Nokia is in a tough spot with its Nokia N8 Symbian^3 superphone. The N8 is, without a doubt, the best Symbian handset ever made by the Finns, and it’s easily one of the best (if not the best) cameraphones in the world – a feat not easily accomplished in the crowded smartphone/cameraphone market. But, if you were to put the N8’s Symbian^3 UI up against the likes of iPhone and Android, it becomes clear that the new Nokia flagship isn’t quite up to speed with other modern smartphone operating systems. That makes the quality of the N8’s camera that much more important for anyone considering a new smartphone. So, we set out to see how the N8 compared to the iPhone 4 in terms of image quality.
The iPhone 4 makes use of a relatively low-resolution 5-megapixel image sensor to snap photos. But, as Apple and Steve Jobs point out, the pixels used in the iPhone 4 image sensor are larger than any other 5MP cameraphone image sensor. That allows each pixel to capture more light and therefore create more vibrant, richer images. Likewise, the N8 uses a image sensor that Nokia’s own imaging guru Damian Dinning says is the “biggest [image] sensor in a mobile device.” But, where the iPhone packs only 5M pixels on its sensor, the Nokia N8 boasts a whopping 12M pixels on its 1/1.83-inch image sensor. The N8 also boasts superior Carl Zeiss optics and a physical shutter. That’s got to make for some impressive pictures, right?
We put the two cameras to the test. All shots were taken at the highest resolution for each camera. Most shots had settings options set to “Auto.” We had to tweak image settings on some pictures in order optimize for certain lighting conditions, but most of the images were automatically optimized by the camera (ISO, White Balance, etc.).
Here’s an example of outdoor, daytime shots look like on an Apple iPhone 4 vs Nokia N8:
Now, iPhone 4 vs N8 in nighttime settings with flash:
This is where the N8 shines, iPhone 4 vs N8 in night shots with no flash:
What’s strange is that the iPhone 4 seemingly produced “warmer” and more “vibrant” images, whereas the higher-spec N8 produced images that a bit “flatter” but noticeably more crisp, detailed, and brighter (again, that’s where the larger image sensor comes into play). We expected the Nokia N8 to produce more detailed and crisp pictures, given its higher-resolution camera, but the relative warmth and depth of the iPhone camera was definitely a surprise. The iPhone images prove that image processing is just as important as quality of optics and size of pixels on an image sensor.
Notice, though, that the N8 is light-years ahead of the iPhone 4 in low-light shooting situations. The N8’s larger image sensor and generously-sized image sensor pixels help it capture more light and reduce noise in dimly lit situations. Nighttime shots are the bane of any camera – cameraphones especially – which makes the N8’s camera that much more impressive!
In the end, we have to give the Nokia N8 the win in the imaging department. The iPhone 4 camera is no slouch, but you really do need optimal lighting conditions to take great pictures with an iPhone 4. The Nokia N8 takes great pictures anytime, anywhere, with or without good light. Espoo’s latest cameraphone flagship hands-down the best cameraphone on the market today. Too bad we can’t say the same for Symbian^3. Stay tuned for our full Nokia N8 review!