Nokia 808 PureView review
Truly staggering camera technology - it's such a shame Nokia chose to debut it on such an underwhelming smartphone
Review Date: 25 Jul 2012
Reviewed By: Jonathan Bray
Price when reviewed: £433 (£520 inc VAT)
Features & Design
Value for Money
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.
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.
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 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.
"smaller than the APS-C sensors in most consumer SLRs, let alone the DX format 35mm equivalent sensors of more expensive cameras"
DX is an alternative name for APS-C used by Nikon.
By pveater on 25 Jul 2012
Good spot, pveater. Typo now corrected.
By JonBray on 25 Jul 2012
As pveater said FX is a name for a full frame sensor "used by Nikon." Generally the formats on DSLRs are described as either crop frame or full frame - that description applies to all manufacturers not just to Nikon.
By Minou on 25 Jul 2012
I prefer a chunky phone,I mourn the passing of my Nokia 9000,it did all I wanted except last more than 12 hours on a battery.
I don't want apps games or internet browsing,just a phone with text capabilities and a keyboard that I can actually type on although the camera would be a nice add on,occasionally.
By UK_Snapper on 26 Jul 2012
If only they had released it without that awfull phone attached...
By confucious on 26 Jul 2012
This is over priced but if it had of been available on contract I would have snapped it up.
By JamesD29 on 26 Jul 2012
Sounds like an amazing camera, but why wouldn't you have a killer feature like this tied in with the release of a Windows 8 Phone phone? I know that's not slated until October/November but releasing it then would have got lots of positive press I'm sure and maybe even have the normal folks on the street becoming aware of it.
Seems ridiculous to launch such a differentiator to the market in such a rubbish phone, hell even a Windows 7 Phone phone would have been better than this!
By Deano on 26 Jul 2012
From what I have read this didn't appear in Windows 7 phones because the specification MS had laid down wasn't capable of handling it. If Nokia hadn't decided to tuck his phone in the back of the shop along with the N9 they might have sold a few more phones but it would have been too embarrassing for these to out sell the Lumia range.
By JamesD29 on 27 Jul 2012
Windows 8 Phone. Stop
Windows 7 Phone. Stop
None of the damn Phone, phone phone... It's neither big nor clever on the podcast nor is it from you!
By nickallison on 28 Jul 2012
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