So the Nokia 9 was introduced today, with an almost spider-like array of eyeballs for photography. I’m curious what it will do for quality, but as a former Lumia 1020 owner, I’m quite intrigued by the concept. Is this the future of smartphone photography? Thoughts?
The Nokia 9 is the world’s first handset to use a camera featuring six sensors/modules: two 12 MP RGB sensors featuring Zeiss optics, three 12 MP monochrome sensors using Zeiss lenses, and a time-of-light (ToF) depth sensor. The camera is controlled by a tiny 14 mm2 ASIC developed by a company called Lightthat specializes on imaging solutions using 6, 12, or 18-camera arrays.
The Light ASIC independently controls all camera modules in order to focus them, adjust exposure levels per aperture, calculate white balance, etc. Once the cameras capture their images, the ASIC fuses them together into a single ‘RAW’ image (as Nokia puts it, ‘HDR image’) containing both color and lighting/shadows information. Then the chip transfers the ‘RAW’ data using two MIPI transmitters to a host for further processing. Since contemporary Qualcomm Snapdragon SoCs do not natively support six camera modules, Nokia needed the ASIC from Light not only because it controls the sensors, but also because it packs the data into a format that a mobile SoC can consume and process.
Once the data gets to Qualcomm’s Snapdragon, the magic from Nokia kicks in. The company developed algorithms that use Qualcomm’s general purpose, ISP, and DSP hardware to process the image data from the sensors. According to Nokia, use of the ASIC as well as various hardware capabilities provided by the Snapdragon enable the Nokia 9 PureView to do some serious image processing without dramatically harming battery life.
Combining data from five 12 MP sensors, according to the company, enable the Nokia 9 PureView to capture a gargantuan amount of color and light details. Obviously, using the data available, the phone itself can apply various effects to photos on-the-fly using the Pro Camera UI, including the popular depth-of-field (bokeh effect), various kinds of blur, tilt, shift, etc. What is, perhaps, more important is that RAW (DNG to be more precise) images that the Nokia 9 PureView produces can be later edited in all ways possible, focal points may be changed and so on using pre-installed Adobe Lightroom app (or Google Photos depth editor). With its six-module camera, Nokia essentially unlocks possibilities previously only available to photographers with high end cameras practically to everyone.