Can the Penta-lens Nokia 9 PureView prove computational photography can make DSLRs extinct


It is no secret that Google has pushed the boundaries of modern photography with its Pixel smartphones. With the Pixel 3, Google introduced new concepts like computational RAW, night sight which uses a machine learning white balancing algorithm along with multi-frame rendering to produce ultra-bright low-light photos which normal smartphone camera sensors can’t. HMD Global which is the company behind the new Nokia phones now seemingly is doubling down on Google’s approach to imaging with the announcement of the world’s first Penta-lens smartphone camera system. Remember, the team at HMD Global is the very same one which built the iconic Nokia 808 PureView phones, so they really want to tap into their legacy and they are doing so by approaching the camera in a way Google has approached it. HMD Global achieves this by adding not two but five cameras that fire all together with the data merging using a custom fusion technology powered by artificial intelligence, tons of on-device processing and some pure old school imaging hardware brute force. This points towards the fact that theoretically, the Nokia 9 PureView could approach DSLR levels of imaging capabilities.

  • One of the things that Google has pioneered with its Pixel smartphones is a dedicated co-processor to help with computational photography. On Pixel 3, the vision core chip does a lot of heavy lifting. The Nokia 9 has a custom chip designed by Light called an ASIC which helps with the fusion of data from the five 12-megapixel cameras. Google does it with just one camera so imagine the amount of data the Nokia 9 PureView is resolving. Of course, that means the Nokia 9 needs more help so it becomes the only phone the market to fully harness the power of the heterogeneous architecture of the Qualcomm Snapdragon 845 in tandem with the ASIC as it triggers the DSP, ISP, and GPU and CPU all at the same time to process all this information and deploy machine learning algorithms to further improve the image quality. And mind you it does so for RAW images too, so it can process 240 million pixels at the same time.
  • The other thing that the Nokia 9 PureView does that no other camera phone does is the amount of depth information it can capture. Most smartphones like the iPhone XS Max capture 10 layers of depth information. The Nokia 9 uses time of flight depth(ToF)sensors pulling data from all 5 camera modules at the same converting to 1,200 layers of depth data which is basically a 12-megapixel depth map which is comparable to DSLR cameras.
  • Google pioneered HDR+ on the Pixel cameras which basically is a unique way of doing multi-frame rendering at different exposures with zero shutter lag. Again, the advantage of having five lenses with an f/1.8 aperture comes to the fore. HMD Global claims that the multiple cameras shout photos at different exposure levels instead of the one doing all the legwork at rapid speed. This can deliver up 12.5 stops of dynamic range which again is comparable to a DSLR than a smartphone camera or a point and shoot for that matter. Even the Pixel doesn’t provide that.
  • Unlike most phones having a software-based monochrome mode, the three of the five cameras on the Nokia 9 PureView are black and white sensors which absorb as much as 10 times more light than normal sensors. In the past, there have been phones with black and white sensors paired with RGB sensors, the but the Nokia 9 has two RGB sensors and a whopping three black and white ones paired with a time of flight depth sensor. This alone amounts to incredible gains in low light performance and also offers a beautiful monochrome mode which is a hallmark of old school rangefinder cameras.
  • HMD Global has not only improved the Nokia Pro camera app offering more granular control like a DSLR, but it has worked with Google to optimise the Google Photos app to manage the unprecedented level of detail and depth information that the Nokia 9 camera can deploy. More so, it has also worked with Adobe for a custom version of the Lightroom mobile app that has been optimised for five camera system on the Nokia 9 PureView inclusive of lens correction measures and RAW images.

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