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Nokia PureView 808 Camera Phone Review

Joshua Waller reviews the new 41 megapixel Nokia PureView 808 - a mobile phone with a huge 41 megapixel sensor and Carl Zeiss lens.

| Nokia PureView 808 in Camera Phones
BUY NOW NOKIA PureView 808


Nokia PureView 808 Camera Phone Review: Nokia PureView 808
The Nokia PureView 808 features a large 41 megapixel sensor. This is not only a much higher resolution than other mobile phones (with others maxing out at 16 megapixels), it's also vastly higher than compact cameras (max 18.2mp), compact system cameras (max 24.3mp), digital SLRs (max 36.3mp), and is even higher than a number of medium format cameras!

Nokia PureView 808 Features

Nokia PureView 808 Camera Phone Review: Nokia PureView 808
The Nokia PureView 808 runs on the latest version of Symbian. Symbian is one of the first multi-tasking operating systems for mobile phones and has seen many upgrades over the years, although lacks the support of more recent phone operating systems such as Android or iOS. The phone is the latest camera centric phone from Nokia, with the previous camera phone, the Nokia N8, being highly regarded as one of, if not, the best camera phones available with a larger than normal 12 megapixel sensor and xenon flash.

Key Features

  • 41 megapixel 1/1.2inch sensor (made by Toshiba)
  • Carl Zeiss Tessar f/2.4 lens 28/26mm 4:3/16:9 aspect
  • 4inch AMOLED touch screen - Full 16:9 aspect ratio, Gorilla Glass
  • Xenon flash with 3.5m range
  • 1.3GHz processor
  • LED for video recording
  • Lossless zoom: 3x for stills, 4x for video at 1080p
  • PureView Resolutions: 8mp, 5mp, 3/2mp
  • ISO50 to ISO1600
  • Built in ND filter with On/Off/Auto settings
  • Full HD video with stereo sound at 30/25/24/15fps
  • Oversampling for improved lowlight performance
  • 16GB built in memory, expandable with MicroSD card
  • Touch zoom - slide finger vertically on screen
  • Dolby® Headphone audio playback (exclusive to Nokia)
  • Rich recording (upto 140db), Dolby Digital Plus playback
  • Integrated photo editor
  • Orientation sensor
  • 15cm Macro mode
  • Face detection

Nokia PureView 808 Camera Phone Review: Nokia PureView 808

The Carl Zeiss Tessar f/2.4 lens has been specifically designed for this camera phone, as part of an exclusive partnership betwen Carl Zeiss and Nokia. Carl Zeiss and Nokia explained that because the Carl Zeiss lens in the camera had to be much smaller than larger lenses, it meant they were able to use much smaller parts in the lens and just 5 different pieces of glass.

The Nokia PureView 808 sensor is much larger than any camera phone sensor and much larger than nearly all compact cameras (excluding the Canon Powershot G1 X and Sony Cyber-shot RX100), with a 1/1.2inch sensor, it's almost as large as the sensor in the Nikon 1 Series CSC. The sensor is exclusive to Nokia.

Nokia PureView 808 Camera Phone Review: Nokia PureView Sensor Aspect Ratios
Nokia were keen to demonstrate the size difference between the sensor used in the Nokia PureView 808 compared to the typical 1/3.2inch sensor used in most mobile phones, such as the Sony Ericsson Xperia Arc, and the Apple iPhone 4. To create 16:9 or 4:3 images, the image is not cropped, instead different parts of the sensor is used, and the 4:3 image produces a 38 megapixel image with a 28mm wide angle view, while the 16:9 image produces a 34 megapixel image with a 26mm wide angle view (in 35mm equivalent terms). For examples and more on the technology, have a look at our hands-on review.

Nokia PureView 808 Camera Phone Review: Nokia PureView Oversampling
The Nokia PureView technology uses the large number of pixels available on the large sensor and combines a number of them (8 when in 5mp mode) into one "superpixel" (as Nokia calls it). This allows Nokia to reduce noise levels in the process, and combine colour information from 8 pixels into one, giving "superior" 5 megapixel images. Combined with a bright high quality f/2.4 Carl Zeiss Tessar lens, Nokia believes it's image processing algorithms are among the best in the imaging industry and that the oversampling technology overcomes Bayer sensor pattern problems. A whitepaper on the PureView technology is available from Nokia (PDF).

Nokia PureView 808 Handling

Nokia PureView 808 Camera Phone Review: Nokia PureView 808

Handling - The top of the PureView 808 features a shutter release button, as you would expect to find on a compact digital camera, there's also an unlock switch (in the middle), as well as a zoom rocker. On the back of the phone, the large protruding lump is where the flash and lens is housed, and there is also a raised bar to give your hand additional grip. Pressing the shutter release button will take you straight to the camera and the camera is quick to come up. The PureView 808 features redesigned on-screen camera control compared to the Nokia N8, and it is much easier and quicker to go through and change the numerous options, there is also greater control with more options than the N8. Despite the PureView 808 being constructed from plastics, it feels very solidly built and the gorilla glass screen is re-assuring, as is the devices weight in your hand.

