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Feature Focus: BlackBerry Z10 camera

By Simon Sage on 9 Feb 2013 10:17 am EST
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The camera on the BlackBerry Z10 has been a point of contention among many reviewers, so we thought it prudent to take a closer look at the quality of pictures it takes and the software features available. We already touched on the broad strokes in our BlackBerry Z10 review, but just to recap...

Camera Specifications

The BlackBerry Z10 has a ⅓-inch 8 megapixel back side illumination sensor (with 1.4 micrometer pixels) that's capable of shooting 1080p video. Auto-focus is available alongside touch to focus, which is enabled by dragging the UI target to where you want to focus. Moving this focus to the most dimly-lit part of a photo can dramatically increase the quality of a picture.

There's 5 x digital zoom using Super Resolution technology, which monitors shifts in activity at the sub-pixel level to eliminate blur. An LED light enables continuous or flash illumination. The camera has a 5-element f/2.2 lens with a 4 mm focal length, and includes a hybrid IR cut filter to make sure infrared rays don't screw with your picture (though they can make pictures a little cool-colored). There's also a dedicated image signal processor with a 64 MB frame buffer, which keeps the live image on the display true and up-to-date relative to what the camera's pointing at. The image stabilizer has 4 degrees of freedom to make sure your pictures and videos aren't too shaky.

On the front, there's a simple 2 megapixel camera with 3 x digital zoom that can show 720p video. Pictures can be taken by either tapping the main area of the display or clicking any of the media control keys on the device. Settings allow Z10 owners to enable GPS location tagging for their photos and to pick between storing on the local storage or putting them onto your microSD memory card.

Software and Scenes 

The flashiest feature the BlackBerry Z10 has to offer is TimeShift, which captures many images in rapid succession, and allows users to seamlessly roll time forward or backwards to the point where someone's face is in the proper pose while leaving the rest of the image untouched. You can also roll the entire image forward or back as you like, too. TimeShift exists as a separate shooting mode from video and stills, and takes about a ten shots.

Still shooting includes a small handful of scene modes. There are also the standard array of shooting options available, such as stabilization, burst shooting, 4:3 or 16:9 aspect ratio toggling, and a switch for turning flash to on, off, or auto. Most of these options are tucked away into the four corners. In the top-right, users can switch between TimeShift, video, or still shooting. In the bottom-right is the icon for the menu. In the bottom-left is a thumbnail of your last shot and quick access to the photo gallery, where users can launch into the editor, set the image as wallpaper or contact images, or share out to any number of different sources, like e-mail, BBM, and third-party apps. In the top-left is a flash indicator if you have it set to on or off (tapping it reverts to auto and hides the icon). Scene modes include auto, action, whiteboard, night, and beach/snow.

The shot-to-shot time is really great on the BlackBerry Z10 camera, but it would be nice to have a few more scene modes. For anything the camera lacks in sheer image quality, it more than makes up for with the software enhancement tools available in the Picture Editor application.

Picture Editor is a really rich suite of tools that you typically find in third-party mobile photography apps. There are fluid free-transform, cropping, flipping, and rotation tools, plus sliders for auto-enhancement, red-eye reduction, brightness, white balance, contrast, sharpness, saturation, and noise reduction. On the artsier side, there are filters for black and white, lomo, antique, sepia, whiteboard, watercolor, negative and sketch styles. Full border and filter adjustments can be applied for a sixties, grain, aged, filmstrip, halftone, and cartoon style, on top of eye enlarging and skin smoothing filters specifically for portraits. The whole image can be reverted to the original, or individual effects can be wiped easily through the overflow menu.

Video on the Z10 

As for video, you have stabilization, scene modes for night, beach/snow, and auto. The LED light can be toggled to stay on or off, resolution switched between 1080p and 720p. The UI layout is more or less identical to the still camera, and the gallery links off to a similar editor suite where users can trim clip length, tweak the volume, and make a variety of adjustments, such as brightness, contrast, and color. There's also the Story Maker application that helps users splice together their video clips and still images with nice transitions, captions, and background music.

