The bigger picture: the Nokia 808 PureView's massive image sensor compared

The bigger picture: the Nokia 808 PureView's massive image sensor compared

We still can't quite believe that we weren't just imagining it and that Nokia really did launch at 41-megapixel cameraphone at Mobile World Congress 2012 this week - the Nokia 808 Pureview.

But the real surprise is that instead of achieving such a ridiculously high pixel count by reducing the size of the individual pixels or resorting to interpolation, Nokia has actually done precisely the opposite.

It's all about microns, you see – a fact I've become well acquainted with thanks to Nokia's wonderfully revealing PureView imaging technology white paper (PDF). A micron is one thousandth of a millimetre, and it's the unit of measurement used to express the actual size of individual pixels.

Pixels, of course, we're familiar with. The pixel count is the first thing we want to know about any camera, and it's what we're playing around with when we crop, edit and resize images digitally.

Now obviously the more pixels you have in a digital image, the more flexibility you have in being able to crop to a small part of a larger image without the image becoming blurred.

But before any of that, each of those pixels has to be captured individually by your camera's image sensor, and image sensors are only so big. In practice, then, if you're looking to increase resolution without affecting the size of the image sensor overall, you have to make each pixel smaller.

That's generally how mobile phones have typically been able to up the megapixel count of their cameras until now: they've been fitted with a newer generation of image processor able to capture light using pixels that are physically smaller.

The problem here is that pixel performance is affected directly by the amount of photons each pixel can collect: and as a rule, the smaller the pixel, the fewer photons it can absorb.

Now like most areas of consumer technology, advancements are being made all the time, but the prioritising of high megapixel counts means manufacturers often adopt new generations of more compactly packed image sensors as soon as they're available, despite early iterations having clearly been shown to deliver compromised performance on an individual pixel level.

It's this same principle that's behind the widely held belief that dedicated cameras will always take better pictures than mobile phones, regardless of the headline resolution.

Yes, there are other factors, such as the quality of the optics, but a “full frame” image sensor offered by a high-end digital SLR is many times bigger than the sensor inside your average mobile phone, meaning each pixel is bigger too.

To see this difference in practical terms, check out our image sensor comparison diagram above and compare the size of the full frame sensor even to the next biggest example, the APS-C sensor. The difference is significant. Now take a look at the smallest sensor, which is the one you'll find inside the Apple iPhone 4S (it's worth pointing out that these will be larger than 1:1 representations on most screens).

Now we're not doing this as any kind of under-handed dig at the iPhone: its 8-megapixel camera is without question one of the very best mobile phone cameras around today.

We've included it firstly to give you a sense of just how big a factor this size difference between smartphones and high-end cameras really is, and secondly, to show just how unusually large the Nokia 808 PureView's sensor is for a mobile device.

The 808 PureView's predecessor, the Nokia N8, was widely regarded as the best cameraphone in the business, and looking at the size of its image sensor compared to the latest iPhone's, you can immediately see one of the main reasons why.

But both of these fine cameraphones pale in comparison to the huge 1/1.2in sensor inside the Nokia 808 PureView.

Getting back to those microns, the pixels on the iPhone 4S and Nokia 808 PureView are actually the same size – 1.4 microns – as opposed to the 1.1 micron pixels on some new mobile phones. For the record, the Nokia N8's sensor has 1.75-micron pixels, though of course it's a couple of years old now, so effective pixel performance is probably about on the same level.

Compare that to the new Nikon D800's 4.8 micron pixels (on a 36.3MP sensor, let's not forget) and pro photographers can clearly rest easy for now.

More interesting, however, is the fact that the newly announced Sony Cyber-shot HX20V also has 1.4 micron pixels on what is a smaller sensor than the new Nokia's. We're not for a second trying to claim that the 808 PureView will take better pictures, but what this does suggest is that if some of the lesser lights of the compact camera business were feeling the pinch before from the ever-expanding smartphone industry, they'll be doubly worried now.

