How to: use PureView zoom to produce stunning macros on the Nokia 808 and Lumia 1020

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Due to the large sensors, wide angle optics and relatively long focal lengths, Nokia's 808 PureView and Lumia 1020 haven't traditionally been thought of as great for 'macro' photography, i.e. this is seen one of the only weaknesses of these two 'PureView' cameras. However, it's worth noting one top tip for achieving great results anyway - and, thanks to our friend Olivier Noirhomme, we have some stunning examples of the technique in action, as proof!

It all started with Olivier's shot of his cat's eyes:

Cats Eyes

There are several things to note here:

  • It was taken on a camera phone not known for its macro shots (in this case, the Nokia 808)
  • There's terrific lack of depth of field (i.e. bokeh effect)
  • The shot is incredibly crisp and well focussed

Now, note that although the Nokia 808 PureView is used as the example device here, because it can shoot in 2MP with a genuinely lossless 5x digital zoom, much of the same technique will apply to the Lumia 1020 - with the main difference that in the 1020's case, you'll need to shoot at 5MP, using its maximum lossless zoom of (up to) 3x and then crop in slightly in the built-in imaging tools.

The trick is to use the PureView digital zoom to get 'closer'. Not physically closer, since the 808 and 1020 can't focus once you get closer than about 12-15cm, but optically closer. This trick has been known since the 41MP PureView devices were first launched, in 2012, but there's a subtlety here that hasn't been specifically mentioned before.

You see, you might say "What's the point in using PureView zoom to get artificially closer? Why not just shoot at the full resolution (manually in the 808's case and by default in the 1020's case) and then crop in ('zoom later') to get the bit you want at a later date?"

Now, admittedly, the zoom/crop later technique is flexible, in that you can crop in on subjects and framings that you might not have considered when taking the shot, but by zooming in at capture time, the auto-focus algorithms (which trigger off image contrast in the centre/manually-selected 5% or so of the viewfinder) can be a lot more accurate. In other words, they can adjust focus to be perfect for your subject, rather than just 'pretty good', since that 5% of the viewfinder is now only concerned with your primary target.

If this all sounds as if it shouldn't make much difference, look again at the cats eyes above and then have a look at some more examples from Olivier here:

Dragonfly wings:

Dragonfly wings

and Grasshopper:


If you've ever tried to take good macro shots of nature subjects using an auto-focus camera phone then you'll appreciate how remarkably good and crisp these are.

The procedure then, if you wanted to experiment, is:

  1. Find a great subject, preferably in good light, and hope it doesn't fly away or otherwise move in the couple of seconds you'll take to set the shot up!
  2. Start up the Camera application (usually by long pressing the shutter key) and (on the Nokia 808) switch to Creative 2MP mode
  3. Swipe up the screen to go to maximum PureView 'zoom'
  4. Frame your shot and tap on the viewfinder on the exact spot that you'd like to centre the focussing calculations on
  5. Tap the shutter icon to take the shot (don't use the physical camera shutter button as it will override the focus centre and also introduce extra possible 'shake')
  6. (on the Lumia 1020 only) Use the 'Edit' cropping tool to crop in better on the exact subject framing needed

Since you're unlikely to get the perfect shot in one go, now that you have one 'in the bag' already, take a few more, experimenting with different framings and angles and zoom factors*. After all, the single, huge biggest secret of the very best photographers (like Olivier) is that they only show off their very best photos. In other words, they might shoot 10 photos of a grasshopper but only show you the best one, creating the best initial impression.

* Astute readers will note that, by zooming right in, to 1:1 on the sensor, on the 808 and 1020, all benefits of oversanpling are lost. While this is true (and accounts for the 'good light' caveat above), it may well be that your subject doesn't need maximum zoom. In other words, you can use (say) 3x zoom on the 808 at 2MP and still get a degree of noise-reducing oversampling.

This isn't cheating, it's part of the skill of photography - nothing screams rank amateur like someone showing you "25 [almost identical] snaps of a nice rock formation I came across on holiday". Far better to take the single best snap, crop and frame it perfectly and then let the viewer's eyes linger and appreciate.

Another of Olivier's examples, to whet your photographic appetite. Bumblebee:


Pretty impressive, eh?

In summary, whichever PureView device you have, experiment with zooming at capture time for macro subjects, giving you more precise control of (auto-)focussing.

See also Olivier's YouTube channel and Flickr home page.