Nokia PureView 808 Camera Phone Review: Nokia Pureview 808 Cover

For those who may be concerned about camera shake, a Nokia tripod adapter is available, as well as a protective case that includes a lens cap - yes, on a mobile phone! The cases are available in the same colours as the phone: black, white and red. The case adds noticeably to the size of the phone, but is recommended as the silver on the back scratches easily.

Nokia PureView 808 Camera Phone Review: Nokia PureView 808

Menus - The camera menus give you three main shooting modes: Automatic, Scenes, and Creative. Automatic lets you control the flash and defaults to 5mp PureView mode, letting you zoom in and out. The scenes have the typical scene modes as found on most compact cameras including: Landscape, Automatic, Close-up, Portrait, Sports, Night, Night portrait, Spotlight and Snow.

Nokia PureView 808 Camera Phone Review: Nokia Pureview 808 Screens (3) Nokia PureView 808 Camera Phone Review: Nokia Pureview 808 Screens (2)
Photo shooting screen Nokia Pureview 808 Settings
Nokia PureView 808 Camera Phone Review: Nokia Pureview 808 Screens (7) Nokia PureView 808 Camera Phone Review: Nokia Pureview 808 Screens (9)
Playback with share to facebook button Playback editing

The creative options contain three customisable sets of options (C1, C2, C3), including resolution (PureView or Full), Aspect ratio (16:9 or 4:3), Resolution (8/5/3mp in PureView), JPEG Quality (Fine or SuperFine), Saturation, Contrast, Sharpness.

Other options available include: Focus assist lamp (On/Off), Capture when phone locked (Yes/No), Camera sounds (On/Off), Viewfinder grid (On/Off), Histogram, Focus modes (hold screen to choose between infinity, hyperfocal, macro, auto), ND Filter (Off, Auto, On), ISO50-1600, White Balance, Flash settings and exposure compensation. The majority of options can be set from the left hand side of the touch screen.

Shooting modes / Drive modes:

  • Auto Exposure Bracketing - Letting you create HDR images if you want (although unfortunately the camera doesn't automatically merge them).
  • Interval Timelapse -  you can choose how many photos you want to take from 2 to 1500, set the interval from every 5 seconds to 30 minutes, and you can even shoot at full resolution!
  • Self-timer - It's unfortunate that you can't select the self-timer elsewhere, as it would be handy to switch the self-timer on when taking bracketed shots, so that you avoid any camera shake from pressing the shutter button.

Nokia PureView 808 Camera Phone Review: Nokia PureView 808

Battery Life - The cameraphone features a new BV-4D 1400mAh lithium-ion rechargeable battery, and battery life is expected to be reasonable for a smartphone, depending on how much you use the phones features like GPS, Wi-Fi, Flash etc.

Nokia PureView 808 Camera Phone Review: Nokia Pureview 808 Battery

Speed - Switching to the camera mode is quick, with the camera letting you go straight to the camera even if the phone is locked. There is an option to switch this feature on or off depending on which you prefer.

We tested each camera's performance at focusing, shutter response, shot-to-shot time, continuous shooting etc. and have posted the results below. To test this we took 6 or more shots and calculated the average, so that consistent results were produced. We have shown a quick compact camera as a comparison.

  Nokia PureView 808 Panasonic TZ25
Shutter Response <0.05 <0.05
Wide - Focus / Shutter Response 0.7 0.15
Full zoom - Focus / Shutter Response N/A 0.3
Switch on Time to Taking a Photo x 1.6
Shot to Shot (without flash) 1.1 0.6
Shot to Shot with Flash 2.1 1.2
Continuous Shooting (JPEG 5mp/41mp) 1.1s / 3.1s 10fps (4 shots)
Continuous Shooting (with Flash) 1.8s 2fps (5 shots, 3m)

The PureView 808 has reasonable focus speed, and very good shutter response. It's possible to set the camera to hyperfocal focus for much quicker response. Shot to shot is quick, particularly in the PureView (5mp) mode. Using the full HR (41mp) mode it's much slower. Continuous shooting is always on in normal mode.


Nokia PureView 808 Performance

Here are a number of sample photos taken with the Nokia PureView 808, click the thumbnail to view a larger version, or click "Hi-Res" to view the full size original. Additional product photos and sample shots can be viewed in the Equipment Database where you can add your own product ratings and reviews, as well as sample photos.

Nokia PureView 808 Other sample images

Sample Photos - The PureView mode shows stronger colour compared to the full resolution images, and detail is impressive in the full resolution mode. Flash portrait photos from the camera are impressive and look nothing like the usual flash photo you get from mobile phones. We used the PureView 5mp mode with some zoom.

