Camera and Multimedia:

If there was ever a time for a drum-roll, this is it. It’s time to take a close look at the Nokia N8's 12MP camera with auto focus Carl Zeiss lens (28mm f2.8). Nokia commissioned the University of Westminster, a university with a strong photographic heritage in London, to conduct research into the Nokia N8’s sensor. Nokia World 2010 touted the N8 as a compact camera replacement. There has been so much buzz surrounding this camera, that it really has to be something special to live up to it all, and by golly it is.

Quick to activate, quick to fire (even with flash), quick to process, when we first started taking pictures, the speed at which the Nokia N8 worked made us think it was set to a low resolution. That wasn’t the case. At full 12MP, everything works, and works quickly. The camera button on the bottom right of the N8 has two stages of press (focus and capture) and this can be used to take the picture. Alternatively, there is a single camera icon on the screen that can be used. The camera has face detection, an optional on-screen grid, as well as the following:

  • Scene modes (auto, user defined, close-up, portrait, landscape, sport, night and night-portrait)
  • Self timer (off, 2 seconds, 10 seconds, 20 seconds),
  • Colour tone (normal, vivid, black and white, sepia),
  • White balance (auto, sunny, cloudy, incandescent, fluorescent)
  • Exposure (-2 to +2 in increments of 0.5)
  • ISO (low, medium, high)
  • Adjustable contrast
  • Sharpness (hard, normal, soft)

Pictures taken on the Nokia N8 are indistinguishable from some of the mid-range compact cameras on the market at the moment, and are unquestionably better than most entry-level compacts.

Colour reproduction is good. While on the AMOLED screen, images look slightly over-saturated, but when exported to a monitor, reds and yellows in particular look bright and natural.

As you can see from the samples, levels of detail are high across busy images, especially in shots taken in daylight. Thanks to the 12MP sensor and Nokia’s efforts, images don’t break down as soon as they are zoomed into, so there is some leeway in terms of cropping an image once it is taken.

Exposure levels are also very promising. With the shot of the two statues providing a low contrast scene on a slightly overcast day, the Nokia N8 produced a capture very similar to the real thing.

An area the Nokia N8 camera is a little weaker is dynamic range. When faced with a high contrast scene, as with most compact cameras, shades of black melt into one, and highlights can become blotches of white. Another factor is metering. The Nokia N8 doesn’t enable the user to set metering, so it is defaulted to centre-weighted.

The Nokia N8 impressed us with its noise handling. Of course it produces noise, but it does a very good job of minimizing it. Unlike the Motorola Milestone XT720 for example (another Xenon flash camera phone), which softened images to death in order to reduce noise (and still produced more than the Nokia N8), darker images retain a degree of sharpness and there is no blotching or banding of colour. The flash will also come in handy for dark situations.

Staring at macro shots from the Nokia N8 was also a pleasure. With a decent aperture, the N8 can deliver a pretty shallow depth of field when in macro. In addition, levels of detail it picks up are superb, with a minimum focusing distance of about 15cm.

Indoors, the Nokia N8’s great sensor coupled with its Xenon flash can actually light up a small room and produce a decent picture in the process. It is the perfect imaging companion for someone who doesn’t want to carry two gadgets around. The images taken in the restaurant were all in full auto and came out great, as did 99% of the images taken on the N8. Between its usability and quality, it really is the first camera-phone that has stood up against some mid-range compact cameras and won, both in terms of quality and usability.

Photo editing options are as follows: rotate, resize, crop, add clipart, distort, draw upon, speech bubble, frame, red-eye correction, stamp, colour effects, tuning and animate. All these worked well on the go, providing a good amount of versatility to photos once you’ve taken them.

Viewing photos taken on the Nokia N8's camera can be done in the phone’s photo browser. This is displayed in a standard grid, and once an image is selected, zooming can be achieved by both pinch to zoom and double tap. With the nature of the 12MP images captured by the Nokia N8, they are big and zooming in and out can take a couple of seconds to display correctly, however, there is no real stuttering, just a lower-res version until the image refreshes.

Video capture on the N8 keeps up with the current trends, HD ready at 24fps. While still not as smooth as the VGA capture (30fps), the Nokia N8's HD video is among the better ones we’ve seen on a phone. Noise handling is more of a problem than with photos, however, it is still better than most HD video phones out there. There are nice touches as well, like in-body video editing, enabling clips to be trimmed, with text overlaid and photos interspersed within a video, only adding to the N8's strengths as a multimedia capture / sharing device. Outputting content to an HD TV works pretty well, providing smooth video playback leaving us genuinely impressed.

Nokia N8 Sample videos taken in various conditions:

Video playback
on the Nokia N8 is immense. With it chewing up everything we threw at it up to a resolution of 720p (DivX, H.264, MP4 and Xvid), and playing it back to us smoothly as can be, we really have no hesitations calling the Nokia N8 a great multimedia phone. Whether watching content on the Nokia N8's screen or outputting to an HD TV, it’s a seamless experience, with no need for codecs here or conversions there, just smooth playback all the way.

The music player has had a very nice revamp. Upon opening up the application, it takes you straight to artists and albums, unlike previous versions which would require an extra step to get here. Clicking the options button lets you view tracks by now playing, song, playlists, genres and podcasts. There is also a link to the Ovi Music store. When viewing albums and artists, holding the Nokia N8 in portrait displays a list, while landscape displays a coverflow like stream of album art. The N8’s coverflow is one of the smoothest we’ve seen and is very usable. The revamp however comes in portrait mode. Once an album or artist is selected, the screen will split, the top half displaying a mini coverflow, while the bottom half has the track list. This is very usable and makes single handed music browsing a doddle.

The on board loud speaker is a letdown. With no stereo output, and a sharp sound, it isn’t there to be used very often. It does a great job of ringing, being loud and audible, however, when listening to music or playing back video, wasn’t a sustainable method of listening to the phone. In contrast, output from the onboard 3.5mm headphone jack was superb for a phone. As is generally the case, connecting a good set of headphones makes all the difference.

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