Nokia 808 Pureview camera: how good is it?
6th Jul 2012 | 11:00
The complete lowdown on the 41 megapixel camera
Nokia Pureview 808 cameraphone introduction
Nokia's headline-grabbing Pureview 808 crams a whopping 41 megapixels on its sensor, but can it actually deliver the goods?
Back in February, when the Nokia Pureview 808 was announced, there was only one thing grabbing all the headlines – the onboard camera with its astonishing 41 million pixels.
Even the Nikon D800, the company's semi-pro DSLR with a full-frame sensor, boasts 'only' 36 million pixels, so to find this amount on a smartphone seems almost too good to be true.
Of course, the naysayers will point out that pixel count isn't tantamount to image quality. Which is true in many respects, but it's worth pointing out that the 808 shoots in Pureview mode at 8 million pixel images by default.
This is achieved through a process known by some as pixel binning, or what Nokia terms "pixel oversampling". Whatever it's known as, this process essentially collects together groups of pixels to form larger pixels that are capable of collecting light more effectively. You can also choose to shoot at 38 million pixels if you prefer.
Build quality and handling
Fairly large, even by smartphone standards, a good proportion of the Nokia Pureview 808's bulk comes from the hefty lens protruding from the back of the camera.
The camera itself can be accessed either via the main menu or by assigning a shortcut to the home screen. It's a shame not to see a quicker way to activate the camera, such as on the iPhone 4S via its lock screen.
For a cameraphone, the number of controls available on the Nokia Pureview 808 are fairly extensive. You can elect to change to have the camera shoot everything in Automatic Mode, select a specific scene or have access to more advanced settings in the Creative Mode.
It is here in the Creative Mode that you have the option to shoot in different resolutions and "Sensor modes." We're not entirely sure why you'd elect to go for the full 38MP, but the option is there should you desire it.
Under Creative Mode you can also make changes to colour tones, choosing to shoot in Vivid, Sepia or Black and White should the mood strike you. There's also the option to choose between Normal, Bracketing, Interval and Self-Timer capture modes.
Handily, a group of settings can be saved in one of three slots, so if you find yourself often wanting to shoot in high-contrast black and white you can quickly flip to your saved settings.
Once Creative Mode is selected, a number of advanced settings can be accessed via the touchscreen panel on the left of the screen. Here you'll find flash modes, exposure compensation, white balance, ISO and the inbuilt ND filter.
Changes are made by swiping through options. This can be a little fiddly, or quick to change, but you learn the pressure and speed needed quickly once you use it. A handy bonus here is that each parameter includes a reset button for quickly going back to the default setting, which saves a lot of unnecessary swiping.
The shutter itself is released by a touch icon on the right-hand side of the screen. When held in landscape format, a physical button can also be used to activate the shutter on the top-right of the phone. This helps the phone feel more like a camera, and it can even be half pushed to focus first before fully depressing to release the shutter.
Like on other smartphones (and increasing amounts of compact and compact system cameras) the focus point can be altered by tapping on the screen. This is generally responsive, but we found on occasion that it took a while for the focus point to match the area tapped.
Digital zoom is available, which can be accessed either by pinching in and out on the screen or via the physical volume buttons on the side of the camera. This is pretty smooth to zoom in and out, and the actual buttons feel generally well made.
The 4-inch AMOLED ClearBlack screen works well in all but the brightest of sunlight, meaning you can view images in most conditions. Colours on the screen are displayed well, and give a good representation of how the images also appear on a computer screen.
The Nokia Pureview 808's camera is capable of producing very nice images in good conditions. Colours are bright and punchy, while pictures are crisp and clear.
We found very little evidence of chromatic aberration on images, even in high-contrast areas.
Although only equipped with a small sensor, the Nokia Pureview 808 is still capable of producing shallow depth of field effects in certain situations. Given the level of control on the camera, it's a big shame that aperture isn't one of the parameters that can be adjusted.
In the majority of cases, focusing speeds on the Nokia Pureview 808 were quick and generally accurate, although on occasion there does seem to be a lag between pressing the screen and the focus point box appearing.
Metering is another parameter that can't be manually set, so it seems likely that the smartphone's camera uses evaluative, or general metering. In the majority of cases this works quite well, only struggling in very mixed or strong light. If faced with such conditions, you can adjust the exposure compensation.
Sensitivity however, can be adjusted, or left to automatic if you prefer. With a range up to ISO 1600, the 808 is capable of grabbing shots in lower light conditions, but our tests indicate that these images are best kept fairly small and won't make good prints.
Images taken at ISO 800 look much better. At 100% on a computer screen shadow areas have a painterly pattern which is less of an issue in well illuminated sections. At around A4 size on screen there's a noticeable granular texture in the shadows, but it's not too unpleasant.
As you would expect, lower sensitivity images have more detail visible, but there's still a slight graininess in the shadows of images taken at ISO 200 at A4 size.
Once you've taken a shot, edits can be made from the Gallery area. This includes basic cropping, and more advanced options such as adding digital filters and frames.
None of the filters are labelled with names, instead relying on basic clipart-style graphics to illustrate the function, so these take some experimentation to learn the differences between all of them.
