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March 23, 2012

How the Nokia 808 PureView pushes Dynamic Range to the next level

It’s now a couple of weeks since the Nokia 808 PureView launched and the Internet is buzzing with fantastic feedback. Websites and blogs solely dedicated to cameras have given raving reviews about the image quality of this smartphone, and quite rightly so. The Nokia 808 PureView has a mind-blowingly good camera. One area, however, that our photography guru, Ari Partinen, believes hasn’t been discussed in enough detail is dynamic range. To put that right, he shares his thoughts today.

The benefits of super pixels

In very simplified terms the Nokia 808 PureView combines the information from roughly seven pixels and uses this info to re-create what we call super pixels. The benefit of doing this is that when you multiply several signals (or pixels in our case) with random noise floor, you end up with amplified signal, but lower noise floor compared to the actual image signal. The most obvious benefit from this is the improved signal-to-noise ratio in low light images, but also daylight images benefit from this as an increased dynamic range. And indeed the dynamic range of Nokia 808 PureView is huge and achieved without any additional HDR processing, which often may lead to unnatural results.

Taking photos in the midday sun

Let’s discuss the following image of this lovely lady, on a beach, in Cape Town South Africa. All photographers know how deadly the midday sun is when it comes to ruining your images. The shadows caused by that midday light are a problem for any camera currently on the market. This picture was captured around 11:00am in South Africa and as you can see from the image the light was already very harsh. But the Nokia 808 PureView did excellent job preserving all the details also in the shades, making the smiling eyes of our lady perfectly visible. And please remember, we are running the camera in standard mode, without any excess HDR processing.

Another maybe even more astonishing example is the second image.

This image was originally planned to be a funny image with just legs sticking out from underneath the colorful hut, but for our amazement we ended up seeing also the upper bodies of the two young fellows in the picture. This image was captured around midday in Cape Town, South Africa and from the shadows you can see that sun was practically straight up. Holding the details in those strong shadows would be an amazing job for any camera, let alone for a mobile phone or smartphone.

The easy way to achieve perfect exposure

Also very welcome feature for more serious photographers is the live histogram that makes achieving the perfect exposure very easy. Just adjust the exposure compensation so that the bright part of the histogram does not clip, and the massive dynamic range of the Nokia 808 PureView will preserve the details in the dark end. As you can see from the image below, the live histogram becomes visible automatically when exposure compensation is adjusted.

Digital camera markets are currently full of all kind of HDR cameras and applications to handle those very high contrast scenes but with Nokia 808 PureView we took another route. We actually designed and executed a camera that is simply so good, that no extra HDR processing is needed.

People have rightly focused on resolution, the details that the Nokia 808 PureView is able to capture and its great low light capabilities. Now, thanks to Ari, we hope you have a better idea of its massive dynamic range, too. If you have any questions for Ari, please share them below or at @Nokia_Connects