The story of how Nokia’s leading imaging experts, Eero Salmelin and Juha Alakarhu, sketched the concept for a 41-megapixel camera phone on a paper napkin in a Tokyo bar over a few beers in 2007 has passed into modern legend.
It was their graceful solution to the problems faced with optical zoom and how it could work in a package that fits properly in your pocket.
As Eero says, “It’s not difficult to do optical zoom, but how do you make optical zoom that’s good in a phone? This was the challenge we wanted to solve.”
It would be another five years before the Nokia 808 PureView and its revolutionary 41-megapixel sensor was unveiled to the world at Mobile World Congress in 2012. They proved that you didn’t need optical zoom to capture amazing detail.
The team had a sneaking suspicion that they had created something special, but even they couldn’t have anticipated just how excited people were about it. They had created a genuine game-changer.
“Whenever you are making a new device, you feel nervous before it lands. I can understand how an artist would feel when they spend months and years on a piece of work, and then it’s exciting to hear what other people think about it,” says Juha.
“You are anxious about people’s reactions and it was wonderful with the Nokia 808 PureView that they loved it.”
High Resolution + OIS
The 808 PureView is the obvious place to start when you’re looking for the building blocks that would lead to the Nokia Lumia 1020.
However, another important milestone is the optical image stabilisation (OIS) innovation that first appeared on the Nokia Lumia 920.
“We had the idea of combining OIS and the high resolution sensor pretty soon after we started working on the camera module for the Lumia 920. It made sense to combine them,” says Eero.
With Nokia building new experiences on Windows Phone and the mouth-watering prospect of introducing a smartphone camera with both OIS and high resolution capabilities, all the ingredients were in place for the Nokia Lumia 1020…
If only it was that easy!
The next generation
Developing the Lumia 1020 remained a huge technical challenge, even if the team had the experience from developing previous devices.
“We had an opportunity to re-design and improve the camera module used in Nokia 808 Pureview. The camera module on the Lumia 1020 is much more advanced. The image sensor and OIS are the new generation, and there are more advanced optics, ” says Juha.
“There are a lot of improvements with the algorithms too. For example, the first thing that people might notice when they take photos with the Lumia 1020 is how beautiful and much more vivid the colours are. The oversampling algorithms are much better.”
Furthermore, not a single component from the 808 PureView’s camera module is used in the Lumia 1020’s.
Size + Location
Another thing that people will definitely notice about the Lumia 1020 is its sleek shape and industrial design.
“When we started talking about the Lumia 1020, we saw the models and designs. We didn’t just want to make the best camera, but the best smartphone overall. Everyone felt that it looked amazing,” says Juha.
Juha and Eero are also both quick to pay tribute to the imaging and product program teams in Tampere, Finland who cooperated closely. Sometimes just having everyone based in the same location can make a big difference.
The pace of development and how they were able to tackle any issues or problems together was quicker because everyone was together. Our imaging heroes agree that it was the most ‘fun project’ they have worked on.
In the hands of real people
Juha has already taken thousands and thousands of test images with the Lumia 1020, but he knows that the real test will come when the public get their hands on the smartphone.
The key to the stellar imaging potential on the Lumia 1020 is the new Pro Camera interface. It unlocks all the creative potential of a digital SLR for people who don’t understand things like exposure times and ISO settings.
Juha says, “We had a team building exercise and we had to think what was our dream camera user interface? We were sketching how you would have a slider for this and this… Pro Camera is our dream come true and it’s fantastic how easy it is to use.”
Eero gets the final word on how Nokia managed to push the boundaries of imaging excellence on our smartphones. Again.
“Overall, this is the best smartphone and the best camera in one device on the market today.”
“Designing a leading smartphone or camera are each difficult in their own right. Designing a device that fits in your pocket, combining both of those, is extremely difficult. It’s almost impossible, but I’m proud to say we did it.”