I talk about legendary Nokia camera phones a lot. But why were they better than everyone else?Here are the top 5 reasons that made them stand out. And also a good guide for what makes a phone camera great.
1- Custom Made super large sensors
While these days most phones in the same segment share the same sensors, Nokia used to have custom-built sensors for their flagships, and sometimes even for their midrange devices that you will not find on any other device. Take the custom-built huge 1/1.2″ sensor found on the 808 PV, which is still the largest sensor to ever be put on a phone. Or the 1/1.83″ sensor on the N8 compared to the tiny 1/3.2″ sensor on the iPhone 4. Or the 1/2.5″ sensor that debuted on the Lumia 1520. Large sensors capture more light, better dynamic range and create better bokeh, aka background blur. They are the equivalent of large car engines, and there is no replacement for displacement! Don’t mistake megapixels for sensor size. You can have a huge sensor with little megapixels or many megapixels on a tiny sensor. The key is balance, and Nokia had the perfect balance.
2- Attention to every detail about the sensor, Optics, Aperture, etc
A large sensor isn’t complete without excellent specifications, and Nokia paid a lot of attention to that as well. They were innovators when it comes to large apertures, like the f2.0 aperture found on the Lumia 920 back in 2012 when the industry standard was f2.4. Aperture is the size of the camera opening, so a larger aperture means the camera can capture more light. Nokia was also using Zeiss optics, and zeiss are the very best when it comes to how clean the optics are which help with the clarity of image and keeping light refractions under control.
3- Imaging Algorithms
The camera hardware is nothing would great imaging algorithms, and Nokia used to be the very best. Nokia’s imaging algorithms prioritized realism and balance over-exaggerated saturation and over-exposed images. And with PureView, they went a step further by oversampling up to 5 pixels into one for the cleanest possible image. They also had impressive noise reduction, and even when they implemented HDR, they gave users control over how much HDR they want in an image. Impressive stuff. These days, image processing is the main differentiator between a good camera phone, and an excellent one. Just look at what Google is doing with their pixel line, and why Samsung is still mediocre despite the excellent hardware.
4- UX and UI
Amazing technology would be pointless if you cant easily utilize it, and Nokia understood this early on. They were at the forefront of camera interface innovations and understood the need for balancing between simplicity and professional controls. Their predefined controls for the Nokia 808 PureView that allowed you to save up to 3 different settings for quick use has yet to be copied, and their innovative UI for the Lumia 1020 which allowed manual controls to be easily understood and utilized by the average user is still the gold standard for any camera good camera UX.
Last but not least….
5- Innovations thanks to huge R&D spending
From Optical Image Stabilization, which completely reinvented smartphone low light photography and video stability, to helping develop Xenon Flash into a compact form factor, to offering the first 6 lens element for image clarity, to introducing variable apertures for different light conditions, to offering lossless zoom using huge sensors, to offering the first RAW imaging solution on a phone, to creating the first aspect ratio sensor that perfectly balanced between 16:9 and 4:3 aspects without loss of quality, Nokia used to be the biggest innovator in the imaging realm. They were always pushing the envelope. Since their exit out of the smartphone game, the focus has shifted to better software, and hardware innovations have almost stopped to a crawl.
There is one big OEM that is roughly following the same footsteps as Nokia, can you guess which one? Let’s hear it in the comments down below.