Hello and welcome everyone to the Nokia N8 Review Week here on FoneArena! Each day of this week, one of our team members will cover one area of Nokia’s imaging flagship with all the do’s and dont’s. This should make for an exciting week and we’re all looking forward to that! Today is Tuesday, my name is Sandeep Sarma, and I will be covering the N8’s camera . Enjoy reading along and if you have any questions please feel free to comment.
The Nokia N8 was launched in April 2010 with the sole aim of reclaiming the crown for the high end Finnish smart-phone maker which was lost since the Nokia N95 and N82. The main highlight of the device is its 12 Megapixel Camera unit which looks to take on the Samsung Pixon12 and the Sony Ericsson Satio.
In this review, we will go through the various aspects of the device’s camera and see how it fares out and whether it really is as good as Nokia claims it is.
The Nokia N8 is equipped with a 12 Megapixel camera which has a maximum resolution of 4000×3000 pixels. It also offers additional resolutions including 9MP/Widescreen (4000×2248 pixels), 3MP (2048×1536 pixels), 1.3MP (1280×960 pixels) and 0.3MP/VGA (640×480 pixels).
Geo-tagging is supported and can be enabled/disabled. You can choose whether to display the image after capture or not. The images can be named according to the date or to a text that you input.
In the Indian variant of the Nokia N8, you cannot disable the shutter sound. However, this may be possible in regions where there is no regulation from the Government. The upside is that you can choose from 4 different camera sounds. The N8 gives you the option to auto-rotate images; you can disable it if you wish so. You can also choose the memory where the photos will be stored whether phone memory or memory card.
The User Interface looks exactly like the one we had in older Nokia touchscreen phones such as the N97/Mini, 5800 XM etc. The upper left hand side shows various settings which have been applied such as the Scene Mode, Face Detection. On the upper right hand corner, it shows the remaining pictures that can be captured, the picture resolution and the location where photos are saved.
On the right is a bar with 3 buttons; one button toggles between the Picture and Video Modes, another allows you to change the flash setting (Automatic, On, Red Eye or Off) and the last one lets you tweak the camera before taking the pictures.
At the bottom is the options button and exit button. There is also an on-screen shutter button in between them. On the left side is the zoom panel where you can zoom in/out.
So that’s pretty much the same as the old UI, and the only thing better in the UI is the speed. Apart from that it’s just the same. While it’s fast and allows easy access to most settings, there hasn’t been any improvement in the looks and we feel Nokia could have made some changes at least.
Most people might not agree when I say that the interface layout is good and allows ease of access. But remember that most users will be taking pictures in the automatic mode itself. They will not bother going through the extensive settings and modifying them to suit their needs. They let the camera apply its own settings depending on the situation. But at the same time it allows the user to swap between imaging/video modes and also change the flash settings without going into any sub-menus.
And for all those who like tweaking the camera, all the other settings are available directly under one sub-menu.
The only thing that the camera UI lacks is a direct shortcut to the photo gallery. You have to click the settings shortcut and only then can you access the photo gallery shortcut. There should have been one in the main window itself.
The camera shutter key is on the right side of the device. You can capture images with the dedicated camera key which focuses on the subject when you press halfway and takes the snap on full press. For those of you who prefer using the screen, you can also use the on-screen shutter button which automatically focuses and takes a snap in one press. [Editor note: we were surprised by how incredibly fast this method is, it might remove some of the control you have over the focus, but for fast AND focused snaps, nothing currently on the market beats it.]
The shutter key is not raised but is at the same level as rest of the body and is also a bit on the harder side which means you have to press harder to focus and click a picture. Some people may like this while others may not. I feel the hardness is alright as it gives it a more professional feel but the key should have been slightly raised from the body. Then again there may be several reasons for not doing so but I am not going to elaborate on that.
To zoom in/out you can use the volume up/down buttons which are located above the camera shutter key on the same side. You can also use the on-screen zoom panel to zoom in/out.
The Nokia N8 has the largest imaging sensor on a mobile phone which measures 1/1.83 inches. The benefits of a bigger sensor include more detailing, better low-light photography and dynamic range. The lens has a mechanical shutter and is a 28mm wide-angle lens which means you can get more subjects/objects into a picture as compared to a normal lens.
The camera lens lacks a protective cover which means it’s exposed to scratches and fingerprints. The reason for this as Nokia put it with older handsets such as the N95 8GB and N96 was that the lens cover takes time to open and might disrupt the flow of third party applications that require a camera to operate, like Qikitude, Kooaba, Point and Find and others.
Since we’ve been using it, fingerprints seem to be the bigger threat compared to scratches because Nokia have used a hardened glass lens which is somewhat capable of protection against scratches. But fingerprints are easily applied on the surface. While this does not affect image quality by much, if the smudges are too oily, the images may look a little blurry/overexposed under low light. Nokia have also recessed the lens slightly into the protruding part so as to avoid scratches when the N8 is placed with its back on a surface. The lens can only get scratched if a sharp objects such as keys or knives strike against it.
The Xenon flash is adjacent to the camera lens.
Now moving onto the image quality, the first thing that comes to my mind is the detailing. The amount of detail that the N8 captures is amazing. You can zoom into the picture and find out stuff that was not evident to you when you even clicked the picture. There’s this one example where I clicked a picture of a guitar and upon zooming I could clearly count the number of holes in the wood! That is impressive even when taking digicams into consideration.
Carl Zeiss optics play a huge role in this amazing quality, as they have done in the past with the N95 and N82.
The images produced are natural with no purple fringing, excessive sharpness, more contrast or brightness. While many people may criticize the camera for being too natural, I think it’s perfect. They say other phones such as the iPhone 4, give more saturated, brighter and colourful photos. But the truth is that the Nokia N8 performs better as camera. For those who want to have the unrealistic but more pleasing look, they can always tweak the settings and get those desired effects. The outcome in such cases will also be more pleasing as it comes along with more detail thanks to the bigger and better sensor.
