Nokia 808 PureView camera vs. Samsung Galaxy S3 vs. iPhone 4S (pictures)

Nokia's 808 PureView has an extra-large camera sensor and some fancy settings. Here it squares off against the iPhone 4S and Samsung Galaxy S3.

Nokia 808 PureView
I shot this delicious cranberry muffin using the 5-megapixel lens and zoomed in to see very fine detail. Jessica Dolcourt/CNET

The Nokia 808 PureView 's fame comes down to its camera, which can capture up to 41 megapixels of digital information and output incredibly detailed images at 5, 8, and yes, even 41 megapixels if that's what you really want.

The secret to the camera's performance is the extra-large sensor, which is physically much larger than usual 5-megapixel and 8-megapixel sensors ( see the difference here .) Still, the camera's software has to render the image correctly as well.

I added my own shootout to CNET Asia's excellent photo test , to see how well the camera performed in a variety of settings against the iPhone 4S and the Samsung Galaxy S3, two of the best camera phones on the market (the HTC One X also has a cracking-good shooter as well.)

Why didn't I use the One X too, then? I prefer the GS3's camera (see this shootout to see why), and wanted to use three phones to make the photos easier to compare on your computer or mobile screen.

This is also the part where I explain my methodology. The 808 PureView has some really wonderful settings that you can customize and apply for taking those artistic shots, like its celebrated 5-megapixel PureView mode with the highly detailed zoom. There are also presets for certain situations, like landscape mode (which evens out the foreground and background), lighting scenarios, and various scenes.

However, I took the majority of photos using the PureView's automatic mode, not the PureView mode. Photos usually look their best when you take the time to adjust the settings, but I wanted to see how well the camera performed without the careful setup that's a luxury you can't always afford when it comes to capturing the moment. Some photos are extreme close-ups to take a look at the camera's performance on a micro scale and some are full frames resized, which is how you'd be most likely to use them in a photo album or in a Facebook upload.

Heads will roll

Clay head statue
Samsung Galaxy S3 Jessica Dolcourt/CNET
Nokia 808 PureView Jessica Dolcourt/CNET
iPhone 4S Jessica Dolcourt/CNET

This downtown San Francisco statue looked pretty good on all cameras, but had a cooler tone on the Nokia 808 PureView. The background appears blurrier in automatic mode because of the PureView's 8mm focal length, which focuses on the central image and de-emphasizes the rest of the shot for an often-desired blur effect. Like all pictures in this shootout, these images have been cropped and/or resized, but are otherwise untouched.

Clay close-up

Samsung Galaxy S3 Jessica Dolcourt/CNET
Nokia 808 PureView Jessica Dolcourt/CNET
iPhone 4S Jessica Dolcourt/CNET

Same statue, same auto settings, but this time you're looking at each phone's respective pixels, with each camera focused on this portion of the statue's snout. This is where the 808 PureView's oversampled information kicks in, since it offers the most detail of the three.

Blast off

Samsung Galaxy S3 Jessica Dolcourt/CNET
Nokia 808 PureView Jessica Dolcourt/CNET
iPhone 4S Jessica Dolcourt/CNET

This time, I played around with the ISO settings for the PureView and the Galaxy S3 (the iPhone 4S settings don't go this granular.) I set each to 100, which was far too dark for the PureView. The GS3 was the brightest of the bunch, and my favorite shot overall. If I did it again, I'd increase the PureView's ISO setting for this atmospheric scene.

Heirloom

Samsung Galaxy S III
Samsung Galaxy S3 Jessica Dolcourt/CNET
iPhone 4S
Nokia 808 PureView Jessica Dolcourt/CNET
Nokia 808 PureView
iPhone 4S Jessica Dolcourt/CNET

For this photo, I cropped and resized the image to fit this post. The GS3 came out the darkest of the trio, but also did the best job capturing text. Of the three, I prefer the PureView's color reproduction.

Nokia 808 PureView
Nokia PureView 808 Jessica Dolcourt/CNET

Above is the original image on the PureView 808, resized from 2,150x1,209 pixels to 610x349 pixels.

Cupola

Samsung Galaxy S III
Samsung Galaxy S3 Jessica Dolcourt/CNET
Nokia 808 PureView
Nokia 808 PureView Jessica Dolcourt/CNET
iPhone 4S
iPhone 4S Jessica Dolcourt/CNET

Similar to the tomato sign above, I took an expanded view of San Francisco's City Hall, then cropped at the area of focus. These images have not been resized. The 808 PureView produced the sharpest image with the most detail, but you'll note that it includes more information than the other two, which makes it appear as if it's zoomed out.

Nokia 808 PureView
Nokia 808 PureView Jessica Dolcourt/CNET

Here's the original image I snapped of City Hall from across a busy street. I resized the original 3,072x1,720-pixel image to 610x349 pixels to fit this article.