Photo Comparisons 

BlackBerry Z10 camera comparison

So, with all of that said, are the shots any good? Our first pass for the BlackBerry Z10 camera certainly presented a few stark differences with major competing smartphones. Just to make sure we were on the ball with our chart, we took a few more with the BlackBerry Z10 we got at the launch event and came up with roughly the same results. You can download our second full-resolution comparison chart here, or check out this thread in the forums a a bunch of sample submissions from our community. I think it's safe to say we're overall happy with the camera performance; for most casual observers, these pictures are going to be good enough to post on Facebook without being embarassed, and if you spend at least a little bit of time tweaking in the built-in photo editor, you won't really be able to tell the difference versus competitors. So far the only smartphone that has a marked a distinguishable advantage in quality is the Nokia Lumia 920.

BlackBerry Z10 owners, how are you finding the camera quality? Are there any features you'd like to see implemented? How good are the shots compared to what you were taking on your previous handset?

Reader comments

Feature Focus: BlackBerry Z10 camera

71 Comments

".... I think it's safe to say we're overall happy with the camera performance; for most casual observes, these pictures are going to be good enough to post on Facebook with being embarassed...."

You should proof-read this.

Lol. Fixed up. You were right. That was a lot of typos in one sentence. To be fair, Simon was finishing this story up at 2am last night... and I don't typically proof his work because he's much better at proofing/editing than me. :)

Any comment that is not on topic should be deleted. Do the double proofing later that day or the next in this case.

I've been visiting this site because I'm interested in the new BB, and I've noticed that the writing is pretty atrocious.Very little effort in word choice, conciseness, and proofreading for errors and flow.

It's as if the content is often written on a phone.

My Friends - Do not bash the King of Crackberry, Kevin. His is trying to educate you on the good and the bad. He is a decent human being. Now, apologize to him. Do it. Do it NOW !

You're the only human to never live in a glass house. What's the definition of the word "Douchebag"? Did me spelled that correck? Oh. Wait. I'll go to WikiPedium (is the that corect spleing) and look up the word "douchebug"... Er. "Douchebag". Welcome to CB.

Great overview. Is there a way to turn on the flash for the TimeShift feature? Perhaps you don't want the flash bursting that much?

Honestly, there is nothing wrong with the quality of shots presented here. Looks on par or better than the iPhone and SG3. One problem is it seems the Z10 photos are done with a 16:9 aspect ratio while the iPhone/SG3 are in 4:3. It seems that makes a difference according to the photography officianados. Even still, the Z10 shows more contrast detail and more color saturation...pleasing to the eye compared to the others. As has been mentioned ad nauseum, if you want brighter dim lit photos without flash, move the auto-focus to a darker point. This is the case with high end dedicated cameras as well.

They could save themselves some man hours with a software update by making sure this is explained to the masses.

Thanks for the comparison photo CB. They all have their strengths and weaknesses
Outdoor lit: iPhone 5 (can see the most detail on the tower)
Indoor lit: Lumia 920 (best color saturation)
Indoor dim: Samsung Galaxy S3 (has the brightest floor and whitest ceiling)
Indoor backlit: BlackBerry Z10 (color doesn't look washed out)
Indoor lit: BlackBerry Z10 (best detail of the tiles)
Indoor flash: iPhone 5 (displays the woodgrain on the table's right half)

However, if the sun was shining on that building in all four comparison shots, the BlackBerry Z10 takes the best Outdoor lit.
Surprising how the Samsung S3's camera is noticeably lacking.
It all depends on what kind of photos the user takes most and how picky they are.

Looks good, I think anything is better than the shortchanged Bold 9900 camera. Torch took excellent pictures.

These Z10 pics look good. BBRY better hit it out of the park with the Z11

I beg to differ, the Touch takes horrible pictures. In fact, my Bold 9700 took better pictures.

“Think highly of yourself, because the world will take you at your own estimate.”

I would like to see flash with timeshift camera. I was trying to show off my phone last night in a dimly lit bar but couldn't show timeshift because lack of flash.

hi-speed burst (keyword: hi-speed) mode with flash when a camera takes upward of 5fps is mostly reserved for DSLR's (cameras that have a dedicated flash that also holds a separate set of batteries). It takes a lot for a flash to recharge and be able to keep up with a burst of a camera. In the case of the Z10 it can be implemented on a "always on" basis like if it was a short video (which is essentially what burst mode is). Keep the flash on until the entire burst of pictures is taken.

not quite as easy as you think.
The Z10 is bursting ALL THE TIME in TimeShift mode (is capable of 15fps!)
You'll notice that when shooting in TimeShift mode that you've got frames from after as well as before the instant you hit the shutter.
While it may be possible to fire the flash for an extended period of time (maybe up to a second before it suffers thermal damage), you will not be able to go back in time and fire the flash before you hit the shutter :)

Firing the flash for less than the full count of TimeShift frames would lead to undesirable results when trying to stitch things together.