Read more about: Nokia 808 PureView

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10 comments

JanSt / MOD  Feb. 29, 2012 at 18:12

You gotta hand it to Nokia: they came out with the only really BIG surprise at MWC, and look: it's a Symbian phone.
Very clever move - even if no one buys an 808. But people will buy it. The non-geek mainstream media loves it. Great pics mean more to ordinary folks than quad-cores. You CAN see what a great cam does. Visible proof. Instantly. A quad-core is esoteric nerd-fodder by comparison.

onlineo  Mar. 1, 2012 at 11:36

Put Ice cream sandwich or the new Blackberry OS that is out this year on it and I would snap up this phone. But Symbian is a no no or certainly was when I looked at getting a Nokia N8 a while ago.

JanSt / MOD  Mar. 1, 2012 at 11:40

Put Ice cream sandwich or the new Blackberry OS that is out this year on it and I would snap up this phone. But Symbian is a no no or certainly was when I looked at getting a Nokia N8 a while ago.
Since the launch of the N8 Anna and Belle happened, and the processor on the 808 ia almost twice as fast as that in the N8, while Belle itself is much faster and lighter than the first Symbian ^3... INCOMPARABLE, really...

spoflo  Mar. 2, 2012 at 07:04

So are you saying that it doesnt matter that the OS cant do anything as long its fast?

JanSt / MOD  Mar. 2, 2012 at 08:53

So are you saying that it doesnt matter that the OS cant do anything as long its fast?
Spoflo - Explain WHAT, in your opinion, the OS (Nokia Belle, I assume) "can't do", and maybe I reply ;)
Also, you weren't actually reading what I wrote: I explained to the previous poster how Belle changed Symbian; how Belle is nothing like the original Symbian ^3 on the launch-time N8; and how the 808 has much better hardware under the hood.

What I wasn't saying is that it's super-duper or better than Android or iOS or whatever...

Stll: what, in your opinion, "can't it do"?

Brenda24  Mar. 3, 2012 at 12:00

The PureView technology is using the oversampling technique, stacking the images from neighbouring pixels to create a beautiful noise free pixel. I’m sure you haven’t download the picture and seen it for yourself or educated yourself on the article that Nokia Europe published right, editor of this article? And don’t be sceptical on Symbian.
http://www.techiecop.com/technologynews/nokia-808-pureview-sporting-41-mp-camera.html

onlineo  Mar. 4, 2012 at 12:21

I run a part time business from home. But using my android phone I can maintain it away from my home very simply; updating the website, managing social media, creating online adverts, replying to emails. Integration through google docs of all our company documents for all our partners etc.

When trying the N8 I found simple browsing to be a painful experience due to the poor screen resolution. The apps for managing the business were either poorly implemented or non existent.

JanSt / MOD  Mar. 4, 2012 at 12:30

I run a part time business from home. But using my android phone I can maintain it away from my home very simply; updating the website, managing social media, creating online adverts, replying to emails. Integration through google docs of all our company documents for all our partners etc.

When trying the N8 I found simple browsing to be a painful experience due to the poor screen resolution. The apps for managing the business were either poorly implemented or non existent.


You're not saying WHEN you tried the N8 ;)
Anna and now Belle changed it quite significantly, but yes, there are gaps in the Symbian appstore; no question.
It is about finding the right phone for your needs and wants.
10 million plus folks love their N8. They enjoy the, yet, unrivalled cam, and they put up with the rest.
If you want a caravan, don't buy a tent. If you hate the outdoors, don't go camping at all. If you need a stepladder, don't buy a fold-up chair. Very simple.
NOT 1 phone or OS is right for all people and/or all tasks. IT's called capitalism. It's called creating 'wants'. They all have their little ways of making us crave the next big thing.

ED4N8  Mar. 4, 2012 at 20:25

I run a part time business from home. But using my android phone I can maintain it away from my home very simply; updating the website, managing social media, creating online adverts, replying to emails. Integration through google docs of all our company documents for all our partners etc.

When trying the N8 I found simple browsing to be a painful experience due to the poor screen resolution. The apps for managing the business were either poorly implemented or non existent.


