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Nokia N95 Camera-Phone - First Impressions
#1
Hi all,

Firstly, apologies for being such a stranger here on shuttertalk lately. It seems just about every time I post here now I'm apologising for not spending enough time here, but anyway...

I got myself a new mobile phone the other day - a Nokia N95. It has loads of bells and whistles, but from a photography point of view it is most notable for having a 5 megapixel camera inside (with Carl Zeiss optics).
While I was shopping around, reading reviews and comments regarding this phone, numerous times I came across people making comments like "cameras in phones are useless gimmicks, if you want to take real photos then you need a DSLR".

I wanted to show that I think camera phones DO have a place alongside DSLRs as legitimate imaging devices, and I thought shuttertalk might be a good place to discuss it.
This article is based purely on my own opinions (and my own photography). The conclusions I have drawn are subjective and you certainly don't have to agree with me. There are many, many types of photography and certain cameras lend themselves to certain styles. I am not arguing that anybody replace their DSLR with a camera-phone, simply that there is a place for both devices. You can judge for yourself from the photos.

It is true that camera-phones generally produce significantly poorer quality images when compared to modern dedicated digital cameras. Plus they usually have almost no controls or settings to fiddle with so you are stuck with a generic "auto" mode which can be frustrating when you know what you want from a specific shot. But is that the only important factor in photography? Is there something a camera-phone can do better than a DSLR?
As far as I'm concerned, the single biggest advantage a camera-phone has over a DSLR system is that it's possible to be with you all the time. That can be a very big advantage - one that is often worth sacrificing image quality for. A poor quality shot is better than no shot at all. We are now seeing photos from camera-phones published on the front page of newspapers. This is because, despite their poor quality, they can often be the only photographic record of an event.

But now with the N95, Nokia want you to think you can have your cake and eat it too. They tell you that you can have quality AND convenience. While they make no claims that it will match up to a DSLR, they seem to suggest this device could replace a compact digicam. I wanted to find out if it could.

So, when I got my N95 I decided to do a few comparisons with my DSLR (Canon 30D) and my old camera-phone (a Nokia 6680) to see where it fitted in the scheme of things.
I consider the Canon 30D to be fairly representative of the upper end of consumer cameras (without entering pro territory), and I consider a 1.2megapixel Nokia 6680 to be representative of the lower end of that spectrum. Most DSLRS will sit very close to the 30D in terms of quality, and many camera-phones in people's pockets won't be far off the 6680. It's no surprise that the N95 sits somewhere between the two devices on the spectrum, but I wanted to find out where.
I also wanted to see what kind of image I could squeeze out of the N95 if I actually put some effort into taking a nice photo. I attempted to produce something that could stand up and be taken seriously as a photo, regardless of the camera used.

I chose to use the Canon EF-S 17-85mm lens with the 30D because it is a decent walk-around zoom lens (but not considered a pro lens) that covers a similar zoom range as both camera-phones. It should be noted that both phones feature digital zoom while the 30D features optical zoom, so Test 2 (the telephoto test) provides not only a comparison of the cameras, but also a comparison of digital vs optical zoom.

Note: Images may resize down to fit your window. If so, clicking on the image will show it at its correct size.

Test 1 - Wide-Angle Shot
For this test I zoomed both camera-phones out as far as they would go (which equates to approx 35mm on a full-frame camera), and set the 30D to a focal length to give a similar field of view (22mm in this case, with a 1.6 crop factor). All photos were taken with me standing in exactly the same spot, with all settings set to "Auto" (including white balance and ISO). The 6680 didn't have any other mode than Auto, but both the N95 and 30D have various "scene modes" and settings that can be changed (white balance, iso, flash, etc). The 30D is the only camera with Manual/Av/Tv modes however.

[Image: 30D_N95_6680_Full.jpg]

Looking at the resampled images, all three shots are actually quite usable on websites and so on. The 6680 has a yucky yellow colour cast, but exposure and sharpness are surprisingly decent (and the colour could be corrected in photoshop). The N95 and 30D appear almost identical, both showing excellent colour, exposure, and sharpness.

