As the dust settles on the excitement around the launch of the Nokia 8, what has become clear is that the company is going back to one of its biggest strengths to make the Nokia 8 a worthy entrant into the flagship race; the Camera. At this point in time, there is not a lot of room left for innovating when it comes to the smartphone, but certain components of it still have a lot of room for improvement. Aspects such as the display, form factor and imaging still have room for improvement, imaging more so that any other given that “DSLR-like image quality” is something most manufacturers like to boast about, but in reality, fall grossly short of. Nokia, on the other hand, could actually be a lot closer to the holy grail than most others.
A Lineage of Imaging
Right from the early days of the mobile phone, Nokia has been at the forefront of mobile imaging technology. When the camera was introduced in a phone, the pixel count remained at 1.3 megapixels (for “flagships”) or below ( for lower end phones), but it was the Nokia N90 that introduced the first 2 Megapixel phone, potentially signalling the beginning of the megapixel race. Part of the reason for Nokia’s popularity was the fact that people knew that if they wanted the best image quality, a Nokia phone was the way to go. This was reflected in phones like the Nokia N95 and the incredibly popular N8 with its 12 camera sensor that was almost impossible to beat for the year to follow in terms of image quality. As the megapixel race heated up and smartphone makers starting packing more and more pixel at the cost of image quality, Nokia gave the world the PureView 808, a phone with a very large 1/1.2 inch sensor with a resolution of 41 megapixels (38MP effective). No smartphone maker has been able to replicate the PureView 808’s quality, except when Nokia released the Lumia 1020 with a 41-megapixel sensor. The fact that Nokia can make a good imaging sensor has been more than established in the last decade and a half.
The Right Partnerships
For the longest time, plastic was the choice of material for manufacturing lens elements on phone cameras. The choice of material was in part due to the fact that it was just cheaper to make plastic lens elements, and in part due to the fact that plastic lenses were far more resilient to physical abuse than their glass counterpart. This is where Nokia’s partnership with Zeiss set them apart from every single player in the market. The Nokia N90 was the first phone to come with Zeiss-made glass lenses. Even today as Nokia launches the Nokia 8, the return of the Zeiss branding not only adds bragging rights to the phone but also gives the smartphone the backing of unrivalled expertise in optics.
At the forefront of Innovation
Nokia gave the world the first smartphone with Optical Image Stabilization in the form of the Lumia 920. Once thought near impossible due to the rough use smartphones go through, Nokia developed OIS in partnership with Zeiss to be different from how it is implemented in DSLR lenses. The smartphone maker figured that it would be more effective to move the entire lens assembly than just one element, leading to better stabilization (about 50% movement cancellations per second than conventional OIS systems).
Welcome the ‘Bothie’
While the dual camera feature is done and DONE by many, the concept of the ‘Bothie’ has been hard to nail down with the right quality. The LG V20 and the LG G6 both allowed for simultaneous video streams from the front and rear cameras. What you would get is one-half of your video looking great (rear camera feed) while the second half would look of visibly poorer quality (front camera feed). The Nokia 8 eliminates the quality discrepancy given that both the front and the rear sensor are the same, and are capable of shooting video in 4K. From a usability standpoint, simultaneous feeds could benefit YouTube/Facebook live streamers as much as journalists reporting from the field. How well the feature is actually received obviously remains to be seen.
In the Nokia 8, we see the company utilize two 13 megapixel sensors, most probably developed in-house (may be manufactured by a partner), with Zeiss optics. The front camera is also a 13-megapixel sensor, but it is the same physical size as the one on the back, something we don’t see happening often in today’s context. Selfie cameras have been ramping up the megapixel count but without increasing sensor size. Here, we see Nokia repeat history in some ways, by providing a large sensor, we are expecting far better image quality than what the competitors offer. Additionally, Juha Alakarhu, the man behind the 41 megapixel PureView camera is now back to Nokia as the Head of Imaging, so we can definitely expect the company to continue doing innovative work with imaging, something we already see glimpses of in the Nokia 8.