How to make jaws drop in 20 seconds with your Nokia 808 PureView

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It's all very well having a Nokia 808 PureView and sitting somewhere with friends, family or colleagues and feeling rather superior in the camera department. But, should the occasion arise, how do you best get over the power of the 808's camera sensor? You can expand photos to show how 'pure' they are, but it's tough to notice anything startling on an nHD display. You could find somewhere darkish and take a snap of someone with the Xenon flash, but that demo can be construed as a bit artificial. Or you could try the demo shown below, which (in my experience) even makes fellow 808 owners' jaws drop.

There are many ways that the 41 megapixel sensor in the Nokia 808 gets used to good advantage, but the most immediately dramatic is the extreme video zoom shown here. In fact, I even referred to it previously as 'binocular' mode, for obvious reasons.

Now, on most smartphones, digital zoom is a complete no-no. I was chatting to an iPhone 5 owner last week and he was demonstrating its camera - he multi-touch zoomed in and then said "Of course, it's all blocky if you do that, so I never use zoom normally". Figuring that this was the moment, I demonstrated the technique below and, predictably, a jaw hit the floor.

Here's what to do, as shown in the video:

  1. Start the 808's camera
  2. Switch to video capture mode
  3. Tap the centre-top button to switch to 'Creative' mode
  4. Change the capture resolution to 360p
  5. On the screen, with your friend/colleague watching intently, perform the PureView zoom 'swipe' up, and pan the view such that the tiny resulting zoom rectangle is on a detail that's worth zooming into. E.g. a sign, someone's face, an animal or, in the example below, part of a plane.
  6. Release your finger and let the software animate into its lossless zoomed view of that detail. Emphasise to the other person that what they're seeing on the screen is truly lossless, i.e. without any pixellation. Their jaw will drop, I promise.

You can then zoom out again and perhaps zoom into a new detail and generally show off the contrast between the field of view in the full scene and the amazing detail in the zoomed view, as I do in the video below (original YouTube URL):

If you do the maths, this works out, on a 41 megapixel sensor, to allow around 12x lossless zoom, which is why I latched onto the binocular analogy above. Of course, at 12x zoom on any handheld optical device, there's significant shake from your hands. Roll on a version of PureView phase 1 with Optical Image Stabilisation, perhaps? Until such a device exists, at the very least, if you wanted to capture video at 360p and 12x zoom, you'd have to stick the 808 on a tripod.

In practice, the traditional 808 defaults make more sense. At 720p capture resolution (the minimum for serious video online these days), you still get 6x lossless zoom and hand-shake isn't as noticeable at this level, while still letting you get close to the action.

Which is all very well, but I'm glad that this 360p, 12x zoom mode exists, simply because it lets me communicate what the Nokia 808 (and PureView) is all about visually and quickly, with no jargon or expertise needed by the other party.

PS. It's worth noting that this lossless digital zoom in video mode is something that was also present on the N86 and N8, the previous Nokia Symbian camera champions, though their smaller sensors didn't allow for such dramatic zoom ratios.