Next we look a bit closer. Taking the same images as shown above, we examine some 100% crops from near the centre of the image.
[Image: 30D_N95_6680_Crops.jpg]

Now you can begin to see some differences. The differences between the 30D and 6680 are obvious in terms of resolution, detail, sharpness, and noise. It is also clear that the N95 sits between the two, but personally I think it sits closer to the 30D than the 6680 in terms of quality. The N95 image is pretty much what I'd expect to see from a 5mp compact digicam, and certainly much better than any camera-phone image I've ever seen. These crops indicate to me that the N95 image could happily be printed up to about 8"x10" without resolution or grain becoming an issue. The 6680 image on the other hand wouldn't really be suitable any larger than 6"x4".

Test 2 - Telephoto Shot
This test was identical to the last test except that I moved further away from the vehicle and zoomed each camera in to get a telephoto shot. This test does not show the maximum zoom of any of the cameras, but it is enough to illustrate the difference that zooming will make when using digital vs optical zoom.

[Image: 30D_N95_6680_Full2.jpg]

All three cameras produce colours and exposures that are consistent with the first test, but sharpness and detail differences begin to show up in these low-resolution shots now. The 30D shot (utilizing optical zoom) looks every bit as detailed as in Test 1, but the other two shots are getting soft and mushy due to their zoom being digital. The 6680 shot is basically unusable even at this low resolution, while the N95 shot is borderline.

[Image: 30D_N95_6680_Crops2.jpg]

The 100% crop from the shots above shows just how hideous digital zoom can be. Even the "simulated" digital zoom (using photoshop to resample the image down 300% and then back up 300%) gives remarkably better results than the hideous camera-phone results. This is of course because the phones are trying to process the photo as quickly as possible to allow you to shoot the next shot, and phones are not as powerful as photoshop on a PC. Repeat after me - NEVER USE DIGITAL ZOOM. NEVER USE DIGITAL ZOOM. If you must zoom in and don't have an optical zoom, then do it in photoshop when you get home, not in-camera. Better yet, just use your feet and walk closer to the subject so you don't need to zoom in.

Test 3 - Trying to produce a great image from the N95
Ok, forget comparisons. Is it actually possible to get a decent photo out of this thing?
I imagined that my N95 was the only camera I had access to and I wanted to get the best image I could from it. I had already set up the scene to photograph (as shown above), but as well as actually taking the photograph I also performed the type of colour/exposure tweaks in photoshop that I would if I were shooting with my DSLR.

[Image: N95_Showcase_1024.jpg]
You can view the high-res version of this image HERE.

Conclusion
Well, it seems to me the Nokia N95 is pretty much what it's billed to be. It's certainly outclassed by a DSLR, but equally it represents a new class in camera-phones. In my opinion it is fair to compare it to many similar specc'd (ie 5 megapixel consumer) compact digicams. I'm sure there are many 5 megapixel digicams that perfom better, but equally I'm sure there are many that perform worse.
The N95 is definately let down by the fact it doesn't have an optical zoom, but given the space constraints of a lens in a mobile phone it's quite understandable. I'm happy to sacrifice that for the convenience of not having to carry around a 2nd device (phone AND seperate digicam), although other people might not. It does have similar controls and tweak-ability to many consumer digicams too, and the 2.6" LCD is very nice to use.

There are many issues and features of the N95 that I have completely ignored in this little article (GPS, VGA video, etc), but they can all be easily found on the internet in other N95 reviews. I wanted just to examine the image quality aspect to try to answer the question "is this worthwhile to use as a camera?".
I also realise that many people might regard my choice of comparison cameras as unsuitable. There are a number of reasons why I chose these cameras to use, not least of which was that they both happened to be on-hand when I wanted to go out and do the test.