I’m not saying that more of brightness or contrast doesn’t look good. I myself am a person who prefers more colour, brightness and contrast. What I’m trying to say is that why not leave it upto the user to decide whether he wants a more realistic or a more pleasing outcome and that’s exactly what the Nokia N8 offers.
The N8 packs a Xenon flash, the first one on a Nokia device since the N82. It is a smaller Xenon flash compared to the N82: figures say around 30 % smaller. Nokia say that the smaller size has not compromised the power or brightness of the flash: it gives the same output if not better. The flash is good enough in any low light situation, even in pitch darkness. The faces come out pretty good too, not bouncing back too much light. There are two pictures below: the one on the left is what a dark room looks like when taken without the flash, but the right image shows the floor when the flash is turned on.
Noise levels are pretty low in most low light situations. Lower than any smartphone but slightly behind certain digital cameras.
Macro photography is great in terms of optical quality but the distance between the object and the lens isn’t too good. There are camera phones that can shoot closer macros. Another problem is that in the Automatic setting, the camera fails to focus on close objects/macro photos on most occasions. But once you switch it to Macro/Close Up mode, it focuses fine.
The shutter speed is one of the fastest that we’ve seen on mobile phones but we’ve noticed that the iPhone 4 is slightly faster in certain situations. We’re not exactly sure why that is but for very fast situations, switch it to Sports mode and you’ve got a winner [Editor note: this is because the Sports mode bypasses the Autofocus, it will take a quick image of whatever you throw at it, and it’s a gamble whether or not this will be usable]. Face detection works fine but there is no Smile Detection. We would have loved to have this feature as phones likes Sony Ericsson Satio had it even in 2009.
The Panorama application can be downloaded from the Nokia OVI store and the pictures come out really nice. The time to capture the panorama and process it has also been reduced as compared to older Nokia models.
The size of pictures can vary from 500kb-2MB when in the 9MP/Widescreen mode and from 1MB-3MB or so in the 12MP mode depending on the detailing, light conditions, colors of the picture. This means that even though post-processing and compression are reduced, they are still present, but to the average user, it doesn’t matter.
The pictures on the Nokia N8 look surreal if you do some editing and post-processing. Here are a few edited pictures just to give you an idea of how they will look.
The various camera settings you can choose from are:
- Scene Modes-Automatic, User Defined, Close-Up, Portrait, Landscape, Sport, Night and Night Portrait
- Face Detection-On/Off
- Self-Timer-Off, 2 Seconds, 10 Seconds and 20 Seconds
- Colour Tone-Normal, Sepia, Black & White and Vivid (Negative is missing for some reason, but I guess it’s something that a normal firmware update can add)
- White Balance-Automatic, Sunny, Cloudy, Incandescent, Fluorescent
- Exposure- +2 to -2
- Light Sensitivity (ISO)-Automatic, Low, Medium and High
- Contrast- +2 to -2
- Sharpness-Hard, Normal and Soft
The Nokia N8 shoots videos at a maximum resolution of 1280×720 pixels (720p/HD Ready) at 25FPS (Frames Per Second). Yes you read that right shooting is not at 30FPS or 24FPS, its 25FPS. It may impress some while it may not impress the others. I like videos that are shot at 24FPS and I like the ones at 25FPS. I don’t like the 30FPS as it feels a little too fast and any camera shakes become more evident. 24FPS is also the rate at which movies are shot at. 30FPS is more lifelike and hence many people prefer that. The N8 gives no option of choosing the frame rate. However there are videos online taken with the N8 at 30fps. This only proves that the N8 is capable of such standards and we request Nokia to please add such an option through a future update.
You can choose a lower quality 4:3 ratio video recording in MP4 format and the lowest quality for messages and emails in 3GP format. Geo-tagging is available in videos as well. Video stabilisation is also available. Audio recording can be turned on and off.
There are three shooting modes to choose from: Automatic, Low light and Night. The only other things you can adjust are the White Balance and Colour tone.
The greatest thing about the video recording is the zoom. Even though it uses digital zoom and not optical zoom, it still does not lose quality and is still in HD. Quality decreases slightly but not as regular digital zoom does. Shakes also become a little more evident. The zoom does not work in a similar way with pictures since the pictures are in 12 Megapixel.
The reason why the quality loss is minimal in the video recording is because the N8 utilises the full 12 MP to record and then downsizes to 720p, whereas regular devices records in 720p and upon zooming reduce the resolution and upscale to 720p causing loss in quality.
The N8 lacks autofocus or touch to focus while video recording but Nokia have included a technology which they say allows objects to be in focus from 60cm to infinity. But we’ve noticed the N8 to lose slight focus when zooming fully.
Low light video recording also has surprisingly little noise unless you are recording in pitch darkness for fireworks or something similar. There is no light while recording video since the N8 only has a Xenon light and Xenons cannot be turned on for long periods. The stereo audio recording is also good.
Here again the Nokia N8 records a more natural video and this time settings won’t allow you to make it look more colourful or brighter as you could do with pictures because of the limited settings applicable.
The Nokia N8 is definitely equipped with the best camera in the phone business. Its camera will suit the needs of a beginner as well as a pro. It is simple to operate but at the same time it can perform complex functions.
There maybe a few shortcomings but the advantages outweigh them easily and a few of the problems are just software related and may as well be fixed with a software update. This could be regarded as the right choice for people who want to replace their digital cameras with a cellphone.
Nokia has rightly reclaimed the crown of Best Cellphone Camera!
P.S: Thanks a lot to Michael Hell for submitting his Nokia N8 samples as well.