The N8’s 12MP centerpiece

As I had briefly mentioned earlier, the Nokia N8 has what is probably the best camera to make home in a mobile phone. And Nokia is making no bones in letting people know about this. While Apple may talk about letting in more photons with a backside illuminated sensor, Nokia has actually gone ahead and done something about it—both with the optics and sensor size. At the heart of the N8’s camera is a 1/1.83” sensor which is in fact larger than most point and shoot cameras (which often carry sensors ranging from 1/2.3 – 1/2.5” in size) that are currently available. While a large sensor can’t do much by itself, Carl Zeiss has provided a decent 28mm equivalent lens that makes good of the sensor, given the tight confines and dimensional restrictions of a mobile phone.  In fact, much of the N8’s physical profile is dictated by that optical system.

Just to drive home the point as to how serious it is about the N8 as an imaging device, Nokia has equipped the phone with a real xenon flash (and an AF-assist lamp in the same housing) along with an active neutral density filter that automatically slides in place if you were to try and take pictures with a lot of bright light in it. This combined with features such as face detection and video stabilization (not image) make the N8 a reasonably good replacement to most entry-level point and shoot cameras currently available. The N8 could pull off pretty good shots without much issue in all but the poorest of lighting conditions. In poorly-lit scenarios, the N8 succumbs to its camera phone roots and produces visibly noisy pictures that lack detail. Pulling down the ISO manually and using a tripod would help, but this IS a phone after all.

I haven’t been able to pull up a guide number for the xenon flash, but suffice to say that it is an order of magnitude better than the LED/dual-LED flash found in most phones. Also, since the N8 lacks a motorized lens, it has a digital-only zoom which Nokia has consciously restricted to 2x for still photos and 3x for videos for the sake of maintaining image quality. The average size of a 4000x3000 pixel (12MP) image taken by the N8 is about 2.4MB which means it is compressed a fair bit. When set to “Close Up” mode the N8 can focus on objects as close as 3”.

   

   

Shots with the N8’s brilliant 12MP camera. The gallery has more camera shots.

Speaking of video, the N8 can record 720p video at 25fps with stereo sound. The N8 has 2 mics; one next to the camera module and another on the front of the phone. In test, the N8 could capture pretty decent audio even in moderately noisy and windy environments. It looks like the positioning of the mics and the noise cancellation algorithms together are doing a decent job of cutting out the background noise. In use, the N8 captured 720p video at an average bit rate of about 10 Mbps in the H.264/AVC format. The N8 makes use of something called an active hyperfocal system to maintain focus between about 60cm to infinity, without having to use a continuous focusing system. To describe this in a little more detail without diving too deep, the hyperfocal length of a lens is a measure of some distance at which, if the lens is focused, everything from a particular point (60cm in case of the N8) to infinity will be in complete focus. In the N8, the camera and software adjust the position of the lens if needed, to maintain this hyperfocal length and hence the “active” moniker. Because of this, the N8 can make do without hefty auto-focusing motors and deliver good focusing performance.

Bench Video


Demo Video

The camera interface itself is pretty straightforward and easy to use. You can easily change the captured image resolution, white balance, color tone, flash, scene mode and ISO options. There are quite a few still photo and video editing options available on the phone and the N8 seems to do a reasonably quick job of post processing. The one thing that I found quite annoying, was having to make all edits in one go on the N8. You cannot “save” a project as such; you have to make all your edits at once and save the file.

In-phone editing options on the N8

The N8 does not support panorama shots out of the box and I found this a bit surprising. Only when I casually dug through the Ovi Store did I find the “Panorama” app by Nokia.

Why this isn’t included from the get go or even pointed to by a link somewhere beats me. Either way, the panorama app does its job without any issues, although I must say I had to read the help section to try and understand how to get it working; not the most straightforward implementation for taking panorama shots. As with most camera phones now-a-days, the N8 also supports geo-tagging photos and videos. At the end of it, the one thing that’s blatantly clear is that the camera on the N8 is not a checkbox feature. It really is a well-engineered piece of hardware that Nokia seems to have integrated very well with the N8, instead of just tacking it on as an after-thought.

Introduction and Hardware Impressions N8 - GPU and SoC
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  • alovell83 - Wednesday, January 12, 2011 - link

    "And with one such update promised for the N8 sometime in Q1 2011, it may be the device to recommend, after the update."

    Unfortunately, after the update this phone will be what, 6+ months on the market? With no more flagship phones running on Symbian I'd never recommend this OS to a friend, even if they are familiar with Symbian.

