Wednesday, August 23, 2017

Nokia 6 - Smartphone Camera Review By A Photographer

After all the flirting with Huawei's latest flagship models such as Mate 9 Pro and P10, both featuring Leica co-engineered dual camera module, it definitely is a surprise for most to discover that I have recently purchased a new Nokia 6 for my own personal use. What a huge downgrade! And Robin, seriously, a Nokia?

I have been using the Nokia 6, a budget Android smartphone released by HMD Global for more than a week now, and despite the mostly lukewarm reception by tech reviewers and gadget sites in general, I find myself loving this phone more than I initially have expected. Yes, the Nokia 6 comes with the lowly Snapdragon 400 series processor, runs on basic 1080p screen, a seemingly ordinary and mediocre 16MP camera with an F2 lens. There really is nothing to write home about, based on paper specifications. So what is the reason for such a huge scale down?


I chose the silver version, because I think I have too many black gadgets. Something shinier and brighter can be a little refreshing. 

Bright, large 5.5 inch display, having full HD 1080p screen. Good enough for me. 


No I am not doing a review for the smartphone Nokia 6, in this blog entry, I will specifically discuss only the camera on the Nokia 6. I am not a tech reviewer, I believe many other reliable and detailed reviews are already published everywhere, and there is nothing more that I can do or say to add to that. However, if you have done a few quick run down on the available reviews of Nokia 6, you will also find out that the camera receive mostly negative feedback. Many complained the slow app loading time, to open the camera App, some said it took them several seconds. The photographs were mostly non impressive and in conclusions of some of the reviews, the camera made it to the list of "cons". Is the camera on the Nokia 6 really that bad? That is the question I want to explore in this blog post, as a photographer, and a photography blog reviewer, I would like to take a closer look at the camera performance of Nokia 6.

WHAT IS WRONG WITH THE SMARTPHONE CAMERA REVIEWS OUT THERE?

Alright, I will go straight to the point why I was driven to do this camera review for Nokia 6. While many tech and gadget reviews have sufficiently covered smartphones in general, in terms of operating system, performance, battery life, screen test, etc, the camera part has always been poorly done (I am generalizing here, there are a few exceptions and excellent reviews but just a minority few). I understand that tech writers are mostly non photographers, but gosh one look at the sample gallery and you will wonder if they even put any effort in trying to use the camera at all. On the other hand, there is a general ignorance on fundamentals of photography, neglecting good practice and knowing how and what to test for when it comes to camera reviews, even for something as simple as smartphones. You know the popular saying, that if the photographer is pro, his photographs will be great regardless of the camera he uses, even a lower grade one. The exact same thing can be applied otherwise, if the photographer is a complete noob and does not know what he is doing, his photographs will be crap no matter how good the camera he is using. How can we tell how good the smartphone camera performs from the cringe-worthy looking image sample gallery provided by these  smartphone reviewers?

Then there are so many misinformation and confusing statements that are completely false in terms of imaging. For example, slow autofocus has been wrongly described as shutter lag, which is a completely different thing. Some reviewers claim that because the lens aperture is 0.2 in difference, the lens is performing worse (eg, F2 vs F1.8). Really? F2 and F1.8 can make such a world of difference? The understanding on fine details, sharpness and high ISO noise are also questionable, and don't even start on the comparison between Megapixel differences. My point is, many of the reviewers need to buckle up their fundamentals in photography, or at least take basic photography workshop, before they can write or review the camera of a smartphone.

Therefore, in this blog entry, I will share as many sample images as I can to properly demonstrate the capabilities of the Nokia 6 camera, being used under numerous different shooting conditions.



The camera creates a bump at the back of the phone. 

The camera controls are simplistic. No ISO control, no shutter speed controls, no advanced focusing, etc. 

Kindly take note that I am not associated with Nokia or HMD Global in any way. This is not a paid review, or advertorial. I did this completely out of my own willingness, and I bought the Nokia 6 with my own money. My camera review of the Nokia 6 is user experience based, and I emphasize on showing plenty of photographs to explain my findings and feedback on the camera. Also, all images shown here have been post-processed (I am a photographer, that is what I do).

THE CAMERA IS HONESTLY NOT BAD AT ALL

I bought the Nokia 6 having the lowest expectations ever for the camera, due to the overwhelmingly, universal negative reviews I have read everywhere. I knew that the camera will not be a star performer, factoring this fact in my buying decision. After using the Nokia 6 for more than a week now, I actually thought, hey, the camera is not bad at all. It is actually quite decent. No, it will not score in any charts or top benchmarks, but being a camera on a budget phone, I think it does its job incredibly well.

