Nokia camera 7 year challenge: Lumia 950 & Nokia 8 take on 2010's Nokia N8

8 versus 8, etc. I've lost count of the number of times readers have asked me to pit the new Nokia 8 against its namesake, the classic Nokia N8, from 2010. However much a monster the latter was, surely 2017 technology can trump it? I'm also including the reigning champion, the Nokia-designed (and Microsoft-made) Lumia 950. This will win out overall, but it's a useful modern age benchmark for the others - I'm genuinely curious to see how a 7 year old phone does!

Because I'm comparing the output of three phone cameras, not two, I can't use the AAWP comparator, so I'll use static crops - but at least your page will load more quickly this way!

Test 1: Sunny suburbia

Ideal conditions, and plenty of detail. Here's the scene from the Nokia 8:

Scene

And here are crops from the photos taken by the Nokia N8, the Lumia 950, and Nokia 8, in each case click the crop to download the original JPG photo for inspection:

Crop from Nokia N8, click for full size version
Crop from Lumia 950, click for full size version
Crop from Nokia 8, click for full size version

Under such perfect lighting, there's not much in it here. The differences are mainly down to sharpening settings in the various camera applications. The Nokia N8 famously eschews ANY image processing - what you see in its JPGs are essentially what comes out of the Bayer filter on the sensor (with just JPG compression). Which is why its photos look immensely natural, yet not as 'clear' as with modern phones. It turns out that most people prefer a little colour enhancement, a little sharpening, and so on, to make photos 'pop'.

I'm loathe to pick a winner here, though the Nokia 8's version is a notch down from the other two. Certainly the Nokia N8's photo is astonishing - look at the greenery on the right of the crop here, with no sharpening to make mess of detail. While the 950's photo stands out to the eye immediately.

Nokia N8: 9 points; Lumia 950: 9 pts; Nokia 8: 8 pts.

Test 2: Sunny scene, into the light

Ideal conditions again, but trying to make things slightly tricker by shooting half into the sun and with extremes of light and shade. Here's the scene from the Nokia 8:

Scene

And here are crops from the photos taken by the Nokia N8, the Lumia 950, and Nokia 8, in each case click the crop to download the original JPG photo for inspection:

Crop from Nokia N8, click for full size version
Crop from Lumia 950, click for full size version
Crop from Nokia 8, click for full size version

No real problems for the three camera phones here, though the N8 was struggling with dynamic range in the brighter parts of the scene, plus the contrast was poor. Meanwhile the Nokia 8 does a pretty good job overall and the Lumia 950 tops the comparison again, with pin-sharp detail and good dynamic range.

Nokia N8: 6 points; Lumia 950: 9 pts; Nokia 8: 8 pts.

Test 3: Zoom test

Good lighting, though the sun had now gone behind a cloud. I was aiming for a 2x zoom on the clock, though there's no exact UI gauge in any of these phones to get exactly 2x. Here's the scene from the Nokia 8:

Scene

And here are crops from the photos taken by the Nokia N8, the Lumia 950, and Nokia 8, in each case click the crop to download the original JPG photo for inspection:

Crop from Nokia N8, click for full size version
Crop from Lumia 950, click for full size version
Crop from Nokia 8, click for full size version

In each case there was blocky digital zoom involved, of course, though slightly less on the Lumia 950, given its underlying 16MP resolution at 16:9. Which is why it manages more genuine detail in the crop above. However, the infamous Lumia yellow cast is in evidence yet again and somewhat spoils the photo. Meanwhile the N8 and Nokia 8 are more or less on a par, showing that imaging technology hasn't progressed far in terms of zoom and detail in good light in seven years (though low light proves otherwise, as we shall see below).

Nokia N8: 7 points; Lumia 950: 8 pts; Nokia 8: 6 pts.

