I’ll admit it, when Nokia announced the PureView 808 the first thing that came to my mind was the word “bullshit”. How the hell could they possibly say that they made a camera phone with a 41 megapixel sensor? This industry may be fast moving, some might even call it exciting, but one thing it isn’t is random. Nearly every spec bump we’ve seen over the past few years has been predictable. Processors get a little bit quicker every year, radios give you an extra megabit or two per second, cameras get somewhat sharper, you get the idea. Seeing and hearing Stephen Elop announce a 41 megapixel camera phone activated every single skeptical neuron in my brain. At first I thought Nokia was doing something that Sigma has been doing with their Foveon image sensors for over a decade. Whereas normal cameras have a sensor with an array of pixels, each capturing a single color, Foveon’s sensors are radically different. Each individual pixel in their sensors capture how much red, blue, and green they’re seeing. So say a camera from Canon would have a 15 megapixel sensor. Sigma would say that their same 15 megapixel camera actually has 45 megapixels since each one of their pixels capture 3 separate colors. It’s a crude explanation, but I hope I got the point across.
Watching the video above, reading Steve Litchfield’s fantastic articles on All About Symbian explaining the PureView, and talking to various folks on Skype and Twitter has made me realize that what Nokia has done is honest to goodness truly amazing. They called up Toshiba and asked them to make a custom image sensor. It has the same tiny 1.4 micron (one millionth of a meter!) sized pixels that most image sensors have, but there are a mind blowing 41 million of them instead of 8 million or 12 million. James Burland, who to many is a brilliant photographer that can push a camera phone to its limits, uploaded some photos taken with the PureView to Flickr that are actually 38 megapixels large. That’s something I didn’t know was possible. Let me repeat that, by default the PureView will capture 5 megapixel photos, but if you mess with the settings it will gladly give you a 38 megapixel image. Why 38 megapixels? That has to do with aspect ratios, which you can read about in Steve’s article.
Anyway, mind bending numbers aside, I still think it’s not ready. First key point, no one wants a Symbian phone. Such a statement might upset a handful of you, but it’s true. If it really took Nokia 5 years to come up with “PureView Technology”, then why didn’t they wait an extra 6 months to unveil it along with the next version of Windows Phone? Second key point, the PureView 808 is 18 bloody millimeters thick. That’s twice what a phone should be. Motorola managed to make their 3,300 mAh battery packing RAZR Maxx less than 9 mm thick. Oh and by the way, it has a dual core processor and 4G LTE. Third key point, and the one that I’ve been obsessively reflecting on these past few days, is why couldn’t Nokia apply their PureView technology to existing sensors?
Hear me out on this. If Nokia needs a 41 megapixel sensor to crank out a 5 megapixel image, that’s basically 8 pixels needed to make 1 pixel. So why didn’t Nokia make a phone with an 8 megapixel camera that produces some of the best 1 megapixel photos on the market? And before you scoff at 1 megapixel, that’s a resolution of 1366 x 768 pixels, which just so happens to be the resolution of most netbooks, low to mid range laptops, and the 11 inch MacBook Air.
And if that’s not enough then Nokia could have used a 16 megapixel sensor, like the one HTC plans on putting in their Windows Phone running Titan II. Those 16 megapixels would enable a PureView processed 2 megapixel image, and that’s more than enough for uploading to Facebook or sharing via email.
So with that I want to apologize for my first PureView 808 article, which was stupendously incorrect, but at the same time I want to say that Nokia’s strategy to bring this new technology to market is flat out dumb.