Nokia 808 PureView - The Camera Beast [Review: Part 1]

Nokia finally managed to deliver a head turning flagship device after a very long time. Only this time it’s a total stunner. The Nokia 808 PureView is a stunning camera with added features of a mobile phone. While other manufacturers were inching ahead of one another in the race to add more mega pixels to their mobile phone cameras, Nokia aced the race with one giant leap with this 41 mega pixel device. The Symbian powered Nokia 808 PureView is poised to beat micro four thirds in the camera department. But still Symbian is far behind the likes of Android or iOS.

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The Nokia 808 PureView is more of a camera phone, rather than a smart phone. This part of the review deals only with nitty-gritties of the camera in Nokia 808 PureView and its capabilities.

 
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The mobile is constructed around the camera. The design and construction gives first preference to the camera. The mobile is 18mm thick at its top where the camera is located. The thinnest end is 13mm deep. The camera has lens made by Carl-Zeiss, a standard Nokia choice for its flagship devices. It has a powerful xenon flash, twice as powerful as the one in N8. The display is 4 inch AMOLED screen with Gorilla glass protection. The display compliments well both as a view finder and imaging screen.

The Camera
The camera in the 808 PureView has a 1/1.2 inch image sensor which has a resolution of 41MP (7728 x 5368). In 4:3 mode, the sensor is capable of 38MP images with resolution of 7152 x 5368 pixels. In the wide 16:9 mode the sensor captures images in 34MP with resolution of 7728 x 4354 pixels. The camera is assisted by a powerful xenon flash which is the best in its class. Apart from the Mega Pixel artillery, what surprises me the most is the ND filter. Neutral density filter helps cut out light in brightly illuminated frames. For a well-lit scene, the wide aperture camera lens would need a fast shutter speed. So to help with that, the ND filter comes in handy. The camera shutter is activated by the hard key on the right side of the mobile and also a soft key on the camera interface. The focus assist lamp is a less powerful flash residing next to the xenon flash. It helps the camera to focus on the object in low light situations before actually firing the xenon flash. This smaller flash is also the torch light which is activated by long press of the lock key.
 
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 This was taken in a totally dark room. The xenon flash was fired and it light up the entire hall.

The camera interface is very neat, minimalistic yet highly usable. You can either slide on the camera interface to zoom or use the volume rocker to zoom. The zoom in PureView uses loss-less digital zoom technology which gives you sharp images even when zoomed. The right side has toggle switches to switch between the camera and the video. Below it we have the soft key to activate the camera shutter and the gallery shortcut. The top holds the switches to choose the modes from automatic, scene or creative. The keys in the left vary based on the selected mode. The auto mode has flash control which lets you control the flash in 5 different pre-set modes. In the scene mode, apart from the flash control, you get to choose your scenes. Landscape, Auto, Macro, portrait, sports, night, night portrait, spot light and snow are the various scenes available to choose from. However the intelligent group shot mode and the panoramic modes would have made it more interesting and versatile. The creative mode sees a whole bunch of icons on the left interface which provides granular and fine tuning capabilities to your shots.
 
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The auto mode makes the camera, a point and shoot camera, and clicks images at 5 MP using the PureView oversampling technology. The scenes give you a bit of control and the creative mode opens up the entire cockpit for you. The scene mode lets you shoot 5MPpictures in 16:9 aspect-ratios. The creative mode gives you full control of the camera and you choose the Mega pixel to shoot with. The full resolution mode clicks 38 MP snaps at 4:3 aspect ratio and 34 MP snaps in 16:9 aspect ratio. You can also use PureView in creative mode to click images at 5MP or 3MP or 8MP. In the all the modes (except in full resolution) your shots are leveraged by pixel oversampling and loss less digital zoom technology. A 41 MP sensor, clicking an image at 8 MP, the zoom must definitely be loss less. There features take your images to the next level.
 
Apart from the aspect ratio, creative mode lets you choose the JPEG image quality, color tones, capture mode along with various advanced tweaks such as sharpness, contrast and saturation. The controls in the viewfinder offers a whole bunch of advanced tweaks such as exposure compensation, ISO, flash, white balance and ND filter, in the creative mode. You can preset these setting under 3 custom creative modes, C1, C2 and C3.
 
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ND Filter Off 
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ND Filter On

The focal length of the lens is around 8mm and the aperture is super wide at f/2.4. This gets you awesome details and depth of focus. The minimum focal distance at macro mode is around 20 cm. The camera offers touch to focus along with 3 focus modes: automatic, hyper-focal, macro and infinity. Only drawback I see here is a lack of F-Stop and aperture tuning ability. If not for the tuning ability, if the interface at the least, shows the F-Stop and aperture settings set by the algorithm, that would have been of a great help to advanced users.
 
