Sunday, September 07, 2008

Nokia E71 review part 2: Camera performance

In this second part of my E71 review, I take a look at the camera performance, but not only as a device for taking happy snaps, but in its ability to work as a productivity tool.

Camera

The camera has a 3.2MP sensor, which doesn't really mean anything to me, since its not any carl zeiss optics, but it does make the images more usable when viewing on the device, or on the web. What I do like is that the camera has auto-focus, and what's more interesting, is that you don't necessarily have to use it. When you activate the camera, you can immediately take a photo by pressing the enter button in the middle of the direction pad – lag using this method fairly good, but don't except to catch any good photos of hyperactive pets or other fast-moving objects with this thing. However, if you want the camera to focus, you press the “T” button on the QWERTY thumboard, and the autofocus attempts to lock focus. Now I haven't tried this for far away subjects, but I find that the best implementation of cameras with a focusing ability is for taking close-up/macro images.

Now I know that comparing the performance of a chintzy, strapped on camera in a smartphone to that of a dedicated camera with proper optics is a bit unfair, but I really wanted to compare the feature of the E71's camera that I was most excited with, namely the autofocus.

But looking at E71's general performance, we can see the images have a definite blue cast (which I find to be a symptom of Nokia smartphones that aren't part of the N95 series), and items in bright sun are overexposed when you let the E71 control exposure (Fig 1). But with a slew of manual settings you can fiddle with (exposure compensation, white balance, and scene modes), you might be able to get a usable image for web use.





Figure 1: General camera performance



Now, as a macro-geek and information hoarder, I'm border-line obsessed with taking macro photos, as well as having electronic versions of hardcopy texts and whatnot. What I was hoping with the E71 is that the macro ability is good enough for me to jot things down on random pieces of paper, then taking a photo of it for storage on the E71. I am happy to say that in both scenarios, the E71's camera does a competent job.

Ignoring the blue cast of the pictures, we can see that in the two macro images I've taken, the sharpness in the E71 images aren't too bad, and doesn't seem to lag that far behind the dedicated camera in terms of autofocus ability. Note that for the sample images below (Fig 2) that I've taken a 500x500 pixel crop of the original images from the two devices, so the sensor MP differences are controlled for.



Figure 2: Comparing Macro capability of E71


In terms of taking photos of text, there is an obvious limit on how much you can fit in the one image, simply owing to the limits of the 3.2MP sensor. Another important factor is getting enough light onto the subject, in order to get quick enough shutter speeds to take care of camera-shake. But again, a competent effort that's good enough to make the camera useful as a tool. Again, examples are below (Fig. 3 for a closeup of 12point font, and Fig. 4 for an image taken of an A4 sized page).



Figure 3: Close-up of 12 point font




Figure 4: Macro image of an A4 page





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