March 5, 2012

The iCamera (Nokia 808 Pureview) Part I

Why "The iCamera"?

Because in my opinion, this term would best describe what this camera is all about. Camera? Yes, I consider the Nokia 808 Pureview to be a camera (which happens to have an embedded phone), not the other way round. Nokia may not like this perspective. Not yet. Further down, I am going to explain why it is such a great revolutionary camera. But first, let me explain why I call it the iCamera. And no, I will not say anything about the iCamera's embedded phone function. Please, refer to Nokia for further details about the phone.

Remember the iPhone back in 2007? The year the 808 project was started? "It is an iPod, a phone, and an internet communications device". Some laughed at it, but it became the blueprint for almost every smartphone made since. And a big success. And what matters most: it came from a company who never did a phone before! Launched after years of hidden development.

Now, you have "a camera, a phone, and an internet communications device". Some laugh at it, but it may become the blueprint for almost every compact camera going to be made. It comes from a company who never did a camera before! Launched after years of hidden development.

Nokia may not realize what they did and actually may still screw it up. But if they play their cards right, they can create an entirely new market and rule it! A photography market. Just let's forget for a second that the 808 is also a phone. The iPhone is also an iPod. So what?

And so I call it the iCamera.

Why is it revolutionary?

A product becomes revolutionary if it combines existing technologies in a way that the result leapfrogs several generations of competing products and seems to contradict common wisdom. The 808 does this. Let me explain in detail now.

First, let me classify the iCamera. You need to read my paper about camera equivalence though. You'll find it here:
It explains how to correctly compare cameras when they have different sensor sizes. The 808 is two different cameras at the wideangle and the long tele end. And another different camera in video mode. I give three 35mm equivalent cameras at both ends now (ISO are the minimum equivalent values), followed by 5 other cameras serving as a reference:
  • Wide iCamera:      28mm/8 iso640 (38MP, 169g)
    exact: 38.4 MP (4:3), 27.7 mm, F8.3, ISO 690 (crop 3.45)
  • Long iCamera:      77mm/22 iso6400 (5MP, 169g)
    exact: 5.0 MP (4:3), 76.6 mm, F22.9, ISO 5300 (crop 9.55)
  • Wide video iCamera:      26mm/8 iso640 (HD, 169g)
    exact: 2.1 MP (16:9), 25.7mm, F7.7, ISO 590 (crop 3.2 wrt 4:3)
  • Apple iPhone 4:      29mm/22 iso4800 (5MP, 137g)
  • Wide Olympus E-P3 + 14-42/3.5-5.6II:      28mm/7 iso400 (12MP, 481g)
  • Long Olympus E-P3 + 14-42/3.5-5.6II:      84mm/11 iso400 (12MP, 481g)
  • Wide Nikon D800 + 24-70/2.8G:      24mm/2.8 iso50 (36MP, 1800g)
  • Long Nikon D800 + 24-70/2.8G:      70mm/2.8 iso50 (36MP, 1800g)
Please, refer to the Nokia White Paper for the 808 specification and further details.

Even though the tele effect (Long iCamera) is achieved via simple cropping, it is equivalent to a different camera. Very much like a zoom lens which yields different focal lengths and apertures at both ends. Equivalent means you should expect the same indistinguishable image quality from a full frame 35mm camera with the given specification. Please feel invited to read the paper above to understand the details (applies to Nokia employees too: please understand why your way to zoom via crop is not equivalent to a constant aperture zoom).

In a nutshell: the above list allows for a direct, quick and no-nonsense comparison of available products.

And it shows that the iCamera is physically very close to a mobile smart phone (actually, Nokia says it is one) but its optical performance is rather close to a mirrorless system camera, only significantly bettered by a big full frame SLR with a fast lens.

So, in optical performance, the iCamera leapfrogs all mobile phone and P&S cameras, while in resolution, it additionally leapfrogs all mirrorless system cameras and even APS-C SLRs.