I hope this might help somebody considering this phone (or any phone) as a camera.
Adrian Broughton
My Website: www.BroughtonPhoto.com.au
My Blog: blog.BroughtonPhoto.com.au
You can also visit me on Facebook!
"Everything should be made as simple as possible, but no simpler." - Einstein.
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#2
Welcome back again Kombi!
Thanks for the review, the image quality of these camera-phones have certainly come a long way! The fact that most of us with a mobile telephone will often bring it everywhere with us, means that those with such a phone will always at least have a decent camera with them (despite the downsides as outlined in your review).

Thanks for sharing. I'm looking around at phones at the moment Big Grin
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#3
Great review Adrian. It would be interesting to see how the phone did in a situation where light was more of an issue - perhaps it would struggle a little more.

But that last processed picture is an excellent example of what can be achieved.
Canon stuff.
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#4
Hey guys, good to see you again Smile

I've been meaning to do some low-light comparisons but haven't got around to it yet. With an f/2.8 aperture and deep DOF from the smaller sensor (and built-in digital IS), the N95 seems fairly handy in low-light situations.... But the 30D has excellent high ISO noise surpression. I suspect the 30D will win easily regarding noise levels, but it might be more even when it comes to producing sharp photos hand-held. I haven't got much hope for the 6680.

Good luck with your phone search Adam. I do really like the N95, it has loads of features, but it isn't without its faults too. Battery life in particular is very poor, I wish it had a touchscreen, and some of the cool feature apps seem a bit flakey. It has the feeling of being released a little too soon which is surprising for a Nokia. And it's only available through 3 at the moment I believe.
But it does have some very cool things too. For my needs I'd choose it again. Just waiting for that 4gb microSD card to arrive in the mail...

Now, I'd better go back and catch up on what's been going on around here. Cool
Adrian Broughton
My Website: www.BroughtonPhoto.com.au
My Blog: blog.BroughtonPhoto.com.au
You can also visit me on Facebook!
"Everything should be made as simple as possible, but no simpler." - Einstein.
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#5
Very interesting.... I wouldn't be able to pick the difference between the DSLR and your phone in the first test. The quality is very good as web size.

Your full size image looks good too. Did you include noise reduction in your processing? I noticed a fair bit of noise around the green door frame on the right and I wondered how much noise has been removed.
Canon 50D.
Redbubble
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#6
Hey Adrian, this is really fascinating. I'm quite impressed at how far camera phones have come, and how such teeny lenses can produce good quality pictures. My wife has a 2.0 megapixel Sony Ericsson one, and her photos always seem to be quite good too.

An another note, I got myself a Samsung Blackjack a week back - it's an awesome phone! The camera on it is only a 1.3 megapixel though... Big Grin
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#7
Shuttertalk - we await your Samsung Blackjack camera review Wink hehe
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#8
adam Wrote:Shuttertalk - we await your Samsung Blackjack camera review Wink hehe
Yes - the standard has now been set Big Grin
Canon stuff.
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#9
Wedding Shooter Wrote:
adam Wrote:Shuttertalk - we await your Samsung Blackjack camera review Wink hehe
Yes - the standard has now been set Big Grin
Haha, but I don't have any Forester XTs to take photos of!! Big Grin
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#10
shuttertalk Wrote:
Wedding Shooter Wrote:
adam Wrote:Shuttertalk - we await your Samsung Blackjack camera review Wink hehe
Yes - the standard has now been set Big Grin
Haha, but I don't have any Forester XTs to take photos of!! Big Grin
Don't you? Wink
lol
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#11
For a camera phone the shots looks awsome. Smile
Lumix LX5.
Canon 350 D.+ 18-55 Kit lens + Tamron 70-300 macro. + Canon 50mm f1.8 + Manfrotto tripod, in bag.
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#12
Yup I agree, your N95 picture looks quite impressive. But have you tried using the N95 to take tree, bushes, or shrubs?

Whenever there is more detail, the N95 cannot detect between information and noise. This is when everything caves, and all forms of detail is lost, from textures on leaves, to actual trees in the distance being deciphered as green mush. Compared to a point and shoot 5MP equivalent digicam, the N95 is no match.

