Nokia N8 in focus: An interview with Damian Dinning

GSMArena team, 19 May 2010.

Video capture

GSMArena: Nokia N8 does 720p video at 25fps. Can you give us more technical details about the captured videos - such as the video and audio encoding format, the bitrate?

D. Dinning: We're using H.264 with AAC for the stereo audio. The video is currently encoding at around 9mbits/sec. This may change as we're currently evaluating the bit rate that gives us the best all round performance. The stereo audio is encoded at 128 kbits/sec with 48kHz sampling.

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Nokia N8 lifestyle shots

GSMArena: Are we going to see continuous auto focus on Nokia N8? It's still a rare feature but other cameraphones with HD video recording already have it - the Sony Ericsson Vivaz, for instance.

D. Dinning: We have been evaluating a continuous autofocus system for use in the Nokia N8. However, we concluded that the performance overall was not as good as the system we will use when shipping starts of the Nokia N8.

The Nokia N8 is our first product to use an Active Hyper Focal Distance system. We have used hyper focal distance before but in the case of the Nokia N8 where the HD video demands greater focus precision we needed to improve the dependability.

Many mobiles which include autofocus use driving systems which rely on friction to a certain degree. However, in some cases after the lens has been driven to the desired position it can 'slip' causing a shift in focus.

For this reason we use an 'Active' system where we constantly measure the position of the lens and readjust it to maintain the hyperfocal distance if required. The use of this system allows us to provide sharp and highly detailed videos from approximately 60cm to infinity without the need for adjustment to focus.

Other systems may provide benefits for shooting at closer distances but in our evaluation we found this to be less dependable in the vast majority of recording which is at distances greater than 60cm. On this basis we concluded that at this stage it is better to improve the dependability of the video performance across a wide range of conditions regardless of light and contrast levels and subject/scene changes.

However, we continue to investigate the opportunity of providing a focusing system which provides the best of both worlds for possible implementation in the future.

GSMArena: We guess streaming those HD videos made by the Nokia N8 to a TV-set will be a real treat to watch. Can you quote the maximum supported resolution over the HDMI connection? What we're interested in is whether user will be able to stream the 720p videos in their full quality and resolution.

D. Dinning: The HDMI connection allows both videos and still photos to be viewed up to 1280x720 resolution. Furthermore the HDMI connection supports Dolby 5.1 Surround sound; in the case your original video content includes such an audio track. So yes your videos and pictures truly are a treat to watch. Given many modern TV's provide front or side HDMI interfaces this is a really easy way to enjoy your own created content on what is no doubt the biggest screen in your house and in the most comfortable room to enjoy them.

GSMArena: And finally, there are some interesting video capturing modes that we've seen on cameraphones by competing manufactures for quite some time. We're talking about 120fps high-speed videos and also time-lapse videos. Have you incorporated any of those on the Nokia N8 and if you haven't, do you have any particular reason for ignoring those video recording modes?

D. Dinning: Our focus with the Nokia N8 was to provide the most rounded device of it's kind. You may find some of the aspects from the Nokia N8 in other broadly comparable devices but currently there isn't anything which provides such a complete mix of all of these in a single device.

General stuff

GSMArena: The semi non-removable design of the Nokia N8 battery baffled us a bit. HTC Legend has a similar design yet it allows users to swap batteries. Yes, there are others that somehow get away with it (Apple's iPhone), but it's a first from Nokia. What was the reason behind it?

D. Dinning: We wanted to create a robust device which feels good in hand and looks beautiful. With one-piece aluminium body and anodization treatment we get a range of great colours but also really rigid package joining with real glass display.

GSMArena: We have another technical question about Nokia N8 and that's the supported Bluetooth version. There seems to be some discrepancy between several Nokia documents that we've seen plus we've seen it change a couple of times on the Nokia European website. So is it Bluetooth 2.1 or 3.0?

D. Dinning: Bluetooth 3.0 is correct.

GSMArena: It's been a while since you announced such an interesting device like the Nokia N8 and you're a bit late on both the 12 megapixel front and the HD video recording scene. How do you plan to turn the tables in your favor?

D. Dinning: Nokia N8 is our latest smartphone to date that intuitively connects to the people, places and services that matter most and we believe it is a great device for people who want to create amazing content, connect to their favourite social networks and be entertained with the latest Web TV programs and Ovi Store apps.

The Nokia N8 offers excellent imaging capabilities. In addition to a 12MP Carl Zeiss optics, a Xenon flash and a large sensor, the Nokia N8 introduces the ability to make HD-quality videos and edit them with an intuitive built-in editing suite.

GSMArena: Any plans for a new non-touch high-end cameraphone? And also will HD video recording be reserved to top-tier devices only?

D. Dinning: According to our standard policy we cannot comment on unannounced products.

Having said that, I am sure you will see more products from Nokia and our competitors in the future include HD video recording capability. However, it's important to note that the recording resolution only tells half the story. The combination of Carl Zeiss optics, large sensor, stereo audio recording and high bit rates enhanced by the HDMI connectivity to fully enjoy those creations, we believe will prove a compelling combination.

GSMArena: Sounds fair. Now speaking about trends... Its been a long time since weve seen a GSM cameraphone with optical zooming from any major manufacturer. Our guess is that the size is an issue, but what about folding optics, which are quite successful in the compact digital cameras. When do you think the technology will allow optical zoom lenses to fit comfortably in mobile phones?

D. Dinning: The challenge here is to get the size and performance balance right. Folded optics is one possible solution. However, the module needs to be relatively large. As a guide it would need to be in the region of 2.5x-3x larger than the module used in the Nokia N8 and even then there would be a compromises especially in low light performance. This is an area Nokia continues to investigate solutions which could provide what an acceptable balance between size and performance.

GSMArena: Ok, that's about it. We'd like to thank you for the excellent interview on behalf of our team and on the behalf of our readers. We hope they will enjoy reading it as much as we did making it.

Wrap up

It's been a nice and informative interview for us. We really hope you paid attention but if you haven't, here are the main points that deserve recapping.

  • Nokia N8 sensor size is 1/1.83, which is bigger (and better) than most regular digicams.
  • The flash power is roughly comparable to that provided by the Nokia N82.
  • Adding a lens cover on the Nokia N8 would have increased the thickness of the camera part. The heavily scratch resistant cover glass should compensate. A built-in ND filter is used instead of a variable aperture system. Neutral Density (ND) filter is a clear filter that reduces the intensity of light without causing changes in hue or color rendition. Thus the presence of an ND filter in front of the lens allows the camera to shoot in bright ambient light without reducing (stopping down) the aperture.
  • H.264 encoding is used for the video capturing and AAC for the stereo audio. The video is currently encoded at around 9mbits/sec (might change), the stereo audio is encoded at 128 kbits/sec with 48kHz sampling.
  • Video lacks continuous autofocus and use an Active Hyper Focal Distance system to make sure everything is in focus. That way they lose macro capabilities of the video camera but gain fool-proof focus reliability during video recording.
  • Nokia N8 won't support special video recording modes such as 120fps high-speed video or time-lapse recordings.
  • The HDMI connection allows both videos and still photos to be viewed up to 1280x720 resolution and supports Dolby 5.1 Surround sound (if the source multimedia offers it).

The Nokia N8 is expected to become available in Q3 2010 with an estimated retail price of 370 euro (500 US dollars) before taxes. It will be available in Dark Grey, Silver White, Green, Blue, Orange.