Nokia PureView 808 Lens test images

Lens Performance - Centre and edge quality is very good, there don't appear to be any issues with lens flare. Distortion is low with low barrel and pincushion, and very little vignetting. CA / Purple Fringing is also minimal and should not cause any issues. Exposure is generally very good. Macro performance is a little disappointing with the closest you can focus 15cm from the front of the lens. Nokia recommend to get the best macro photos you should use the Pureview mode and use the zoom to get closer to the subject.

Nokia PureView 808 ISO test images

ISO Noise Performance - It's quite rare for a digital camera to have an ISO50 setting, so it's nice to see it features on this one.

Using the PureView 5 megapixel mode images taken at ISO50 and 100 show very low levels of noise, with excellent detail. At ISO200 you begin to see the start of noise creeping into the shot, and again this increases at ISO400, although detail and colour are still very good. ISO800 is where there is a slight drop in colour saturation, although detail is still better than expected and should produce usable images. ISO1600 shows the highest levels of noise, as well as a drop in colour saturation.

At the full resolution ISO50 shows a little bit of noise in dark grey areas, although images are generally free of noise. At ISO100 noise increases slightly. ISO200 shows a more noticeable increase in noise, but detail and colour remains good. Again at ISO400 noise increases with noise visible in some of the lighter colours. At ISO800 noise becomes more noticeable again, with noise visible in the majority of light colours, although results still appear usable. At ISO1600 noise dominates the image and detail is lost.

Nokia PureView 808 White-balance test images

White Balance Performance - Auto White Balance (AWB) performs well under tungsten lighting with the tungsten preset giving an almost identical result. AWB gives a green cast under fluorescent lighting, with the preset also being identical.

Looking at the detail resolved in these images, it shows more detail than 24 megapixel APS-C Digital SLRs, and provides very similar levels of detail to the 36 megapixel Nikon D800, albeit with more noise visible in the image. Other sample photos can be seen in our initial hands-on review.

Nokia PureView 808 Digital filters

Digital Filters - Scene modes / Digital Filters - Normal, Vivid, Sepia, Black and White. Saturation, Contrast, Sharpness can also be changed. Scene modes: Handheld / Night shot quality? The camera doesn't appear to feature a panoramic mode. Bracketing include 3 or 5 shots, +/- 0.3, 0.7, 1.0 or 2.0 for 3 shots or +/- 0.7, 2.0 or 4.0 for 5 shots (although it only seems to take 4). Payback editing gives a number of editing options including the ability to crop, adjust contrast, saturation and apply a number of digital effects.

Video - The amount of lossless zoom available increases depending on what resolution you use: 1080p Zoom lets you use 4x zoom without any loss of image quality; 720p 6x zoom; and 640x360 12x zoom. The camera also zooms smoothly in if you do use zoom. Electronic image stabilisation is available, as well as 30/25/24/15fps frame rates, colour tone options including normal, vivid, sepia, black and white. Using digital zoom instead of optical zoom, means that zoom is completely silent. It's not possible to take a photo while recording a video.

Timelapse Video: Created using the time-lapse shooting mode, and combined with Windows Movie Maker, this is made up of around 660 photos taken over 2 hours, with a 10 second delay between each photo.


Value For Money

The Nokia PureView 808 (41mp, 4inch screen) priced at £499 sim free. Alternatives include the HTC One X available for £410 sim free, the iPhone 4s (8mp, 3.5inch screen) available for £499, Sony Xperia S (12mp, 4.3inch screen) available at £359, Samsung Galaxy S3 (8mp, 4.8inch screen) available for £489, Nokia N8 (12mp, Xenon flash, 3.5inch screen) available for £299. Another issue is that the Nokia PureView 808 isn't available on contract, meaning you have to buy it at full price, whereas the other phones are often available free on contract.

However, if you compare it to similar resolution digital cameras, the closest compact camera features an 18.2 megapixel sensor, the Sony Cybershot HX20v is available for £329; the nearest mirrorless camera, the 24.3 megapixel Sony NEX-7 is available for £969; the nearest Digital SLR, the 36.3 megapixel Nikon D800 is available for £2599 without a lens; and a 40 megapixel medium format camera will cost at least £7999 without a lens.


Nokia PureView 808 Verdict

The Nokia PureView 808 offers exceptional image quality in the PureView (PV) mode, with significantly better image quality than other 8 megapixel camera phones. It's also impressive how much zoom is available in PV and video modes, however, you don't really spend nearly £500 on a 12 or 8 megapixel camera phone, particularly one running Sysmbian's operating system. In fact a number of competitors are available for less with 8 or 12 megapixel cameras running the latest versions of Andoid, such as the HTC One X, and Sony Satio S (12mp).