I managed to acquire accurately focused images with no issues, rendering sharp images with plenty of good, useful details. The image output is best not viewed at 100% crop, as the JPEG engine is not exactly doing a great job optimizing the details for such pixel-peeping purposes, but for a smartphone use, zooming in at about 50% enlargement, I am still perfectly happy with the quality that I can get from the Nokia 6. The specifications may claim that the camera can produce 16MP files, which is entirely true, but the quality of the image output is closer to 8MP. I would prefer if Nokia downsampled the 16MP image to 8MP and optimize it for sharpness and clarity.

The lens has an equivalent focal length of 27mm and a fixed aperture of F2. Wide angle building shots show noticeable softness at the corners, though the center of the image remains sharp. Same can be observed in close up shots, the sides and edges of the frame appear mushy. While the corner softness does bother me, it should not pose much of an issue for most snapshots taken with a smartphone. Knowing this, just place the important part of your image, your main subject of the photograph as center as possible to obtain optimum image clarity. Nevertheless, I was more impressed that barrel distortion was well controlled (straight lines, appearing perfectly straight, with no curving which is a usual trait for wide angle lenses), and there was almost no trace, or only minimal occurrence of chromatic aberration (purple fringing).


1/100sec, ISO100
Under good lighting condition, the colors come out natural with pleasing skin tone. The camera's autofocus was fast enough to capture this scene of a mother and a child walking by. 

1/100sec, ISO100
Close up shooting test. 

Crop from previous image. Details are crisp and sharp. Colors are a bit on the saturated and punchy side, but it has the usual "consumer friendly" look. Typical of all smartphones. 

1/33sec, ISO100
The earlier described corner softness is quite evident in this shot. Notice how much sharper the grains/beans are in the center of the frame. And the glorious colors!

 1/1431sec, ISO100
Having a small image sensor also means, having poor dynamic range (blown out highlights, as seen on the bright parts of the clouds)

1/5439sec, ISO100
Under good light, the Nokia 6 is capable of producing pleasing looking colors and contrast in images. 

1/50sec, ISO100
This was taken during sunset time. Another example of soft corners versus sharp center. 

The color balance can be a little off from time to time, as the auto white balance can be a little too aggressive in changing the natural ambient colors to neutral white. When the auto white balance nails the scene, the images came out looking beautiful in colors. I generally do need to do some tweaking in post-processing to get the colors that I want.

BASIC CAMERA CONTROLS, ALMOST FULLY POINT AND SHOOT

The camera control in Nokia 6 is basic, I would describe it as almost barebone.  You can control the exposure compensation, change focusing point, select the best suited metering or focusing distance, and some preset of white balance settings. There is no manual controls that you can play with, no control over ISO or shutter speed settings. There is no RAW option available, and no other advanced tools such as lens blur (bokeh simulation) effect, or other "art filters" to instantly make your images look overly processed and honestly, terrible. The Nokia 6 camera is almost a fully automatic camera, and it is not necessarily a bad thing.

If you are a control freak who constantly tweak the camera settings, why are you even using a smartphone camera to begin with? If you still insist on smartphone photography, at such entry price point, I would expect a decent performing automatic camera, than a half baked pro-wannable, clumsy manual operating camera interface. Thankfully, Nokia 6 has kept things simple and clean, and straight to the point. The camera can be treated as point and shoot, and it works well most of the time, and that is what matters the most.

There is a HDR mode, which does work quite well. Though using the HDR mode, after capturing an image, the phone will freeze for about a second and half for processing, which is not too bad at all. The HDR mode does rescue very harsh and difficult lighting conditions, and should only be used in such situations. I do not recommend the use of HDR in ALL scenarios (as opposed to some tech reviewers who suggested using HDR for all shooting with certain smartphones. No, please don't follow such crude, unreasonable advice).

1/50sec, ISO100
Under heavy shade, the color balance may appear too fake, and unnatural. However, I do not think many smartphone cameras, even the higher grade, flagship models, would fare much better than this. For a smartphone camera, I am quite satisfied with it handling this difficult situation. 

1/100sec, ISO100
In the right shooting condition, the 16MP and F2 lens can resolve plenty of fine details, as shown in the crop below.

Crop from the previous image

1/33sec, ISO125
Under artificial, mixed lighting condition, the camera struggles to balance different sources of light. The blue tint from the flourescent lights mixed with warm colors from the tungsten bulbs. 

1/100sec, ISO100
The close up capability of the lens is incredible. You can get super close to the subjects, and create pseudo-macro images. 

1/50sec, ISO100
Again, the camera does struggle when shooting under heavy shaded areas. 

