Photography has been on the rise & today we have wonderful cameras even on our mobile phones. Forget about mega-pixels but these camera offer much more than that. Low noise, fast apertures, good flash exposures & even decent video capabilities. Recently I got my hands on the Nokia N8 – The N-Series Nokia device & was excited to have a look at its camera.
At the time I received the Nokia N8, I had decided to rest my primary camera in the favour of a mobile camera. I thought it would be a great challenge to produce some wonderful pictures from this small pocket-able mobile camera. Going around with the N8 proved a relief as I was able to keep my tripod & bulky camera bag at home and travel really light.
The N8 offers quite a few adjustments in the form of White Balance, ISO, Flash, Exposure Compensation, Colour Tone etc which I found very handy while shooting. Due to this I was able to retain some control over the outcome. My only gripe was the camera settings used to get reset each time I exited the camera application(can be perceived good by some) & the camera home-screen did not make good use of the real estate of the screen. The image parameters were tucked away under a sub-menu which took more than a few touch’s to access. At times, this might even lead to missing a shot.(This can be remedied by installing Camera Pro application which brings all the settings right on the camera home-screen).
The N8 camera has a 12MP sensor & optics certified by Carl Zeiss. The sensor is 1/1.83” in size, a real step up from the tiny sensors which other phones have. The lens covers 28mm field of view in 35mm parlance & has an fixed aperture of f/2.8. Moreover, the camera also bundles a ND Filter & a mechanical shutter. Upon launching the camera, it takes 3.5 secs to start & ready to shoot. The auto-focus locks onto subject in max a sec. There is a small red LED besides the Xenon flash unit which acts as an AF assist light when shooting in dark conditions. Often it acquires focus most of the times & I had only a few misses. However, there is no option to set the focus manually which would have come handy in certain scenarios where the AF failed. That said, the shutter release button on the side provides a really good tactile feedback. The half press for AF lock & complete press for shutter are properly differentiated and feels similar to one on small point & shoot cameras.
The 28mm lens covers a wide area. Even shooting in cramped interior spaces proved no challenge. During my testing, the lens exhibited absolutely no colour fringing, a phenomena which occurs when a subject is back-lighted sharply. Often you might have seen red, blue, purple light halo around the edges of back-lighted object. With the N8 however, there was not even a hint of it. Next was flaring, which is again excellently controlled. Flaring occurs when the lens is pointed directly at a light source & it causes a reduction in contrast along-with loss of details & colour saturation. Pointing the N8 to light sources, yielded very little flare which could be easily be removed in post-process. To sum the lens, its an excellent piece of engineering & is coated adequately to provide superior optical quality.
The 12MP sensor offers a good dynamic range. Dynamic range is the ability of the imaging sensor to eke out the details in shadow & highlight area of the image. The shadow area showed amazing amount of details. Even the higlights are preserved properly & are not washed out which happens with a lot of cellphone camera’s. A good credit of this goes to the large sensor in N8 measuring at 1/1.83”. The larger size further helps in keeping the noise low even at ISO 800. Shooting in low light, adds some noise but its unobtrusive & one can easily shoot without worrying about grainy images. The noise reduction applied is not aggressive & is a proper balance of retaining details & controlling noise. The images shot in low light show impressive details. Even the colours are rendered properly & show no degradation or colour shift which often occurs in low light.
The Xenon flash is powerful & provides uniform illumination. While shooting in complete dark environment with no light, it provided a good illumination on the subject. I was impressed with the way, it underexposed the scene a bit in order to retain details on it. The flash colour temperature is properly balanced & shows no colour casts which is a really good sign. Further the fill flash performance of the flash was really good. It provide enough light to fill in the shadow area while not going overboard & making it look like a flash picture. This proved handy in shooting natural looking pictures which look great. The red eye flash reduction however did not work with good accuracy & I got red-eye most often. This is not a defect of the flash but a general defect when one shoots with flash close to the lens. So one can excuse this. This tiny little red eye effect can removed quite easily with the inbuilt photo editor. Its just a matter of selecting the red-eye & voila! Red-eye gone in a snap.
Shooting macros with the N8 proved a tough task. Since the 28mm lens covers a large field of view, one needs to get closer & the N8 didn’t focus too close. I was a bit disappointed by this. One needs to keep a minimum of at-least 10cms distance from the subject for the AF to lock on. Using flash while shooting macros proved to be a Achilles heel as most often the subject got washed out. I thought the built-in ND filter might be able to control this but it was not the case. However, again the macros were detailed as other shots. The camera handled a white flower well in my macro test. Now you may ask, what is so special about a white flower? Well, most cameras find it difficult to lock focus on white flower when in macro mode. (You fell for that right? I can’t believe.) Jokes apart, the real reason behind shooting white flowers is the exposure. Most often the camera’s metering system gets fooled by the white colour & often leads to underexposure resulting in a gray muddy flower which off-course nobody likes to look at. At other times, the metering may over-expose it taking into consideration the luminosity of the area around the flower resulting into a white flower sans any details which again nobody likes to look at. However the N8 cruised through this hurdle with ease. The white flowers were rendered perfectly white, no blown out highlights here. To my surprise, the N8 was even able to capture tiny speckles on the flower petals. With macro shots, one expects to see a very narrow depth of field(DOF) i.e. Just a small part of the frame in focus while the rest is blurred softly. The N8 managed to provide decent DOF here considering its limitation of 28mm lens which doesn’t allows to go close. The out-of-focus areas were blurred out smoothly & sufficiently.