The headline feature of the Nokia PureView 808 is the large 41 megapixel sensor. This provides the pureview benefits as discussed above, but also gives 38 megapixel 4:3 aspect 28mm photos, as well as 34 megapixel 16:9 aspect 26mm photos. The level of detail visible in these photos when shooting conditions are right is phenomenal, as you can see things in shot that you simply weren't aware of before taking the photo.

Another massive benefit of this camera centric mobile phone is that true xenon flash, which is twice as powerful as it's predecessor, and significantly better than camera-phones with LED lighting. It can be the difference between getting the shot in low light, or simply not getting the shot at all (with LED lit camera-phones). If you want a camera-phone that excels in low-light and regularly find yourself out and about in dimly lit bars or other locations, then this camera phone should be number 1 on  the list. If you don't want to take a compact camera with you, and would rather just take a phone, then this could (and does) compare favourably with entry level compact cameras, and has significantly higher resolution than anything else on the market, making it's high price seem quite reasonable. Although the fact it's not available on contract will put it out of reach for many and it may not be till the technology is available in Nokia's Windows phones before it is adopted more readily.

The huge resolution may seem like a marketing stunt, but the benefits of such a high resolution soon become apparent when you realise how much you can crop into a photo, and with lossless zoom in videos and PureView photos, you realise that sometimes less is more in the lens department. You realise you don't necessarily need to bring your compact camera with you, and for anyone who likes the idea of travelling light, this would make an ideal camera-phone.

Unfortunately the phone is running Symbian, which despite continued support from Nokia until 2017 is rapidly loosing third party application support, and some would say it never really had proper application support in the first place, from companies such as facebook, twitter, ebay etc. If you are the keen smartphone user who wants to use your phone as a portable computer with access to all the best apps and websites, then the 808 will leave you wanting for more. But if you prefer to keep all your internet use on a computer, and would like a phone with an excellent camera, then this is it.

As far as camera phones go, this is the best available. Full stop. As far as cameras go, it really does compete with compact cameras, offering unprecedeted resolution, and if this is the shape of things to come on other Nokia mobile phones, then compact cameras will be rightfully worried.


Nokia PureView 808 Pros

41 megapixel sensor - excellent detail
f/2.4 Carl Zeiss Tessar lens
Good level of control
Lossless zoom available on a phone
Impressive flash performance
Large bright 4inch screen
Advanced video recording options
Responsive camera/phone interface
GPS/Wi-Fi/3G/Bluetooth connectivity built in - great for sharing photos
NFC - another way to share photos with compatible devices
Decent noise performance up to ISO800, particularly at the 5mp resolution
Touch screen benefits: setting the focus point and using it to pre-focus the shot

Nokia PureView 808 Cons

Shooting at full resolution creates large JPEG images, upto 16MB each
Benefits of "PureView" and lossless zoom at a much lower resolution (8/5mp)
Running Symbian - an increasingly unsupported phone OS
Self-timer can't be selected with other shooting modes
Not available on contract in the UK



Nokia PureView 808 Specifications

Front Camera
PixelsNo Data
Max ApertureNo Data
Smartphone Cameras
Smartphone Cameras
    Additional CamerasNo Data
    Max Aperturef/2.4
    35mm equivalent28mm
    Optical ZoomNo Data
    Image Sensor
    Pixels41Mp (Megapixels)
    Pixels (W)7728
    Pixels (H)5368
    Sensor TypeNo Data
    Sensor Size1/1.2 inch
    Sensor Size (width)No Data
    Sensor Size (height)No Data
    Aspect Ratio
    • 4:3
    • 16:9
    LCD Monitor
    LCD Monitor4in
    Screen resolution640x360
    Touch ScreenYes
    Focusing modes
    • Autofocus
    • Face Detection
    • Touch AF
    • Infinity
    Exposure Control
    Shutter speeds shortestNo Data
    Shutter speeds longestNo Data
    ISO sensitivity50 - 1600
    Movie modeYes
    Video Resolution
    • 1920x1080 FullHD
    • 1280x720 HD 720p
    Video FPS30/25/24/15fps
    Stereo SoundYes
    Other Features
    Image StabilisationNo
    USBUSB 2
    Internal Memory16000MB
    Power Source
    Battery TypeBV-4D Lithium-Ion
    Box Contents
    Box ContentsNokia 808 PureView, Nokia Battery BL-4D, Nokia stereo Headset WH-209, Nokia Data Cable CA-190CD, Nokia Charger AC-50, Nokia Wrist Strap Black, Fold-Out Quick Guide, NFC info card

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    1 Oct 2012 6:33AM
    the photo capability is phenomenal. but that pos Symbian is a deal breaker. a pity.
    paulashby 14 10 1 United Kingdom
    20 May 2014 7:08AM
    The image qualty from this phone is stunning, mine never lets me down.

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