DxOMark is a well-known camera review website, but its reviews of smartphone cameras have been controversial in the past. Questions have been raised about the company’s credibility, and it’s received criticism for scoring smartphone cameras seemingly arbitrarily in the past.
Smartphone camera quality is difficult to compare quantitatively, though, and it’s almost impossible to rate on a scale. We can argue that one smartphone camera is better than the other, but if a camera receives a score of 88 and another camera receives a score of 87, that doesn’t mean there’s a noticeable difference in picture quality. For that reason, it’s important to keep in mind that the content of any given DxOMark camera review is much more important than the score. Rather than getting worked up about a device’s DxOMark score, you should read the full text, look at the image samples, and draw your own conclusions.
With that in mind, let’s dive into the latest DxOMark smartphone camera review. It’s the Nokia 8, HMD Global’s flagship smartphone.
DxOMark notes that the Nokia 8 is the first Nokia-branded flagship smartphone to launch after HMD Global acquired the branding rights from Microsoft in 2016. The Nokia 8 has dual rear cameras — a 13MP RGB sensor with 1.12-micron pixels, a f/2.0 aperture, and optical image stabilization (OIS), and a secondary 13MP monochrome sensor. Image data from the two sensors is combined to capture greater detail, minimize noise, and achieve better dynamic range. The Nokia 8 uses phase detection autofocus (PDAF), time-of-flight laser focus, and contrast detection to help aid in focusing, and when it comes to video, the phone’s Qualcomm Snapdragon 835 system-on-chip supports recording up to 4K at 30FPS.
Unfortunately, DxOMark didn’t find the camera to be all that impressive. It gave an overall score of 68 to the Nokia 8’s camera, which is one of the worst scores of any recent smartphone camera. (For the sake of comparison, the highest-scoring smartphone camera remains the Google Pixel 2 with a score of 98). Again, the scores don’t matter as much as the review itself, but DxOMark found that the Nokia 8’s camera couldn’t match those of its flagship competitors.
DxOMark writes that the Nokia 8’s camera produced “nice images in some conditions”, which was enough to earn it an overall score of 72 in the Photo category. One specific upside was the exposure — the phone only struggled to capture usable exposure in DxOMark’s darkest 1 Lux test scene. Dynamic range was also good when the Auto HDR mode kicked in, and white balance was “usually” accurate. The downsides were that the Auto HDR mode didn’t switch on automatically in even in high-contrast shooting situations, and that some photos showed low levels of saturation and noticeable differences in color rendering between the center and edges of the frame. DxOMark also found “color rendering inconsistencies” in low light, with tones changing between photos of the same scene.
A major problem with the Nokia 8 in terms of image quality was texture detail and noise reduction. According to DxOMark, the device “noticeably lagged behind” other flagship phones here, with “fairly strong” noise visible in areas of plain color (even in bright light). Detail levels were generally low, with lots of blurring of fine detail and textures, and further loss of detail in indoor and low-light conditions. The Nokia 8 also suffered from corner softness in its photos, with strong softness visible toward the edges of the frame.
The Nokia 8 uses three autofocus technologies — contrast detection, PDAF, and laser — to decent effect. In testing, it produced accurate results in “most situations”, but it slowed down considerably in low light. DxOMark noted that while using the camera’s dual-LED flash, exposure was good, but some flash portraits showed a noticeable red-eye effect. And again, the phone’s photos show a lot of noise and lacked fine detail.
The Nokia 8’s zooming results were regrettably not on the same level as best-in-class phones. It doesn’t have a dedicated telephoto lens or a higher resolution secondary sensor, and its digital zoom resulted in “very little” detail, with noise fringing around the edges. DxOMark advises users to use 2x zoom only in unavoidable situations — even then, it’s probably better to get closer to your subject to avoid having to zoom in.
Thankfully, the device’s bokeh mode performed better. The publication reports that it couldn’t compete with class-leading cameras, but that it produced a “pleasant” bokeh effect that wasn’t too strong. The downsides were flawed subject isolation with visible artifacts and the bokeh mode’s unpredictable behavior — it didn’t always trigger when it should have, even when it was manually activated.
The Nokia 8 couldn’t redeem itself when it came to video quality. It received a Video score of 62 points, and according to DxOMark, its poor autofocus and stabilization contributed. The Nokia 8’s autofocus often didn’t trigger in low-light, which made some videos nearly unusable, and its “strong overcompensation for handheld motion and deformation” made the stabilization system perform on “a similar level as the Galaxy S6 Edge“, a three-year-old device.
The upsides were good target exposure and color rendering in bright light and well-lit indoor conditions, states DxOMark. But they weren’t enough to outweigh the shortcomings. The device’s video footage showed a narrow dynamic range, with highlight clipping in high-contrast scenes and unstable exposure. There was also noticeable exposure stepping when illumination changed during recording.
All in all, DxOMark concluded that Nokia 8’s camera didn’t match expectations. It can produce “decent” still photos, but its image quality can’t match high-end phones from most competitors.
Our view: A casual examination of DxOMark’s photo samples reveals that the Nokia 8, despite having a decent camera on paper, isn’t able to capture the amount of detail and sharpness captured by rival smartphone cameras. It can take some good photos, but it falters in low light. The good news is that the Nokia 8’s has decent camera hardware, and there’s potential to improve the image quality with software updates. Here’s hoping that HMD Global can achieve the full potential of the camera hardware, and bounce back with a much-improved camera in its next phone.
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