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GLOBAL – The arrival of the Nokia N8 ushers in a new era of taking pictures on the move. Alongside the Nokia N8’s 12-megapixel camera and Xenon flash comes HD video recording and a host of image-taking smarts never seen before in mobile device. To get the lowdown on the Nokia N8’s camera talents, we caught up with Nokia’s main man for imaging, Damian Dinning.

The Nokia N8 is a global project, as Dinning confirms, combining the passions of so many Nokia folk from around the world. For some time now, the team behind the N8’s camera has been working tirelessly, testing, tuning and optimising individual aspects of the camera’s performance. It’s getting so detailed now, Dinning tells us, that at times they’re struggling to see the difference in output from one test to another. But, as a self-certified perfectionist, Dinning wants to take it even further. But first, a look at how far it’s already come.

The team behind the Nokia N8’s camera want to set new benchmarks. Not just for the quality of the still image camera, but the video recording as well. Across both uses, the team have been optimising each specific element of the device’s camera for as many use cases as possible. Cracking Improving the low light performance nut is one of the hardest challenges for mobile device cameras. Naturally, that’s where the camera team started. This time though, the effort was focussed not just on still images, but on video too.

Check out the first sample images from the Nokia N8

In dramatically improving low light performance, the team were able to improve performance in bright conditions as well. Damian takes up the story “Early on we were seeing some images which on the display, looked staggeringly sharp, but there was a digital look to them. I suggested Many mobile phones take really good pictures these days but we wanted to create something which went beyond that. I wanted to see if we could create something which looked much more natural then before. we go down the road of creating something that’s really natural in its appearance.”

Check out the first HD video sample from the Nokia N8

Unlike some competitors, the Nokia N8 doesn’t produce over-sharpened or “digital looking” images. Instead the results the team have created look natural and display as well on the N8’s bright screen as they do over the built-in HDMI on a hi-def TV.

The combination of industry leading Carl Zeiss wide-angle optics and the biggest sensor in a mobile device means the Nokia N8 sports a much better balance than in previous devices. The images it produces (both still and moving) sport a surprisingly high degree of detail, but without any much of the noise you see in images from some other devices.

With better optics and a bigger sensor comes a reduction in the need for image processing. However, the team decided to make the most of that situation and focussed on utilising the freed-up bandwidth to improve other aspects of the imaging functionality. Red eye reduction was first seen as a software update in the N86 8MP and in the Nokia N8 it sees a big improvement. Face detection is also faster and much more efficient than previous incarnations. The biggest leap though, comes in auto focus. It’s still being tested and tweaked, but the team are already seeing speed improvements over previous devices, with a reduction of about 50 per cent, reducing auto focus on a typical still image to about around half a second or less.

The latency in the shutter release also sees a speed improvement and is now running at about 150 milliseconds. That’s as fast as many dedicated cameras and actually faster than some, according to Dinning. What’s more, even though image sizes are bigger, given the size of the sensor, the time between taking pictures has also seen an big improvement in speed.

The Nokia N8 sports a Xenon flash which is some 30 per cent smaller than previously seen on a Nokia device, yet sports roughly the same power as we’ve had on previous incarnations. Combined with the optics and image sensor, it also performs brilliantly in low light conditions, ensuring quality shots virtually no matter where you are, or what you’re doing.

The Nokia N8 is without doubt a great imaging device. The technology that powers it has been chosen with care, tuned with the utmost attention and the results, we’re sure you’ll agree, are simply staggering.