How to take better photos on the Nokia 5800 XpressMusic

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Part of our continuing series of Nokia 5800 XpressMusic tutorials.

One of the interesting points brought out in my mention of the Nokia 5800 XpressMusic in my feature on phone camera apertures and sensor sizes was that the 5800's camera was distinctly under-sized compared to the likes of Nokia's awesome N95 and N82:

Noise/sensor testing

Quite a difference, but the presence of Carl Zeiss optics and the raw 3 megapixel resolution does leave some room for optimism. Yes, the camera on the 5800 XpressMusic isn't as good in all light conditions as the N82, for example, but as long as there's enough light then there's no reason not to still take some stunning photographs of your friends and the world around you.

Before I get into some 'How to' tips, here are some photo examples, as proof of what can be done, taken ad-hoc today as I wandered around in the UK winter sunshine. In each case, you can click through to see or download the full 5800-taken 3 megapixel photo if you like:

Photo example from the Nokia 5800 XpressMusic - click to enlarge or download

Photo example from the Nokia 5800 XpressMusic - click to enlarge or download

Photo example from the Nokia 5800 XpressMusic - click to enlarge or download

Photo example from the Nokia 5800 XpressMusic - click to enlarge or download

Hopefully the previous four photos, over a range of subjects, have convinced you that the 5800 XpressMusic's camera is not all bad!

And so taking photos on the device. As you might expect, my tips are largely as they'd be for any other camera-toting smartphone, with just a few tweaks:

  • The easiest way to start the Camera application is to press and hold the camera shutter key. Because Camera is kept loaded in memory on the 5800, it should appear almost instantaneously, ready for action. (Note that if you haven't used your 5800 for a minute or so previously, you may need to flick the keylock switch first)
  • Don't worry too much about dust on the camera lens, a brief wipe on a soft cloth is all that's needed to get rid of any finger grease - if you get too zealous about cleaning the glass, you'll end up with hundreds of micro-scratches. These won't affect photos too much, but they will look ugly.
  • Don't worry about changing 'scene mode' or other settings, most of them don't make any difference. See here for detail on which ones are worth worrying about, if you have the time.
  • As mentioned above, know that the 5800 XpressMusic's camera is on the small side, physically, so you'll need to have lots of light around to register on the small sensor. Sunlight is best, of course, but there are still wide variations in light levels on overcast days. Low light means potentially 'noisy' photos. And focussing won't be as accurate. Shooting snaps indoors will often produce disappointing results, but you may be able to help by hitting that big, thumb-friendly flash icon and setting flash to 'on'. This is called fill-in flash and for subjects a metre or so away in indistinct indoor lighting, can make a difference.
  • The usual photo-taking tips apply, as with any camera phone: try to brace yourself when taking a photo, so that the device doesn't shake; wait a fraction of a second after the shutter sound before moving the phone down; think about the source of light and try to have it in the arc behind you if possible; for important static shots, take more than one, just in case - one may be sharper, better focussed or more shake-free.
  • By default, geotagging of your photos is turned OFF. If you think you'll be wanting to place your photos on a map later on (e.g. on Flickr or Share on Ovi) then go into 'Options - Settings' and turn 'Show GPS info' on. As usual with GPS, be aware that getting a position fix may take a minute or so if you've moved a long way from the last time you used the phone's GPS. And it won't work indoors unless you're close to a big window and feely lucky... The geotagging algorithms do allow a certain time leeway, i.e. they'll accept a previous position fix provided it wasn't too long ago.
  • Tapping on the envelope icon is the shortcut to use to fire your photo up to the world immediately - but that's another tutorial for another day!

[A video aside] When shooting video, light is even more important - at least when shooting stills, the camera has got time to open its electronic shutter for a decent length of time, e.g. 1/10 of a second, in order to gather enough light. With video, a new image has to be collected every 1/30th of a second, light or no light, resulting in much grainier/noisier low light video clips. The 5800's 'video light' doesn't really help much - it doesn't produce enough continuous illumination and has the unfortunate side effect of making your subjects squint into the (to them) dazzling light. Bottom line: don't even think about shooting video in low light situations with the 5800 XpressMusic.


I do hope all this helps you. See also the rest of our continuing series of Nokia 5800 XpressMusic tutorials

Steve Litchfield, All About Symbian, 12 Feb 2009