Sunday, December 12, 2010

[N8 REVIEW] Part 3 : Video recording, what it is, what it is not !

Posted on 04:40 by SlipKoRnSaad

And i'm back since the part 2 of camera review and i'm pretty sure that the -over nine hours of video is uploaded to YouTube every minute from an Nseries device- record will double, thanks to high capability video offering by the N8 besides the excellent performance in photo department.

The Nokia team wanted to set some benchmarks (for any mobile that'll self-claim being a camera/video phone in 2010/2011 at least) in the video department too and i have to say they've reached 90% of their goal !

In this part of the review also, my thoughts and tests will be based on some quotes from Damian Dinning Post (Senior Manager at Solutions Planning projects developing the imaging experience and the camera/video quality for high-end products such as the Nokia N95, Nokia N73, Nokia N82, Nokia N86 8MP, N8...) about Nokia N8 photography, some reads but also on my experience with other samsung and Nokia "camera-phones".

Let's see what technologies and features has the Nokia N8 to offer us to have the best experience ever of shooting videos on the go :

- HD Ready video capture (1280 by 720 pixels) at 25fps, the average fps is 24fps depending on situations, but when i take video with zoom the average fps is down to 22fps, and in low light situation, the average fps is 25fps, so it does the job very well even if the video rendering isn't "so smooth" as i expected when displayed on a HDTV, it doesn't mean it's bad, not at all, it's really great, no "jumping effect" just i wanted to see more smoothness and i really hope to see 30fps in the upcoming Firmware update...

While i'm aware of the 25 vs. 30 fps conflict, given that 25p is better suited to progressive-scan output (e.g., on LCD displays, computer monitors and projectors) because the interlacing is absent and 30p provide more frames per second, therefore, more visual information, less 'judder', etc, i agree with the idea that movies are shot in 24fps for that movie feel whereas 30fps is shot for that home video feel, so in short more fps per second equals smoother movement and i don't get Nokia decision to go with the 25fps...hardware limit? DD said "When it comes it will work well (30fps). The current code provides a level of stability at that frame rate which is not as consistent as we would like, hence why it hasn't been enabled yet..." although there're already some hacks enabling this ;)

It doesn't end here, because the N8 records at very high bit rate using H.264 video codec, thanks to its powerful graphics processing engine where it's able to record at up to 12mpbs in most situations (in short, the more data  recorded, more are informations/details reached, the better the quality of the video), i even think it can go up to 13 or 14mbps because the N8 is able to store data at 15mbps+ anyway (more on this later).

Ps : Nokia was a bit late to enter into the game, i just sold my Samsung Omnia HD which i had about a year and it was the first to provide HD ready video capture at 24fps...

- Stereo audio recording :

As seen on the hardware part, the N8 houses two microphones : one on 'front', i.e. camera side,

 Plus one on the other face (under the display) of the phone, the normal one used for voice calls.

By recording from both mics (incredibly sensitive by the way), the system helps to reduce wind noise and also control the recording levels in continuous harsh noise environments (concerts, bars etc) where the sound volume is very high, thanks to the placement of the mics and the new noise cancellation algorithms which define how sound will be captured.

In other words, a narration whilst filming is no longer a problem ! The sound is well balanced between videographer and subject ! So your speech will be crystal clear whilst still being able to capture virtually all of the different audio elements around you, thanks to the stereo separation management. It works really well as you can see in the video below, (when i speak, the sound of the water is reduced gently) :

By the way, audio is recorded in stereo and encoded using the AAC audio format at 128kbps with 48kHz sampling, not bad at all (there're some hacks to tweak this into 256kbps but the difference is negligible)

- Focussing is 'fixed' and automatically set with a new Active Hyperfocal Distance system, giving a genuine depth of field of 60cm to infinity thanks to the f2.8 aperture, so, "there's no continuous autofocus system", but how it works?

It's easy ! The Active Hyper Focal Distance system constantly measure the position of the lens and readjust it to maintain the hyperfocal distance if required ! That means simply you'll have sharp and highly detailed videos from approximately 60cm to infinity, without the need for focus adjustment, however, for closer distances (<60cm), prepare yourself to have blurred and out of focus video (there're some hacks to add autofocus so that you can take close up videos)

- Intelligent digital zoom : as the on still images - no blockiness - almost as good as optical zoom ! Most cameraphones zoom in by cropping a part of the live video stream and then upsizing it back to 720p, making up for severely pixilated or blurry result.

With the N8, the whole (large, 4000x3000 pixel) sensor is used for shoots regular 720p video, when it's time for zooming, these 12 megapixels are used as a source, and therefore there's always enough resolution to crop from for a magnifications, so the resulting 720p videos are always top-notch for magnifications up to 3 times (there's a 'hard' limit at 3x, to stop people trying to zoom further and starting to see degraded results), it works great and it’s great Nokia has finally made good use of it.

- Video stabilization by comparing movement of pixels between consecutive frames (and not with the help of accelerometer).

Finally, there are additional options for VGA 30fps and a mobile-sharing-friendly 3gp optimized setting. In addition to these, you can also reduce the frame rate to either 15fps or 5fps. This is to improve low light video recording capability when you use low light (15fps) and night video (5fps) modes.

What's hot :

- Natural colors reproduction ! The N8 produce clear clips without any type of haziness or yellowing, the same excellent color rendering as the still image

- Great stereo sound recording and extra sensitive mics

- Videos captured with the N8 do not look like they came out of a mobile phone anymore ! 

- Great "natural" sharpness !

- Change video resolution with multi-touch pinch in/out gesture (in the viewfinder)

- Tap-To-Zoom Feature (in the viewfinder)
- 3 ways to zoom in/out a video in the viewfinder (with the volume rocker, the touchscreen bar on the left side or the Tap-To-Zoom feature)

- Intelligent digital Zoom

- Great exploit of DoF for Active Hyper Focal Distance, as result, video always in focus regardless of where your subject is, how fast it moves, how much contrast there is or how much available light there is

- Great noise management (mainly in daylight conditions)

- Great overexpose management (dynamic range)

 What's not :

- Unfortunately, no Dual LED, even if it performs well in low light conditions but there're some situations when i need the light on, like when shooting a scene in the dark !

- Nokia don't push the improved intelligent lossless zoom facility in any of their N8 marketing

- No physical video shutter ! it takes 9sec to start the camera application and switch it to video mode, this is very huge if i want to capture an "instant" scene...the only solution in this case is offering a solution like on the N900 ie. remember the last mode used (photo or video) or add setting that allow to set the default mode (photo or video)

- Zoom lacks some smoothness mainly when zooming using the "tap to zoom" feature, i'd like to see some WOW effect like on the 6700 or the damn old 6630 ;)

- No close up video

- 25fps even if it's ok but i'd like to have more smooth results (even if the fps is not the only smoothness factor) ;)

- No 120fps high-speed videos and time-lapse videos like some Samsung devices...

- No "continuous" touch to focus like on the iPhone for example 

In summary, the N8 is clever, HD quality retaining digital zoom alone has managed to impress me, the dynamic range is just great. The dynamic adjustment to drastic scene changes is simply the best i’ve seen on a mobile, fast and smooth !

The camera (still and video) verdict will be published in a couple of days, and more video demos will come, stay tuned ;)

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