Nokia’s N97 & 5800XM: The trouble with 16:9

Two weeks ago, in my first video diary for Really Mobile, I was talking about my Nokia 5800 Xpress Music when I said:

Two weeks ago, in my first video diary for Really Mobile, I was talking about my Nokia 5800Β  Xpress Music when I said:

“I’ve kind of fallen for it a little bit… the firmware update has brought transitions… there are some really nice things in there… for instance: recording 16:9 video”

At which point – at around 1min 35secs into the clip to be precise – I flipped the 5800 around and began recording and, thanks to the wonder of Ben Smith’s editing skills, you can see the transition between the two segments below.

In the shot on the left you can just about see that I am holding the phone at arm’s length and yet, on the right, you can see the EXTREME CLOSE UP that the 5800 so unnaturally provides.
Problemo, no?

Ben and I noted this at the time and had a further play – resulting in this video that I put up on YouTube just before Really Mobile launched:

The sound quality is poor but – as you might have just about heard – this is because we had put the 5800 at such a distance away from ourselves, the mic could only barely pickup the audio. Check around 18secs in when both Ben and I reach towards the phone, again – our arms at full length.

Not. Good.

The focal point is too far away and as such, no matter how cool recording in 16:9 is, dealing with this bizarre nuance can feel frustrating . As it was, not soon after we published the above footage, YouTube user ‘augusc’ commented on the video with this telling nugget of information:

“Actually the phone just crops off the up and down side of the standard HQ video recording, that’s why the focal length must be bigger – and that’s why i find this 16:9 mode unnecessary…”

So in effect it’s not ‘true’ 16:9 recording then?
Interesting.

That’s the 5800 covered, what about Nokia’s upcoming uber-flagship device, the N97?
This device, oft-heralded the saviour of Nokia for 2009 (I’m still betting on the N86), runs the same S60 5th edition software as the 5800 and boasts almost the exact same display specifications too.

Well, over the weekend – via Mark Guim at The Nokia Blog – I spotted Nokia rep, Chanse Arrington, Qik-ing from his own N97 and I asked:

His response?

Right. Clear as mud then.

Unofficial Nokia blogger, Mark Guim, however was another story. He and I continued the conversation offline; I explained in further detail what I meant – using the video above as an example – and he replied that he had noticed the same thing on his 5800. He even went so far as to put together this rather good compare and contrast post between said Xpress Music device and his own N85.Nice work Mark.

This morning I asked Chanse again, this time linking to Mark’s post as a reference. This time he was a touch more forthcoming with his response:


So, there you have it. It would seem that the N97 does indeed record video in the same ‘extreme close-up’ mode as the 5800.

What do you think?

Do you own a 5800, have you spotted this problem?
Or are you considering purchasing an N97? Does this bother you?

As ever, your comments are welcome.

NB: The 5800/N97’s 16:9 recording functionality is oft-referred to as ‘nHD’.

This, for the initiated among you does not mean that the respective devices record in NEAR HD, as is sometimes reported, but in fact refers to the screen-size being proportionately equivalent to 1/9 of the original HD resolution of 1920 x 1080 pixels.

Fact-tastic.

Last updated by at .

84 thoughts on “Nokia’s N97 & 5800XM: The trouble with 16:9”

  1. Err….. what has all this got to do with ‘focal length’, guys? The focal length is the distance at which objects are perfectly in focus – usually infinity for most Nokia phones.

    What you’re talking about is how wide the angle of the lens is. Some cameras are ‘wider’ than others. In my experience, most Nokia Nseries phones produce video images that are too ‘wide’ – the 5800’s unit seems better in this respect.

    The comment about the sound being quiet because you’re too far away – this is because phone cams tend to use the voice mike, which usually ends up pointing off to the side somewhere. Hence why I shoot my Phones Show inside, or at least in a car, so that the sound is contained and doesn’t get lost.

    [Reply]

    James Whatley Reply:

    Oh I see (re: Focal length) – a naming mistake on my part it would seem. I knew what I meant though and from the sounds of it, you did too.

    Wording errors aside, I’m not sure what your point is regarding the ineffective way that the 5800 (and N97) ‘cuts’ a video image to 16:9.

    Yes *of course* the mic is facing away, as it does on almost all Nokia handsets. However, unlike almost all Nokia handsets – the 5800 requires the camera to be further away than usual.
    Hence the low volume.

