The Nokia 9's reviews are very mixed in regard to the quality of the images generated by the 5-sensor camera array and, when I first started using the phone, I could see why that was.
In low light, the camera would generate dark and murky images and in brighter light, the colours were either very pale or were a lot colder than they should have been.
The 12MP JPEG images that were generated from the camera app were only about 2MB in size, which suggested to me that a lot of detail was being discarded when generating the JPEG output.
Saving the raw files didn't help substantially either, because, if you used Google Photos' own tools to process the raw files, the outcome was often a rather unnatural-looking image.
In the fine print of the phone's setup wizard, it recommends using Adobe Lightroom on the phone, since Nokia established a partnership with Adobe.
The Lightroom app has its own camera functionality and the images taken by it are completely different to those captured using the Android built-in camera application.
The colours are bright and much warmer, a lot more sharpness and detail is preserved in the JPEGs, as evidenced by the fact that a typical JPEG from Lightroom is 5-7MB, rather than 2MB.
The optimisation tools in Adobe are far better, with their effects being far more subtle and professional than those of Google Photos.
You really start to appreciate, using Lightroom, how every image from the Nokia 9 is an HDR image; with the detail of clouds, for example, being vastly greater than what you could obtain through a single exposure.
You can also tell that Lightroom is handling the image distillation process completely differently, from the fact that the processing of the image is far faster than with the camera app.
In the normal camera app, once an image is shot, Android begins an "image fusion" process, which can take anything up to a minute to complete, as it decides how to collate the data from the 5 sensors into a single image.
In Lightroom, it's almost instantaneous, which initially made me think that it might be using a single sensor to capture the image, however, the images have an obvious HDR quality, which is not a feature that you can enable or disable on that phone in Lightroom.
Here's what I think has happened ...
Nokia outsources the hardware to its manufacturing partner; HMD.
HMD produces a fantastic camera array but it seems that whoever develops the camera driver/firmware, embedded into the Android OS, for use with the Android camera app (and others), isn't sure how to make the ambitious solution work at the software level.
Therefore, Nokia introduces Adobe, who implements its own, far better logic into Lightroom; specifically for the Nokia 9.
If you root around in Lightroom's settings; particularly in the lens correction settings, the software even tells you as much.
This makes business sense for Adobe too, because, if you're using Lightroom for all of your photo capture and editing on the device, then you're more likely to pay for a subscription to unlock all of Lightroom's advanced features.
So, in a sense, the reviews are absolutely accurate. The camera's output is really quite disappointing, in comparison to my 5-year old Lumia 950, provided that you're using the built-in camera app.
Unfortunately, the reviewers are also absolutely wrong, provided that you're content to use Lightroom as your solution from-end-to-end (ie. from capture, through editing to the point of export), (which I think is a perfectly acceptable solution).
In every scenario that I've tested the Nokia 9 so far, using Lightroom to capture the images, this new phone has performed much better than even what I would have expected from my much-loved Lumia 950.
It's quite interesting that I've never encountered a review that's made this determination, which tells me something about the thoroughness of these reviews and the expertise of these 'experts'.
Bear in mind that, by comparison, I've not used an Android phone in 5 whole years, coming back from Windows Mobile.
Even the souls at DXOMark; who do little else but perform comparisons of phone camera performance, seem not to have made this realisation.
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