LONDON, England – Regular readers will recall Nokia’s Nseries camera supremo Damian Dinning from his ultra-informative posts prior to the Nokia N8’s launch (here, here and especially here). Now that the device is out and the reviews have been published, we welcome him back to address some of the feedback we’ve received here on Conversations and from other forums, blogs and publications. Your questions answered, after the break.
Nokia Conversations: Thanks for taking time to talk to us again. Are you pleased with the reviews and user comments that have appeared for the Nokia N8’s imaging skills?
Damian Dinning: We’ve been really delighted. I must admit I made a few enemies during the development process because I kept insisting that the results just weren’t good enough yet and that there was still room for improvement. People thought I was over-obsessed with details. But, seeing the amazing pictures and videos that people have created with the finished product I think we were definitely right to do that.
But I’d like to stress that we’re still listening and seeing what we can do to make the world’s best camera smartphone even better!
Incidentally, while I’ve become a bit of a focal point for Nokia N8’s imaging capabilities, I really do need to make the point that it’s dozens of other people who have actually done all the work. They’re the ones who deserve the credit. My job has been to listen to the community and feed their views into the development process in such a way that by working closely together we could create a level of performance that would truly delight.
NC: We know you wanted to set the record straight regarding some negative views. Some commentators have suggested that the colour saturation on pictures taken with the Nokia N8 is weaker than that on other camera phones. What’s your take on that?
DD: Well, actually, that’s completely true. It was entirely our intention. People have become used to a ‘Hollywood’ level of colour that simply isn’t true to life. I’ve seen a number of camera phones where, just as one example, some people’s (white, Caucasian) skin would appear yellow. We wanted the Nokia N8’s colour balance to closely reflect the scene – and that’s less colourful than many people may have come to believe when viewing images captured with some other devices.
That said, we do try and replicate the ‘mind’s eye’, where there are some colour adjustments that are made under specific circumstances. For example, when people see a snow scene, their perception is that there’s a blue-ish tint. Cameras can’t see that because it’s actually about human perception rather than what’s objectively out there. So we add some colour correction to put some blue in, which meets people’s expectations of what snow scenes looked like at the time. There are a couple of other special corrections like that. All said and done, this is a very subjective area. As an example you may find if you were watching TV at a friend’s house you may not quite agree with the way they have set the colour and brightness. It’s also important to note that viewing images online taken by others of scenes and/or subjects you have not seen before, how would you know what’s right and what’s wrong unless there is a known colour reference in the scene?
Lastly, for people who do want more vivid colour, there’s a setting for colour tone. It’s now possible with the new Symbian devices to set this as a preference (amongst others) which is automatically set each time you start the camera.
NC: We’ve also heard reports that some people think Nokia N8 shots are “noisy” compared to those taken with other camera phones. What’s the story there?
DD: Other camera phones typically employ more noise reduction than we do. But noise-reduction tends to also kill detail. With the Nokia N8’s combination of large 12-megapixel sensor and Carl Zeiss optics we wanted to give users every detail that it could practically capture. We experimented with many different combinations of noise reduction before settling on the final one. In the end, we concluded that the best balance of detail and noise was where we reduce noise as much as possible but without dramatically affecting the details. This provides much greater flexibility and freedom for a wider range of people. If you prefer greater detail then I hope you’ll be delighted with our approach. If, however, you prefer lower noise and are willing to compromise on the detail you can do this reasonably easily in post image editing. However, if we had removed the detail through aggressive noise reduction in the original image, that detail would have been lost forever. So this way you get the best of both worlds.
NC: GSM arena has posted some very nice things about Nokia N8 photography but suggested the digital zoom doesn’t work properly for video recording at low levels of magnification – between 1X and 2X. Is that right?
DD: It’s not a bug, as was initially suggested, but a limitation of current technology. Nobody in the industry can do what we are trying to do there. Some devices limit your capability either by not allowing any zoom in video or providing a heavily cropped field of view. We didn’t want to limit your options here, but we tried very hard to minimise this change between modes that you see around 2X zoom.
We didn’t want to lose one bit of the 720p wide-angle video. So that would mean banging 12-megapixel images through the processor 25 times a second. That won’t work with current processors for phones, any of them. So what actually happens is that, at lower zoom levels, the sensor provides the processor an optimised, reduced resolution version of the image seen by the whole sensor. At 2X zoom, we can do it differently because there’s less raw data being thrown at the processor. The transition between the two methods is visible, but the camera is providing the best results it can at every zoom level given the current state of technology. It’s an area we hope to solve with future products and, naturally, we keep on trying to improve the software.
NC: Another issue that some people have left comments about on Conversations is night photography and the minimum exposure time not allowing for ‘light trails’. Do you recommend any particular settings for this sort of shot?
DD: The best thing to do is to play with the ISO settings. You might not want them too low, because 100 ISO can leave pictures under-exposed. You can force the shutter speed down to a maximum of 1/5 of a second using Night Scene Mode. That’s OK for most uses, but no, it can’t do everything. But this has been good feedback and we are looking at this for the future.
[Taken with the Nokia N8 – higher resolution version here]
NC: Lastly, a number of people have mourned the passing of Share Online and aren’t happy with the 2MB limit on Nokia Messaging. They’re currently using third-party software like PixelPipe and Shozu for social sharing. Why did it go and what’s the best solution?
DD: There is an update which will increase the Nokia Messaging limit. Unfortunately, I can’t comment on our current plans here in more detail with regard to Share Online. However, I can say that the feedback in this area is clear and we do listen.
I know a lot of people are using PixelPipe. We worked closely with those guys to ensure that people had a great solution for sharing media from day one. From what I’ve heard so far, people really like this solution.
NC: What do you make of the hacks that have appeared on various websites allowing for a higher frame rate in video and 100% JPG compression?
DD: There are two sides to this. On the one hand, Nokia, as a company, welcomes outside innovation. But on the other hand, there are often legitimate reasons why certain features were not enabled at sales start. For example, we looked very carefully at compression. With the current compression settings, you shouldn’t be able to see any JPEG artefacts with the naked eye: you have to have to enlarge the image to 200-300% for anything to become visible. Also, if you’ve got massive uncompressed images on the camera, it will affect the shooting speed as well as upload times. In some markets, such large files are really a big problem because of the expense of data charges.
So, in short, we love to see outside creativity, but there are reasons why these aren’t available by default. That said, we’re still working with the software and hope to overcome a few remaining technical challenges that will allow people to safely extend the camera’s capabilities at some point in the future
NC: We know you’re still working on the camera software. Could you give us any hints on what we might expect in the next version?
DD: I’m afraid not. I’d rather not promise anything at this stage only later to possibly disappoint people if we find we can’t overcome all the technical challenges we need to. However, I can say we’ve been listening very intently to the feedback and that it is all going into current and future product development. Please keep the feedback coming.
Thanks again to Damian for his time – but like he says, keep the feedback coming!