Zoom is one of the few really diffentiating factors in phone imaging these days, with 'simple' photo taking now being mastered in almost all light conditions. However, no sooner do I mention a telephoto zoom lens in a smartphone, such as the iPhone X or (here) the Galaxy S9+, than people pipe up with requests for comparisons to 'zoom champions' of the past. I maintain that, classy though these might have been, there's an element of rose-tinted memories creeping in. But let's find out, with some examples of camera phone zoom under a wide variety of situations and use cases.
Recent Features - Windows Phone 8
Sometimes you can't always get what you want, but.... you might just get what you need. So sang The Rolling Stones and a bit of a life lesson, but borne out by several technological trends, not least something that had been close to my heart, the subject of replaceable batteries in smartphones. See below for links, quotes, and current thoughts on the reality.
The problem with the tech world is, from an operating system provider's point of view, that the goalposts keep moving. These perambulating pieces of wood killed Symbian, killed Blackberry, have almost killed Windows Phone and Windows 10 Mobile, and, one day, may even kill iOS as we know it today. With hindsight, it's all too clear, but at the time OS coders were making sensible choices.
The tech media has been falling over itself in the last week to talk about the ten year anniversary of the Apple iPhone, that moment when Steve Jobs revealed the shape of smartphones to come. All singing, all dancing? It really wasn't. Revisionist history says that the iPhone introduced all the features we see in today's smartphones, but that's not accurate...
With every rating that the much-quoted DxOMark site puts out for phone cameras, the more I think that it's missing a healthy dose of real world experience and use cases. Not to mention a few key phone models (e.g. Lumia 950). Given that I've tested the majority of recent smartphones for AAS and then AAWP, usually against the best of the competition, I wanted to aggregate my experience into my own 'Top 10' camera-phones of all time. 'SteveMark', if you will.
Yesterday I looked at the arrival, in for review, of a rather rare thing - a Xenon-flash-equipped, zoom-equipped camera phone, competing (obviously) with such (also rare) Nokia classics like the 808 PureView and Lumia 1020. But never mind the bulk (in this case, removeable, but still...), never mind the form factor, how do these ultra-camera-phones perform against each other in a variety of challenging tests? Let's find out...
I've periodically returned to the classic Nokia 808 PureView and Lumia 1020, highlighting the lossless 2.5x zoom and 'proper' Xenon flash, though there's been precious little to compare these with that's camera centric from the wider smartphone world in the last five years. Yet along comes something new, the Hasselblad camera mod on the Moto Z, a late 2016 Android smartphone. Along with the 808, 1020 and also ageing Samsung Galaxy K Zoom, I couldn't resist a quick photo comparison. No, not of results (that comes soon!), this time of the hardware itself...
Having set up expectations that Google's HDR+ computational photography in the new Pixel flagship can be considered 'PureView take II', or thereabouts, I thought it time to put this to the test. So I took three PureView flagships from various eras: Nokia 808, Lumia 1020 and Lumia 950 XL, and pitched them against the new Google Pixel XL. The aim, away from trivial sunny shots (hey, suits me, this is the UK in October!), is to really stretch the pixel combination systems, in reducing noise and finding detail and colour.
Although it's somewhat galling to read of imaging advancements in the smartphone world that aren't being made by Nokia engineers huddled in a chilly Finland, it's worth putting into context where smartphone imaging seems to be settling and where this fits into the existing spectrum of phone cameras, with specific reference to classic Nokias of the past. You see, powered by ever faster chipsets, 'computational photography' is indeed where imaging has ended up and, on the whole, for the benefit of all.
The recent stories surrounding the Samsung Galaxy Note 7, with it catching fire and even exploding, ostensibly due to over-ambitious use of space inside the phone applying pressure to the internal Li-Ion battery, caused me to mull over features in many past smartphones that seem - in hindsight - designed to specifically avoid a 'Note 7' style Lithium accident. Using the example of the Nokia 808 PureView and Lumia 640 XL, I show how such an accident is far, far less likely.