Of course, in order to make this claim, we have to check if the 808's lens is up to the task. So, let's refer to some sample images which have been published already

Image taken with the Nokia 808 Pureview (the iCamera). © 2012 Nokia (click to access original)

The above image is taken with the Nokia 808 Pureview (the iCamera). The image is mildly post-processed by me in a way typical for other photo cameras in JPG mode (the image is a bit sharpened and noise-reduced) to provide an easier reference for a direct comparison (the 808 seems to apply no or almost no post-processing to its results which is a good thing for photo enthusiasts).

The above image is an example of good image quality for a mobile phone or almost acceptable image quality one would expect from a system camera with a kit zoom. Most details are resolved but there remain a few sharpening/denoising artefacts.

So far, this is nothing spectacular or worth talking about.

But what if I tell you that the above is an 18x crop (1:1 or 100% crop) taken from the following image?

Image taken with the Nokia 808 Pureview (the iCamera). © 2012 Nokia (click to access original)

The above is the full and same image as shown above! Only resized to the typical web size. And now and immediately, you may understand why the iCamera is like no other camera before!

The Zeiss lens

Moreover, this example clearly shows that the lens is up to the task and able to resolve the incredible resolution of the sensor. Closer inspection of the original images reveals even the corner resolution is  good even if it doesn't fully resolve the sensor, still beating most other available cameras in the corner. A more complete analysis was done by Werner Ruotsalainen: Nokia 808 resolution tests. He concludes that even the smaller 5 MP images from the 808 beat 10 MP images from a P&S in resolution! And there are reasons to believe this to be true.

But how can a mobile phone lens resolve such tiny detail? Good question. As I explain in my paper about camera equivalence, it becomes increasingly harder to resolve many pixels when shrinking the sensor size.

But famous lens maker Zeiss did an incredible job solving this problem: By glueing 5 lenses together into one group, all having aspherical surfaces and one using ED glass, they created a lens with unprecedented optical performance and very tight manufacturing tolerances. The problem is larger than it appears: The lens aperture is only 3.34mm while the image circle 8mm further down the optical axis is a whopping 12.5mm, almost 4x the aperture. If the aperture were as large as the image circle, this would be an f/0.6 lens! So, the lens elements nearer to the sensor are larger than they appear when looking at the camera front. Such a lens must be mounted to the sensor assembly on extremely tight tolerances or it is decentered. We have to keep in mind that the iCamera's lens is diffraction-limited at F2.4! Nokia uses a live manufacturing method where live view from the camera is used to fine calibrate the lens when assembling the sealed camera module. That's fairly innovative by itself and definitely virgin territory. This method won't work for an interchangeable lens camera. More on this below.

UPDATE 2012, March 5:
Today more information about the lens was made available by Nokia and Zeiss.
Zeiss 808 8mm/2.4 lens
The lens is depicted in the image above and as it said in the source, it is made from a special plastics rather than glass. This is only possible for small lenses like the one in the 808 but has the advantage that much more complex surfaces can be made to precision. That seems to be part of the recipe how to achieve the high optical performance despite the small footprint. END OF UPDATE.

So, we conclude that the optical performance figures are hard to believe but they seem to be real.

But this isn't everything yet. We saw that the wide iCamera is equivalent to a camera with rather low ISO setting. So, it should have good dynamic range. And indeed, this seems to be true. I treated the above image in an HDR manner and came up with the following result:

Image taken with the Nokia 808 Pureview (the iCamera). © 2012 Nokia (click to access original)

The above is is still the same image as shown above! But now we used the iCamera's dynamic range to heavily boost shadows to illuminate the black regions of the original image. That's not normally possible with images from mobile phones.

The reason why this works is that the iCamera has a large sensor, much larger than mobile phones or P&S cameras. It is almost as large as the sensor in the mirrorless Nikon 1 system cameras. The equivalent camera parameters express this as an equivalent ISO value of 640 which is known to be good enough to have enough headroom for extending an image's dynamic range (like I did above).