1/33sec, ISO125
This photo has been corrected in color, to achieve more believable looking skin tone. 


In terms of Autofocus, the Nokia 6 is on the slower side of things. In good light, it might take about half a second to accurately nail focus of the subject, which lags behind most cameras out there. Also take note that most of my subjects do not move in my photographs. So for moving and action shots, this is definitely not a smartphone to recommend. The autofocus gets worse as the light drops.

The camera's Snapdragon 430 processor is definitely more than powerful enough to handle the camera operations, without any hiccups, lags, or other issues. The camera functions were smooth and efficient throughout my shooting process, and I experienced no delay whatsoever from shot to shot. That was also largely due to the fact that there was no settings or manual controls to tweak or change, and the shooting process was almost fully automatic point and shoot. The battery did not get heated up and the back of the phone stayed cool throughout the continuous shooting strain I put the camera through.

While the processing power is something everyone is cringing at, the pure stock Android experience was serving me well. I do not use heavy apps, or play games on my smartphone. If you are a heavy gamer that run hefty 3D games, then you better look elsewhere, this Nokia 6 is not for you. However, if you are like me, a basic user that browses the internet for quick Google searches, using Maps, Facebook, Instagram and every other common apps, the Nokia 6 actually runs smoothly with no hiccup at all, at least during the last one week of my own usage. In fact someone on Youtube (click for the video) compared the real life performance opening apps of the Nokia 6 to an iPhone 7s and found that for basic apps, the Nokia smashes the iPhone each and every time! Except for the heavy games of course, but we already know not to expect anything at all from a lowly processor in the Nokia.

The battery life was surprisingly well managed while the camera app was being used. I have used many phones (variants of Oneplus, Huawei flagships, just to name a few) and the battery drain due to camera use was a significant problem. Perhaps there was not much controls to process and also there was minimal operations during and after the shooting process, to minimize battery consumption. Using the camera should not impact the battery life by much, on your daily consumption with the Nokia 6.

1/33sec, ISO100
When Nokia 6 nails it, the colors come out amazing. 


1/137sec, ISO100
The texture and organic feel of the food and human skin were well preserved in this image. 

1/33sec, ISO100
Under artificial light, with almost white balanced light, the Nokia 6 can render good looking results. 

1/33sec, ISO125

 1/33sec, ISO100

1/33sec, ISO100
An example of great control of barrel distortion. Straight lines at the sides of the frame appear totally straight. 

1/112sec, ISO100
Another example of good distortion control. 

So how do I feel about the Nokia 6 camera?

I must be superbly frank here, the Nokia 6 camera is not particularly excellent in any area. It is not fast, the results are not beating any flagship camera phones out there, and there are no special features to write home about. 

However, in stark contrast with many review conclusions available out there slamming the camera, I confidently claim that the Nokia 6 has a reliable, consistent performing camera that is confidently capable of delivering good results. For the budget friendly price point, I think the camera does what it does extremely well, and should not fail you. 

I find myself enjoying the camera more and more the each time I use it. The simplicity of point and shoot and the freedom of not caring too much about manual controls was liberating. I will leave the heavy lifting, serious photography stuff to the use of actual, real cameras (I use Micro Four Thirds system, for those of you new to this blog). For everyday snapshots, images of the overpriced coffee and dangerously colorful cake, the Nokia 6 is more than sufficient to do the job. I hope I have enough sample photographs to back up my claim. 

MY NOKIA 6 CONCLUSIONS

PROS
Simplistic operations
Decent image quality
Sharp lens (at the center)
Good technical flaw controls (distortion, chromatic aberration)

CONS
Soft corners
unimpressive 16MP file, closer to 8MP quality
Autofocus on the slower side
Colors can be a off at difficult situations


1/33sec, ISO160
Example of portraits under artificial light, not something the Nokia 6 can handle well

1/33sec, ISO100
Shots of people on stage under sufficient light

1/33sec, ISO400
Shots of people under dim light

1/100sec, ISO100
Camera facing difficulty handling harsh bright areas (blown out whites)

1/33sec, ISO800
In very low lighting, the camera produces satisfactory results. Nothing spectacular, but perfectly usable image nonetheless. 

1/1157sec, ISO100
HDR mode enabled, producing more balanced results, toning down the bright part and lifting up the shadow areas

Will I be recommending this Nokia 6 as a smartphone that you should buy because of the camera?

If your reason to buy a smartphone is based on the camera performance, then I highly suggest that you look at flagship models, such as iPhone 7s, Huawei P10, or Samsung S8. These phones will have cameras that are built to perform the best possible they can, under their smartphone forms. 