    The positioning of the mic is inconsequential and not really a valid argument in this instance, wouldn’t you agree?

    [Reply]

    stevelitchfield Reply:

    Well, you wouldn’t write an article about car number plates but keep referring to the gearstick, would you? Quite an important distinction for us to make about camera terms before your legions of followers all go off repeating the same misunderstanding 😎

    The way widescreen video images are shot is a bit crude, I’ll agree. I disagree about the way you’re building this all into a major issue though – I’ve just done tests here with other handsets (E75, N95) and the angle of the 5800’s camera optics is only *fractionally* less – I’d never noticed a problem and I’ve shot hundreds of photos and dozens of videos on this thing.

    To return to your forest example, the audio on the N95 or any other phone camera would have struggled in the same way. I just don’t think all this is an issue.

    Your opening graphic is VERY misleading, by the way, you’re comparing a video shot from a pro camera at twice the distance away!!

    [Reply]

    James Whatley Reply:

    It’s not a major issue, at all in fact – Just something to be aware of.

    I wouldn’t call the difference in camera optics ‘fractionally less’ – the differences between Mark Guim’s comparison shots are far from fractional!
    I’m certain that you have shot dozens of videos with the 5800, it’s not my fault you didn’t notice the problem πŸ˜‰

    In all seriousness – it’s not a *massive* issue. But if you’re considering laying out Β£500+ for a device that records 16:9 video you want to know all of the ticks and nuances, no?
    I make videos with various handsets almost every day and I spotted this issue straight away, as a serious content creator I found it annoying at best and at worst, unusable.

    The N95 would of course suffer the same problem, IF it had to be placed so far away just to get a decent two-head shot. But it doesn’t. That’s my point.

    Re: the opening graphic, I’m not comparing anything. I’m using the image to show exactly how far away from my face I was holding the damn thing and yet it still wasn’t far enough!

    As per the post in fact:
    “In the shot on the left you can just about see that I am holding the phone at arm’s length and yet, on the right, you can see the EXTREME CLOSE UP that the 5800 so unnaturally provides”

    Cheers.

    stevelitchfield Reply:

    Yes, I know you talked about the graphic in the text. But the very fact that you use two ‘photos’, side by side, gives an instant impression that you’re using the graphic to illustrate the main point you were making. Which is a bit misleading….

    Anyway, time to let the matter drop and let the masses chip in, I think! 😎

    "The Masses" a.k.a Mr. Burland Reply:

    Interesting article (and discussion). I tend to carry a large wide-angle lens with me for my HD camcorder. It’s quite surprising how much nicer the final results are, especially for large vistas, indoor scenes and group photos or videos.

    I used to own a SD Canon camcorder that ‘suffered’ from an extremely tight angle, it was horrible to use, most indoor video was useless.

    As for Nokia devices… The best lens combo that I’ve ever witnessed was the N93i. But then that isn’t too surprising as it was the last to feature optical zoom.

    I’d better stop now as I’m starting to get depressed just thinking about the stagnation of video capture in the mobile industry. Help me Omnia HD, you’re my only hope! … Just make sure you fix the frame rate Samsung or they’ll be hell to pay!

    Nico Reply:

    Uh… actually, no. Focal lenght is the right term. It means exactly “how wide the angle of the lens is” (at least for a fixed sensor size). Here’s something from good ole’ photo.net:

    http://photo.net/learn/fov/

    [Reply]

    stevelitchfield Reply:

    No, it doesn’t, although admittedly I was wrong too 😎

    Focal length is the intra-camera distance from the centre of the lens to the centre of the sensor etc.. Not sure what the distance I was talking about is called: maybe ‘focal point’?

    Anyway, the thing James was talking about is, apparently, termed ‘field of view’.

    So now we all know!

    [Reply]

    DanLane Reply:

    Breaking news: Steve Litchfield in being wrong shocker!

    Ben Smith Reply:

    Dan Lane: Yellow card.

    πŸ™‚

    Ben Smith Reply:

    I think you’re both right (ish) – for a certain sensor size ‘field of view’ is directly proportional to ‘focal length’, although what James is complaining about is actually the ‘field of view’.

    The impact on the ‘field of view’ of the sensor size is called the ‘field of view crop factor’ or ‘focal length multiplier’.