I hope that all the text above answered the question why the iCamera is indeed revolutionary.

One more thing ...

It wouldn't be The iCamera if there wouldn't be one more thing ... :)

All still photo cameras have the problem that the sensor has many more pixels than there are in HD video. But it is hard to read out all pixels of a still image (10 MP or more) 24, 25, 30 or even 60 times a second. Therefore, still cameras only read a small fraction of its pixels to make the video stream, known as subsampling or line skipping. The effect is a significant degradation of image quality in video mode: there is noise, line flicker, color moiré and the result is no match for HD content produced with so called 4k cameras or cameras with supersampling such as the Canon C300. Such cameras cost $15,000 or more (a notworthy exception is the Panasonic GH2 though which made it the camera of choice for serious video work on a budget).

And what shall I say? The iCamera does it too, not supersampling 8MP (C300) or 16MP (GH2) but supersampling all 33,593,616 pixels (16:9) 30 times every second! That's one billion pixels the iCamera processes every second. In a mobile phone. This is crazy!

As a consequence, the wide iCamera could have the same good low light capabilities in video mode as the legendary Canon 5DmkII which does line skipping, but without the Moiré and line flicker problems.

And because no graphics processor (GPU) obviously can handle this data rate (otherwise, HDSLRs would be able to do it too), Nokia designed a special chip (the scaling processor) which sits in the camera module between the sensor and the GPU. And Toshiba managed to make a sensor which can output the equivalent of 8 GBit/s. So, there is a large CMOS sensor, a scaling processor, a graphics processor and the ARM CPU chewing each others output to get the job done.

The people behind

Nokia was kind enough to emphasize the role of three persons in this project:

Eero Salmelin and Juha Alakarhu (Nokia "pureview inventors")
Damian Dinning (Nokia "imaging guru")

I believe that the creation of the iCamera was driven by opportunity rather than strategic planning. Nokia decided to give engineering green light to pursue the project and see where it leads to. And I guess they are still watching. The Nokia press conference only "mentioned" the 808. And that's the real difference between the iCamera and the iPhone: the iCamera isn't top-level driven, it is not born out of vision from the leaders. It is born out of engineering vision and often, this is not enough.

So, here is my humble advice to Nokia managers who are only watching the 808:


The iCamera is such a groundbreaking device that Nokia must no longer consider themselves a phone maker.

The iCamera is such a groundbreaking device that Nokia must no longer consider themselves a phone maker.

( I said it twice on purpose.) Like the iPhone made Apple drop the "Computer" in "Apple Computer", Nokia may consider to drop the "Phone" in their brain. They may continue building great phones just like Apple continues to build great computers. But now, they have to become a camera maker and whatever this leads to. Nokia engineers may have understood it already: They provide a tripod mount and a decent camera user interface.

It is useful to consider what the iCamera could be in another form factor (less phone like) and to remember that interchangeable lenses wouldn't necessarily deliver (cf. above). The "lens module" concept then comes to mind. Where a lens module is exactly what the camera module is in the 808: A sealed module containing lens and sensor. And therefore, a system camera would become:

A mirrorless interchangeable module camera (MIMC).

Nokia wouldn't be first (Pentax Ricoh Imaging with their GXR line is first). But an 808-based MIMC would be the first camera where this concept actually makes sense: Because it delivers a level of performance not possible otherwise. And at an attractive price point considering the Nokia 808 minus the phone isn't more expensive than a system camera's lens.

Nokia could create the future and dominant kind of camera market between the phone and 35mm full frame system cameras. And they could reestablish a European camera industry just like Apple revitalized a dying US phone industry. There are good cooperation partners to the task, like Zeiss or Leica. Nokia may even consider to make a GXR module to test the waters.

Anyway, personally I plan to release more parts to this article after I got the chance to run some laboratory tests. It will be exciting to see what all of this leads to.

Enjoy your iCamera.


