In the "That's Never Happened Before" sweepstakes, a new one on me—
Ctein had made some test prints from the image samples provided by Nokia from the 808 PureView smartphone, the one that has a 41-megapixel sensor. He just wanted to see what they'd look like printed big, so he printed a few. He wrote in the original post:
I couldn't resist downloading and printing out the three photographs that Christian pointed us to. Printed them out as best-quality prints on 17x22" paper on my Epson 3880 printer. No image massaging except for about a half-pixel radius Smart Sharpen, which I routinely do to all Bayer array camera photographs (it's amazing how much it perks up fine detail without introducing artifacts).
They're good. They're really good.
For JPEGs, they're almost unbelievably good.
No, it's not a replacement for RAW, it's not a replacement for an interchangeable lens camera, it's not a replacement for one of today's available-darkness wunderkind.
But pretty much everything else? Oh yeah, this runs rings around them.
(Assuming, of course, one actually wants a camera with a phone in it. Personally, last thing in the world I want. But you get the idea.)
Since Ctein had seen what he wanted to see, he asked me if I'd like him to pass the prints on to me. And the prints arrived today.
I don't think that's ever happened to me before. The mailing tube was left on my porch today—a sunny, pleasant day of above-average temperature—and when I picked it up I immediately noticed it was heavier than it should be, and felt damp.
In fact, it was like it has been thoroughly soaked and then partially dried again. Upon removing the prints, the mailing tube immediately fell apart—it had been held together in part by the prints rolled up inside it!
The prints inside were wet. As in, they had water on them. All of them had streaks and partial staining:
If these had been important prints, they would have been a complete loss.
Fortunately for us, what Ctein was sending me were not objects, but information. And the information I needed was all still present. I laid the prints out on the carpet to dry, and then took a closer look.
All I can say is: he's right.
The largest print is 21x15.75 inches, of the <editorializing> insane </editorializing> guy hanging in mid-air by one hand from the rock. Apart from a very slight blooming or whitening of the highlights that may be subtle diffraction or may be the high-altitude light or may be a JPEG artifact, the print is superb (I almost wrote spectacular, but that's the picture).
These are just indicators, of course—once a product ships, the collective wisdom zeroes in on its strengths and weaknesses pretty quickly, and that remains to be done. As Ctein notes, this isn't likely to be a replacement for a more capable camera; it will have some limits. But making beautiful big prints won't be one of them.
I think the cameramakers can commence being worried now, if they weren't before.
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Original contents copyright 2012 by Michael C. Johnston and/or the bylined author. All Rights Reserved.
Featured Comment by Brad Nichol: "No doubt there will be many who believe in the myth of 'more megapixels equals worse quality' who will claim that both you and Ctein have taken leave of your senses by making such bold claims, but the proof is in the printing. The idea that this leap in quality is being achieved by a 'phone company' will no doubt cause many brand devotees a loss of sleep as well.
"Personally I have no trouble accepting these files would print beautifully, having downloaded them and spent some tinkering and comparison time with them, even comparing them to the output from my A900. Clearly not as good, but not that far off either in many respects.
"Almost every workshop I run I have someone say, 'did you know that more megapixels makes your photos worse?' Most of these folk seem a little incredulous when I politely tell them you can't believe everything you read on internet forums and encourage them to stop looking at 100% screen views and make some prints before jumping to such rash conclusions.
"It is great to see that Nokia have put the effort into proving that when accompanied with suitable processing and lens design, the accepted wisdom regarding high megapixel limits and all the other unproven assumptions that have gone along with it are somewhat overstated!
"The rumours of the death of the megapixel race are I think somewhat premature. Good one, Nokia; you certainly deserve to succeed with this sensor and its associated lens and processing, I just hope it finds its way into a far better photographic device."
Featured Comment by Miserere: "I think you and Ctein have assuaged the fears of tens of thousands of future buyers who will never make a print from this phone—sorry, camera-phone—nor probably look at the images at larger than 600x800 pixel resolution :-). I'm not saying I don't appreciate the post (I'm sure plenty of TOP readers get prints every now and then and also appreciate it), I'm just commenting on the disconnect (gulf? abyss?) between us and camera-phone users, who couldn't give a rat's arse how well these photos print or not."
Mike replies: Actually, that's not my experience. Non-photographers like pictures too, and, while most civilians print seldomly, they do want a print occasionally. What I've found is that they just have no idea what goes into a print or how to get one made; they'll say things to me like, "can you run me off a print of that?" like all it takes is to click a tab. I've even gone into the homes of relatives and seen (very bad) prints on display made from my own files—specifically, from JPEGs I emailed them online that I never intended to be seen as anything but email JPEGs, that they then "ran off a print of" on their own office printer or whatever. I even did a yearbook photo for a neighbor, and the yearbook editor requested a file that was 1000 pixels in the long dimension...for full-page print repro. I suspect the assumptions would need further investigation—on both our parts, probably—to arrive at some semblance of the truth, but my suspicion is that most cameraphone users do want prints...now and again.
But in any event, the significance of the Nokia sensor is probably what it portends for future applications, not just the maiden application Nokia used it for.