    Nico Reply:

    That’s why I said “for a fixed sensor size”. The correct term is indeed “field of view”, but focal lenght is more commonly used as a measure of the view angle of a lens.

    But yeah, what Ben said πŸ™‚

    James Whatley Reply:

    Whatever it’s called, it’s crap on the 5800 and it looks like the N97 is no better either!

    πŸ˜›

  2. It is likely this is caused by the way Nokia have decided to record video on the device. My guess is that the video is a native resolution 16:9 crop from the centre of the camera chip rather than an interpolation from the info on the whole chip. This in effect creates the digital zoom effect you are seeing. The processing overhead to provide the interpolation from the full chip sensor to the 16:9 video recording may be beyond the capabilities of the CPU or it may just be that it chews the battery up when it tries to do this.

    [Reply]

  3. Hey guys,
    checked on an N97 and compared with a 5800.
    Angle is wider on N97.

    I’d need to test the audio recording vs distance vs picture size…

    Cheers,
    Julien.

    [Reply]

  4. Err….. what has all this got to do with 'focal length', guys? The focal length is the distance at which objects are perfectly in focus – usually infinity for most Nokia phones.What you're talking about is how wide the angle of the lens is. Some cameras are 'wider' than others. In my experience, most Nokia Nseries phones produce video images that are too 'wide' – the 5800's unit seems better in this respect. The comment about the sound being quiet because you're too far away – this is because phone cams tend to use the voice mike, which usually ends up pointing off to the side somewhere. Hence why I shoot my Phones Show inside, or at least in a car, so that the sound is contained and doesn't get lost.

    [Reply]

  5. Err….. what has all this got to do with 'focal length', guys? The focal length is the distance at which objects are perfectly in focus – usually infinity for most Nokia phones.

    What you're talking about is how wide the angle of the lens is. Some cameras are 'wider' than others. In my experience, most Nokia Nseries phones produce video images that are too 'wide' – the 5800's unit seems better in this respect.

    The comment about the sound being quiet because you're too far away – this is because phone cams tend to use the voice mike, which usually ends up pointing off to the side somewhere. Hence why I shoot my Phones Show inside, or at least in a car, so that the sound is contained and doesn't get lost.

    [Reply]

  6. This is quite a concern of mine, but I don’t think it will put me off buying an N97. However, James is right to bring this subject to light, as I’m sure it will irritate the shiv out of some people.

    For me, I can put up with this irritation because I shoot photo’s rather than video’s.

    [Reply]

  7. Oh I see (re: Focal length) – a naming mistake on my part it would seem. I knew what I meant though and from the sounds of it, you did too. Wording errors aside, I'm not sure what your point is regarding the ineffective way that the 5800 (and N97) 'cuts' a video image to 16:9. Yes *of course* the mic is facing away, as it does on almost all Nokia handsets. However, unlike almost all Nokia handsets – the 5800 requires the camera to be further away than usual. Hence the low volume. The positioning of the mic is inconsequential and not really a valid argument in this instance, wouldn't you agree?

    [Reply]

  8. Oh I see (re: Focal length) – a naming mistake on my part it would seem. I knew what I meant though and from the sounds of it, you did too.

    Wording errors aside, I'm not sure what your point is regarding the ineffective way that the 5800 (and N97) 'cuts' a video image to 16:9.

    Yes *of course* the mic is facing away, as it does on almost all Nokia handsets. However, unlike almost all Nokia handsets – the 5800 requires the camera to be further away than usual.
    Hence the low volume.

    The positioning of the mic is inconsequential and not really a valid argument in this instance, wouldn't you agree?

    [Reply]

  9. As irritating as this is – and obviously I witnessed it first hand – could this be a design decision. Nokia decided most people filmed stuff ‘far away’ and preferred the ‘zoomed’ effect?

    [Reply]

    James Whatley Reply:

    Doubtful. Can’t see the logic myself.

    More likely stripped down ‘normal’ recording to save tech/effort/cost.