You're not saying WHEN you tried the N8 ;)
Anna and now Belle changed it quite significantly, but yes, there are gaps in the Symbian appstore; no question.
It is about finding the right phone for your needs and wants.
10 million plus folks love their N8. They enjoy the, yet, unrivalled cam, and they put up with the rest.
If you want a caravan, don't buy a tent. If you hate the outdoors, don't go camping at all. If you need a stepladder, don't buy a fold-up chair. Very simple.
NOT 1 phone or OS is right for all people and/or all tasks. IT's called capitalism. It's called creating 'wants'. They all have their little ways of making us crave the next big thing.


Weak argument. You would have done better to stay with, "...there are gaps in the Symbian appstore; no question." and could have even just left that at "gaps in the symbian (OS)".

Though I have used Nokia for years and converted uncountable persons over to them, I have to agree with "onlineo" and frankly any others who have doubts for the ability of Symbian to keep up with consumers' demands. And yes, I have used the N8. I was skeptical at first because I had used the N95 for a couple of years and found there was a decline of overall quality and useabilty when I switched to the N95-8G. It was not the first time there was a issue with Nokia in terms of usability but it was more than previous times. Then I found out about the N8 and I hummed and hawed and researched... and I eventually ignored the "naysayers" who claimed Nokia had dropped the ball. I bought my N8 straight out for $800.00 cash and decided that I could put up with how slow it was because I could use it for HD video and pics, AGPS, Phone, Planner... But the ability to switch between applications became so tedious that the novelty of the camera soon wore off. I could not even access calls in bright sun-light due to the sensor locking the screen out in daylight conditions.

Anyway I am not here to smack-down on Nokia (just look on any forum to find to find pleased AND dis-pleased users) but to aggree with those who suggest that they are perhaps a tad bit more than skeptical when it comes to Nokia's ability to enter a serious contender in the smartphone market anymore while they are still running an archaic OS that has proven (yes PROVEN) it is substandard to Android.

Perhaps they need to be honest wih themselves and their customers; Perhaps we as the customer need to be honest with Nokia and suggest that they have begun to deliver a smartCAMERA into the market. But a "smartPHONE"? countless customers are beginning to stray.

I was waiting to see what Nokia would do next. So were five of my friends. We wanted to see if Nokia would actually make the move to a different OS and IF they did THEN we would chance another Nokia purchase. Instead we are going to try a different product line that is NOT Nokia. We think it is time for a change... We had hoped Nokia would think the same.

I would like to close simply by aggreeing with you that, "If you want a caravan, don't buy a tent. If you hate the outdoors, don't go camping at all." I would add to that, that if you want a smartPHONE don't buy a smartCAMERA and if you don't want a smartCAMERA, then don't risk a purchase on the N808.

JanSt / MOD  Mar. 5, 2012 at 11:18

ED4N8,
It's like you read my comment but didn't.
Do not buy the Nokia PureView 808, if you feel it's not good.
Simple.
I'll wait until it is out before I pass judgement (the looks aside. The bumb aside.). There hasn't been a Symbian phone with Belle Featurepack 1 and a 1.3GHz procesor. We don't know yet if it's a tent or whatever. No, it won't be an SGS3 or iPhone 5 - no doubt.
I too know people who used the N8 and got rid of it after a few weeks. Me, e.g. But I know a few people who had an N8; then upgraded to another "smarter" OS just to swap that for another N8 instead. Not me.
My gut says the 808 won't do as well as the N8. As others said: it's a dry-run for the cam tech. WP isn't yet ready for it, but Nokia desperately needed "hype".
Still: JUST don't buy it.
I wouldn't pay more than £50 for any current WP device - because £50 buys you a good featurephone. No USB mass storage...and an attempt to copy Apple's "eco system". I have no interest in financing that. Let somebody else do that. If they're happy with it - so be it. The majority of phones are sold in network stores by people who know nothing to people who know less. My mainrole here is to help those people.
Beyond that: if the shoe doesn't fit, it's not your shoe.

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