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GLOBAL – There are some problems that can’t be fixed through the usual route and need to be resolved a different way. Capturing good images in low light has always been a challenge for mobile devices, for a variety of reasons, and one which the newly launched N86 8MP was tasked with tackling head on. The team responsible for conceiving the N86 is lead by Damian Dinning, who has a long history in photography (his first job was in a camera shop, before working for a variety of global camera brands). Damian had an ambition about 20 years ago where photography would become part of everyone’s daily lives, be accessible and easily usable and form part of our daily communication. Since joining Nokia he’s been heavily involved in the Imaging Business Unit, and is now responsible for developing a raft of Nseries devices (he was also involved in the N82). Fitting then, that one of the guys responsible for us being able to take better images with our mobile devices is also the guy who coincidentally, even by his own admission, had that vision all those years ago.

Capturing images in low light is something the N86 8MP does with some skill (check out our direct comparison between N86 8MP and N82). The imaging setup in the N86 sports two fundamental improvements over other devices. The first is the size of the aperture, which is much larger than normal and also variable, changing size depending on the amount of light available. Photographers will know that the bigger the aperture, the more light is allowed into the sensor and so the easier it is to capture low light images. Equally, variable aperture size means the camera is just as effective when light is in abundance.

The second key difference lies in the sensor. Much more sensitive than any previous sensors in mobile devices it is capable of handling more detailed, and defined, image capture. Again, this is a huge benefit in low light where flash-assisted images can suffer with an increase in noise (those speckles you see in some images shot indoors).

Ultimately, what the team ended up creating was a device that in many low light situations doesn’t require a flash (though the sensor and aperture both work well with the fully optimised LED unit on the N86).

The obvious question to ask, particularly when comparing the N86 with the N82 is why it doesn’t have a Xenon flash. Despite the fact it doesn’t really need one in most situations, the team tried hard to get one in but found the added bulk would have a significant impact on the whole look and feel of the device. Like other Nseries devices, design plays a key part in the N86 and much focus (sorry, couldn’t help myself) was put on ensuring the device looks as good as it performs.

By tackling low light head on, the N86 manages to create crisp, noise-free images, even when the environment would normally ensure the opposite would happen. Of course the camera’s imaging prowess also benefits from improved algorithms and better shutter speed control. It also sports a smart technology which runs in the background, helping to eliminate blurry images. Automatic Motion Blur Reduction (AMBR) monitors pixel movement, frame by frame, and makes allowances for when either the camera or the subject moves. Simply by spotting if all the pixels in the frame move simultaneously, the sensor instantly suspects camera shake and makes the appropriate corrections. If smaller groups of moving pixels are detected then the camera assumes the subject is moving and once again makes the appropriate corrections. Smart stuff indeed, and no, I don’t know how it works either.

With the number of people using camera phones increasing all the time, and users of low end compact cameras migrating to their mobile device for imaging, it’s looking like the camera phone is really starting to come of age. Charlie here on Conversations is a huge fan of the N86 (he’s just upgraded from the N82) and it’s not surprising to see why. In time, like many others, I’m sure this technology will filter down to other devices. For now though it remains the privilege of N86 8MP owners. Lucky them.