  1. Great article Falk !! !! This Phone is TOTAL GAME CHANGING!! I was waiting for the release ,, after I saw the teaser video,,the quality level in the video was out of this WORLD!! This is the highest Quality Camera in the world,, in relationship with Mega Pixel vs Weight !!! All I can say is W O W !!! I have been trying to read up on this Phone,, oooopps I mean Camera, and I find your site. Thank You ! I would love to see pictures of the inside of the phone as you continue on your articles about the Nokia 808. The three guys who invented this are like Chuck Yeager,, Breaking the Barrier!!!! Thanks again Bob

  2. Excellent but the problem is Elop, a Microsoft mole there. He is trying to use Nokia for american industry (has destroy Nokia´s european factories, Symbian and Meego, pushes WP even when it not goes anywhere and try to steal the thunder from the 808). He must be out of the company before a real change and a new revolutionary vision like this.

    1. Elop may come from Microsoft and I agree that WP won't be Nokia's solution. But forcing Nokia out of its comfort zone was certainly right. I don't think WP will last long on Nokia agenda.

      However, my article is about the camera and making the success of Nokia as a camera maker to become independent from its success as a phone maker.

    2. it certainly would be an interesting move but it doesnt seem like a move that the BoD would make their last major move hasn't panned out yet if ever

    3. Francisco, please don't ruin such a great article with trolling.

      For the record, most of us who work at Nokia see Elop and WP as a godsend, not a mole. And in case you missed it, the EU is not the center of the mobile world anymore. That changed in 2007 when we went from a hardware focused world to a software ecosystem focused world. The real problem at Nokia was that we were too arrogant to admit it and make the change then.

      Symbian and MeeGo were incredibly mismanaged for years, missing important deadlines, repeatedly. Exactly how those would've saved the company?

      Elop's not going anywhere. If you don't agree then sell your stock, put it into AAPL or GOOG and go have a beer with Eldar.

    4. yes,elop is just interested that wp will grow,what a punch in the face that Belle got this first,but relax they will certainly make something before launch so this will not sell well,shall not compete with wp that is no1 os for Nokia..

    5. No more Elop discussion please. I consider it off topic for a discussion of a camera. I'll delete more similiar content.

  3. eh... the iphone didnt make the blueprint for smartphones... they just popularized the touch screen format (pocket pc / ipaqs were there before it) the all-in-one device was done by the likes of nokia

    the ipad simply popularized those notions in north america as similar/better devices were popular worldwide before it

  4. I'll only say it once. I'll not tolerate Apple fanboy or hater comments. They'll be deleted.

    And for the "smartphone blueprint", it is of course pure accident that today all smartphones are iphone-lookalikes ... ;) 'nough said though!

    1. Which is exactly what Im saying, they popularized the touch screen format they didn't create it

      smartphones today and the iphones look an awfully lot like Pocket PCs/Ipaqs no? ;)

  5. Very well written article! Thank you! Most people out there have no idea how significant this product is.. at least not yet.

    on the apple side..
    well, ok Apple took an idea and made it better. Nokia.. well they really are creating a whole new category. It is a little different, but your claim still stands.

  6. Or you may name it as "nCamera" instead of "iCamera", ha.
    What an impressive article I've read so far among all the others articles related to 808 PureView.
    Hope to see your review on "nCamera" very soon(on camera POV, of course).

    1. do ya know, i thought the same when i saw the iCamera phrase, like the guy is an iphone fanboy who wished apple had come up with this tech. Anyway i'l side with the 'nCamera' title too.

    2. "nCamera" is so unoriginal because Apple already started the "i" trend. Why not just simply call it Nokia camera, as in Canon camera, Nikon camera, etc.

      Also, I will agree only with Falk Lumo when he said "WP won't be Nokia's solution" and "I don't think WP will last long on Nokia agenda" if Nokia exits phone making and becomes solely a camera maker. But if Nokia wants to remain as phone maker (AND also a camera maker - GOOD IDEA!), Nokia needs MS. If Falk Lumo is suggesting Nokia shifts to Android, let me tell you NOW that Samsung has that area locked-in so tight no air is possible.