Turning on the video-light for the entire time you are in TimeShift mode would be a possible workaround, but this light is far lower power level than the full flash, will suck your battery down, and will probably annoy your subjects :)

Anywhoo.. just pointing out the technical difficulties.

i hope someone brings this up with BlackBerry..

the flash on the camera has taken a drop in quality. the original LED flash unit on my 9700 and 9810 were amazing. brighter than iPhones and Android phones. super useful when looking for items dropped at night clubs.

it's happened so many times where my friends have dropped someone on the floor in a dark and crowded dance floor. they use their flashlight app, then i use mine.. each and every single they put their phones away simply because they have no chance at competing with the level of brightness on either my 9700 or 9810. i tested my 9810 against my z10 last night.. it's good, but definitely not as good. please fix in future phones BlackBerry!

It looks like all the Z10 photos were shot with 16:9 (the default) instead of 4:3 like the other cameras? Someone in the forums mentioned that you get more pixels/better quality if you shoot in 4:3, can you test that out as well?

Was wondering about that myself. I found it was hard to compare the Z10 photos because they were smaller.

I've never seen pics from a 920 but had heard it had the best camera hands down and from what I see here it certainly does.

Is it possible that the low light performance is a software issue with the aperture not opening as much as it should?

That's exactly what the issue is! As noted on a previous article, there's a "method" to improve the low light performance (Focus the camera on a dark part of the image). This then adjusts the ISO/Exposure within the Camera software and thus, improves low-light shooting. A software update could easily address this issue. Along with the low-light performance. I've found the focusing algorithm on the camera software to be quite unforgiving to close-up pictures (In the sense that I believe the camera can focus closer than the software allows). It's not the end of the world though, and I've managed to do some good close up shots on mine :)

Looks good! I hate to say it but it looks like Lumia takes better photos than the rest? Z10 still rocks, though.

Simon, Kevin: Best to post the photo comparisons as .PNG. The JPEG compression algorithm is lossy and will focus most of its attention on those sharp edges. Also, as the photos were already compressed, the compression artifacts may be invisible to us, but not to the JPEG algorithm. It wastes even more space on re-compressing those artifacts, which inevitably leads to VISIBLE recompression artifacts.

Nokia Lumia 920 camera is really amazing! I think the Z10 takes really nice daylight shots with great amounts of detail from my own experience, but yes the low light shots are really poor compared with iPhone and Nokia Lumia 920.

Examining the pictures, it looks to me like the differences are down to light metering, not lens/sensor quality. (Fair warning... This will be a bit long-winded!)

All cameras use a light meter to determine the amount of available light. These light meters are calibrated to a certain level of reflectivity. Different colours and surfaces reflect different amounts of light. But a camera doesn't know what it's pointed at, so it has to be calibrated to some average. This average is generally about 18% grey, which corresponds roughly to green (especially a nice green lawn or trees). For example, if you take a picture of a snowy field, the camera doesn't know that it's a snowy field, it thinks it's a green field. Therefore, the camera thinks that there is WAY more light than there actually is, and will adjust the shutter-speed etc. based on that assumption (unless you tell it otherwise, by using a different shooting mode.) Your picture of a bright snowy field will thus end up a bit dark and grey. (I know, this is very counter intuitive!)

Also, there are different metering-modes. The Z10 uses "spot metering," meaning that it is reading the amount of available light from one single point at the exact centre of the frame (or rather, it appears, the centre of the "focus box"). The Nokia uses matrix (or "multi-point) metering, where it takes a reading from a bunch of different points, then calculates the light based on the average of all those readings. I believe (and someone correct me if I'm wrong) that the iPhone and Samsung both use spot metering, like the Z10. This is why moving the focus point to a darker area changes the brightness of the photo. You're not just moving the focus, but also the metering point.

