The cameraphone has been around for a while now and in some cases offers as many megapixels as a digital compact camera. Image quality across the cameraphones varies considerably.
The Sony Ericsson Satio is a Symbian OS based smartphone with a camera that packs a 12 megapixel sensor and an Xenon flash unit. It has a 3.5" touch screen LCD screen that is formatted to 16:9. From its design it is obvious that the camera is a key feature of this phone. This is a phone crafted from plastics but feels solid.
This review concentrates on the photographic capabilities of the Satio. It's camera features look designed to compete with the compact camera but is it up to the task? It is not the first camera phone with 12 megapixels but is 12 megapixels resolution bringing anything new to this format?
The key features of the Sony Ericsson Satio are:
- 12 megapixel sensor
- LED and Xenon flash
- Active lens cover
- Face detection
- Panorama mode
- Image format in 4:3, 3:2 or 16:9.
- 3.5" TFT touch screen with resolution of 360 x 640 16,777,216 colour 16:9 nHD
- Dedicated shutter release
- WVGA @ 30fps movie capture
Activating the camera on the Satio is just a matter of sliding back the active lens cover. The phone quickly switches to the camera mode which is verified by the dedicated shutter release button becoming active indicated by its illumination. The view from the lens will appear on the screen as well as a number of icons. On the same side as the shutter release is a mode switch to swap between stills and movie capture, a image playback button and volume buttons that act as digital zoom controls.
There are two main operating modes: full auto and standard. In the standard mode there are: Scenes, Shoot mode, Flash, Exposure compensation, Auto and Setup. Pressing the Auto icon will put the camera in full auto removing any method of image adjustment.
- Scene mode: Auto, Portrait, Landscape, Twilight landscape, Sports, Document, Twilight Portrait, Beach/Snow.
- Shoot mode: Normal, Panorama, BestPic, Smile Detection and Touch Capture.
- Exposure compensation: +/- 2 EV.
Under Photo setup further adjusts can be made:
- Self-timer: Off, 2s and 10s
- Picture Size: 2mp (16:9), 5mp (4:3), 9mp (16:9), 10mp (3:2) and 12mp (4:3).
- Focus: Infinite, Auto, Macro and Face Detection.
- White Balance: Auto, Incandescent, Fluorescent, Daylight and Cloudy.
- Image Stabiliser: Off, On
- Effects: Off, Negative, Solarise, Sepia, and Black & White.
- Shutter sound: off, 1, 2, 3, and 4.
Other adjustments includes: Auto Review, BestPic speed, Geotag, Auto rotate and Reset.
The Satio also does video capture but there is no HD resolution here. The best it will do is WVGA (864x480) and there is no autofocus with focus fixed to give sharp results with subjects over a metre away.
The angle of view from the lens remains the same no matter which format (4:3, 3:2 and 16:9) is selected.
It was quite straightforward using the camera. The full 12mp resolution is only available when the image format is set to 4:3. If the images are to be printed then 3:2 format would be the better choice.
There is no optical zoom but digital zoom is provided for but as usual it can seriously degrade the final image if used excessively.
The Satio's body design makes it easy to hold when talking photos. It's a matter of half pressing the illuminated shutter release and then composing the shot accordingly. With face detection active it's just a matter of waiting for the face to be detected, which happens quickly although only one face can be detected at a time, and then pressing the shutter to take the photo. With the touch capture mode active just touching the area of the screen where focus is required will started the autofocus and capture. There is no need to press the shutter.
For a smartphone the autofocus is quite responsive in decent daylight conditions. Indoors and things slow down. Although the focus is slow it tends to retain it's accuracy. There is a focus aid LED light to help when light levels get to low.
The panorama mode makes use of the the built in accelerometer to do it's job. With the panorama mode active an initial photo is taken at the starting point. It is then moved either to the left or right. Once the camera detects that the correct position has been reached a shot is automatically taken. Once the camera is moved once again a third and final shot is taken. The three photos are then stitched together. The final results look impressive.
The image quality from the Satio can be seen in two ways. Compared to other camera phones it's image quality is very very good and must be one of the best around. Compared to a compact camera it's image quality is still behind. The 12 megapixel sensor in the Satio is even smaller than that usually found in compacts and as a result image noise is even more of an issue in non ideal lighting conditions.
Photos taken can have their location embedded in the photos exif file when the geo-tagging feature is activated. An icon appears when it is active and it indicates the status of the GPS. As is usually the case with GPS, it requires time to find it's location. It was found best to activate the GPS before hand to ensure the most accurate location was recorded at the time a photo was taken.
The image sensor has a ratio of 4:3 but this may not be suitable at all times. The preferred format was 3:2 for everyday photography.
