When we attended the Photokina 2006 event to work on our show report we had a short meeting with Eero Salmelin, Director Camera Unit Nokia. During our Q&A session we talked about the new Nokia N95 camera phone. In the words of Eero Salmelin, the new Nokia N95 Nokia N95 is more like an all-in-one multimedia computer with a great 2-way slide concept, integrated GPS functionality, a 5 Megapixel camera and support for high-speed networks. Nokia had a great position between the digital camera manufacturers and showed the public that they are ready to claim their share of the digital compact camera market. The Nokia N95 has a great design, feels solid and incorporates a long list of imaging and connectivity solutions.
Question : You have introduced an amazing cellphone with a 5 Megapixel sensor. It is starting to be a real digital camera.
Answer : The Nokia N95 is not just a phone with a built in camera. It is what we call a multifunctional computer. You can download applications form the Internet, you can store and share documents and pictures on the computer, we have a browser. And an important function is, of course, the digital camera. You can blog your pictures directly from the camera. You can do a lot of things with just one device and we have also added a GPS function to the Nokia N95.
Question : A couple of years ago, phones had only a VGA resolution. They were hardly usable. Nowadays there are phones with 3 and even 5 Megapixels. It is going really fast.
Answer : The quality of camphones is indeed improving rapidly. With the new generation of phones we are delivering high quality pictures. It isn't as good as a DSLR, but we are at a stage where we can match the quality of a digital compact camera.
Question : Micron seems to be the only company that can make a 5 Megapixel sensor small enough to fit in a cellphone. The Nokia N95 has 5 Megapixels. Does the sensor come from Micron?
Answer : We can not comment on the components we are using, with the exception of the lens, which is obviously from Carl Zeiss. The quality standards are high and the sensor used in the Nokia N95 is very good. We have made some samples and are impressed by the quality, even though it isn't yet final and there will still be some improvements. You can imagine the intelligent solutions we are facing when integrating this technology into a phone in comparison to a digital still camera. We also have to consider the different situations in which the camera phone will be used.
Question : Is that the hardest part of developing a camphone? All the different places where a phone is put, like trousers, bags etcetera?
Answer : Actually there are two critical issues. One is to make an image sensor with high quality and high performance which fits into a small device. We have to face the complexity of miniaturization of the different components. We have much less room than in a digital compact camera. The other issue is that we have to plan for all kinds of scenarios that phones can go through. We develop the phones so that they can drop from a couple of feet without being damaged. [He drops a phone from about 1.5 meters without the phone falling apart] This is no problem for our phone. If you try that with a DSLR, you won't be happy. We also have to protect the lens from getting dirty from dust and scratches when you are carrying the device in your pocket. For example, this is why we are using sliders. We are also working very closely with Carl Zeiss on this.
Question : About the future. What is the main aspect to work on? I don't think we may expect a ten Megapixel sensor in a cellphone?
Answer : It is our strategy to increase pixels if that’s what customers want and it doesn't conflict with the image quality. We are continuously improving image quality. At Nokia we are doing tests whereby non camera experts look at two pictures and compare photos from different phones from Nokia and the competition. The chart shows that Nokia is very strong and, when compared with a 5 Megapixel digital camera, testers preferred the Nokia’s picture.
Question : But that has to do with the type of digital camera used in the test.
Answer : It is a very respectable brand. I can't tell you the name, of course, but is a competitive camera.
Question : Nokia is originally a phone manufacturer. Now you are making camphones. Did you cooperate with camera manufacturers on the photographic part? The lens is from Zeiss, but what about the rest?
Answer : It is a very important area. We were already working on image processors when the digital still camera just hit the market. So we have been working on the camera part for a very long time. We have very good professional technicians specializing in the image part. The reason why we didn't value this kind of quality earlier was because the optics and sensor were not there yet. We were not able to miniaturize the technology at this level before.
Question : Sony Ericsson benefits from experience drawn from Sony who has been making cameras for a long time. How did Nokia find out what is important and how to deal with the images? Did you buy some knowledge, or did you get feedback from camera manufacturers?
Answer : If you're talking about the technology of getting the right exposure, setting the correct white balance, interpolation etcetera, that is the image processing we have been working on for so long. We have already had this technique in house for a very long time. We developed the software and algorithms ourselves. The architecture is considerably bigger than that found in a digital compact camera. We have knowledge of all kinds of areas, the sensor, the optics and the programs of working on the data. This is why we are able to produce this kind of high quality image. To get the big picture, we do not always use our own technology. I am now talking about processing. We get some parts like the optics, from other manufacturers, but we know how everything works together.
Question : So Nokia will be able to build their own digital still camera in the near future?
Answer : We are already doing so hahaha! You can compare the quality of a mobile phone with a digital camera. But you can do so much more with products like the Nokia N95 than with a digital camera. And there is also the connectivity thing, which is a really new element in photography. Wherever you are you can download your pictures and put them directly on a webpage like Flickr without using a PC, wherever you are.