Lemons

Samsung Galaxy S III
Samsung Galaxy S3 Jessica Dolcourt/CNET
Nokia 808 PureView
Nokia 808 PureView Jessica Dolcourt/CNET
iPhone 4S
iPhone 4S Jessica Dolcourt/CNET

I took this shot specifically to demonstrate the bokeh effect of an in-focus subject and blurry everything-else that Nokia boasts is easier to achieve with its 8mm focal length. The technique requires no special settings or filters to create -- you pretty much just identify your subject (the largest lemon on the left, in my case,) point, and shoot. You can get even closer to your subject than I did for a more pronounced effect.

While the 808 PureView did achieve the best bokeh of the three, the color is noticeably greener than the GS3's and iPhone 4S' shots. The iPhone 4S has the truest color of the three, and the GS3 keeps more of the photo in focus, which some photographers in some circumstances may prefer.

Planter

Samsung Galaxy S III
Samsung Galaxy S3 Jessica Dolcourt/CNET
Nokia 808 PureView
Nokia 808 PureView Jessica Dolcourt/CNET
iPhone 4S
iPhone 4S Jessica Dolcourt/CNET

Here's another screen capture of pixels at their most real. I cropped a much larger image to get this view of the planter, but there's no resizing involved. This clearly isn't the Galaxy S3's best work. While the image looks pretty good resized, this more scrutinized view reveals indistinct leaves and rust patterns. The iPhone 4S reproduces the leaves the best, and the 808 PureView nails it on the texture and the subtle play of light on the rusted planter.

Tough guy

Samsung Galaxy S III
Samsung Galaxy S3 Jessica Dolcourt/CNET
Nokia 808 PureView
Nokia 808 PureView Jessica Dolcourt/CNET
iPhone 4S
iPhone 4S Jessica Dolcourt/CNET

All three smartphone cameras focused on the textured painted wall behind this kid and his tough-guy temporary tattoos (his pose, not mine.) The 808 PureView contains the most detail on the wall, but less on the kid's face. His skin tone is also the most vibrant here. The GS3 and iPhone 4S focus best on the boy's shirt details and hair.

Rope

Samsung Galaxy S III
Samsung Galaxy S3 Jessica Dolcourt/CNET
Nokia 808 PureView
Nokia 808 PureView Jessica Dolcourt/CNET
iPhone 4S
iPhone 4S Jessica Dolcourt/CNET

Here's another shot that pulls our the pixels as they are, without resizing. The Samsung Galaxy S3 once again looks great resized, but falls to the iPhone 4S and the PureView on the extreme close-up. The PureView shows the most detail in the wall dent at the right of the screen, but the iPhone 4S has more uniformly sharp strands of the yellow rope.

Nokia 808 PureView
Nokia 808 PureView Jessica Dolcourt/CNET

Here's the original image, resized from 3,072x1,728 pixels down to 610x343 pixels.

Buildings

Samsung Galaxy S III
Samsung Galaxy S3 Jessica Dolcourt/CNET
Nokia 808 PureView
Nokia 808 PureView Jessica Dolcourt/CNET
iPhone 4S
iPhone 4S Jessica Dolcourt/CNET

All three took excellent shots of this downtown city skyline, though there are a few subtle differences. For instance, the short black and green building on the right of the frame looks best on the iPhone 4S. Still, the differences are minor enough in this resized view that I'll call it a draw.

Box

Samsung Galaxy S III
Samsung Galaxy S3 Jessica Dolcourt/CNET
Nokia 808 PureView
Nokia 808 PureView Jessica Dolcourt/CNET
iPhone 4S
iPhone 4S Jessica Dolcourt/CNET

One of the darkest spots in the CBS Interactive building is what I affectionately refer to as the "GameSpot Dungeon." You'll find all sorts of weird things there, like this this abandoned box near a video set. I took the photo in automatic modes of the iPhone 4S, but snapped it at every ISO level on the 808 PureView, and took this at ISO 800 on the GS3 (the image was totally black when I took it using the GS3's automatic mode.) The gnome and friends looked the brightest, but least blown out at ISO 800 (above); however, the GS3 snapped the sharpest image.

Conclusion

One of the things I love most about photo shoot-outs is that the conclusions always contain one surprise or another, especially when all the cameras in question are of a similarly high caliber. The Nokia 808 PureView is capable of taking some incredible photos using its more "creative" PureView settings, and it can also take some terrific shots with the automatic settings as well. However, the 808 PureView still has competition in the iPhone 4S and the Samsung Galaxy S3 camera phones. With the PureView's terrific lens and clever tricks, I'm looking forward to seeing more of the technology in Nokia's future smartphones.
 

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