Nokia 808 PureView: Rewriting the Script

Nokia 808 PureView

Nokia 808 PureView

Raj Lalwani makes calls and photographs with the Nokia 808 PureView, to see how many champions this heavyweight camera phone can topple.

Early this year, my friend woke me up to tell me that Nokia had launched a 41MP phone. I found the information so unbelievable that I asked her to go back to sleep. “Weird dreams, 41 megapixels, and that too in a phone,” I muttered. Once I woke up, I realised that not only was the news true, but it was also attracting a lot of criticism worldwide. After all, megapixels only decide how large a print you can make, right? Was this the world’s most outrageous marketing gimmick?

As it turned out, no. The Nokia 808 PureView ‘s 1.1/2 sensor is not just about the megapixel count. Its 1/1.2-inch sensor is not just the largest sensor in a camera phone, but is actually bigger than the sensors found in high-end compact cameras like the Canon PowerShot S100 and Fujifilm X10. Infact it is almost as big as the sensor found in the Nikon 1 cameras!

The massive megapixel count is interesting because of the way these megapixels can be used. Most cell phones have a physical limitation that they cannot include optical zoom. With this Nokia, when you zoom in digitally, the resultant image only reduces in resolution… the quality itself does not suffer.

To zoom, you need to to manually select the PureView mode and then choose either 8MP or 5MP. If I wish to use only a slight amount of zoom, why should the image resolution go down from 38MP to 8MP? Also, switching modes wastes a lot of time – the phone should ideally detect something like this on its own.

The camera has an Interval-timer mode and a built-in ND filter. One can make basic adjustments, but the camera does not give an indication what aperture or shutterspeed it is using. While the PureView has excellent hardware, it uses the rather outdated Symbian OS.

There are some nice touches to the handling. If you pinch and zoom into an image, the phone can automatically show a 100% view. This, along with the live histogram, means that mistakes are kept to a minimum.

I personally love the fact that the camera has a dedicated mode that automatically sets focus to the hyperfocal distance. This is a feature that the best of compact and mirrorless cameras do not have, and is extremely useful while shooting on field.

The button to go back to the shooting mode changes, based on whether you are in playing back images or adjusting settings. Also, if the ISO chosen is too low and the light levels are less, the camera does not give any indication of the same, often leaving you with a black image and a bad mood!

At low ISO settings, the tones show a subtlety that one rarely sees in compact cameras, forget ordinary cell phones. The level of detail when shooting in bright light is stunning. Fringing is controlled, as is flare. However, since the lens is constantly exposed, I found a tendency of it catching a lot of moisture and then producing flare, especially in the rainy season.

This is the only cell phone in the market that can use non-destructive zoom while shooting Full HD video. While the quality itself is jawdropping, you can also pause while recording, such that your next shot is a part of the same video file. This way you can actually make movies without the need of an editing software!

The PureView uses pixel binning to improve low light performance, while shooting 8MP and 5MP photos. Images shot at ISO 800 show minimal noise and excellent detail, which is a huge deal for a cell phone! At ISO 1600, the amount of detail is impressive, but the shadow areas show a weird patterned noise in the form of thin lines.

Autofocus is where the phone cannot keep up with compact cameras. Even a phone like the iPhone 4S is significantly faster. Also, remember that unlike other cell phones, you need to be far more critical about focusing due to the larger sensor and the shallower DOF it produces.

For the price of Rs. 32,000, the Nokia 808 PureView is certainly not the best smartphone available. With integrated sharing and internet, it has advantages over conventional compact cameras too. For this price, no pocketable camera manages such high quality video or has the option of shooting such massive files.

Will it replace your high-end compact camera? Not yet. The control offered by dedicated cameras is a lot more. But the gap in quality is slowly disappearing and I cannot help feel that convergence is the future.

This 38MP photograph shows excellent detail in both shadows and highlights. Exposure: 1/406 sec at f/2.4 (ISO: 64). Photograph/Raj Lalwani

This 38MP photograph shows excellent detail in both shadows and highlights. Exposure: 1/406 sec at f/2.4 (ISO: 64). Photograph/Raj Lalwani

Final Ratings
38MP images, Interval-timer mode, large sensor, outdated Symbian OS

Superb stills and video quality that rivals that of compact cameras

Build Quality
Sturdy finish with Gorilla glass screen

Awkwardly large, efficient touchscreen, a few quirks

Warranty & Support
Large service network in India

Value For Money: 3/5

Who should buy it?
Amateurs who love cell phone photography, video enthusiasts.

As s smartphone, the PureView is far from perfect, but in terms of stills and video quality, it races past other cell phones and also matches some high-end compact cameras.

Tags: Raj Lalwani, August 2012, cellphone, nokia 808, pureview, 41MP