Nokia 808 PureView

25 Jul 2012

Truly staggering camera technology - it's such a shame Nokia chose to debut it on such an underwhelming smartphone

Price when reviewed 
520
4

When the 808 PureView was first unveiled at the Mobile World Congress show back in February, there were audible gasps from journalists as details of the camera emerged. In squeezing a 41-megapixel sensor into a phone, Nokia had pulled off a staggering achievement: not only was this the highest resolution camera available in a smartphone today, but it also has a higher resolution than any professional SLR.

Now, let's get one thing straight. The 808 PureView is in no way comparable to high-end SLRs in terms of the quality of pictures it produces - it doesn't have the power, flexibility or lens quality. The size of its sensor is one limiting factor: it measures 1/1.2in across, smaller than the APS-C sensors in most consumer SLRs, let alone the FX format 35mm equivalent sensors of more expensive cameras.

Nokia 808 PureView

Still, compared to any other smartphone (and consumer compacts), it's a big sensor. Once you start loading pictures from it into your photo editor of choice, you'll quickly find any worries over noise or quality start fading away.

In Full Resolution mode (which produces 38- or 34-megapixel images depending on aspect ratio) and in good light, the pictures produced by the 808 PureView are nothing short of astonishing. Despite the small lens, and photosites that are crammed onto the sensor like mackerel in a trawler hold, pictures are crisp and bursting with detail.

You might be tempted to stick with full resolution for the sheer hell of it, but the size of the images it produces will soon start to jam up the PureView's 16GB of integrated storage. At the full 38 megapixels, the test JPEGs we shot ranged from 10MB to 16MB each.

Nokia 808 PureView

For the full, 38-megapixel resolution version of this image, click here
To download a zip file with two extra full resolution images, click here

Practically, such huge images aren't really necessary either, unless you plan on producing wall-sized enlargements on a regular basis, or like showing off on Flickr. That's why there's another mode, PureView, with three settings that produce 8-, 5- and 3-megapixel images. In this mode a technique called pixel oversampling is used, which gangs together groups of pixels in a bid to eradicate the grain and colour noise that afflicts most small-sensor smartphones and cameras.

It works, too: we snapped a few low-light pictures and were very impressed with the results. The lack of grain and colour speckles is something to behold, and you can adjust the ISO speed up to 1600 if you find your shots are too blurry. Shooting at lower resolution also enables the PureView's other party trick – lossless digital zoom, controlled via the volume rocker. In 8-megapixel mode this gives a 3x zoom with no loss in resolution.

Take a step back and it's clear that detail isn't this device's only strong suit. The phone captures vibrant colours, especially in PureView mode, and a wide aperture of f/2.4 and a focal length of 8.02mm produces shots that have a surprisingly shallow depth of field. Don't expect the smooth blurred background of a proper SLR, but it's still better than any smartphone around.

We'd be remiss in not mentioning the video quality. The 808 PureView produces smooth, sumptuous footage, with a continuous autofocus mode and the ability to zoom in 4x using lossless digital zoom in Full HD and 6x in 720p.

Only a couple of things give us cause for criticism: the autofocus isn't always 100% reliable – we found we often had to use the touch focus to get things sharp, and there's noticeable optical “moustache” distortion in full-resolution shots with lots of straight lines. Despite that, the 808 PureView's camera is, quite simply, the best smartphone camera there is.

The phone

The big disappointment is the phone that Nokia has chosen to debut its staggering new technology in. For starters, this phone is no looker. It's thick and chunky, measuring 18.4mm at its thickest point by the bulbous lens housing, and 14.7mm thick at the bottom end where you hold it. It weighs 172g, and although that doesn't sound like much, it puts a noticeable sag in your pocket.

Details

Price ex VAT £433
Price inc VAT £520
Overall rating 4
Features & Design 4
Value for Money 3

Battery Life

Talk time, quoted 11hrs
Standby, quoted 22 days 12hrs

Physical

Dimensions 60 x 18.4 x 124mm (WDH)
Weight 172g
Touchscreen yes
Primary keyboard On-screen

Core Specifications

RAM capacity 512MB
Camera megapixel rating 38.0mp
Front-facing camera? yes
Video capture? yes

Display

Screen size 4.0in
Resolution 360 x 480
Landscape mode? yes

Other wireless standards

Bluetooth support yes
Integrated GPS yes

Software

OS family Other