So, as to the comparison pictures. In the one of the cityscape the Nokia is taking an average of the amount of light across multiple points and uses an average. As to the Z10 vs the other 2, the diffence could be down to the exact centre point of the frame not being the same. For example, if the centre point of the picture taken with the Z10 is over the highly reflective windows, and the centre point of the photos taken with the iPhone and Samsung are the sky, or a bit of the concrete building, etc. then the light meter readings will be different, and the exposure will be different. Also, the iPhone and Samsung *could* be tuned for lower light conditions thus always allowing more light through. (I don't know if that is the case or not.) That could result in better pictures in lower light, but slightly washed out colours in bright light.

If you look at the picture of the flowers, the Z10 looks to the showing the truest colours. Not having taken the picture, I don't know if that is actually the case, but if you look at the tile in the background the photo taken with the Z10 shows the most detail without being "washed out."

In all the pictures, what was captured by the Z10 shows good detail... it's just that the images are not as bright. This leads me to believe that it is not an issue with the lens or the image sensor, but rather with the light metering (matrix vs spot in the case of the Nokia, and location of the centre point in comparison to the other 2.) I'm not sure if this is something that can be changed in a software update (should BB decide to do so), but in the meantime, try to make sure that that centre metering point is over something mid-grey or green when shooting outdoors in relatively even lighting, or over a darker area of the image if shooting indoors or under low light conditions.

Z10 is not exactly doing an exclusive center-spot metering.
It is center-weighted, but is also considering the rest of the frame. I'm not sure the exact numbers, but let's assume it's like a 75% weighting at 3-degree spot or something like that.

When moving the touch-to-focus box around, it is rejecting metering from the rest of the scene, which allows you to better control the exposure.

Expect to see some more customizable camera apps emerging, as the APIs are all there to do some pretty cool stuff :)

I was going to say the same thing about the tile picture. The other cameras overexposed the detail in the individual tiles themselves. The Z10 actual shows the rectangle within the tiles which shows that in that particular picture it put more emphasis on the center with the correct exposure which unfortunately had to underexpose the rest of the frame because of the lack of light in those areas (in comparison to the center).

Coming from a 9900 phone. I have to say the Z10 camera is a VAST, VAST improvement from what I had previously! The big difference is being able to focus, thus getting better shots.

I've never expected much from a Smartphone camera. If I want to take high quality photos. I'll grab my DSLR. Smartphone cameras I feel are there purely to snap a subject. End of.

Besides, by the time the picture inevitably ends up on Twitter/Facebook, it's most likely compressed anyhow.

but, but, but ..... how does everything else work?
Do we think that we are going to get the same quality from a phone that we are going to get from a $5,000.00 camera. NO !

My Canon Powershot is a $275.00 camera .... and it takes amazing pictures .... blows the doors off the iPhone. It's a camera, and that is what is was made for .... taking pictures. It is not a communication tool.

Just run through some experiments with the Z10 Camera and I must say there is a huge diference between the settings you use and the result.
Setting to night and swicthing between 16:9 and 4:3 has a large impact.
if the Z0 actually has a f2.2 lens that would mean with the proper software adjustments (like HDR) the shot will be better as the direct competition. (PureView camera excluded).

Saw the same article the Z10 performed very well.

I think every one needs to relax the Z10 is a great product and will only improve with updates. Most things I have noticed are not related to hardware. No one needs to be worried that their phone is not as good as the competition. It is better than the others in many respects.

The camera's image quality is okay. Its certainly better than the torch 9860 but it's not a lot better. I do like how they improved it by adding VR to it but at the same time the image quality could be improved.

The image quality looks damn good to me. Just look at the flower photo. The white tile floor shows more detail very clearly with the Z10 while it's washed out with all the other cameras including the the 920. Some people are just conditioned to follow the herd and not "see" for themselves.

There is a Panorama picture app for the PlayBook called Panoramic. It's very basic but works reasonably well. I presume it will come to BB10.

All its missing is the Panorama view but if I wanted a super hi def camera, i'd purchase one separately. Blackberry 10 ROCKS so far

What has hurt BlackBerry the most is the drop in perceived brand value in what is one of the most lucrative smartphone markets in the world, the U.S., where the company has now lost its 3rd position to Windows Phone. According to Strategy Analytics, Q4 2012 saw Windows Phone make good market share gains on some high-profile smartphone launches to overtake BB for the first time ever. BlackBerry will he hoping to reverse the losses now that BB10 is out but delays in launching the first BB10 smartphones on U.S. soil is going to make it much tougher. According to the company, the first BB10 device won’t be launched in the U.S. until mid-March at least.

