Interview – Nokia’s head of Imaging on the Nokia Lumia 720

We are now in the elongated Mobile World Congress post-hangover phase, because, to be honest, it all seemed like a blur at the event. You can get what we are saying if you take a look at our big MWC 2013 wrap up. But even in that blurry mess, some devices stood out, and one of them was the Nokia Lumia 720. Nokia proudly claimed they are bringing high end innovation to their new mid-range Lumia smartphones, with the Lumia 720 and the Lumia 520. In some ways, they definitely did, especially with the Lumia 720. You can read our in-depth hands on impressions here. Truth be told, we were really impressed with the display and the camera. The camera is a special one. Its 6.7 megapixel sensor coupled with a super fast f1.9 lens is aimed at providing great photos in most lighting conditions. But little did we know there is a lot more to the camera than just megapixels and the aperture. Hence, we contacted Juha Alakarhu, Nokia’s head of Camera Technology, with some questions regarding the Nokia Lumia 720 and asked him all about its imaging capabilities. Read on past the break for the full interview.

This is the complete interview transcript(Answers in quotes) –

FA – Hi, first of all, I want to congratulate you and the team on a great launch of the new devices at the MWC. I was particularly very impressed with the Lumia 720 and its imaging capabilities, can you provide us some thoughts on why Nokia decided to differentiate with imaging, especially on a mid-range phone like the Lumia 720? What was the thought process behind its creation?

Juha: Thanks, humans are visual and capturing photos is now like a basic human need. We want to bring the best imaging not only to our high-end but also to mid-tier smartphones like the Nokia Lumia 720. By the way, we are also very proud of the imaging that we have in Lumia 620 (which has already got several excellent reviews) and Lumia 520.

 If there was one thing that immediately intrigued me about the Lumia 720’s camera, it was the megapixel count, what’s the reason behind the 6.7 megapixel number?

Juha: We actually have a story about the Lumia 720 camera in Nokia Conversations. See the link below. We simply wanted to create the best possible camera for this product, regardless of the technologies or megapixels. In the camera design, we simulated several options actually, from 3MP to 12MP, and 6.7MP was the one that provided the optimal results in all conditions.

Could you provide us some insight into what’s new with the sensor (apart from the number), the lens and the overall technical specifications?

Juha: It’s a 1/3.4” extremely sensitive back-side illuminated sensor.

Additionally, we heard from Ari Partinen(also part of the imaging team) at the Nokia that the Carl Zeiss lens on the Lumia 720 is new too. Clearly, this is a new effort from Nokia rather than using off-the-shelf components.

This is also the fastest lens on any smartphone camera with a f1.9 aperture, can you explain the idea behind the aperture and how big of a difference this is, especially for a smaller sensor?

 Juha: As I commented, we simulated several options first. We considered different pixel sizes and different sensor sizes, and different optics designs. All of the parameter variations lead to different image quality tradeoffs. Our simulations showed that 6.7MP sensor with F1.9 aperture optics was clearly the optimal for this camera – so we selected that.

The Lumia 720 can record only 720p videos, is it a hardware limitation?

Juha: We cannot go into details of the system implementation, but we believe that we have created the perfect balance of features for the Nokia Lumia 720 target user.

What’s special about the front facing camera? Is it the same as the one on the Lumia 920?

 Juha: With this implementation we have made improvements to the front facing camera system.

We just want to add that the front facing camera specifications are – 1.3 MP f2.4 capable of recording 720p video, capable of 1280×960 stills. Roughly the same specs as the one on the Lumia 920, but we are not sure if the sensor and the optics are same. Onto the other questions then.

Does the Lumia 720 come with Rich recording?

Juha: Lumia 720 uses HAAC “high amplitude audio capture”, so we are using the same extremely loud sound pressure microphone technology that we have used before.

I certainly do feel that Nokia is doing a great job in imaging software too. We love Cinemagraph, smart shoot, panorama.. etc. Are there more coming? Anything we should be aware of?

Juha: Thanks, we’re focussed on tackling the day to day problems people face when taking pictures, as well as deepening and enriching the imaging experience. Apps like Cinemagraph, Glam me! and Smartshoot provide exciting new ways to share and connect with your friends, family and beyond- they also bring a little fun and help you unleash your creativity. Though I can’t comment specifically, we’ll continue to develop the imaging experience for all Nokia Lumia owners so they can get more from their phone, which also benefits Nokia as key differentiator for Nokia Lumia.

 We also shot a short hands on demo of the Glam Me app and the Cinemagraph app on the Nokia Lumia 720, you can take a look at the video below.

Finally, thanks for the interview, very much appreciated! It would be nice if our readers could see some real camera samples from the Lumia 720, especially in low light?

Thanks, I look forward to sharing them with you. Best, Juha.

Unfortunately, since the devices are in prototype stage, we were not able to get the samples from Nokia. But, don’t worry, we managed to snag one sample from the event itself, you can see it for yourself(click for full resolution).

Windows Phone_20130225_004

But be warned, the image is from a prototype device and the lighting conditions were far from perfect, it’s there just to give you an idea.

So, that’s about it for the interview. Do you have any more questions to ask? Let us know in the comments section below, we’ll try to get more answers.

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Author: Bharadwaj Chandramouli

Bharadwaj is obsessed with technology and is a self taught designer who covers news, writes features, reviews, loves to take photos and produces videos. He is currently using a review unit. You can follow him on Twitter @bharadc23 and on Google+