Thursday, August 19, 2010

FCamera N900 Review

FCamera is an advanced camera application for the N900. It is based on the highly touted FCam (short for Frankencamera) photography platform develped in collaboration between Nokia, Stanford, and other partners. Is it good enough to be worth replacing the built-in camera application?


Updated 8/19/2010 with comments from FCamera 0.1.6
Originally posted on 7/23/2010


For this review, I am running FCamera version 0.1.3-1 on a Nokia N900 with firmware 10.2010.19-1.002.

Version 0.1.6 has a faster and more responsive UI. It adds a message to remind you to open the lens cover and transition effect when a photo is taken.

Good:
  • Impressive combination of automatic and manual controls make the N900 camera far better
  • Switching between macro mode and regular is automatic
  • Small application size

Bad:
  • No flash controls (you can download Live Focus for manual LED control)
  • Doesn't override the default camera application so it takes many steps to start up FCamera
  • Non-intuitive GUI
  • Camera UI settings are not saved
  • No noticable visual cue that photo was taken (like photo taken being displayed)
  • Version 0.1.6 adds a grey box animation to indicate the photo was taken. But the animation breaks up due to the N900 processing something else at the same time, likely saving the photo.
  • Viewfinder is not accurate in dimly lit environment (Thankfully the camera takes a better photo than what the viewfinder shows)
  • Photo conditions are not stored as EXIF data

Camera
At start, FCamera brings you to the camera user interface (UI). Here is where you can change settings to optimize the camera to the environment and photo you're trying to take.

The viewfinder even includes HDR preview mode.

Exposure
- Auto
Behaves like the built-in camera exposure.  Exposure continuously changes as the viewfinder moves.  It does not get locked when focus is locked.
- HDR
A very useful mode when you're taking to take a photo that consists of a bright background.  FCamera quickly takes 3 photos of varying exposures. You'll then need to use an imaging application such as GIMP to merge the images together. I found the following very useful: http://registry.gimp.org/node/24500.

Overexposed, Underexposed, "normal":

HDR mode produced the 3 above photos. A photo editing tool is needed to combine the 3 photos to form a HDR photo

HDR:

Using a photo editing program to merge the 3 photos above produced this HDR photo.

- Shadows
Overexposes to bring out dark areas.

- Highlights
Tends to underexpose to bring out bright areas

- Manual
Allows you to set the exposure from 1/8000s to 1s. I find the auto exposure to work fairly well to not need to manually set it.

Gain
- Auto
This number will continuously change as you move the viewfinder. It will adjust to an ISO that a photo can be taken with minimal blur.

ISO 1000:

A high ISO setting was chosen by auto to reduce motion blur.

- Manual (ISO) settings
With higher ISO settings, the noiser the photo. If you have a steady hand, you can manually set the ISO to a low number to minimize noise.  Settings are available from 100 to 3200 ISO.

ISO 3200:

Lots of noise

ISO 100:

Minimal noise.

Focus
- Auto
There is no focus box like in the built-in camera application but it behaves similarly.

- Point
Unlike the super big focussing box of the N900 built-in camera, FCamera allows you to click on the screen the area you want to focus on.

Unlike the iPhone and Android camera applications, clicking on the screen to specify the focus area doesn't automatically focus the camera to that spot. You still need to hold down the camera key half way to focus on that specified spot.

The difference that a focus point makes:

Focussed on the background zipper


Focussed on the foreground stitching

- Manual
When autofocus and point focus just don't cut it - like when you're trying to focus on something really close up.

Point focus has a problem focussing on my finger. During focus locking, I could see there was a good focus to use but FCamera would settle on a bad focus to lock on

WB (White balance)
- Auto
Behaves like the built-in camera application.  Just like auto exposure, the white balance keeps changing as the viewfinder is moved and not locked when focus is locked. Compared to the built-in camera application, FCamera tends to orangey while indoors.

- Manual
from 3000K to 8000K with the lower number being more blue while higher numbers are more yellowy orange. As an amateur, stick to the lowest value for indoor photos under incandescent bulbs and higher values for outdoor or fluorescent tubes.

Burst
If you select either burst of 4 or 8, FCamera will take 4 or 8 photos then choose the best one to keep. It really helps in low light situations when shooting with a low ISO setting.
- Single
- Burst of 4
- Burst of 8

The higher the burst, the longer you need to hold steady while FCamera takes the photos.


While standing with the N900 in my hand, I was able to take a crisp photo of this dark bronze sculpture

Options
Swiping the screen from top to bottom brings up some options user interface

Make sure autosave to JPG is enabled so the built-in gallery will display the photos you capture in FCamera

Visualizations
- Show intensity histogram
- Show rule of thirds guide - shows a grid on the viewfinder (3x3)

File Management
- RAW Path - path to store DNG format files
- Filename prefix
- Filename suffix (timestamp/index)
- Restore Trashed / Erase Trashed Photos - DNG photos deleted from the FCamera Gallery are not deleted from the N900 until you click erase trashed photos.
- Autosave JPGs to N900 gallery - enable this option so a JPEG copy of the photo is also created so photos will appear in the N900's built-in gallery.

About FCamera
Read about the purpose of FCamera

Swiping the screen from bottom to top brings you back to the camera interface.

Gallery
Swiping the screen from bottom to top on the camera interface brings you to the gallery of RAW images (DNG format). The images here may not match the images you see in the N900 built-in gallery as this only shows the DNG formats still on the N900. The Adobe DNG negative (it's like a compressed RAW) images are usually 10.6 MB in size.



- Zoom - you cannot use the volume controls to zoom.  Remember to click Zoom again to exit the zoom mode.
- Trash - marks the DNG version of the file for removal.  It's not removed until you click Erase Trashed Photos in File Management
- Share - sends a JPEG version of the file via Bluetooth, E-mail, or service.

Swiping the screen when not in Zoom mode lets you move between the DNG photos captured by FCamera. Swiping the screen from top to bottom brings you back to the camera interface.

FCamera requires the camera exposed so pulling the shutter open can cause the built-in camera application to start up. Opening FCamera before opening the camera shutter will prevent the built-in camera application to start or opening FCamera after opening the camera shutter will cause the built-in camera application to close.

FCamera does not include a panorama mode. I personally do not know of real SLR cameras having such a feature either. But if you're needing such a function, I recommend using Autostitch to process you photos into a panorama.

There's also no ability to zoom while taking photos. But the N900 lacks optical zoom so why would you want to use digital zoom in the first place?

Conclusion
FCamera brings the N900 camera much needed manual controls. There are a lot of options that N900 users that want to make better use of their cameras are going to love like the point focus and burst mode. FCamera does take 2.5 loading circles or seconds to load and it doesn't trigger upon opening the camera shutter so it takes more time to set up for a photo. For the added flexibility that FCamera offers, it's a great compliment to the built-in camera application.

Software Rating: Worth installing

More sample photos from FCamera:


How to install FCamera? See: http://fcam.garage.maemo.org/fcamera.html

Source:
FCam unleashed for the N900, Nokia Conversations, July 22, 2010
FCamera, FCam, as of July 23, 2010

1 comment:

Marty Collins, Esq. said...

Best FCamera review thus far.