    Meego should be able to help Nokia remain competitive, this phone, unfortunately for Nokia and it's fans, wont be of great use to a consumer outside of the cameraphone aficionados.
    Reply
  • alovell83 - Wednesday, January 12, 2011 - link

    Also, in case anyone wants to say how easy it is to cross-develop apps for Meego & Symbian, from what I read, that much is true. However, I wouldn't want my OS to be reliant on Meego's adoption rates and apps when Meego has no hardware release dates and is showing up to this party quite late. Reply
  • deputc26 - Wednesday, January 12, 2011 - link

    Hmmm a little grandiloquent Reply
  • Antibios - Tuesday, January 25, 2011 - link

    A tad sesquipedalian Reply
  • anactoraaron - Wednesday, January 12, 2011 - link

    other reasons to not recommend: wifi pathetic, talk time sub par by today's standards horribly slow web browser (which is why you need more 3g battery life- the damn pages take forever to load!), screen res below what I would call the current industry standard (thanks to android devices), and lastly when you make an unlocked phone that you are trying to sell for ~$600US (typical for Nokia flagships) you DO NOT put in a 99 cent ARM 11 chip!! Can you say overpriced? And where the heck is the 1500 mAh battery found in almost every other nokia phone? I guess when you lose that much marketshare you can't afford to put quality components in your flagship. My guess is that Nokia already had this camera/sensor/flash prior to their imminent demise. Same with the 1200 mAh batteries now found on their phones. Sad really.

    A turd is a turd, even if it is well built.
    Reply
  • Voldenuit - Wednesday, January 12, 2011 - link

    Firstly, it is not selling for $600. It can be found for $399 at a lot of places and newegg is selling it for $429. For an unlocked pentaband phone, that's not a bad deal, especially since it comes with a camera as good as found on $400 compacts (S95, LX5 are ~$400).

    Secondly, Mithun's 3G talk time results seem egregious to me. The GSM talk times are a lot longer (I've had hour long conversations on the phone that did not dent the battery gauge, sadly don't have the resources/money to test talk times like AT), and there's not much to gain from going 3G for talk anyway.

    The CPU is slow, yes, but it's not a handicap for the device in practical use. It's as snappy as a 3GS, and the GPU is great for gaming - played Angry Birds, NFS Shift and Galaxy on Fire with no slowdowns. It's also played 720p videos without a hitch - remarkably, the phone stayed cool to the touch even after a 1 hr+ video session with a 720p mkv for me.

    Slow webkit browser is slow, fortunately Opera Mobile is decent for general web use (as opposed to synthetic benchmarks). Definitely one area Nokia could improve on though.

    It may not be the Ferrari of phones, but it is a far cry from a turd.
    Reply
  • mythun.chandra - Wednesday, January 12, 2011 - link

    I actually tested the 3G talk time twice and it was about the same. As I mentioned in the review, I could get away with using the N8 over a GSM-only network with moderate usage for almost 3 days. So yes, the GSM talk time is better. Reply
  • Voldenuit - Wednesday, January 12, 2011 - link

    Thanks for clarifying, mithun.

    As an aside, you can force the phone to use GSM/Edge for calls by putting it in power saving mode (click on battery icon in top right hand corner, or push power button once and select from options).
    Reply
  • anactoraaron - Wednesday, January 12, 2011 - link

    <sigh> there's always a nokia fanboy that bought the phone and has to post to defend their purchase... Yeah newegg has it at $429 now but do you see the "was $549"? That would make it MSRP of $549 which last time I checked would make it "~$600" (just south of $600). My point is and still remains that if Nokia wants a NEW "flagship" phone it seriously falls short by today's standards (set by apple and android phones). And the 3GS is outdated. It came out in ~August of 2009. Is Nokia then trying to compete with 1.5 year old phone hardware?? No wonder they are losing that massive amount of their marketshare. If I want to play handheld games I will buy a DS or PSP due to large quantity of titles available for them. Let's face it, these days cell phones are for 2 main things.
    1: making phone calls. And I don't care about GSM talk time. I don't want to have to go through all of the menus to find the obscure option to switch to GSM every time I want to have a long phone call and then back again to get online.
    2: Quick web surfing, including posting tweets and facebook updates and the occasional youtube upload. And the numbers for Opera Mobile aren't that good either.
    I see you have no comment on screen res or wifi performance. Yeah it stays cool at the lousy res since anything higher will stress the "great GPU". It's the same as pc's- when you increase the res it's more demanding on the gpu. Sure it's got a great camera. Which is why nokia went out of their way to say it over and over so everyone would overlook everything else.
    Don't get me wrong, I'm not a Nokia "hater" as I have had numerous Nokia phones (most recently an E63). But I can remember the days that Nokia hardware across the board was innovative, not just feature packed. Using an outdated cpu, bad wifi, short battery life talk time (seemingly a nokia first), failing to get to 800x400... I basically already said these things. I expect better from Nokia (and so should you).
    The N900 is going for the same $429 right now. Why buy this phone? For the camera?
    Reply
  • Exodite - Wednesday, January 12, 2011 - link

    Pricing varies a lot between markets I presume.

    For the sake of comparison the Nokia N8 costs ~4000 SEK here while the Desire HD is ~5100 SEK (recently dropped from 5600 SEK) and the iPhone 4 16GB is ~7000 SEK (~8300 SEK for 32GB).

    I can't speak for the rest of the world but it offers high-end smartphone features at a price point significantly lower than the competition.

    Surely that's not a bad thing?

    At that price you really have to compare the N8 to mid-range smartphone, like the HTC Legend or Aria.
    Reply

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