Nokia 808 PureView camera comparison

It is probably wiser to compare the Nokia 808 PureView to standalone cameras, considering its shooting specs, but we snapped a few photos for comparison with most of the flagship smartphones currently on the market anyway.

Thus we are pitting the 41MP sensor in the PureView against the previous top cameraphone from the Finns, the Nokia N8, and against the current market darlings iPhone 4S, Samsung Galaxy S III, HTC One X, LG Optimus 4X HD, Sony Xperia S and the still very popular Samsung Galaxy S II.

Outdoor - details:

All of these handsets capture a pretty good level of detail, corresponding nicely to their respective resolutions. The natural outliers seem to be the Nokia 808 PureView and N8 with their big sensors. The phone with the PureView technology performed best here - we shot in the same 8MP resolution most of the test phones have for comparison’s sake.

In this mode it merges a few pixels into one super pixel, making a good use of its 41MP sensor, and this oversampling leads to averaged-out noise and greater amount of detail than usual. The PureView shots came out clean as a whistle in terms of noise, and there seems to be no processing/sharpening whatsoever, thus preserving even the most intricate level of detail even in the shadows, which is pretty evident when you look at the theater’s columns and ornaments. Since there is no sharpening of the pics, they look soft compared to the others, yet very clean and noise-free.

The Nokia N8 ranks second in terms of detail - it also produced softy pictures with a lot of detail, but not as noise-free as Nokia's latest, due to the smaller sensor than the one on the 808 PureView.

The rest are pretty close, but noise is an issue and the processing they do often introduces artifacts. Excessive sharpening is very easily observed in the case of the HTC One X and the Sony Xperia S. The Xperia S has the advantage of its higher resolution, though, and catches more points, ranking third.

The Galaxy S II and iPhone 4S come very close to the Xperia S detail, with the Galaxy S II upping the exposure and using more noise-suppression, resulting in a tad less distinct detail than the iPhone 4S.

Both the Galaxy S III and the Galaxy S II overexposed shots, more so in the case of Samsung's latest, which led to less distinct detail on it compared to the Galaxy S II.

The LG Optimus 4X HD seems to take the opposite approach of the iPhone 4S, suppressing noise too much and smearing a lot of detail in the process for the sake of a cleaner pic. The worst offender in terms of detail, however, seems to the the HTC One X, where a lot of fine print gets lost in translation, and on top of that its pics are pretty noisy too.

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Color representation:

Smartphones oversaturate colors and boost up contrast compared to reality more often than not, since that is what most people demand. Such is the case with the HTC One X, Sony Xperia X, iPhone 4S, Galaxy S III and the Optimus 4X HD. The Nokia N8, on the other hand, is colder than reality, and so is the Galaxy S II, although just a tad. Overall, the Nokia 808 PureView got the most accurate color representation, which is easily explained by the shooting mode we chose with it (Creative mode with default setting for natural colors).

Indoor shots:

We never thought we’d say a phone makes good low-light photos, but here we are with the Nokia 808 PureView, which pretty much takes the cake and eats it. Even if we don’t count the Xenon flash, photos in limited lighting with the 808 PureView come out sharp, noise is rare up to very high ISOs, and with accurate white balance and exposure. A simple look at the resolution chart in our studio shot is enough to mark a clear winner in the detail department too.

The Nokia N8 came in second thanks to its big sensor and powerful Xenon flash, which fired even in the strong light samples indoors (we shot everything at automatic settings). It produces much colder colors than the 808 PureView, though, and introduces some noise in comparison.

White balance measurements and/or noise are the most common issues with the rest of the gang. The Sony Xperia S got WB right most of the time, and its pics exhibited roughly the same amount of noise as the Galaxy S II, which, however, caught less detail than the Xperia S, and its colors differed from what was in front of the lens, so it gets ranked fourth.

Then comes the iPhone 4S, whose colors deviate less from reality compared to the Galaxy S II, but it lets a bit more noise in, and detail was slightly less distinct.

The phones’ camera software deals with noise in a different way - some prefer to leave more in, for the sake of detail and clarity, others use aggressive noise-reduction algorithms, smearing fine detail in the process. Detail smearing appears to be the case with the Galaxy S III, which comes next, and it also went too much on the warm color side.