    [Reply]

  10. Well, you wouldn't write an article about car number plates but keep referring to the gearstick, would you? Quite an important distinction for us to make about camera terms before your legions of followers all go off repeating the same misunderstanding 8-)The way widescreen video images are shot is a bit crude, I'll agree. I disagree about the way you're building this all into a major issue though – I've just done tests here with other handsets (E75, N95) and the angle of the 5800's camera optics is only *fractionally* less – I'd never noticed a problem and I've shot hundreds of photos and dozens of videos on this thing.To return to your forest example, the audio on the N95 or any other phone camera would have struggled in the same way. I just don't think all this is an issue.

    [Reply]

  11. Well, you wouldn't write an article about car number plates but keep referring to the gearstick, would you? Quite an important distinction for us to make about camera terms before your legions of followers all go off repeating the same misunderstanding 😎

    The way widescreen video images are shot is a bit crude, I'll agree. I disagree about the way you're building this all into a major issue though – I've just done tests here with other handsets (E75, N95) and the angle of the 5800's camera optics is only *fractionally* less – I'd never noticed a problem and I've shot hundreds of photos and dozens of videos on this thing.

    To return to your forest example, the audio on the N95 or any other phone camera would have struggled in the same way. I just don't think all this is an issue.

    [Reply]

  12. It is likely this is caused by the way Nokia have decided to record video on the device. My guess is that the video is a native resolution 16:9 crop from the centre of the camera chip rather than an interpolation from the info on the whole chip. This in effect creates the digital zoom effect you are seeing. The processing overhead to provide the interpolation from the full chip sensor to the 16:9 video recording may be beyond the capabilities of the CPU or it may just be that it chews the battery up when it tries to do this.

    [Reply]

  13. It is likely this is caused by the way Nokia have decided to record video on the device. My guess is that the video is a native resolution 16:9 crop from the centre of the camera chip rather than an interpolation from the info on the whole chip. This in effect creates the digital zoom effect you are seeing. The processing overhead to provide the interpolation from the full chip sensor to the 16:9 video recording may be beyond the capabilities of the CPU or it may just be that it chews the battery up when it tries to do this.

    [Reply]

  14. It's not a major issue, at all in fact – Just something to be aware of.I wouldn't call it 'fractionally less' – the differences between Mark Guim's comparison shots are far from fractional!I'm certain that you have shot dozens of videos with the 5800, it's not my fault you didn't notice the problem πŸ˜‰ In all seriousness – it's not a *massive* issue. But if you're considering laying out Β£500+ for a device that records 16:9 video you want to know all of the ticks and nuances, no?I make videos with various handsets almost every day and I spotted this issue straight away, as a serious content creator I found it annoying at best and at worst, unusable.The N95 would of course suffer the same problem, IF it had to be placed so far away just to get a decent two-head shot. But it doesn't. That's my point.Re: the opening graphic, I'm not comparing anything. I'm using the image to show exactly how far away from my face I was holding the damn thing and yet it still wasn't far enough!As per the post in fact:”In the shot on the left you can just about see that I am holding the phone at arm’s length and yet, on the right, you can see the EXTREME CLOSE UP that the 5800 so unnaturally provides”Cheers.

    [Reply]

  15. It's not a major issue, at all in fact – Just something to be aware of.

    I wouldn't call it 'fractionally less' – the differences between Mark Guim's comparison shots are far from fractional!

    I'm certain that you have shot dozens of videos with the 5800, it's not my fault you didn't notice the problem πŸ˜‰

    In all seriousness – it's not a *massive* issue. But if you're considering laying out Β£500+ for a device that records 16:9 video you want to know all of the ticks and nuances, no?

    I make videos with various handsets almost every day and I spotted this issue straight away, as a serious content creator I found it annoying at best and at worst, unusable.

    The N95 would of course suffer the same problem, IF it had to be placed so far away just to get a decent two-head shot. But it doesn't. That's my point.

    Re: the opening graphic, I'm not comparing anything. I'm using the image to show exactly how far away from my face I was holding the damn thing and yet it still wasn't far enough!

    As per the post in fact:

    “In the shot on the left you can just about see that I am holding the phone at arm’s length and yet, on the right, you can see the EXTREME CLOSE UP that the 5800 so unnaturally provides”

    Cheers.

    [Reply]

  16. Hey guys,checked on an N97 and compared with a 5800.Angle is wider on N97.I'd need to test the audio recording vs distance vs picture size…Cheers,Julien.

