Juha Saarinen

Juha Saarinen is a tech blogger for nzherald.co.nz.

Review: Nokia's dazzling Pureview

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Turangi Trout Hatchery taken with the Nokia Pureview 808. Photo / Juha Saarinen
Turangi Trout Hatchery taken with the Nokia Pureview 808. Photo / Juha Saarinen

When I first saw reports that Nokia was working on a phone that had a 41 megapixel camera, I assumed it was a mistake. Cameras in high-end phones normally have eight or so megapixels, so for Nokia to cram in five times as many seemed like a crazy idea by the Finns.

It turned out to be true however, and after spending some time with the Nokia Pureview 808 phone, I can honestly say the Finns aren't crazy at all, but quite ingenious.

Let me say right from the start that you won't be able to buy the Nokia 808 Pureview phone in New Zealand. I borrowed my review one from an acquaintance, and I won't go into the phone itself in detail as it's not available for sale in the country.

However, the Pureview technology will end up in the new Nokia Lumia phones running Windows Phone 8 and which are expected to come out any day now. If my experience with the Pureview 808 is anything to go by, Nokia will finally have something to trump everything else in the market.

Yes, the Pureview tech really is that good. The idea is to have a fairly large sensor or the digital equivalent of film in the phone camera and use the huge amount of pixels to compensate for the lack of aperture and optical zoom that can't fit into the devices.

Of the 41 million pixels, 38 are active and you can use them all - this gives you massive, 7,152 by 5,368 pixel images that weigh in at 10.5 to 16Mbytes each, even as compressed JPEGs.

What's more, the big pictures look really good too, sharp and detailed with great contrast and colours. Some of the excellent picture quality is no doubt due to the bright, f/2.4 Carl Zeiss lens with five elements that provides a wide-angle view, equivalent to 28mm in 135 film terms.

Let the Pureview technology weave its magic though, and reduce the huge images to 8, 5 or 3Mpixels, and you will be wowed by how good the pictures are. Thanks to the clever Pureview "oversampling" technology Nokia devised, you get sharp images that are better than most compact cameras and even rival some Micro-Four/Third format and low end DSLR ones in quality.

In Pureview mode, you also get zooming capabilities - 2X in 8Mpixel mode, 3X with 5Mpixel resolution and 3.6X in 3Mpixels. This is very useful but better yet, unlike normal digital zooming, the Pureview feature doesn't degrade the image quality.

In low light, the Pureview technology is able to go to ISO1600 sensitivity, which is very high. The images become a little bit grainy and noisy when it's dark, but are still very good all things considered. The biggest problem was the slow shutter times the camera selected for exposure, leading to blurry pictures from time to time.

I was also very impressed by the full, 1080p high definition video at 30 frames per second. The audio capture was also good.

The Pureview 808 runs Symbian^3, the operating system Nokia's new chief executive Stephen Elop called a "burning platform" and which has been dumped in favour of Windows Phone for the Lumia devices.

I won't go into it very much, but have to say that after two major updates - the 808 runs Symbian ^3 "Belle"- there's little to complain about. The first iteration of Symbian^3 that I tried out in Nokia's N8, which also had for the time a very good camera was really rough around the edges in comparison.

Symbian^3 Belle and the 1.3GHz single-core processor in the 808 have no problems at all with the big image files, and the phone worked without hiccoughs during the review period.

The importance of Pureview is that it's a technological tour de force from Nokia. There's nothing like it currently out there - not from Apple, or Samsung or anyone else.

With Pureview built in and ideally, the current bulky camera housing reworked to make it slimmer, Nokia will finally have a unique, attractive feature for the Lumia Windows Phone 8 devices.

Nokia has had a very tough time of it lately with sales figures dropping like stones and the move to Windows Phone 8 being criticised as a huge mistake, so it needs wow-inducing technologies like Pureview to turn around.

It'll be interesting to see over the next coming days if Nokia can manage a comeback with the new Lumias, but Pureview is a promising start.

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