[Photo to be added]
4:3 format - Resolution 4000 x 3000
3:2 format - Resolution 4000 x 2672
16:9 format - Resolution 4000 x 2250
A 12 megapixel sensor on a DSLR with a good lens usually produces enough resolution to pick up very fine detail. Squeeze that sensor down and more demands are placed on the pixels, the image processing and the lens. The 12 megapixel sensor in Satio is considerably smaller than that in a DSLR or a typical compact camera.
f/2.8 @ 1/750s ISO 64
Considering how small the sensor is the Satio manages to produces images with a good amount of detail. Sharpness is typically good around the frame surprisingly which is just as well considering the aperture is fixed at f/2.8. The low ISO of 64 helps to keep image noise under control.
There are no exposure modes to play around with apart from making exposure compensation adjustments. The metering mode is also fixed. From looking at the image file data, the aperture seems to be fixed at f/2.8. Exposure adjustment is made possible be automatic adjustment of the shutter speed which from the photos taken varies from 1/8 sec to 1/1600 (without resorting to the low light exposure modes). The ISO also seems to auto adjust between ISO 64 and ISO 500.
The xenon flash performs better than the typical LED flash systems in many cameraphones. However, its output is still quite limited even compared to digital compact cameras. As a result the flash range is fairly limited and performs at its best with subjects within 4 metres. The results tend to look balanced.
Well balanced flash illumination
The face detection mode is limited compared to what is found on the typical compact camera. It can only detect a single face at a time but that single face is detected quickly. As with other face detection systems it occasionally falsely detects what it determines to be a face but on the whole it works well. A benefit of using face detection to take a portrait rather than the spot focus is that face detection will help to ensure the face is properly exposed no matter what the surrounding lighting conditions.
Face Detection : Auto exposure optimised for the face
If a face is not detected then the standard AF method is employed.
Low Light Photography and Image Stabilisation
The Satio has image stabilisation but not the more popular optical type. Electronic image stabilisation is employed and when active results in the actual image capture area of the image sensor being reduced. This form of image stabilisation has not proved popular on cameras and camcorders for a good reason, it's not as effective at reducing shake. It is also the case on the Satio. At best the effect seems to be quite minimal. Having said that in low light conditions at times it made the difference between having a usable image and one that was better off deleted.
f/2.8 @ 1/15s, ISO 200
f/2.8 @ 1/8s, ISO 500
100% crop - ISO 500
100% crop - ISO 500
100% crop - ISO 500
Image detail does degrade under low light conditions as digital noise increases. The above photos where taken with the image stabiliser enabled helping to preserve the feel of the ambient lighting conditions.
f/2.8 @ 1/8s, ISO 250
The above photos show the results when the image stabiliser fails to remove or reduce cameraphone shake. Part of the photo appears to be sharp but other areas still show shake.
There will always come a time when a great view just cannot be done justice with a single photo. The panorama mode made it possible to capture great scenics. The process was straightforward and the fact that it is processed within the Satio rather than having to do it with a computer makes it more useful.
Three shots stitched together and the focus locked to infinity
Panorama shot - Typical resolution of 5000 x 1450
Interesting distortion of the foreground
Ordinary street scenes look more dramatic
The panorama mode was not suitable for every scene and moving objects in a scene can cause issues if need where the photos are stitched together. Some scenes just don't stitch together well. It becomes a matter of knowing when best to know this feature.
The Plus Points
- Generally responsive cameraphone
- Decent sharpness
- AF modes
- Xenon flash
- Dedecated shutter release
- Playback button
- Panorama mode
The Negative Points
- The touch screen difficult to see in sunlight
- Image stabiliser not very effective
- Battery capacity
The Satio's camera will not replace a compact camera. The 12 megapixel resolution is as high as you will find in some compacts and DSLRs but with such a small image sensor and lens it struggles to reveal the maximum level of detail and image quality. Having said that the images have sufficient detail to make nice looking A3 prints if required.
The Satio's battery is only 1000 mAh which is under powered for this type of phone. As a result the battery tended to be depleted before the end of the day especially when the GPS was engaged for geo-tagging.
The latest photos can be previewed on the standby screen. Within the actual photo album photos are catalogued by the date of capture. They are arranged by the month and indicate the number of photos taken during that month.
The underlying operating system is Symbian S60 5th edition which on the whole does not feel totally optimised for touch screen operation. Initially the phone was prone to crashing and mysteriously locking up but firmware updates have made things a lot more stable.
As a phone the Satio works well with respectable call quality. It's nice to see dedicated Call and End buttons which have basically vanished from smartphones. The phone comes packed with a stylus but it is not really needed.
The main thing that any cameraphone has over any other camera is that it is usually with the user day in day out. The Satio has shown itself capable of taking good photos in a range of conditions although like many camera phones it works best in good lighting. Should an unexpected event happen there's a good chance of capturing the moment.
The Satio turned out to be an enjoyable phone to use once the initial firmware was updated. The general phone interface could do with improvement as not all of it seems finger touch friendly. Once you get past a lot can be achieved with the Satio. EA