Coming to colour rendition, the camera managed good punchy colours in AUTO mode. I absolutely felt no need to increase the saturation in post. The contrast is also well controlled while keeping the highlights or shadows from clipping. The benefits of having superb optics shine here. The AWB did a good job for most of the situations but as expected suffered indoors under artificial lighting. Overall the performance of the camera was terrific. A great camera to have in your pocket when you’re without your primary camera.
Video recording is offered at 720p(1280×720 @ 30fps). The video codec used is the efficient H264 MPEG-4. Audio is recorded in AAC(mp4a) in stereo at 48000 Hz. The videos show fluid movements & offer the same dynamic range & detail retention as provided by still images shot with the N8. At night time(read low light), the video recorded by N8 impressed with good control over noise & detail retention. The colours were preserved well too. The videos exhibited no hint of moire(the weird effect you see on someone’s textured clothing/ foliage) while I noticed a slight jello effect but not much to worry about. The HDMI out offered by the N8 allowed me to hook up the N8 to my 32” Full HD LED TV & watching the videos on a large screen made no noticeable loss in quality. I was impressed. I can safely conclude the N8 offers terrific video & is a good camcorder for those short clips. However I would like to see support for Full HD @ 24 fps in future. That would be the icing on the cake.
USB OTG is a gem of a feature. It lets you connect pendrive or any other external USB device to your phone via a cable & access it contents on your phone. I connected my 4GB pen-drive & played backed a movie on the phone without transferring it to the phone. Offcourse one can copy any content from he external media onto phone. Being a photographer, I always need to maintain backup of my precious photographs as they cannot(will be very hard) be shot again. In this case, I plugin the SD card from my camera into a memory card & attach the memory card to the Nokia N8 via the bundled USB OTG cable & I can backup all my photos onto the huge 16GB memory of the Nokia N8. All this can be done right on the field. A really good feature for photographers.
The default music player offered by Symbian Belle OS was simple to use. It did had all the essential options to customize your music listening experience like an Equalizer, Stereo Widening, Balance etc. The bundled WH-701 headset offered a pleasurable musical experience. The sound quality was way above the average & I enjoyed every bit of it. However, the WH-701 headset does not have an ability to plug-in an external stand-alone 3.5mm headphones as those headsets previously bundled with Nokia N73, N70 etc. Neither it has the same construction of its predecessors & feels flimsy with cheap silver coating on some buttons. Further, it does not even has a button to lock the headset controls which I found useful on the previous Nokia headset. With 16GB inbuilt memory(and expandable via MicroSD upto 32GB), the Nokia N8 can very well replace your stand-alone MP3 player. I plugged in my old trusty Creative EP-630 headset & the sound quality went a few notches up. Trust me, this is one of the best phone to listen to music.
The Nokia N8 offers a 720p output HDMI stream via the bundled CA-156 cable. I hooked the phone to my 32” Full HD LED TV & the results were outstanding. The entire UI of the phone is view-able on the output screen & even the gyro sensors works to rotate the UI on-screen as you rotate the phone in your hand. I played some videos, heard some songs, viewed my photos & all went flawlessly. The 12MP photos snapped from the phone look great on a big screen. One great use of this feature is, you can even use the camera when the phone is hooked to an external display. Yes, you get a huge live-view image on your external monitor & you can shoot as you usually do. This can be useful when shooting some small products & you want to review the shot instantly on your big screen. I absolutely loved this.
Display & Construction:
The phone sports a solid construction which reassures when one takes the phone in palm. The various buttons are perfectly positioned & can be handled even without looking at the phone. My only gripe was the data port on the left which was left unguarded. Even a small flap would have done as overtime it would gather dust & corrode the contacts. The LCD display is crisp & produces contrasty colours which are not too saturated nor too faded. The hues of colour are rendered perfectly owing to the 16M colour capability of the display & it even produces black as black, not a shade of grey. And when in bright outdoors(sunlight), the display is perfectly legible. No more cuffing by hand to read messages or emails outside.
Overall this is a very good phone sporting an excellent camera. I had a good time snapping with its wonderful camera & in the rest of time listening to music on it. I would go with this phone any day but only for its camera capabilities, rest its nothing to talk about. An OS which doesn’t promises much, the biggest reason of them all. If you want a phone primarily for its camera & music quality and want a simple fuss free OS(and care not about tinkering it), then go ahead grab this phone before it gets off-shelves.