The filters are not particularly exciting, and it's a shame there couldn't have been something a little more creative here to take on the might of Instagram, which is available on iOS and Android, but not of course Symbian Belle, the Nokia Pureview 808's operating system.
Similarly, we can't see the jokey frames and clip art appealing to any serious photographers - another element that could have offered something a bit different.
More advanced editing comes in the shape of brightness, contrast and saturation adjustment. Red Eye Reduction and Auto Levels are also available. RGB controls are available, meaning you can create your own digital filters by dragging the sliders, for instance creating a Posterised or a Cross Process effect.
Image quality and resolution
As part of our image quality testing for the Nokia Pureview 808 cameraphone, we've shot our resolution chart.
If you view our crops of the resolution chart's central section at 100% (or Actual Pixels) you will see that, for example, at ISO 50 the Nokia Pureview 808 is capable of resolving up to around 16 (line widths per picture height x100) in its highest quality JPEG files.
For a full explanation of what our resolution charts mean, and how to read them, check out our full explanation of our camera testing resolution charts.
Examining images of the chart taken at each sensitivity setting reveals the following resolution scores in line widths per picture height x100:
ISO 50, score: 16 (click here to see the full resolution image)
ISO 100, score: 16 (click here to see the full resolution image)
ISO 200, score: 16 (click here to see the full resolution image)
ISO 400, score: 14 (click here to see the full resolution image)
ISO 800, score: 14 (click here to see the full resolution image)
ISO 1600, score: 12 (click here to see the full resolution image)
Noise and dynamic range
We shoot a specially designed chart in carefully controlled conditions and the resulting images are analysed using DXO Analyzer software to generate the data to produce the graphs below.
A high signal to noise ratio (SNR) indicates a cleaner and better quality image.
For more more details on how to interpret our test data, check out our full explanation of our noise and dynamic range tests.
However, we suspect that this is a result of some of the other cameras' heavy-handed processing of images which removes noise at the expense of detail.
Cameraphones have very small sensors and if the pixel count is pushed too far this can reduce their ability to record tonal changes in the highlight and shadows. As a result bright areas of the sky in landscape images burn out while the shadows go a deep black because the camera has a low dynamic range.
This chart indicates that the Nokia Pureview 808 camera's JPEGs have at least a 0.5EV higher dynamic range than the other smartphones' cameras up to a sensitivity of ISO 200. Above this value it maintains a better dynamic range than the Samsung Galaxy S2 and Motorola XT720, but is overtaken by the HTC Evo 3D.
At ISO 1600 the Nokia Pureview 808 has a restricted dynamic range so highlights will be prone to burning out and shadow detail will be lost easily.
The Nokia Pureview 808's camera is capable of producing shallow depth of field effects, such as seen here. You also have the choice between 16:9 ratio or 4:3.
Black and White mode is one of a few different options you can choose to shoot in. Also included are Sepia and Vivid.
Colours from the Nokia Pureview 808 are represented well, being punchy without being over the top.
One of the editing options on the Nokia Pureview 808 is cropping - you can see the original image below.
This is the original version of the cropped image above. Both images are saved as separate files on the camera.
Although there aren't many interesting digital filters that can be applied post-capture, you can adjust the RGB levels in order to "create your own."
This shot is taken with the camera at fully wide.
This shot is taken with the full digital zoom employed.
One of the manual controls on the Pureview is exposure compensation. On this image, the camera has struggled with the brightness range.
Here, we have upped the exposure compensation in order to produce a brighter, and more accurate, image.
Here we can see that the metering has struggled a little with a bright backlit image. It's a shame that this is something that can't be altered.
The camera struggles a little with macro focusing. You will need to stand a reasonable distance away when capturing small objects. You can always crop in to the image later in post-processing.
Here is an example of one of the digital filters that can be applied post-capture. This gives a slight pinhole camera effect by creating a vignette in the corners.
Sensitivity and noise
Full ISO 50 image, see the cropped (100%) versions below.
Overall, the images taken with the Nokia Pureview 808's camera are impressive, especially in the mobile phone arena.
However, with no mobile operators in the UK wanting to offer the phone on contract, and Nokia wobbling over US plans for the phone, any potential customers will need to buy the handset at its full price on a SIM-free deal.
Considering this is currently around £500/$700, we can't see too many people rushing out to snap up the cameraphone. For that kind of price, you can of course get a very highly specced compact camera that includes full manual control, optical zoom and in some cases the ability to shoot in raw format.
That said, it's a very interesting concept, and it certainly suggests more technological developments will come from other mobile phone manufacturers around the world, while camera (especially compact camera) manufacturers will surely be taking notice of the developments.
The amount of manual control available is pretty impressive for a mobile phone, enabling you to get a bit more creative than the traditional point and shoot devices currently on the market.
It's a shame there's not even more manual control, since parameters such as shutter speed and aperture would surely have been appreciated by more serious enthusiasts.
Nokia had the opportunity to provide something really exciting with the Nokia Pureview 808. However, it seems clear from the reluctance of the phone networks that, attention-grabbing headlines aside, the Nokia Pureview 808 isn't about to capture anybody's imagination.
If Nokia had put a bit more thought and enthusiasm into the design and functionality of its onboard camera - perhaps by offering more creative control and fun extras such as digital filters - then we could have been witnessing a real game changer here.
As it is, we're left a little flat.