We already knew few details about the camera on the N9 from Nokia’s website. Now the N9 Product Manager, Jens Wilke, has divulged some more information about it and also made claims of it being the fastest camera on any phone, with numbers to back his claims. So let’s look at the camera on the N9 in more detail.
First, let’s start with the things we already know. We know that the camera uses an 8 megapixel sensor. Unlike with the N8, Nokia hasn’t mentioned the physical size of the sensor on the N9. It uses Carl Zeiss optics. It’s a wide-angle lens and has an aperture of f2.2, which is wider than even the N8 lens which is at f2.8. This means that the N9 camera has a shallower depth of field, which can result in those nice blurred-background images. The N9 has a digital shutter, unlike the mechanical shutter on the N8 and there is neither variable aperture nor a ND filter, the latter being on the N8. The N9 also foregoes a xenon flash for a simpler LED flash and there is no physical shutter button.
To make up for these omissions, however, Nokia has added a couple of features that are absent on the N8. For starters there is continuous auto-focus as well as touch-to-focus. Unfortunately, the closest you can get to your subject is still 10cm, same as the N8, which is just not enough. The N9 also features exposure lock, which can lock the exposure to any particular part in the scene. There is also automatic motion blur reduction and face detection.
Jens Wilke mentioned that the N9 is able to capture images in three aspect rations; 4:3, 3:4 and 16:9. Now this is where it gets interesting. Most cameras use the full sensor when shooting in 4:3 mode. When you switch to 16:9 mode, the top and bottom positions of the images are cropped to make it seem wide. Actually, you still fit the same amount of content in the shot as with 4:3, which is why it didn’t make much sense to use 16:9 mode before as you were loosing a significant portion of the image. In the N8, for example, the camera switches from 12 megapixel to 9 megapixel when you select 16:9 mode.
On the N9, the maximum camera resolution 3248 x 2448 in 4:3 mode, which as you can guess turns out to be 8 megapixel. However, when you switch to 16:9 mode, the camera resolution goes to 3553 x 2000, so it is actually using additional pixels horizontally to accommodate additional content, which justifies Nokia’s claim of true 16:9 imaging. The maximum resolution is still bit lower than in 4:3 mode, 7 megapixel than 8 megapixel, but you still get extra width in your photos and not just cropped height. The DSLR-like 3:2 mode crops some of the height compared to the 4:3 mode to come up with the 3248 x 2160 resolution images (7 megapixel).
Wilke claimed that the N9 is the fastest camera phone on the market today (nevermind the fact that the phone isn’t actually in the market yet). From the moment you start the camera to the time the image is captured, the N9 takes 2.6 seconds, which makes it faster than the likes of the iPhone 4 (3 seconds), Galaxy S II, and Canon PowerShot S95 digital camera and taking nearly half the time of the N8. I wonder how it compares against the HTC Sensation, which is absent from the table below, and is claimed to be pretty fast as well.
Lastly, there is also something called non-destructive photo editing, a first for a phone. It lets you edit your images and then reverse all the changes and take it back to the way it was if you ever change your mind.
I can’t wait to get a retail unit of the N9 in my hands and start clicking with it. It may not be as good as the N8 but I have no doubt that it is going to be one of the best camera phones on the market.