Nokia Lumia 1520 camera review
Lars Rehm | Published: Feb 7, 2014 at 20:11 UTC80
Compared to the almost overwhelming imaging feature sets of some Android smartphones Nokia's Lumia models have in the past looked a little weak in terms of special functions and shooting modes. However, with the Smart Camera app that was introduced some time ago and now has been integrated into the Nokia Camera app the gap has been bridged. Thanks to Smart Camera the 1520 offers a range of blending and automated editing functions that use a burst of 10 images.
The latter makes up for the lack of a burst mode. Panorama and Animated Gif (Cinemagraph) modes are available as add-on lenses. This is Nokia's terminology for image capture apps that launch directly from the camera. These are basically independent apps: you can also start them from the app menu.
Refocus and Storyteller are the only really new features on the Lumia 1520. We'll focus on them in this section but also talk about some of the older features. You'll find more detail about the latter in the features section of our Nokia Lumia 1020 review.
Refocus does not come installed out of the box but instead can be added to the Nokia Camera app as an optional lens. The function takes a burst of images and changes the focus from the closest distance to infinity in the process. Once the images are processed the end result is a refocusable image, similar to what we have seen from the Lytro light field camera. The crucial difference is that the Lytro creates a refocusable image with one single capture while the Refocus app takes a burst of images in quick succession with focus shifted for each one. You 'refocus' by essentially picking the frame where you prefer the focus setting. If there is some movement in your frame while the burst is captured it will be visible in the final result.
It's probably fair to say that in their current state of development both the Lytro camera and Nokia Refocus are not much more than a gimmick - fun to play with but without many obvious applications. Therefore most users won't be too upset about some subject movement in their captures. Once an image has been captured you have the option to save it to the cloud and make it viewable online. You can view and refocus our sample above here on the Nokia Refocus website.
The Nokia Storyteller app is still in beta status and it shows. Somehow you feel the app could do with a few features more to make it genuinely useful. As it stands Storyteller sorts your photos, videos and Cinemagraphs into groups called stories. The stories are based on date and place of capture. You can change the titles of your stories and add captions to images. When you’re looking at a photo, you can zoom out to see where it was taken on a map. Once you've added captions and finalized a story you can share it online.
All the features described below were already available on the Nokia Lumia 1020. You'll find more detail about them in the features section of our Nokia Lumia 1020 review.
On the Lumia 1520 you can install the same panorama 'lens' that we've already seen on the Lumia 1020. Nokia’s approach is a little more labor intensive than the panorama solutions of some competitors, but it allows the individual frames of the pano to be taken from an unmoving camera which means panos taken in low light are less likely to be blurry.
You take a first shot, and then the app draws a guideline with a target that you match to a reticule. When you successfully line up the next shot, it’s taken automatically, similar to Google's Photosphere feature in Android. This can take a little practice, and occasionally the app loses track of where it is in the pano and asks you to back up and realign, but overall it works very well. The pano stitching is impressively seamless even by the high standards of the current state of the art.
Maximum width images (five frames) weigh in at around 15 megapixels, not as massively detailed as the staggering 60-megapixel output of the Samsung S4, but plenty large enough for most realistic applications and more than some of its competitors.
2x Lossless Zoom and Recomposition
The Lumia 1520 uses the same zoom concept that we've first seen on the 808 and Lumia 1020. A digital zoom traditionally means cropping the image and then upsampling it to the camera’s native resolution which usually results in soft, detail-impoverished images. The 1520’s high native resolution means that even with some cropping (zoom) applied, the image is still downsampled through most of the zoom range. You get a 2.0X zoom ratio before the cropped image hits 5MP. This is not a massive zoom range but, as you can see in the sample below, the results are actually usable which cannot be said about the digital zoom results on most other smartphones.
The way the Lumia's zoom works also means that if you’ve enabled saving of full resolution files and open them in Nokia Camera you can go back and recompose within that frame to create a new 5MP file. So, if you decided you zoomed in a bit too much, you can simply zoom out post-capture or the other way around. You can also change the aspect ratio.
Originally the Nokia Smart Camera features were installed as a separate app but on the Lumia 1520, and with the Black update on other Lumia devices as well, they have been integrated with the Pro Camera app to become the Nokia Camera app.
After you tap on the Smart Camera icon underneath the soft shutter button the camera app switches into a type of burst mode that captures 10 images in quick succession and does not offer any manual control. It then presents you with several options for processing the burst.
The Action Shot mode isolates a moving subject across the frames to create a single photo that looks like a layering of several. You can pick the frames you want to from a timeline underneath the image. This way you can also control how many times your moving subject appears in the final result. In Smart Camera mode you have no control over shooting parameters which means that in low light fast moving subjects are almost certainly going to be blurred.
Remove Moving Objects does what it says and is a boon for shooting monuments. It won’t give you Saint Mark’s Square without tourists — moving objects have to be fairly large to be detected — but it can filter out pesky people and cars wandering through many otherwise nice photo-ops.
Motion Focus picks out a moving a subject and blurs everything else, creating a dramatic slow-shutter pan effect. It works pretty well. Similar to Action Shot, you can decide which instance of the moving object to include in the final image.
Smart Camera also includes the Best Shot feature which lets you browse the shots and simply keep the one you like best, useful for finding the peak action moment when shooting fast-moving subjects. Change Faces lets you pick the best instance of each person’s face to form a composite group photo. You can read more about both these modes in our Nokia Lumia 1020 review.