Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Comparing dual LED to Xenon Flash - N82, N86 8MP, and N79 Low Light Showdown!

The Nokia N86 8MP (right) is positioned as Nokia's premiere imaging range of camera phones for 2009 and set to replace the venerable N82 (left). It is Nokia's first device to feature a wide-angle 8MP Carl Zeiss len camera with variable aperature and second generation dual-LED. Unfortunately, many N82 users bemoaned the absence of Xenon flash. Nokia responded with a slide show comparing the N86 8MP to N82 in low light which mainly focussed on when flash would be triggered when taking the photo of close stationary objects. Interestingly, they didn't address flash distance or moving objects in low light. Which I think are more important in real life situations such as taking photos of your friends at a bar or your children going trick or treating during Halloween.

Full review after the jump.

Photo dimensions (pixels)2592x19442592x19443264x2448
F number/Aperture2.8/5.62.8/5.42.4-2.8/4.6
Flash typeXenonDual-LEDDual-LED

Flash Distance

All camera phones were set to auto mode with automatic flash in a room with no light. I placed 3 objects on the ground a meter apart from each other in front of the camera. The big boxes were 4 meters away and the wall was about 5 meters away.






Canon SD850i


The N79 had to increase its ISO setting very high to brighten up the image which led to a lot of noise and a generally useless photo. The E71 was totally useless. Obviously the dedicated camera produced the brightest flash and clearest photo.

The N86 is a significant improvement over the N79 even though both use a dual-LED flash. I'm sure the larger sensor and improved LEDs helped the N86.

The N82 produced a much noiser photo compared to the N86 and the N82 needed a higher ISO setting to get a similar brightness to the N86. So just to see what would happen if I set the N82 to medium ISO to force it to use ISO-400.




With similar ISO settings, the N82 produces a definitely darker image, similar noise, and very similar details.


Photo capture of a moving object with flash

I used a metronome since it has a generally consistent speed, easily recognized by readers all around the world, and has various speed settings. I threw out all photos of the metromone arm at the very far right and very far left since the arm moves much slower at that point. I took 3 photos with each phone at each speed setting.

I found that each phone produced consistent image quality between the 3 photos taken. All camera phones captured photos between 100-200 ISO regardless of metronome speed. Now let's look at the detailed results.

Low speed (40 GRAVE)

Mid speed (72 ANDANTE)


High speed (120 ANIMATO)

The N79 and N86 produced similarly blurry photos of the metronome arm. Although the N86 sensor can take clearer photos of stationary objects, the sensor still can't get enough light in a short time to capture a still photo of the moving object.

It's no question that Xenon pays dividends with a clear photo of the metronome arm. As reported in many studies, Xenon produces more light at a specific object in a shorter amount of time than LED can. Which is why photos tend to be blurry in dimly lit environments when taken with current camera phones. Let's hope that either LED technology makes some significant improvements soon or Nokia switches back to Xenon for their next premiere imaging device.



Overall, the N86 surprised me by it's impressive flash distance that produced images of very little noise, even when compared to the N82's Xenon flash. But as predicted the N82 captured motion photos significantly better than the dual-LED equipped N86. Comparing the N86 to the N79, we saw an impressive improvement to the dual-LED and sensor technology that allowed the N86 to produce far superior distance photos. So it's a give and take with the N82 better at freezing motion while the N86 is better for distant stationary objects. I personally would prefer freezing motion for clearer photos while the flash distance is comparable. Until Nokia releases another Nseries with Xenon, the N86 is definitely a worthy device that gives the N82 quite a run.


Oliver said...

Hi Eric,

this is - after searching the web for a long time - the best article and comparison I have ever seen.
Great and professional!


Wapster said...

Great job! This is as objective a presentation as possible given the subjective nature of photo quality. I can't believe none of the professional review sites thought of this test.

CuriousBuyer said...


Anonymous said...

Hi Eric, after much searching this is the best information I have received regarding the 3 camera phones. After this reading I have definitely changed my mind in buying N79. I will go for the N86 or N82. Just compare the new Nokia N8 & give your valuable verdict. Also for Macro mode which of the 4 you would recommend? Your views on the older N73 which was 3.2 Megapixels but had a Xenon flash.

Eric said...

@Oliver - Thanks and hope you found it useful!

@Wapster - Thanks. I agree with you. I find most professional review sites don't seem to care about the small details which is why I have my blog.

@CuriousBuyer - Thanks

@Dr.Bennete - I hope I get a chance to test the N8 and run it through similar tests. I've read interviews with the camera program manager and it sounds like it'll be similar to a cross between the N86 camera with the N82 flash. The older N73 has a single LED which I expect to be worse than the N79.

Claus said...

Good review. A plus for LED flash is that they can be used for shooting video in dark rooms, Xenon flash can't do that. Best option would be a phone with both systems, or improved LED flash.