It’s roughly 18+ months since the Nokia N8 was launched, and also 18+ months since I got the Nokia N8 (I bought it as soon as it was available) – which means I’ve been using the camera on the phone for 18+ months now, and I’m still impressed by the image quality the camera produces, even compared to more modern alternatives.
Nokia N8 Features:
The Nokia N8 made a big splash when it was announced due to it’s 12 megapixel 1/1.83″ (1.75 micron pixels) digital camera sized sensor, and 28mm f/2.8 carl zeiss lens. This is similar in size to those that you’d find in serious compact digital cameras, and is larger than most compacts, such as the Nikon Coolpix P300, (1/2.33″ size), and compared to the more normal small sized mobile phone cameras – even on better ones such as the Sony Exmor R (backlit CMOS) sensors the size is smaller at 1/3.2″ (1.4 micron pixels).
The N8 also features a xenon flash, the same kind that you’d find in a compact camera. Nokia spent a good deal of time pointing out the photographic focus of the camera, including posting a 34+ question and answer piece on their blog, answering questions such as “Why isn’t there a lens cover?” to which they reply that the glass is scratch resistant (after 12 months there is very minor scratching to the surface of the lens on my phone, and I actually managed to crack the glass by having the phone in my pocket with keys). They also spent a long time making sure the operating system was working – unlike the Sony Satio, which had a great camera, but an awful operating system (mostly Symbian/Nokia’s fault though).
A large 3.5″ touch screen, 4:3, and 16:9 aspect shooting modes, as well as 720p video makes the phone a useful camera to have with you if you forgot your normal camera.
We’ll look at phone as a camera, rather than spending time debating Nokia’s latest operating system*, but may just highlight some of the ways you can upload your photos to the internet. *Since the phone was originally released, Nokia has released an update to the OS, called Anna, then Belle – this update significantly improves the phone in general.
Image features / image quality options:
– 12 megapixel 1/1.83″ CCD sensor
– 28mm f/2.8 Carl Zeiss Tessar AF Lens
– Xenon flash, Focus Assist lamp
– Mechanical shutter
– Built in ND filter
– ISO 100 to 800
– Image size: 12m, 9m, 3m, 1.3m, vga
– GPS logging
– Orientation sensor
– Scene modes: auto, user defined, close-up, portrait, landscape, sport, night, night portrait
– Face detection
– Grid overlay
– Self timer (2,10,20s)
– Colour: normal, sepia, black and white, vivid (also available in video)
– White balance – auto, sunny, cloudy, incandescent, fluorescent (also available in video)
– Exposure – +/- 2
– ISO auto, low (100), med (400), high (800)
– (ISO200 available with 3rd party apps or left on Auto)
– Flash – auto, red-eye, on,off
– Contrast – +/-
– Sharpness: hard, normal, soft
– 10cm macro mode
– Video: stablisation (available)
– Video size: HD MP4 16:9 720p, TV High Quality MP4 4:3, 3GP
Nokia N8 Handling:
Physically / Buttons / Ergonomics / Build quality – The phone has a physical unlock button and dedicated camera shutter release button, this means you can quickly unlock the phone, and press the shutter button to put the phone into the camera mode. The shutter release button is good, featuring a proper two-step function with a half-press focusing and setting exposure, and a full press taking the photo. As far as phones go, it’s got reasonable ergonomics, with a button at the bottom of the screen, and a large touch screen, the shutter release is positioned where you would expect a shutter release to be, but the smaller than normal size means that there is no front or rear hand grip. The phone body is made out of metal of decent thickness and the screen features gorilla glass, so the phone will with-stand even quite rough treatment. The metal body of the phone is perhaps one of the things I like most about this phone, it feels great in the hand.
Build quality is particularly impressive, with an extremely solid metal body, and two plastic areas at either end of the phone. These house the full size HDMI connection, 3.5mm audio jack at the top, and the power connection at the bottom, as well as a useful wrist strap loop hole. The screen is made from gorilla glass (product list) – and this means that it shouldn’t scratch, crack or break, and despite dropping it occassionally and even standing on it on one occassion the screen is still in excellent condition (although I have also kept a screen protection on it at all times due to being partially paranoid). Over time it is possible to slightly mark the screen with scratches when the screen protector isn’t on, so one is recommended.
