Nokia 808 Pureview reviiew
This is my review of the Nokia 808 Pureview. Bear in mind that I'm the kind of guy who reads manuals as a last resort so any problems I have found might have easy solutions.
But the review is based on real world shooting and use for what it's worth.
I usually use just my LX5 as my travel camera but on this last trip I took along my new Nokia 808 Pureview to put it through it's paces. It's the smartphone most notable for being able to capture 41 mp images. In fact most of those who buy will be seeing it as a camera you can make calls on and to an extent that is correct. As a smartphone, it works, but if you're used to an Iphone or one of the better Android phones it feels like a downgrade. Everything works but it doesn't have the fluidity or stability of the newer phones. Having said that it still acceptable and it does have it's good points too, despite the 4” screen the battery lasts almost 4 days between charges and it has a nice solid build quality, as if being made of kevlar, gorilla glass and spent uranium.
Moving quickly on to the camera part, it has a bright 2,4 Zeiss lens (unfortunately, as is common now, left without physical protection except for tom gorilla glass which of course doesn't stop fingerprints and pocket lint) and the sensitivity can be manually set from 50 – 1600 ISO. If left on auto the camera seems to avoid the two extremes and stay between 64 and 800 which is a bit of a shame because at 1600 the result is positively astonishing for a mobile phone, a slight graininess but comparativly little noise :
this is important because the aperture is fixed so the only way the camera can control the shutter speed and keep it reasonably fast is by sliding the ISO up and down the scale, so in low light you're stuck with high ISO. If you set the ISO yourself you don't get any feedback as to which shutter speed you're getting so you can end up with a very slow shutter speed and movement blur.
Also the longest shutter speed seems to be around 1/8 of a second so the extra ISO stop is very useful in very low light.
What happens at the other end I hear you ask, in very bright light and with a fixed aperture of 2,4?
Can't this lead to overexposure? Cleverly enough the camera has a built in, 2 stop, neutral density filter which can be applied automatically or manually.
When you take the phone out of the box and take a few snaps you will probably be disappointed because the default resolution is optimised for Facebook or Twitter publishing and looks aweful.
In order to unleash the full power of the camera you have to use one of the three “Creative modes” where you can set all the parameters yourself like resolution, format, sharpness, contrast and the like. This way you can have 3 profiles, for example, one where you use the full 41 megapixels in 16:9 format, one where you use format 4:3 and “pixel binning” where the 38 megapixels of the 4:3 format is averaged down to 8 mega pixels which removes most of the noise found in the full resolution shots. (It should be added that for most purposes there is no noticeable difference between the 41 mp and the 8 “binned pixels” except less noise in the latter in low light). And another profile with you favourite effect, say sepia.
There are some other modes like “sports” and “landscape” mode which I assume fall back on the default resolution since one can't modify them.
Among the settings is one to allow the camera to be used even when the phone is locked, by depressing the physical shutter button. Unfortunately the camera falls back on the default setting here as well with no way of changing the settings which is intensely frustrating until you resort to turning it off.
Apart from the fixed aperture you're also stuck with a fixed focal length. When you're using one of the creative modes, using “binning”, you can zoom with a 2 finger movement on the display. In order to avoid using the stigmatised “digital zoom” term they call it “in camera zoom”. Because there are so many pixels to spare the result is pretty good with just a bit more noise.
Speaking of the display, all setting are changed via the display and there is also a “shutter button” on the display which is useful to avoid camera movement when pressing the physical shutter button.
There was a bit a a learning curve, getting used to the display driven handling, but when I got used to it it was surprisingly fast (and fun). You choose the focus point by tapping on the display and this is important because the large aperture results in a narrow depth of focus and, left to it's own devices, the camera very often misses the point of interest. Even with face recognition activated it seemed to have problems finding focus, especially with several faces.
As a camera it is relatively discreet and fast enough for action and street photography.
All in all a pleasant surprise, although, despite the high resolution and low noise, the images don't seem to “pop” to the same degree as on my old LX5 and need rather more post processing to get the best out of them. Presumably fine tuning of the settings can get them more to my liking although I have sort of got to like the muted natural colours.
A lot of them have a slight “glow” which several times had me looking for some forgotten protective film on the lens or fingerprints, but it seems that it's one of the characteristics one just has to learn to love.
A big drawback is that the camera doesn't offer the choice of raw so your 8 mp binned image is compressed down to a 2 mp jpg which seems unnecessarily harsh. No doubt future apps will offer that option but it's sad that Nokia haven't thought of that after working on it for 5 years.