    [Reply]

  17. Hey guys,
    checked on an N97 and compared with a 5800.
    Angle is wider on N97.

    I'd need to test the audio recording vs distance vs picture size…

    Cheers,
    Julien.

    [Reply]

  18. Yes, I know you talked about the graphic in the text. But the very fact that you use two 'photos', side by side, gives an instant impression that you're using the graphic to illustrate the main point you were making. Which is a bit misleading….Anyway, time to let the matter drop and let the masses chip in, I think! 😎

    [Reply]

  19. Yes, I know you talked about the graphic in the text. But the very fact that you use two 'photos', side by side, gives an instant impression that you're using the graphic to illustrate the main point you were making. Which is a bit misleading….

    Anyway, time to let the matter drop and let the masses chip in, I think! 😎

    [Reply]

  20. Ordinarily, I would have agreed, and gone down the same route. However, I just fancy something a bit different to the norm for a change. I figured that if I hate the N97 when it comes, I’ll be able to eBay it at a fair rate, and buy an unbranded N86 instead. πŸ™‚

    [Reply]

  21. This is quite a concern of mine, but I don't think it will put me off buying an N97. However, James is right to bring this subject to light, as I'm sure it will irritate the shiv out of some people.For me, I can put up with this irritation because I shoot photo's rather than video's.

    [Reply]

  22. This is quite a concern of mine, but I don't think it will put me off buying an N97. However, James is right to bring this subject to light, as I'm sure it will irritate the shiv out of some people.

    For me, I can put up with this irritation because I shoot photo's rather than video's.

    [Reply]

  23. Interesting article (and discussion). I tend to carry a large wide-angle lens with me for my HD camcorder. It's quite surprising how much nicer the final results are, especially for large vistas, indoor scenes and group photos or videos.I used to own a SD Canon camcorder that 'suffered' from an extremely tight angle, it was horrible to use, most indoor video was useless.As for Nokia devices… The best lens combo that I've ever witnessed was the N93i. But then that isn't too surprising as it was the last to feature optical zoom.I'd better stop now as I'm starting to get depressed just thinking about the stagnation of video capture in the mobile industry. Help me Omnia HD, you're my only hope! … Just make sure you fix the frame rate Samsung or they'll be hell to pay!

    [Reply]

  24. Interesting article (and discussion). I tend to carry a large wide-angle lens with me for my HD camcorder. It's quite surprising how much nicer the final results are, especially for large vistas, indoor scenes and group photos or videos.

    I used to own a SD Canon camcorder that 'suffered' from an extremely tight angle, it was horrible to use, most indoor video was useless.

    As for Nokia devices… The best lens combo that I've ever witnessed was the N93i. But then that isn't too surprising as it was the last to feature optical zoom.

    I'd better stop now as I'm starting to get depressed just thinking about the stagnation of video capture in the mobile industry. Help me Omnia HD, you're my only hope! … Just make sure you fix the frame rate Samsung or they'll be hell to pay!

    [Reply]

  25. No, it doesn't, although admittedly I was wrong too 8-)Focal length is the intra-camera distance from the centre of the lens to the centre of the sensor etc.. Not sure what the distance I was talking about is called: maybe 'focal point'?Anyway, the thing James was talking about is, apparently, termed 'field of view'. So now we all know!

    [Reply]

  26. No, it doesn't, although admittedly I was wrong too 😎

    Focal length is the intra-camera distance from the centre of the lens to the centre of the sensor etc.. Not sure what the distance I was talking about is called: maybe 'focal point'?

    Anyway, the thing James was talking about is, apparently, termed 'field of view'.

    So now we all know!

    [Reply]

  27. I think you're both right (ish) – for a certain sensor size 'field of view' is directly proportional to 'focal length', although what James is complaining about is actually the 'field of view'.The impact on the 'field of view' of the sensor size is called the 'field of view crop factor' or 'focal length multiplier'.

    [Reply]

  28. I think you're both right (ish) – for a certain sensor size 'field of view' is directly proportional to 'focal length', although what James is complaining about is actually the 'field of view'.

    The impact on the 'field of view' of the sensor size is called the 'field of view crop factor' or 'focal length multiplier'.

    [Reply]

  29. As irritating as this is – and obviously I witnessed it first hand – could this be a design decision. Nokia decided most people filmed stuff 'far away' and preferred the 'zoomed' effect?

    [Reply]

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