      Nokia's only way of coming back from the doldrums can only happen in the U.S. and only in partnership with MS. U.S. carriers are now slowly waking up to the fact that they need another platform, aside from Android, to counter-balance the power and control Apple has over them! AT&T has already fully awakened to that reality, and Verizon is slowly stirring up too. Before the end of this year, Nokia and WP8 will be in a good place to be a strong contender for the mobile 3rd platform in the U.S. When Nokia becomes big in the U.S., Asia will closely follow behind! And Europe? Sorry to say Europe is somewhat irrelevant to the equation at this point.

  7. Impressive article but I am really bothered with "iCamera" title... iWhat????? =P

    But I guess your suggestion is so true, Nokia may need to focus on branding themselves as the strong emerging brand on "Camera" + mobility features (photo editor) while still producing Lumia and feature-phones lines consequently =)

    Once again.... NICE NICE NICE article..... great job !!!!

  8. much as I agree with the thought that nokia may succeed on a more exclusive camera business, jst a little bit worried it may affect the quality of future smartphones that they will release in the future, i mean as far as i remember, nokia's strategy back then was like releasing a phone with the same specs but with lesser focus on its camera, then theyl release another phone that has a good camera but less on other features, if in case they'll shift some of their resources in to the camera business, they might try to taper its pureview tech on their smartphone so that it wont affect their new camera business market..conflict of interest may exist, so as much as i agree that a camera business may prosper, its still more feasible for them to focus on smartphone business and create bad ass smartphones with bad ass camera,, hitting 2 birds with 1 stone...

  9. and yes, i do UTTERLY LOVE YOUR BALANCED AND CONSTRUCTIVE ARTICLE!!! more power on ur blog!

  10. When you keep saying that you "discovered" something or you "invented" something, most of the people will start believing you. This is what has happened in the case of Apple. Here is a great chance for Nokia to actually reclaim their throne as powerful "phone" manufacturers.

    I have heard people complaining about the Symbian OS of the 808. I would like to tell those people that in a generation with tonnes of tablets flying in the sky, one does not simply want an myriad of features on their tiny 4 inch smart phone.

    The biggest use of any phone besides making calls is taking photos. And then comes listening to music. You don't need a revolutionary software to listen to music. So as far as I can see, Nokia 808 is going to hit the heart of many Smart phone makers and is definitely going to reclaim what was rightfully theirs.

    And you don't need to be a fortune-teller to know all this. When just a glimpse of this phone has created such a buss and had people chanting "Nokia Rules" (again) ... just imagine what impact it's gonna have!

  11. why should we bare this much of amount for this , it's equalent to samsung 7722's 5 mega pixal quality only..... i dont preferrrrr

    1. you should visit an eye doctor immediately!

  12. want to read moore and happy that It runs Belle Os,really stable Os

  13. hi,

    Streets of London,
    stunning low-light samples from nokia 808 pureview

    1. Interesting link and some nice street art indeed.

      And while I am sure the 808 is able to produce stunning low-light photography -- this is no example of it: samples to small scale to judge, at low ISO and with flash.

      I wished, people would be a bit more careful before posting -- and if only in the comments section of my blog ;)

    2. However, I think it is a good sign that the 808 is making it in the hands a few photographers now ... So, thanks for the link anyway :)

  14. Mr. Lumo, Nice article about the phontography :-)
    ANyway I wonder about something (paerhaps trivial for you). In the past we were plagued with broken pixels on our displays. Now with so muck pixels on the sensor I fear for broken pixels on the cmos. Especially after seeing quite a lot on the images from the prototypes. how can Nokia (or other camera-makers) solve that? I mean for screens we sue AMOLED-screens which are less susceptible to broken pixels. But how on earth can you avoid that on a tiny sensor with 41-million pixels?

