Excepting Nokia’s own 12mp smartphone camera on two older models, 8 megapixel lenses are the photographic standard on most every smartphone on Earth. And the Nokia 808 PureView, at about $550 from AT&T at this writing, is a bargain considering that.
So now the Nokia 808 PureView is out with its 41mp camera. The fact that other Nokia models don’t include the lens – particularly its 900 series and Windows Phone models – is a big disappointment to many. Still, a 41mp camera on a smartphone is a big deal. Typically, you’d see that on a high-end pro-level camera. But a phone? That’s what all the hoopla is about.
I took a deep dive to see how this technology works.
First, take a look at a sample pic Nokia says represents a 41mp image. Notice the enhanced zoom such a lens makes possible.
Image credit: Nokia Pureview 41mp sample image library
The 41mp density isn’t really about day to day snapping. The capability is what makes it possible to zoom in to unprecedented levels without distortion — and blow up images without pixelations. It’s a tool of pros now at smartphone level.
But is it really 41mp? No, but ..
By default, the 808 PureView provides a 5mp image via its so-called “creative shooting mode,” which allows for the capture of 7152 x 5368 pixels. Nokia says the camera also features a special so-called creative shooting mode if you want the full resolution.
But at most, the camera really offers 38mp pictures at a 4:3 aspect ratio. That measurement describes the proportional relationship between an image’s width and its height. Now, at a 16:9 aspect ratio, your images are at 36mp. That’s still huge.
So why the disparity?
It’s not false advertising. The sensor, as outlined in the specs, does have the capability of 41mp, a total of 7728 x 5368 pixels. But as the optical format area in a camera is a circle, not a square, a few pixels are left out in the final image.
As you see in the illustration I found in a Nokia white paper, the 38mp at a 4:3 aspect ratio makes full use of the height of the image sensor. That’s why it captures at most 7152 x 5368 pixel images, as I explained. Here are some other facts you need to know about this tech. The 41mp smartphone includes:
Carl Zeiss lens technology:
The 808 PureView uses a Carl Zeiss lens.As a photographer, I can tell you that is top of the line. A camera is only as good as its lens, and a Carl Zeiss Optics lens is first rate. It’s great in low light and other hard lighting situations.
An enormous, ultra high-res sensor:
A great lens doesn’t mean much without a standout sensor and, according to its specs, this is where the 808 PureView really shines. It employs an enormous, high res sensor. Nokia says the sensor on this smartphone camera is able to capture 7728 x 5368 pixels – that is a total of 41mp, even if the images show at 36 or 38mp, depending on aspect ratio.
That’s huge. This 41mp sensor is about three times larger than the sensor on most pro-level compact cams. All those pixels translate into ultra-sharp images and the capability to zoom in — with total clarity and no noticeable visual noise and pro reviews like mine bear this out.
This chart, included in a piece at dpreview.com, is a great demonstration of what I’m talking about.
And finally, a look at pixel binning …
Is pixel binning technology the secret sauce of the Nokia PureView 808? Yes and no.
Pixel binning, also known as over-sampling, is a term that means taking several pixels and combining them into one pixel. Pixel binning is common in professional low-light photography, especially in astronomy. It improves the signal-to-noise ratio in low light conditions, and that determines the performance of a camera.
In the case of the 808 PureView, its pixel binning takes seven pixels of information and condenses those into one single pixel, which in turn provides a sharp 5mp image. Nokia claims its use of proprietary algorithms for optimizing detail retention, combined with pixel binning, is what makes this super camera tech possible. But it doesn’t have a corner on the market. HP and other companies have pixel binning patents filed as early back as 2002. It’s putting the tech on a smartphone that’s so new — and, in its way, brilliant.
The video on this smartphone is another matter. In my next installment of the 41mp PureView deepdive, I’ll take a look at the controversy surrounding the video capabilities of this new smartphone.
Based in San Francisco, Julie Blaustein is a nationally known tech and tech event photographer and the senior photojournalist at aNewDomain.net. Follow her @JulieRB and check out her Google+ stream here. Email her at Julie@aNewDomain.net.