Menus: The menus are reasonable, with a decent amount of options and settings available. One aspect that I found slightly frustrating is that it seemed to forget whether the flash was disabled or left on auto. If you switch it off in Auto mode, then switch over to the close up / macro scene mode, it automatically sets the flash back to Auto, meaning you have to switch it off again.
Battery Life: About a day and a half with regular use (internet, 3G, wifi, searching for signal etc). Use of the camera doesn’t seem to dramatically reduce battery life, however use of GPS, satnav, and anything GPS or navigation related does seem to drain the battery quickly. If you are running low on battery then it’s best to not even try using GPS to find directions, however, you can still squeeze out a few more photos. Using the flash is also likely to drain the battery more quickly.
Focus: claimed 350ms
Shutter response: claimed 150ms
Shot to shot: claimed 2seconds
Nokia N8 Performance
AWB modes: For the most part – using a white balance preset simply isn’t required, as the camera will produce good results using auto white balance.
Macro isn’t particularly impressive but is still competent with a 10cm closest focus distance. To access the macro mode you need to switch it from Auto to the Macro mode, as otherwise the closest focus distance is around 20-30cm, and it can be quite frustrating working at these focus distances, as the camera will struggle to focus as it doesn’t automatically switch to macro mode unlike some of the more user-friendly cameras out there.
Portrait: With a real flash the camera copes really well with portrait photos, or on a night out in low light conditions. Significantly better than mobile phones with just an LED or twin LED flash.
Outdoor: Detail is impressive considering how compact the lens is, and the level of detail easily betters anything available on any other camera phone on the market. The lens is sharp… corners show slight softness (top left mostly, not a huge amount), but noise levels are low at ISO100 and images are clean… purple fringing is low, even in high contrast areas where you would expect to see it. In shadows, and darker areas noise is noticeable.
ISO tests: ISO800: This is where noise is particularly noticeable – but not excessively horrid.
HDR: (with CameraPro, £3 from the Nokia app store (Ovi store), and upgrades are free) the program enables lower jpeg compression levels, higher video quality (30fps instead of 25), and more such as auto-exposure bracketing (although unfortunately it doesn’t merge the photos together for you, instead you need to do this later on your computer).
Panoramic: (with N8 “Automatic Panorama” app – this takes shots when the camera is moved to the correct position and then stiches it together – then it’s supposed to merge them together in the camera, this app is quite slow at merging the images together, and often doesn’t start, and often doesnt finish merging the images with the program crashing back to the phones main menu.)
Sharing pics: Easy – you can either share directly after taking the photo using the built in Nokia Social app (to facebook or twitter), or use a 3rd party app to share to something else, or for more advanced sharing options. The always on phone connection means you can use the mobile network’s internet connection, or use WiFi.
Value For Money:
The Nokia N8 is available for around £250 sim free, this is noticeably less than other premium camera phones. There are also very few cameras with a built in xenon flash, instead the majority of them (excluding a few models such as the Motorola XT720 and the old Sony Satio *shudders*) use some kind of LED flash (either single LED or dual LED) as this saves space and money.
Nokia N8 Verdict:
The Nokia N8 is still to this day one of the best, if not, the best camera phone available (until the Nokia PureView 808 came out…). And it’s not just me that has found this to be the case, WhatDigitalCamera (Magazine), and Black and White Photography (Magazine) have also found it to be the best camera phone when compared to newer models of phones. The Nokia N8 is available sim-free new, discounted, or used from Amazon UK.
Nokia N8 Pros:
+ Still to this day, an excellent camera on a phone
+ Xenon flash built in, still rare on a camera-phone
+ Physical unlock button, and large-ish dedicated shutter button
+ Excellent built quality – solid metal body
+ Gorilla glass – scratch resistant
Nokia N8 Cons:
– Lens prone to finger prints (reducing image quality – keep it clean!)
– Panoramic, HDR etc, 3rd party software, should be built in