In such a scenario, where BlackBerry will be looking to push its latest smartphones is to its installed subscriber base. Despite falling market share, BlackBerry has been able to retain most of its 80 million subscriber base. It is on the back of its huge subscriber base that the company has been able to sustain cash flow through steady high-margin carrier fees despite reporting net losses for three quarters straight. And with BB nowhere near its peaks of customer appeal, RIM will be primarily looking to get this installed base to upgrade to BB10 initially.

"where the company has now lost its 3rd position to Windows Phone. "

http://hothardware.com/News/Did-Windows-Phone-Skip-Ahead-of-BlackBerry-N...

First off, that number is disputed by a survey that came out the next day. The guy from Strategy Analytics won't share his numbers or clarify how he did the measurements. I know, because I asked (twice) and didn't get a response. Meanwhile, Comscore (which comes out every quarter) is showing that BlackBerry is still in use in more than twice as many hands as Windows Phone in the U.S.

Second, what does your armchair analysis have to do with the camera, which is what this article is about?

Take note NO ONE Will ever beat Nokias camera, ,, Nokia has and ALWAYS will have the best camera. From the N95 back in 2007 sporting a 5mp camera... I'm waiting for my BlackBerry 10 but will be sad to let go my Nokia 808 pureview 41mp power house. Nokia wins in pictures any day, wait till you hear the SOUND QUALITY of a Nokia 808.... Love Nokia but Love BlackBerry a Lil more

We may never see a phone's camera take #1 in all categories, especially with the amount of competition out there.

I find it blurs so often on the Z10 the shots are not bad (bit dark in the shadows I have to say) but for a an 8mp camera its still a bit disheartening sometimes. I just don't get why it blurs so easily? It's as if it has a real delay in picture taking or something....hmmm

Posted via CB10

I love the way my pictures are
I noticed that if I clean the lens of the camera the pictures are better
So i just wipe on my shirt lol
Overall happy i have been playing quite a bit and for a phone camera it is
Absolutely fine

Posted using my Z10 and CB10

And suddenly all the grammar Nazis approach.

Choosing fancy words from the ease of keyboard proves nothing.

The article was pleasant and clear.

Go proof read somewhere else ;) we are all geeks here.

Posted via CB10

I'm surprise that panorama is not a built in feature, this is now a standard on most smartphones these days. The timeshift is cool but have figured that out myself. Quality yeah its ok, with the exception of the Lumia 920 most are about the same.

Posted via CB10

I just found out today about the photo editor.. My girlfriend still doesn't know how to operate my Z10 and accidentally switched a picture in to the photo editor! I never bothered to hit the edit button as I thought it was ment for editing properties.. How was I supposed to know? I never ever read anything about this feature until after I found this out! It makes me wonder how much I really know about the phone I already love so much and more so every day! I can't wait for the HDR in the 10.1 update!

Posted via CB10

I think the Z10 camera is a huge improvement over previous BlackBerry devices. I had the 9930 until a few weeks ago, and in low light it took horrible pictures. The Z10 is waaaaaay better in low light, but also much better in bright light which is a bonus.

I think it's comparable to iPhone cameras...If not better.

Posted via CB10

Depressing that you can;t change the resolution. I take a lot of pictures for work that I have to email, but don't have to be excellent quality so I would rather drop the res. so I can send them without eating into too much of my data allowance. Other times for personal use I would like the quality.

I would like to take videos with lower resolution. 720p needs too much data to be shared by whatsapp for example and this isn't an uncommon situation. If there are any app that can do this please notify me. Thanks

Posted via CB10

Overall happy, from someone jumping from Android with 30mp camera mods I like the Z10 camera. Would be nice to see more advance camera Options though.

Posted via CB10

The photos of the z10 are dynamics range photos to justify the built in color correction software. For me is amazing.

Posted via CB10

I personally think the camera is a pain in the ass.....mine takes ages to focus and the video phwaha what video every time I try to record my phone freezes

Posted via CB10

For 2014 the z10 it's not the best but it works. I use mine to post YouTube videos. I enjoy the camera access on the lock screen. Speed is what everyone wants anyway. Catching that instant on camera is what matters!

Posted via CB10