The EDoF versus Auto-Focus camera debate has been gaining speed in the last few months, and Nokia’s recent announcements in the form of the E6 and the X7, both of which pack an 8 Megapixel EDoF camera, have made it a burning issue. Put simply EDoF cameras, or ‘Full Focus’ cameras like Nokia likes to call them are extended depth of field units which means that everything in photo taken at a distance of more than 60 cm is in focus.
What this means is that you cannot take pictures of documents and virtually replace a scanner, you cannot scan barcodes, no food pictures and so on. Basically anything which needs to be near the camera’s lens is a no-no. It does however have its benefits like Steve Litchfield points out in this wonderfully detailed feature on All About Symbian. There are advantages in the size of the sensor, video recording, there in no shot to shot delay and taking pictures is slightly faster, although compared to high performance devices like the N8, that’s hardly noticeable.
Back in September during Nokia World, I had a interesting chat with Nokia’s camera king Damien Dinning about EDoF cameras and Nokia’s reasons to use them. The major reasons were that it makes taking pictures easier for people by eliminating the two step shot process. Another advantage is that it lets Nokia make slimmer devices, at a lower cost. I was open to giving EDoF cameras a fair try and after having seen them perform on the C7 and now the E7, which otherwise is a great device I am sure of one thing, I will not be inclined to buy a device with an EDoF camera.
The argument against that is that I am part of that 1% of the population who is concerned about being able to take close up shots, while it may be true to an extent, it is definitely not the norm. A lot more people indulge in macro photography without realizing it. Within my own family and friend circle I have seen people click pictures of flowers, newspaper clippings, whiteboards and so on. Then, BlackBerry in India is running ads on TV showing how you can add friends to the BlackBerry Messenger (BBM) just be scanning the barcode. I could have told them scanning barcodes has been possible on Nokias since 5 years, now I cannot.
Barcodes have also started appearing on ads in the newspaper, but just as they are getting traction, Nokia owners are loosing that ability. As far as the making it easier for normal people to take pictures story goes, they have become used to the two step process. All digital cameras do it that way, most mobile phones too and in the last 5 years a majority of the people have gotten accustomed to that.
Then there is the size argument. Nokia says it uses EDoF cameras to keep a slim profile, but I am sorry to say, I don’t buy that. If all the other companies are managing to do it, then you must try harder too. Push the engineering team, and I am sure they will do it.
The bottomline for me is $300. No device costing more than that much should have a EDoF camera, period. I suspect, the decision to use EDoF sensors was taken when the first batch of Symbian^3 devices was planned. The idea was to keep costs low, offer these devices at an affordable price point and hope they sell by the truckloads. They couldn’t price them at a premium because Symbian was already taking a hit and they couldn’t afford Symbian^3 being ignored just because devices that ran it were too expensive.
Looking at the internal hardware, it is also probably that the two new devices that have just been announced, the X7 and the E6, were also planned during the initial phase and thus carry forward the EDoF legacy. I am pretty certain Nokia has seen the public sentiment on EDoF cameras, and will probably push them into the lower price bracket instead of making it the standard Nokia camera. We might see it on a new Symbian device, but there is no way Nokia will be using one of these on their Windows Phone offerings.
That being said, Nokia, if you haven’t re-thought the EDoF strategy, now is a really good time – while people still equate Nokias to great cameras.