HDSLRs get competition from… a mobile phone?

Sample video (720 24p) on Vimeo / download the original file
Sample stills (12MP)

Meet the Nokia mobile which does 24p. Sounds like a joke doesn’t it?

Nokia’s N8 has a specially developed sensor which is the largest ever found in a mobile device, and larger than all but the highest end compacts like the Panasonic LX3.

Special attention has been shown to it’s video mode, which shoots at 1280×720, 24p. No 30p malarky here! Actually, 24p requires not just changes in software, but fundamentally for the sensor to support it. So it seems Nokia are specifically aiming their new multimedia monster at the filmmaking community. Either that, or happy slapping videos and girlfriend striptease clips will never be the same again.

Nokia have fallen behind with a slew of unimaginative phones in light of Apple’s game changing iPhone, but this kind of camera functionality in a mobile is very appealing. Although the phone has the usual fixed lens (by Carl Zeiss, probably a plastic lens) it sports a xenon flash (no LED nonsense), HDMI out and 12 megapixels. Low light performance is much improved thanks to the larger sensor size, although I’d question the wisdom of packing in so many pixels which aren’t really needed. 6 or 8MP would have been fine.


Above: Nokia N8

OK it’s not enough to trouble the 5D Mark II just yet. But I think future mobile phones, which double as portable computers and cameras may mean the death of compact cameras like we know them today. As the the best compact cameras (think Canon S90) get smaller and smaller, there is no reason why the same sensors and even lenses cannot eventually be made small enough for a mobile phone, and since touch screens free up plenty of space on a mobile where a keypad used to be, you can already have a huge 3.5 inch LCD on the back (front?), maybe even an optical viewfinder in future models! Though I suspect the type of advanced handling present on the Canon G11 will never make it onto a sleek mobile like the iPhone or Nokia N8, for obvious reasons!!

True, compact cameras and mobiles will always be one step behind larger cameras, simply because they’re pocketable. But since the electronics are shrinking and improving so much, the only differentiating features in 5 years may be the lenses. Traditional optical designs mean you need a large lens for a large sensor. That is until an aspherical sensor comes along (as predicted by Panasonic) and revealed on EOSHD.com a few months ago:

“Suzuki-san referred to two new future imaging functions being 3D imaging and curved image sensors. Curved image sensors curve around the back of an aspherical lens element, producing huge gains in image quality and lens design. It’s actually similar in design to the human retina.”

They say the best camera is often the one you have on you. That’s a strength of a small HDSLR compared to a bulky RED or EX1, and it’s also an advantage mobiles and compacts share. With the Nokia N8 showing what’s currently possible, and future advances like curved sensors, one day small can really become competitive with large.

Now, if they could just figure out how many tiny mirrors they need to get shallow depth of field from a small sensor like on the Sony A350’s live view system or the HV20’s various DOF adapters, the 5D Mark II would have some real competition.

PS – that may be a joke now, probably won’t be in the future…