Wednesday, March 07, 2012

The Story Behind the Nokia 41MP Camera

The official Nokia Conversations blog published a post by Damian Dinning on the journey to the 41MP camera phone. Some quotes:

"the innovation and news is NOT the number of pixels but rather HOW those pixels are used."

"For some of our team, it’s taken over five years to bring this to the market..."

"After developing several optical zoom modules, we were still seeing significant performance trade-offs caused by optical zoom: performance in low light; image sharpness at both ends of the zoom range; audible noise problems; slow zooming speed and lost focus when zooming during video. We became convinced this could never be the great experience we once hoped. You’d need to accept a bigger, more expensive device with poor f no., a small and noisy image sensor and lower optical resolution just to be able to zoom."

"We had often debated that, for the vast majority, 5-megapixels completely fulfils their real world needs, but the market for many years has been pixels, pixels, pixels. It’s hard to block that out. Our friends at Carl Zeiss believed the same."

"This is, without doubt, our most complex imaging project to date."


  1. I liked the source article.

    At a rational level, I knew that the "conversation" would be more an extended monologue and that the company would never knowingly publish any unflattering details about internal processes. Notwithstanding, I still gave in to the emotional thrill of maybe getting a glimpse inside, and wound up reading the whole post. In that regard, it was a clever bit of marketing.

    One thing I did not like was the use of "needs" in the section Vladimir excerpted above. I've noticed it in other posts here also. We're talking about mobile phone cameras, in this case an ultra high-end one. These devices satisfy "wants" for the vast majority of users, they don't fulfill "needs".

    Of course, using the language of "needs" is also clever marketing. I, however, don't like it (and so wouldn't make a good marketer).

    I thought paragraphs 8 through 10 were the most interesting:

    "However, over this time, the market was evolving. For example, displays were becoming bigger and bigger. This aspect alone resulted in a number of concepts not being taken forward due to the limited potential screen size of some concepts. Another important factor was how market expectations were evolving in the area of image quality.

    For example, at one stage we had working prototypes equipped with optical zoom using folded optics. Despite this almost reaching commercialization, the module was relatively large and we decided the performance would not be fundamentally good enough to meet the evolving expectations.

    It became clear to us that if we were ever to meet the increasing expectations and evolving market dynamics we were going to need to find a new direction in imaging.

    To me, that was a lot of repetition of the idea of "evolving markets", suggesting that the concept was bouncing around in the author's head while he was writing.

    Then I read the opening of paragraph 13:

    "Nokia was also leading the market by driving large image sensors into devices"

    Of course! Normally I think of "evolve" as intransitive, but it can be a transitive verb. It makes complete sense that Nokia would want to "evolve markets". The reason it would allow the source post to begin with is clearly to create a "need" ("want") for this new product they want (need?) to sell. In other words, marketing, but in the guise of not-marketing. Which is probably one of the most powerful forms of marketing.

    It's almost like a piece of fine art.

    PS Why would lower noise mean smaller files? (Just a minor technical question.)

    1. The smaller size, for example imagine that, a colorful car when you seeing it big in the image, you will notice more color noise, the lower size make the car smaller and they can offer more noise reduction and you just only notice the artefacts when viewing 200 or 300%

    2. @ "Why would lower noise mean smaller files?"

      JPEG, MPEG or H.264 encoder tries to preserve noise just like any other detail in the image. So, to encoder a noisy image looks like an image with many small details and the file size grows.


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