The Nokia G21 , the latest offering from HMD Global embraces their new strategy, where the focus have been shifted to entry level and midrange devices. In my previous article, I highlighted the benchmark scoring of the device which seems to be placed closed to the Snapdragon 665 which powers the Nokia 5.3. Whether its cost cutting or the new Unisoc T606 processor is more efficient, the Nokia G21 seems to be holding up to what its marketed for. The performance is good and the battery life is certainly among the better ones out there. If you haven’t read my article on the gaming prowess of the Unisoc processor, it will be a good time to give it a go and watch the attached samples to see how this processor handles modern games. With that said, its safe to sum up that the Unisoc processor is a capable one for an entry device.
From the time where the rumor mill started to churn out leaks on a new design phone supposedly housing a ‘Pureview’ camera, I have been more than excited to try the camera of this device. Of course the rumor was not true as the ‘Pureview’ branding was actually 50 MP AI camera. I took some time off to actually understand how the camera works before comparing them and this will be an article on what the new camera offers.
The word AI has been misused these days by many manufacturers as part of marketing gimmick. In the early days, the AI was plastered in the specs of many devices coming from China and surprisingly after years of ‘gimmick’ marketing , it is safe to say that the current crop of Chinese devices do have high AI integration in their device and AI seems to play a crucial role on the overall capability of the device. For example, the Vivo X70 Pro + that I have been using relies heavily on AI integration to enhance user experience, not just in the camera but for many other purposes. Shutting them off actually removes many benefits that would have enhanced the user experience to another level.
So, the 50 MP AI camera on the Nokia G21 had me all excited. How advance is this AI? How does it react and process the image differently?
The Nokia G21 comes with a new camera arrangement and it resembles some other devices in the market which indicates that HMD Global has passed the task of designing their device to 3rd party company. The glossy camera island that houses the 50MP primary sensor coupled with a 2MP depth and 2MP macro is prone to scratches. I welcome the omission of the ultrawide camera as its better not to have a potato quality camera than to have it for the sake of completeness.
The primary 50MP camera uses the pixel binning technology which gives an effective 12.5MP image. Of course you could still shoot it at 50MP but the actual benefit of such large sensor using pixel binning technology is to allow more light in which in theory should translate to better low light image.
in general, the output from the primary camera is good. The tone tends to be warmer, color appears flat but the 50MP sensor has a beautiful natural bokeh as can be observed in the first image above. While the 50MP image is definitely sharper than its pixel binned 12.5MP image, the differences are not as obvious unless you are zooming in to hunt for them. The color shift between both this modes are also negligible.
When compared to the Nokia 5.3 which has a primary 13MP camera( standard RGB sensor) and the images from Nokia G21 at 12.5MP, the differences in details are not that obvious. But despite the absence of AI on the Nokia 5.3, the images captured are more pleasing to the eyes and better represents that actual scene between the two. To sum up, the Nokia G21 produces warmer image while those from Nokia 5.3 produces a cooler tone.
As the daylight images of most devices out there seem to have reach a plateau in terms of clarity, the race is now focused on low light imaging and it seems to be representing the current benchmarking criteria for camera superiority. So how does the AI handles the low light images here?
I was initially impressed with the speed with which the Nokia G21 process the night mode images. The circular animation that indicates the processing of the low light images seems to portray an illusion of speed instead. In reality, the low light algorithm is much slower than what is shown and you need to keep your hand steady way past the completeness of the circular animation until the camera allows you to take the next image. Despite the lengthy interval between shots and processing, the images are no where near to what I would expect from a 50MP AI camera. One would expect the AI to iron out the noise, enhance the sharpness and improve the vibrancy of the low light images , but in the contrary it seems that the images are under processed, noisy and lacks useability.
When it comes to macro performance, the Nokia G21 seems to be performing better than expected. The details are adequate and the colors are better though it does not represent the actual scene. In comparison, the Nokia 5.3’s macro shot does not disappoint either and it appears to have better details although the colors are muted. But the Nokia 5.3 also offers macro videography which is absent from the Nokia G21.
When it comes to videography, both the devices does not offer any stabilization. The Nokia 5.3 is capable of shooting in 4K but unless you are using a tripod, the video quality is less than desirable. On the other hand, it does gives you more versatility as you can use the ultrawide and the macro sensor as well for videography.
The 1080p output of the rear camera of both the devices are acceptable but the addition of OZO audio recording on the Nokia G21 allows better audio capture and trumps the Nokia 5.3.
Please watch the video in this link below for more photo samples from Nokia G21 vs Nokia 5.3 and not forgetting the video quality in day time and low light situation.
AI integration in HMD Global made Nokia devices isn’t something new. Scene detection that had been there since the time of Nokia 8.1 are early precursors to this. Unfortunately, if you have used the Nokia 8.1 ,then you would be familiar with how the scene detection fails to work as intended. Nightscape worked briefly but was ruined with the latest update on the Nokia 8.1, the day time images gets its color boosted over the charts that the purist photographers would rather turn of the scene detection than to use them.
But I eventually found out that the AI in the Nokia G21 is baked right into the primary processing algorithm. There is no way of shutting them off. So how is the AI different here compared to its predecessors? Unfortunately , after testing it in many different scenarios, I have to conclude that the AI camera is simply a basic scene detection. The final results isn’t as astonishing as what you would expect it to be. And the camera software seems to be a work in progress as there are delays and inconsistency in its processing.
With HMD Global focusing on entry level devices these days, I do hope they bring more improvement in the camera department with the next major update for the Nokia G21 as the sensor has the capability to do more. Unfortunately, we are at the mercy of HMD Global’s software team for this crucial update as there are no GCAM available to salvage it for now.
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