This does not mean Cellphone cameras produce significantly poorer images but rather the N95 does not produce images that match up to point and shoot digicams yet.

There are already a variety of cellphone cameras that do meet closer to the requirement of being a point and shoot, that being the Sony Ericsson k800i deemed the cybershot cell phone camera, the Sharp 903, which undoubtedly, is the best cellphone camera with a 2x optical zoom, and the N93, which in my opinion produces a more natural image than N95 with 3x optical zoom.

Mazor
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#13
Interesting points mazor - for me I think a cell phone camera is a compromise between convenience and quality. If I want best quality, I would definitely use DSLR, but then again I don't always have one on me. Big Grin

I haven't seen the k800i or the Sharp 903 - would be interesting to see some real world results from them...
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#14
Its interesting to see the development of mobile phones, however how many use all the facilities? or am I just a left over from the stone age Tongue when I went looking for a mobile phone to buy found it it impossible to buy one that just did phone calls, we had to buy one with the fewest gadgets on it :/
Cheers,
Pat
Canon 400D plus assorted lenses
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#15
Smarti, I did do some noise-reduction in the processed (ie final) image, but not in any of the others. All the other shots used the images straight out of their respective cameras, all with default auto settings where applicable. I should point out that the default N95 settings are quite agressive with regards to sharpening anyway, and I'd probably turn it down a bit for general use.

Mazor, some very interesting points that you raise. I must admit that I really haven't put the N95 through its paces yet with regards to different shooting conditions. The suggestions that you and Wedding Shooter mentioned (low-light and trees/bushes) are certainly good ideas for comparison. I'll give them a go and post the results here.

Thanks also for mentioning those other models as alternatives for those people shopping around for a camera phone (particularly the Sharp 903 and Nokia N93 with their optical zooms). They certainly have their place as valid alternatives and represent the cream of the crop currently for cameras that are inside phones. Unfortunately by the very nature of these multi-function devices, it is often the other functionality of the phone that will make one model the compelling choice to a particular buyer (as was the case for me). After all, if the camera was the only reason for buying such a device then we'd just go and buy a camera, not a phone.

A quick jump on Google led me to a very handy comparison between the Nokia N95, Sharp 903, Sony Ericsson k800i (and a Panasonic FZ50 digicam for reference).
http://www.planete-se.net/index.php?showtopic=21115
The review is in French, but the images pretty much tell the whole story.
Certainly the dedicated digicam seems to still hold its own against the phones, but after that it's pretty close between the 903 and N95. The k800i seems to lag behind a bit to me.
Take a look and make up your own minds.
You can go over to http://babelfish.altavista.com and enter the article URL and translate it to english (some of the comments at the bottom make interesting reading).

And ST, apparently cameras can be used to take photos of other things too, not just Forester XT's! Tongue But I have no idea why you'd want to shoot anything else.... Big Grin
Adrian Broughton
My Website: www.BroughtonPhoto.com.au
My Blog: blog.BroughtonPhoto.com.au
You can also visit me on Facebook!
"Everything should be made as simple as possible, but no simpler." - Einstein.
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#16
Hi

I have a Canon 10D, which I love and have been holding off for the 40D release to upgrade, as well as the N95, and more and more I find that I don't want to lug the 10D around because the N95 is sufficient. For holiday trips and such, sure, I will bring the 10D, but for day-to-day use, for me, the N95 camera quality has surpassed the threshold of being "good enough".

I am realizing that for me, cameras serve two purposes. On one side, there is "art". For this, the DSLR certainly is more flexible and capable (though there is something to be said for the creativity imposed on one by using lesser cameras with fewer features). On the other side, is the capturing and documentation of your life. These two things overlap, but this latter purpose is where for me the N95 really shines.The thing that I find really exciting is the geotagging and posting possibilities made possible by such software as zonetag and shozu.
The recent firmware upgrade to the n95 has made the internal gps very usable, and I love the fact that almost every picture I take will be stamped not only with when it was taken, but the exact longitude and latitude where it was taken, and if you want, instantly posted to flickr.
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