  15. Hi ! Now I don't remember how many times I have read this article and ur eqivalance . Simply awesome. Since announcement of purview I have been reading about photography, everytime I research more I understand more about ur equivalance talk. It was initialy difficult to digest when I did not know what aperture is but now it is easier. I have one doubt, u said it has equivalant iso 650 without zoom what that would translate in 808 camera settings, would it be iso 50 of 808 of yes then for sunny 16 rule iso 50 on 808 will require shutter speed of 1/200 is it correct. One more thing please write more articals on how to use this camera. It would be extremly useful to first timers like me. Thanks..

  16. Hi ! Now I don't remember how many times I have read this article and ur eqivalance . Simply awesome. Since announcement of purview I have been reading about photography, everytime I research more I understand more about ur equivalance talk. It was initialy difficult to digest when I did not know what aperture is but now it is easier. I have one doubt, u said it has equivalant iso 650 without zoom what that would translate in 808 camera settings, would it be iso 50 of 808 of yes then for sunny 16 rule iso 50 on 808 will require shutter speed of 1/200 is it correct. One more thing please write more articals on how to use this camera. It would be extremly useful to first timers like me. Thanks..

  17. Thank's - the 808 is a really awesome device!!!!

  18. Shouldn't that be "Wide Olympus E-P3 + 14-42/3.5-5.6II: 28mm/7 _iso200_ (12MP, 481g)" and "Long Olympus E-P3 + 14-42/3.5-5.6II: 84mm/11 _iso200_ (12MP, 481g)", since the ff d800 is set to iso50 and the Olympus E-P3 has crop factor 2 (iso50 * 2^2 = iso200)?


    1. @Oliver, the table is a bit confusing, I know. Nevertheless, it is correct as it stands. It lists *existing* cameras by their equivalent properties. E.g., the 808 (in 35mm-equivalent terms) as well as the D800 (which already *IS* 35mm equivalent).

      So, the E-P3 lists as ISO 400 because an ISO 400 35mm camera is sufficient to deliver the same image quality as the E-P3 which is ISO 100 by specification.

      Another source of confusion is ISO 50 for the D800. This is the specified minimum ISO value (in extended mode) as given by Nikon. Actually, both ISO 50 and ISO 100 are the same true ISO 75 (if actually measured). But this is another story not fitting this blog article. Therefore, the table is correct when using vendor data. It may be a bit confusing though. Sorry for that.

    2. Reading advice:

      Read the table entries to list the cameras by the properties which determine image quality, rather than by (arbitrary) sensor-size dependent data.

    3. @Falk, thanks for your explanations. I will read your article again now.


  19. I really liked the Wikipedia page on Nokia Pureview 808, there's lots of detailed information on the camera:

    This camera is indeed a revolution - so many carefully planned technical innovations and all implemented with zero compromises! :-o Even the UI delivers 100% and allows for truly creative long exposure photography (see examples below), ISO control, bracketing and even timelapse:

    And the resolution is just out of this world, see e.g. this photo:

    Simply amazing!

  20. Nokia’s PureView camera technology has been in the works for over five years, which is plain to see in the 808 handset’s design. Whereas a 13.9mm thick phone may have been considered slim in 2007

    Nokia 808 PureView has amazing 12-megapixel camera phone with 41-megapixel sensor camera it is best mobile phone for Photographers

    Good One:
    Capture pictures without zooming camera with great quality

    Bad One:
    The world’s highest-resolution camera on a device with one of the lowest-resolution screens

    Nokia still to develop more mobile phones with their Symbin OS but now Android and iOS is one of the first choice for mobile phone lovers, Nokia ignore this matter

  21. Isaychamp.

    This is 2017, i am still using it. my 3rd 808. and taken more than 15000 pics. Thanks nokia. And many are astonishing. My friends are mad after portrait pics from this nice device. They are amazed by detailing of the face lines and structures.


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