Get the Nokia, if you are on a tight budget, and still need a reliable phone with good enough performance, stock Android experience, and a decent camera. The camera will not disappoint you, if you put some effort in learning basic photography (recognizing good light vs bad light, good composition, proper focusing, holding the camera steady while shooting, etc). If you are noob to photography, and care to improve your shooting skills, I highly recommend you participating in a basic photography workshop. 

I think everyone is having high hopes for the Nokia 8, which features a dual camera module to perform well, at least on par with other flagship cameras. It is difficult to predict how well the Nokia 8 camera will be, I can only tell when I have my hands on one. Considering what I am seeing from the Nokia 6, I think it is not foolish to expect great things from the Nokia 8. 


1/2940sec, ISO100
Again, no distortion! Impressive for a budget phone camera. 

1/3399sec, ISO100
This is the part where chromatic aberration (purple fringing) will happen the most. The lines, at high contrast areas. None observed. 

1/50sec, ISO100
Buildings, close to sunset time. 

1/153sec, ISO100
View from a train station, bathed under golden light

1/33sec, ISO500
Typical shopping mall lighting, which is not ideal, but the Nokia 6 handled it well. 

1/33sec, ISO200
Pavilion KL, during sundown, a low light example. 

1/33sec, ISO640
KLCC Twin Towers, a low light example. 


I hope you have enjoyed this blog review of Nokia 6's camera, and found the extensive image samples useful in illustrating what the camera is capable of. I have spent many days shooting in several different locations throughout Kuala Lumpur, in varying lighting conditions and shooting circumstances. 

I sure do hope to do more reviews in the future, and explore the world of smartphone photography.  If you are using a Nokia 6, please do share your experience, I want to know from you. If you disagree with my photography review of Nokia 6, do let me know in the comments below!

Please do support this blog by liking my Facebook Page here (click), and follow me on Instagram @shutter.therapy

Sunday, August 13, 2017

Nasi Lemak Burger

The burger craze has been around in Malaysia for several years now, but it never fails to amaze me how they reinvent the menu and make things relevant. The most recent hype that got all the attention of Instagrammers and food bloggers was the Nasi Lemak Burger. Initially I was not paying much attention to it since a popular trend would eventually fade off while everyone will jump to the next hip thing to try. However, after finally having the chance to try one myself, at the Myburgerlab earlier this evening, I must say the Nasi Lemak Burger exceeded my expectations, in every single way!


Friday, July 28, 2017

Cotton Silk Tree in Merdeka Square, Kuching

On my recent trip home to Kuching (again, yes I am traveling home more and more often these days, why not, mum would love me to visit more frequently), the popular cotton silk tree found directly in front of Merdeka Palace Hotel in Padang Merdeka blossomed and scattered cotton like deposits all over the surrounding area. If only Kuching was not scorching hot that particular weekend, it would have been like we had snow for a while. The tree only blossoms once in two to three years, and I have had the chance to witness this special event during my secondary years in St Thomas School, which was situated nearby. We even had the "snow" blown into the school compound by the wind.



Unfortunately during my visit to the tree with my camera, there was no wind to simulate the "snowing" effect. Nonetheless the tree itself is quite a magnificent view to feast your eyes upon.

The tree is over a century old, reaching 27.4 meters tall, and rumor has it that it is worth more than RM1 Million (about 235,000 USD).

Here is a bowl of Laksa to celebrate the luck that I had to be home during the same time the cotton silk tree blossomed!

Sarawak Laksa, Chong Choon Cafe, Padungan, Kuching

Do you guys have similar tree at your place? Do share your stories! I certainly have not come across similar cotton silk tree elsewhere in Malaysia, this could be the only one. 

Friday, July 21, 2017

Check Out The New Mirrorless Bag From Ming Thein!

Not too long ago, Ming Thein released his Ultimate Daybag (in coloboration with premium camera bag manufacturer, Frankie Falcon) which I have written about here (click). While that original version of MT x FF bag was great in many ways, large and spacious to fit many, many items efficiently into it. However to me, a photography enthusiast who use small mirrorless cameras, I did not find the need to carry that many items with me when I go out for my shutter therapy sessions. Like many other minimalist shooters out there, I carry one small mirrorless body and perhaps 2 to 3 small lenses, and a smaller bag customized for smaller system would make more sense. Recognizing the need for a smaller bag for the growing mirrorless shooting crowd, here comes the new Mirrorless Bag from Ming Thein!

I fully understand my partnership with Ming Thein, so this is not exactly a review, and should not be viewed as one. I just happened to have the bag with me and I thought why not I share my own thoughts after using it for a day or two.