The Camera

This is a tough one for me. For as much as I like the display on the Venue 8 7000, I was disappointed with the camera implementation. I’ve already talked about the placement issues with the lens, the constant cleaning you’ll have to do to get the best images possible, but in truth the camera just doesn’t take high quality enough photos for it to really mean much.

Looking at still images only, and before we get to the interesting depth features of the triple camera design, the Venue 8 7000’s sensor is not as robust as the camera on any of our competing tablets. I took some test photos with the Dell Venue 8 7000, NVIDIA SHIELD Tablet, Google Nexus 9 and Apple iPad Air 2 to compare. I used three different scenes, one indoor with indirect lighting, one outdoor and one indoor with low light levels.

Scene 1 – Studio Set

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The Dell Venue 8 7000 image shows more noise on the black finish of the tabletop and the edges in the set on background are noticeably softer and less detailed. It also shows a very different color tone than the other three sample photos – look at the brown of the woot monkey on the left side of the monitor.

Scene 2 – Outdoors

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Things look a little better for the Venue 8 7000 here in our outdoor images. The scene is bright enough in all cases to really take advantage of full resolution of the sensor, and even the Dell tablet is able to produce a photo near quality with the iPad Air 2. Colors on the Dell hardware are still a bit more washed out, but that effect is minimized dramatically in the daylight.

Scene 3 – Low Light

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This is definitely the most difficult scene – a dimly lit office taking pictures of text with a dark background. Interestingly the best image in my opinion comes from the Nexus 9 where there is less noise in the blacks and the detail in the carpet under the table is actually discernable. The Venue shows significant noise in the blacks of the Logitech accessory boxes and the black glass tabletop.

Scene 4 – Low Light (Zoomed in)

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This series of images shows the third scene zoomed in on the center section to better demonstrate the level of noise in each photo as well as the clarity of the text. Even though the iPad Air 2 has a noisier result in the blacks the text is much more readable on the box. For the Venue 8 7000 you can actually start to see some dithering.

So if the primary camera doesn’t quite hold up to the other cameras in flagship iOS or Android tablets maybe the addition of the RealSense 3D depth technology can make up for it. The addition of the two 720p cameras, both identically offset from the primary camera, is that they can present additional information to the camera application, allowing post processing and the calculation of depth data.

When enabled you will see two sub-windows of the 720p cameras viewpoint, allowing you to make sure they aren’t blocked. After snapping the picture the Venue will need about 20 second to process the depth data and build a new image out of the primary lens’ picture. Don’t worry, you can still take other photos while this is taking place, you don’t have to wait the full 20 second for processing to complete before taking another picture.

The depth data allows you to do a couple of interesting things with the pictures when viewing them in the Dell gallery application. First, you can measure distances between two locations or measure a two dimensional area in the photo.

By simply clicking on two points or making a 2D plane on the image you can get length and area measurements that are pretty accurate in my testing. There are limits though – I could not measure the distance between the house behind mine to the deck or even a length of the fence line in the backyard. The depth information definitely has a specific range to it. Also, because you are often times taking photos that are multilayered, getting the area of a floor space or table is more difficult if there are chairs in the way, etc.

Accuracy is not a guarantee either – though I would say the camera was able to generate marks within 10% of the real-world lengths most of the time, every once in a while we would get result that was way off, like measuring a person as 11 feet tall. Nice try Ken.

You can also use the depth data to adjust photos. First, you can dynamically shift the focus of the photo after the fact, as you have probably seen Sheldon demonstrate on TV commercials.

Artificial depth of field works pretty well in some places, but even in our handful of tested sample images, artifacts occur. Take a look at the area surrounding the folded umbrella as well as the shrubs just over the rail of the deck. There are some unfortunate hard lines of blur that occur where the depth data was incomplete or inaccurate.

Another option is to dynamically apply photo effects based on depth in the photo. This can be done with simply attributes like brightness or with filters.

These two images show how you can apply these effects only to a select area of the photo. Notice that the “latte” effect is only being applied around the same depth as the table while the far background remains in its natural color. This can work effectively in some cases but again, in areas where the depth data is inaccurate, you’ll see hard lines and cutoffs that really shouldn’t exist.

It’s hard to not be a bit disappointed with the camera implementation on the Dell Venue 8 7000. Yes, it can take good outdoor photos when you need it to but indoor pictures aren’t great and the fact that you don’t have a flash on the device doesn’t help any. The RealSense technology is incredibly interesting and works well for a first generation device, but this needs to be perfected with another iteration before it could ever be considered a reason to buy a tablet or phone.

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