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Meet the smartphone with higher resolution than your DSLR: Nokia’s 41-megapixel PureView 808

nokia pureview 808 unveiling mwc 2012Now that 8-megapixel smartphones cameras are starting to become pedestrian, Nokia – a company that has always celebrated the quality of its smartphone cams – has had to step up its game. And what a step it has taken. On Monday, the company shocked Mobile World Congress audiences by announcing that the upcoming Nokia PureView 808 will boast a 41-megapixel camera.

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If that sounds a little over the top, it probably should, but Nokia insists that number includes no artificially generated pixels or interpolation. How did engineers pull it off? The technology remains hazy, but the two Nokia engineers who developed the sensor were inspired by the technology used in satellite imaging, and have been concocting it in complete secrecy for five years.

Since 41-megapixel images won’t make sense for most people, the PureView will perform “pixel oversampling” to combine seven pixels into one, distilling full-res images down to 5-megapixel images with no noise.

Hazy technology or not, demo photos proved impressive. A massive, wall-sized mural within the Nokia booth was shot on the new camera, and looked every bit as sharp as what you might typically expect from a DSLR. Another example showed a man standing in front of a newsstand holding a paper, which you could zoom in on enough to clearly read individual headlines. Part of the reason Nokia developed the technology was as an alternative to optical zoom, which just hasn’t proven practical on smartphones. Of course, even with all the resolution in the world, we wouldn’t expect low-light performance to shine from a sensor that can fit in a smartphone, and none of the demo shots highlighted that capability.

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Oddly enough, rather than choosing to introducing the new camera tech on a Windows Phone device, the PureView 808 will actually run Symbian. Aside from the crazy rear camera, specs include a single-core 1.3GHz CPU, 512MB of RAM and HSPA 14.4Mbps capability. Shockingly for a phone that can capture 41 megapixels, it only comes with 16GB of built-in storage (though you can add more via microSD) and the 4-inch screen only offers 640 x 360 resolution.

Nokia will introduce the PureView 808 in May priced at 450 euros, or $599 in the US. While the Symbian operating system may keep all but the most determined photographers away, Nokia assures us that the same technology is headed to other platforms soon.