensor with 8-12MP and good image processing. But for the majority of cases, 808 with its bright xenon flash and fast aperture lens should be more than enough to compete with phones 2-3 years from now. (In saying all this, I can only wonder what Nokia has up their sleeves next)
In terms of image quality, it looks GREAT from the sample images provided by Nokia and by others who got to use it at MWC. However, Damian has stated that this is still a prototype hardware and software and the low light noise performance has not even been optimized at all! So it is pretty much guaranteed that image quality and noise performance will get even better by the time when it gets released. Once I get a retail sample, then I will do my part in reviewing the camera and commenting on its image quality. I can’t wait!!!
My wish list to Damian and Nokia Imaging team
I do realize that 808 is a mobile phone first and a camera second but the way it’s marketed/received right now, it’s ALL about the camera pretty much. So if the camera is supposed to be the best in the mobile phone industry and is the main “highlight of this device, why not make it even better? There are still some key features missing which could make it even more appealing to the photo enthusiasts and also improve usability even for the beginner photographer. So here are some of my wish list for the 808 PureView which hopefully will get added on to the retail version or added as a small update later. (Much like what Nokia did with the N8)
1. Option to display more items during shooting photos. (such as exposure information of ISO/Shutter speed, live histogram, alignment grid etc Edit: Live histogram is available during EV compensation and viewfinder grid is there for both Photo and Video modes already!) 2. Option of using the volume buttons as customizable function buttons. (such as exposure compensaton (the MOST useful of the bunch by far), ISO toggle (quite handy also!) etc. This would make it so much better than needing to touch the screen multiple times to get the value that I want. It would be one of the most popular features for photo buffs I’m sure so I hope Nokia steps up and makes it more attractive even for the enthusiasts.) 3. Option to control amount of noise reduction used. (off, low, med, high so that the user can choose how their photo is processed and choose between more detail or less noise) 4. Shutter priority mode option. (Due to the lack of Aperture control, shutter priority mode will only change the ISO value in order to provide the specified shutter speed. This can get handy as it would override Nokia’s minimum shutter speed algorithm at a certain ISO, motion movement and give the user more control.) 5. Addition of continuous mode support. (Considering it has so much processing power, I would expect it to be handle at least 3fps at full res! Edit: Damian told me that 808 just shoots continuously by default if you hold on to the shutter button but takes photos at 1fps due to so much data it needs to process.) 6. Option to touch focus during video recording. (I’m not sure if this is already possible or not so I’m just listing it just in case. Edit: Damian has clarified that this is already available in both Photo and Video mode. Nice!) 7. Video recording bitrate selection. (Option to change bitrate at 1080p and 720p would be awesome. e.g. Low (12Mbps) and High (24Mbps) for space saving or quality respectively) 8. ISO 3200 support. (I noticed that the ISO range is Auto, 50-1600 on the prototype. I don’t care if it’s too noise/grainy, I would love to have access to ISO 3200 still. To cater for the majority, AUTO ISO can still be limited to 1600 or even better would be a selectable maximum value. Noisy photo is better than a blurry one that’s for sure and there are many situations where using such a bright flash isn’t just possible so higher ISO would be great. Heck, maybe I should ask for ISO 6400 as I reckon it’ll still produce “quite usable” photos at 3MP and even more so for smaller resized photos posted on social media sites)