The Image Quality
I have had this mobile with me for little over a week now and I took it for a ride at full throttle. If there is one word to describe the image quality from this mobile camera, that would be FANTABULOUS. It’s finally good to see a mobile camera that is accurate on white balance, saturation and exposure. In the full resolution mode, the nose is very minimal. The details is just too good. At full resolution, the camera doesn’t let you zoom, but logically there is no need to zoom. Take a picture at full resolution and crop the area you wanted to zoom. You would still get a very good result. The size of the image is between 10 and 15 MB at full resolution and is of jpeg format. The time to click and store the image in memory is about 2-3 seconds.
 
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Shot in PureView mode, without zooming.
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Shot after Zooming. The zoomed image shows no trace of noise or loss in quality.

Moving on to the PureView mode, to my surprise, I find the images from the PureView to be a bit higher in quality. The reason is the oversampling algorithms used to process the images. There is no noise in the images and it reveals fine details. Colors are preserved and the saturation is maintained optimally. The white balance algorithm is advanced and intelligent. For most of the shots, you can let the white balance to be on auto and the device will decide that for you, quite accurately. The PureView mode demands a special mention when it comes to low light photography. Though the full resolution mode provides functions to change the ISO settings, the output is noisy at low lights. In PureView mode, you get noise free images up to ISO 400 and even at ISO 800 noise level is acceptable. Check out the sample images.
 
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Low Light sample images at Full Resolution
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With Flash, Pureview Auto Mode

Video Recording
Once you hit the toggle button from the camera interface, the video recording interface opens up. It is very similar to camera interface and you get auto, scene and creative modes for video recording too. While recording videos, you can choose to enable the continuous autofocus function and if it’s disabled, the hyper focal mode is enabled by default, by which everything in the frame which is one meter away from the camera, is in focus. In the creative mode you can choose from various combinations of resolutions and frame rates. You can shoot videos with a max of 30fps and 1080p and a min of 15fps and 360p. You can zoom (loss-less) even while recording and the zoom factor gets you a magnification of up to 4x in 1080p. Audio recording is commendable in the 808 PureView mobile. Apart from the frame rate and progression setting, the creative mode lets you tweak color tones, saturation, contrast and sharpness. In the scene mode, the available presets are low-light, auto, sports, spot light and snow.
The recorded videos are stored in MP4 format. The sound is recorded in stereo mode. The videos quality is smooth, sharp and offer great level of detail. The color correction and rendering is very similar to the still images, but a bit under-saturated. But from all the mobile devices I have tested, the PureView video recording is by far the best.
 

Comparison with other Cameras
Let us now compare the Nokia 808 PureView with HTC’s flagship device HTC One X and a NIKON DSLR D3100. For comparison images were taken only in auto mode in all these 3 cameras. We shoot a lot of images but any basic photographer would be interested in 3 primary scenes. Now let’s compare the camera in these 3 scenarios.
 
1.  Landscape – In landscape mode everything must be in focus. Now let us pit the Nokia 808 PureView against the other cameras.
 
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Nokia 808 PureView 
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Nikon D3100 with Kit Lens 

Result:
The Nikon DSLR image is rich on brightness and captures a lot of details and ideal for post procession. HTC One X goes a step ahead and processes the image for you with added warmth and saturation. It’s pleasing for the eyes, but the details in the background are lost due to over processing. Nokia 808 PureView combines the detailing of a DSLR with intelligent processing algorithms to give us the best image. The winner is Nokia 808 PureView as it has the best combination of technology and science.
 
2.   Depth of Focus – Only the primary object is in focus and the background is totally out of focus.
 
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Nokia 808 PureView
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Result:
It’s not fair to compare a DSLR for depth of focus, as it depends on the lens that is attached in it. In our test, the Nokia 808 offers the best depth of focus. As the aperture is wide (F2.4 in Nokia 808 and F2 in HTC One X), it allows a lot of light and Nokia 808 optimizes the light and processes the image intelligently to give high quality output. Winner: Nokia 808 Pureview
 

3.  Selective Focus – Select objects from the frame to be in focus.
 
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 Nokia 808 PureView
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 HTC One X
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 Nikon D3100 with Kit Lens

Result:
HTC One X and Nokia 808 are equipped with touch to focus but Nikon has AF Points. Though selecting the AF points is a manual process, it offers better control. The touch to focus in both the mobiles fails to excite. Winner: Nikon D3100.

PureView Mode Sample Images
 
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Full Resolution Sample Images

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Various Modes – Sample shots
 
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 Black and White in Creative mode
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 Normal in Creative mode
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Sepia in Creative mode 
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 Vivid in creative mode
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Macro in PureView mode 
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Night in PureView mode 

Final Words
The Nokia 808 PureView has out of the world imaging experience. It can be compared on par with some of the mid-level DSLRs and micro-four third cameras available out there. The over-sampling and loss-less zoom algorithms compliments the large 41 mega pixel sensor technology. The combination of the best hardware and intelligent software, makes the Nokia 808 PureView the best camera mobile out there and it gives stiff competition to many entry and mid-level DSLRs.

For high-resolution images, do check out our Flickr Stream.
 

In the next part, we will review the design, construction, operating system and smart phone capabilities.

Part 2 [Review: Nokia 808 PureView

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