The LG Optimus 4X HD seems to apply the most noise-reduction, resulting in a pretty blurry photo, with the least detail of them all, not to mention it utilizes way too high ISOs, and the colors are much colder than reality. The HTC One X catches more detail than the 4X HD, but for the sake of so much noise, that these two are tied up pretty closely for the last place.

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We shot the macro samples at the closest distance where we got clear focus, in order to capture the most amount of detail possible.

All phones take pretty good close-up shots, save for the HTC One X, which had trouble focusing most of the time, even in the dedicated macro mode. When it does focus, it produces a pretty decent macro, but tapping the screen in vain in any mode is often an exercise in frustration.

Nokia says that due to the nature and size of the lens it had to make tradeoffs in terms of how close the 808 PureView can focus in macro mode, saying that the minimum distance should be at least 15cm (6”). In practice we found it to be more than that, about 8-10 inches, but you can simply use the lossless zoom to near the object more, resulting in distances up close and personal with the best ones, so it all evened out.


All phones but the Nokia N8 are capable of 1080p video with 30 fps. The only one we had much trouble focusing with was again the HTC One X. Its focus jumped, skipped and wandered no matter how many takes we did, so we just left one bearable take and called it a day, having this issue with most units that have gone through the office so far.

The Nokia 808 PureView, despite the skipped frame here and there, and the continuous autofocus unable to lock very near objects unless you tap on them, has a very big advantage compared to the rest of the gang. The huge 41MP sensor and the oversampling technology result in excellent detail, superior to the other phones. It also allows it to do up to four times lossless zoom in 1080p mode, and 6x in 720p. Even on maximum zoom level we are greeted with clean video.

Next we rank the iPhone 4S and the Samsung Galaxy S III, which are almost neck and neck, both producing fluid 1080p vids with a lot of detail - slightly overexposed on the GS III, and a tad oversaturated from the iPhone 4S.

The Sony Xperia S takes oversaturation to the next level, but otherwise produces sharp footage, yet with a few skipped frames. The Galaxy S II goes to the other end, dishing out colder colors, but its video is very fluid and adjusts for exposure rapidly.

Nokia N8 is a special case, since its older hardware can’t handle 1080p video, but the 720p samples look pretty smooth and detailed, while with natural colors that are a bit on the cold side.

The HTC One X and the LG Optimus 4X HD, despite making smooth videos with appealing colors, lost focus every now and then, with the condition much worse on the One X, as we already complained above.

Nokia 808 PureView Sample Video:

Samsung Galaxy S III Sample Video:

Apple iPhone 4S Sample Video:

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 HTC One X Sample Video:

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Nokia N8 Sample Video:

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 LG Optimus 4X HD Sample Video:

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 Sony Xperia S Sample Video:

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Samsung Galaxy S II Sample Video:

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Our camera comparison was a fun ride with a bit of a predetermined winner - the Nokia 808 PureView - considering the technology behind its 41MP sensor. The Nokia N8 runner-up performance is a no-brainer too, when we count the comparatively large sensor and the Xenon flash, lacking only in hardware capable of 1080p video processing.

Actually we are pretty pleased with the outdoor results of the whole lot. This crop of flagships has come a long way, and hopefully marks the path forward for smartphone camera modules. For your typical usage of scrolling through pictures on a computer screen or normal prints, all the phones will do nicely and then some.

It’s the indoor and low-light shots that were the real challenge, and there the Nokia 808 PureView stepped in with a bang, outperforming the crew not with a seasonal upgrade or a few interface tricks, but rather with all the years its sensor has been in the making. Then we can place the Nokia N8 and lump closely together the iPhone 4S, the Galaxy S II/III, and the Xperia S, with the HTC One X and the LG Optimus 4X HD the weakest links.

Looking forward, manufacturers better be stepping up their game in the camera module department with the looming threat of a “pixel oversampling” Lumia, so we as consumers can win across the board in the end from the development of the Nokia 808 PureView, which finally shifts focus to the way pixels are utilized, not just their number.

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