Juha Alakarhu: end of an era in imaging, but I'd argue that has also plateaued
Today marks the first for Juha Alakarhu back at Nokia, though this isn't quite as significant as it sounds, see my thoughts below. Of course, we're very happy that he's back in an imaging-related job and in his beloved Finland!
Juha was crucially instrumental in most of the Nokia imaging breakthroughs over the last decade, taking us from the days of 2MP fixed focus phone cameras right up to tens of Megapixels, advanced OIS and oversampling, through the Symbian era (including N8 and 808) and then Windows Phone (Lumia 920, 1020). Juha was taken on board to Microsoft as part of the Nokia Devices division take-over, but has now headed over to pastures new at... Nokia, though this time it's the Ozo professional 360 degree camera team.
Here's his tweet from earlier:
A small announcement: today was my first day in Nokia Technologies! I am now new Head of Imaging in the Ozo team.— Juha Alakarhu (@jalakarhu) August 1, 2016
Congratulations to him on the new job, though contrary to the usual 'gloom and doom' reports around the web, his departure from Microsoft won't have any real impact, since the top end phone camera components available to all manufacturers are now very close to the best of Lumia.
In other words, Juha and his team advanced phone imaging enormously from about 2005 to 2015, but the latter has definitely plateaued in recent months - I still rate the Lumia 950 and 950 XL, in development from 2014 and released late 2015, as the best camera phones in the world, but the margins are now so small that you really have to look down at the pixel level to establish the margin of victory. So a no-name manufacturer in China can look at the possible components from the top camera factories and pluck out (say) a 16MP unit with 1/2.4" sensor, OIS and multi-LED flash, and get results not too far off what Juha's last babies under Microsoft could achieve, all at relatively minimal cost and without any real R&D.
Of course, there's more to imaging than just the hardware, and we've seen software algorithms and image processing make quite a difference - and it's also here where the 950 and 950 XL score. But, thanks mainly to Juha and team, the hardware's 'done', the software's 'done' and there's not really anywhere else to go in terms of consumer smartphone imaging. If the rumoured Microsoft 'Surface phone' (what I've referred to cheekily in the past as a 'Lumia 1060') uses the identical camera units to the 950 and 950 XL then this will already be eminently 'good enough'. And then some.
So hats off to Juha and his team and we genuinely wish them well in their efforts to advance imaging tech on new fronts - just don't get too depressed that your existing Lumia's imaging is suddenly second rate!
Published by Steve Litchfield at 17:32 UTC, August 1st