Nokia ‘808 PureView’ Phone Packs a 41-Megapixel Camera (Not a Typo)

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If you’re looking for a smartphone with a good camera, your options up until now have pretty much been limited to one with either a five-megapixel sensor or an eight-megapixel sensor. Nokia’s hoping you’re really hot for megapixels, though, and has recently announced the 808 PureView — a smartphone with a 41-megapixel camera.

So this is the smartphone camera to end all smartphone cameras, right? It’s a bit more complicated than that, believe it or not. As The Verge reports, the camera “oversamples — taking the image data from seven neighboring pixels and consolidating it into one pixel’s worth — and generates pictures roughly 5 megapixels in size.”

Such trickery means that using the digital zoom function results in “the equivalent of a 3x lossless zoom at 5 megapixels,” reports PC Mag.

If you’ve ever used the digital zoom on your own smartphone, you may have noticed that the resulting image isn’t nearly as sharp as images you snap while zoomed all the way out. That’s because your phone uses software to create the effect of zooming in on an object, when in actuality it’s basically cropping a section of whatever scene is being taken in by the camera sensor and then blowing that section up to a larger size without actually increasing the resulting image’s overall resolution.

The problem is that manufacturers can’t stuff cameras with optical zoom lenses into smartphones without significantly increasing thickness, so they rely on digital zooming and interpolation to mimic the effect. You’re generally just as well off taking a photo of something while fully zoomed out and then using image editing software to crop and resize the image later.

(MORE: Two Minute Video: Camera Shopping? Skip the Megapixels)

That’s the idea behind Nokia’s new phone and how it achieves the equivalent of a 3x lossless zoom: Capture a giant, 41-megapixel image and then crop a five-megapixel chunk of whatever section’s been zoomed in on. Or just keep the image zoomed out and you’ll get a five-megapixel photo that’s been oversampled seven times, which should result in a higher-quality image than you’d be able to get with other smartphones, while maintaining a relatively small file size.

Says PC Mag’s Sascha Segan:

Some Internet reports are saying the camera is “interpolated,” which isn’t what’s really going on here. The default mode records 5-megapixel images by condensing seven pixels into one, but you can turn off that default and get 38-megapixel pictures if you feel you can handle the file size. The 5-megapixel mode offers dramatically reduced noise and improved image quality because it’s oversampling, though, and that’s the mode Nokia thinks most people will be using most often.

“In any case, this is absolutely amazing,” concludes Segan.

What’s not quite as amazing is that the phone itself “runs Symbian, the awkward, decade-old OS that Nokia has said it’s phasing out in favor of Windows Phone. Symbian is also not very popular among U.S. operators, making the PureView unlikely to come to a U.S. carrier,” says Segan.

I’d think that Nokia would (or at least could) eventually merge this camera technology into future Windows Phone products, however, as the company’s partnership with Microsoft continues moving forward.

(MORE: Doesn’t Anyone Want Americans to Buy Nokia Phones?)