Test 4: Indoors, average lighting

Inside the church there was plenty of detail and lower light all round, so the OIS in the Lumia 950 and Nokia 8 would be starting to have an effect. Here's the scene from the Nokia 8:

Scene

And here are crops from the photos taken by the Nokia N8, the Lumia 950, and Nokia 8, in each case click the crop to download the original JPG photo for inspection:

Crop from Nokia N8, click for full size version
Crop from Lumia 950, click for full size version
Crop from Nokia 8, click for full size version

Despite its large sensor, the Nokia N8 has only a f/2.8 aperture (hey, this was 2010) and so it's just starting to struggle here and with no OIS to allow a longer exposure. So we get more noise. The 7 years newer Nokia 8 doesn't do much better, mind you, with much smaller sensor but larger aperture, so the two kind of cancel each other out. OIS is there to keep the Nokia 8 details crisp-ish, mind you. The Lumia 950's image is amazing. Yet again. Fabulous OIS, large BSI sensor, top rate optics, oversampling (to get rid of noise), and so on. Look at the detail in this crop. THAT'S how good the Lumia 950 camera is. Just saying...

Nokia N8: 6 points; Lumia 950: 10 pts; Nokia 8: 7 pts.

Test 5: Really low light

One of the alcoves in the church offered an almost pitch dark scene, yet with detail that might be pulled out if the phone cameras were good enough. Here's the scene from the Nokia 8, already lighter than it was to my eyes:

Scene

And here are crops from the photos taken by the Nokia N8, the Lumia 950, and Nokia 8, in each case click the crop to download the original JPG photo for inspection:

Crop from Nokia N8, click for full size version
Crop from Lumia 950, click for full size version
Crop from Nokia 8, click for full size version

Your eyes will tell you what you need to know here. The Nokia N8 just wasn't built for this type of arty low light shot and the short exposure and small aperture are telling. The Nokia 8 does slightly better, with the OIS allowing a 1/10s exposure and minimal noise - and, to be honest, it gets close to what I could see with my eyes once they'd adjusted to the lighting conditions. But the Lumia 950 works a miracle here (appropriate, given the setting!) by turning night into day, as it were. The Lumia 950's photo is nothing like reality in terms of matching my vision, but you can't deny that it's impressive how it can ramp up to a full 1/4s exposure and still get precise detail. Maybe the Lumia 950's OIS is just better than anyone else's? Just wondering...

Nokia N8: 3 points; Lumia 950: 9 pts; Nokia 8: 6 pts.

Test 6: Party time!

My infamous party mock-up test, with me laughing and definitely not posing, mimicking taking candid snaps at a party or evening event. I was kind to each phone camera and using a tripod (and timer), but they still struggled a bit. Here's the scene from the Nokia 8, already lighter than it was to my eyes:

Scene

And here are crops from the photos taken by the Nokia N8, the Lumia 950, and Nokia 8, in each case click the crop to download the original JPG photo for inspection:

Crop from Nokia N8, click for full size version
Crop from Lumia 950, click for full size version
Crop from Nokia 8, click for full size version

The N8, with its Xenon flash, obviously wins out here, you can see the clear Chewbacca graphic on the water bottle, though at the expense of a little noise. Still, this would be your best shot by a hundred miles for candid snaps at an event. Meanwhile the Lumia 950 does its best, but seems to have made a mess of the focussing (e.g. look at the tree) and its shot wouldn't really pass muster. The Nokia 8's result is noisier but does at least manage to get static parts of the scene in (laser) focus.

Nokia N8: 9 points; Lumia 950: 4 pts; Nokia 8: 5 pts.

Verdict

Adding up the points, we get:

Which is very interesting - I'm saying that the Nokia flagship from seven years ago performs equally on balance with an imaging 'flagship' from 2017 (the Nokia 8). Of course, this is factoring in the unique (for 2017) Xenon flash and using it in indoor settings. Apart from this use case, of course, the larger aperture on the Nokia 8 gives it the edge. But the '8 vs 8' ended up as a dead heat - who'd have thought it?

The Lumia 950 is streets ahead of the Nokia 8, of course, as I proved in my collaborative features here and here. If I'd gone back and redone the party mock-up test, I think I could have squeezed a few extra points out of it too. I'm just saying...(!)

Published by Steve Litchfield at 8:42 UTC, December 15th

Section: Articles
Categories: Comment, Hardware
Platforms: General, Symbian^3, General