This Nokia 9 photo has me hyped

For a person that doesn’t actually work for Google, I spend an inordinate amount of time hyping up the Google Pixel’s camera. But when the leader is so far ahead of its competition, I struggle to get excited about any other mobile cameras. Until today. Nokia’s coming to MWC with a phone we’ve seen leaked in photos and videos for many months, and that device has a five-camera system, the first fruit of which I believe we’ve just seen.

In an Instagram post by Edoardo Cassina, social media chief for the Nokia brand, we get to see a shot by pro photographer Konsta Punkka, which is advertised as having been “completely captured and edited with our phone!” Cassina doesn’t elaborate on which phone model it is, but just looking at the impressive dynamic range on show, we can all make an educated guess that it’s the Nokia 9.

If you peruse Punkka’s photographic work, you’ll notice that he has a peculiar sort of hyperreal style, and that is carried over in this photo. There’s exaggeration and an unsettling feeling of unnaturalness to it. Those aren’t usually compliments when talking about photos, so why do I like it so much? Well, it just feels nice to look at. The slightly alien quality appeals to me. And, more important than my subjective tastes, the dynamic range I’m seeing here is a little stupefying.

You have both the sun and some deep shadows in the frame, and yet those shadows still exhibit plenty of detail while the sky is preserved and not blown out too badly. That may be down to editing and post-processing, but the Instagram post assures it was all done on the phone, and I’m legitimately giddy to play around with a camera system that’s showing such promise. Dynamic range is one of the great strengths of the Google Pixel, and so anything that seems to approach it has to be at least a little bit decent.

Verge creative director James Bareham, who frankly should know better than me about these matters, is in complete disagreement. He finds the image looks unpleasantly artificial, as if it was assembled from a series of flat planes rather than capturing a real scene with depth. That may be down to the particular algorithms that Nokia is employing to take its photos: there’s surely a ton of computational photography happening when you’re using no fewer than five cameras at once. I joked that maybe the detail in the photo was so good that James couldn’t believe it, but he didn’t find that amusing. So let’s say opinions on this first shot are split.

HMD, the proprietor of the Nokia brand, kicks off its MWC 2019 press event at 4PM local time in Barcelona this Sunday. Stay tuned for our in-depth coverage from the Catalan capital, where we’ll be aiming to add to the library of Nokia 9 sample pictures.

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