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Nokia 808 PureView: The Future of Camera Phones
Nokia has been quietly drifting out of view over the past few years as Apple’s iPhone and Google’s Android have redefined the smartphone market. Nokia’s market share is now in the tank, with the future riding on Windows Phone 7 and soon to be announced Windows Phone 8.
But Nokia has had something up its sleeve. A new camera phone technology featuring a fast f2.4 Carl Zeiss lens, xenon flash, and a giant 41MP (7728 x 4354) sensor. That’s more megapixels than essentially any other consumer camera on the market, let alone a camera phone).
First and foremost, this isn’t a smartphone review. If you’re looking for a smartphone to travel with, I wouldn’t recommend the Nokia 808 PureView. To start, the Symbian operating system is a dead duck. The interface feels like a generation behind iOS, Android, and Windows Phone 7. The apps market is old, and the Facebook and Twitter integration doesn’t work (even over WiFi) unless you have a SIM card installed. Not so good for a traveler. Finally, it’ll cost you a cool $699 to buy one (Amazon is $100 less)
But the Camera is Really Great
Nokia sent me an 808 PureView smartphone to help document a recent trek I went on in the Canadian Rocky Mountains. I’m always equipped with my DSLR as I travel, but I wanted something to take snapshots on the trail with.
To get the techie stuff out of the way, the 41MP sensor is remarkable in a couple of ways. First, it’s not about having a 41MP photo. The beauty of Nokia’s PureView technology is that it takes this huge amount of data, and uses oversampling to make an exceptional 5MP photo with low noise and high levels of detail. Secondly, you can actually use a digital zoom without degrading the picture quality much since the resolution is so high.
Now a camera has never been just about the sensor (or the megapixels for that matter), and Nokia cut no corners by matching it up with a Carl Zeiss f2.4 lens on the 808. Not only is it fast and bright, but you even get some shallow depth-of-field to play with. Certainly not at the DSLR level, but far ahead of the rest of the smartphones out there, and many point & shoots.
Nokia 808 PureView Interface
First thing you notice with the 808 PureView is that it’s big. Closer in size to a point & shoot than an ultra-thin smartphone. As a camera, I didn’t mind it at all, and the rounded edges were quite comfortable. The camera itself sticks out a bit in the back to fit the lens and the extra-large sensor.
You also get yourself a dedicated shutter button. Not only that, but it’s a 2-stage button, like you find on most digital cameras. Press 1/2 way to focus, and all the way to take a photo. I can’t understand why more smartphones don’t have a dedicated button for taking photos (something Nokia is way ahead on).
Pressing the camera button takes you directly to the camera, even from the lock screen. In fact, pressing and holding the camera button from the lock screen will turn on the camera, focus, and take an image all in about 2 seconds from my testing.
The main camera interface is OK, with my favourite part being the zoom feature. Swipe up on the screen to zoom in, and down to zoom out. I found it more intuitive that the regular pinch to zoom you find on cameras like the iPhone, or zoom bars on the side like on Android.
In the “auto” mode, you essentially only get to control the flash mode. For the scene modes, you get the usual landscape, macro, portrait, sport and night-time modes among others.
Once you switch to the ‘”creative” mode, you can really have some fun. You get buttons for exposure compensation, white balance, ISO and even a built in ND filter, and you don’t have to keep heading back into the menus to access them.
Real World Usage
Like I mentioned, I was using the 808 Pureview for mostly snapshots along the way. Any of my more technical shots I was taking with my DSLR instead. I didn’t pay much attention to many of the settings while hiking, instead wanting to see how the camera performed on auto.
In well lit scenes, without too much contrast, the photos were excellent. I did run into issues with highlights being blown out, and funky metering issues though. I also wasn’t totally impressed with the white balance, though admittedly I wasn’t shooting in typical conditions. Bright white clouds + bright white glaciers is enough for any camera.
Generally, the photos impressed. Though not quite on the level of a decent point and shoot (my brother shot with a Canon). Still, it’s well beyond the other smartphone competition.
Following are a selection of un-edited images. Click for the full size.
Canon Powershot SX200 IS vs Nokia 808 Pureview
Nokia 808 Pureview (white balance slightly off @ sunset)
More Nokia 808 Pureview examples:
Self portrait w/ flash. The flash lit me well, and the background is pleasantly out of focus.
Detail in the crevasses
View at 100% to see the resolution of the fencing
Does the quality of camera factor into you smartphone buying decision? Would you buy a slightly bigger phone if it meant a better camera?