Nokia Lumia 1020: photographic analysis

Its spectacular figures and well-earned fame precede the PureView 808. So it’s no surprise that the recent Nokia Lumia 1020 and its 41 megapixels raises the eternal question of whether this is a phone, a camera or both. To know for sure, we have tested this device. Here are our thoughts.

Nokia Lumia 1020

If “mobile photography”, as some have called it, is an actual thing, the Nokia Lumia 1020 aims to be the new king of this category. A relatively simple task if what counts is performance and image quality. A more complex mission if we do not lose sight of what truly matters: maneuverability, speed, ease of use and filters.

Nokia Lumia 1020

38 plus 5 megapixels

Although photographic features are quite similar to those seen in the 808 PureView, the uniqueness of this device in the world of smart phones is worth a quick review. The Lumia 1020 uses a backlit sensor that’s slightly smaller than its predecessor, but its 1/1.5-inch size is still the largest among mobile phones. It is true, though, that the size of each photocell decreased from 1.4 to 1.12 microns.

Nokia Lumia 1020 camera

Nokia Lumia 1020 cameraNokia Lumia 1020 camera

The good news is that this change will positively affect the focal length, which now offers an equivalent to 26 millimeters. Lens aperture (f2.2 now, f.24 in the 808 PureView) is further improved and an optical stabilizer is added to the equation.

What does not change is the resolution (41 megapixels), although the maximum file size is 38 million points in 4:3 or 34 megapixels in 16:9. Interestingly, you can’t save a file with this resolution, since the only size options offered are meant to work with 5-megapixel or higher resolutions.

Nokia Lumia 1020 video

The idea is to have a moderate resolution so we can easily share the picture on every social network. Given that each image in the highest resolution is around 12 MB, this is an understandable measure from Nokia, but we felt they should’ve made this an optional feature.

One camera, three purposes

One of the problems of the 808 PureView was its operative system (Symbian), so the new Lumia 1020 features Windows Phone 8 to solve this. This is something that also affects the camera in terms of overall agility and the number of available applications, but the official announcement of Instagram is undoubtedly significant.

Being agile doesn’t mean the Lumia 1020 is fast. We can’t complain about the start-up and shutter button, which also provides access to the camera even if your phone is locked. However, when working in a high resolution, you have to wait about 5 seconds between each shot.

Nokia Lumia 1020 camera

The Lumia 1020 is clearly not made for high-speed shooting, but the wait can make us lose a spontaneous picture.

Another option is to work with a 5-megapixel resolution to use the zoom that offers the PureView technology. Nokia remains unrivaled in providing a zoom without loss of quality, something that only the Samsung S4 is capable of.

The Lumia 1020 comes with three dedicated applications to manage the camera. Applications that, frankly, do not make it too easy to use, something every photographic smartphone should strive for.

Nokia Lumia 1020 video

The application known as "Camera" is the simplest, and to our surprise it can only work with 5-megapixel resolutions. "Smart Cam", meanwhile, offers special functions such as an 8 FPS burst mode, several different special effects, delete sections of the pictures and much more.

The“Pro Cam" app is undoubtedly the best, which gives access to advanced functions and opens the door to handling almost all exposure settings function.

Nokia Lumia 1020 camera

With a set of wheels reminiscent of Samsung devices, you can control the sensitivity (up to ISO 3200), white balance, focus type and even the shutter speed with a maximum of 1/16.000 second. The lens aperture is fixed (f2.2); the truth is that you get an interesting background blur.

What about RAW?

Results and image quality deliver few surprises, which isn’t bad news. Considering we’re talking about a mobile phone, the results are spectacular and way ahead of those obtained by any similar device.

Still, it does have its flaws. We must also recognize that the optical image stabilizer gets the job done: you can in low light without having to increase the sensitivity.

However, it is in these complicated situations where the Lumia 1020 shows what it’s made of. This is where noise control and dynamic range are above average and surpass any similar device.

Therefore, we cannot help but wonder what would happen if Nokia kept the sensor size and bet on a more limited resolution like, for example, 12 megapixels. We not even need to call it UltraPixels, like HTC’s experiment. This is a phone capable of competing with some cameras.

We’ll see if when the promised arrival of the RAW shooting becomes available for the Lumia 1020 the image quality rises, and also how this will affect the speed of the phone (handling JPEG files is slow enough). It will also be interesting to see how well received this feature will be, or if it’s just something no one will use.

The good and the bad

We yet have to test it –it has not been possible despite how much we insisted-, but so far it seems the Lumia 1020 has everything you need: it’s more agile and maneuverable than its predecessor and offers much better results than any other mobile phone.

Unless, of course, you expect the same performance as a camera. Also, if you only want it to take pictures of your food for Instagram, getting it makes little sense.

Nokia Lumia 1020 camera

Photography enthusiasts most likely have a camera capable of offering better results than this phone, and we doubt they want to change them for this device.

In any case, can it replace a camera for day-to-day use? Yes, or at least it can if you are willing to give up the possibility of a powerful zoom and deal with management apps that make everything unnecessarily complicated.

By the way, the street photo lovers who are considering this as an everyday photographic tool should be already wondering if a yellow phone is the best for going unnoticed. Luckily, it is available in other colors.

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