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Do you need 41 megapixels? Our Nokia Lumia 1020 camera review
Peter M Ferenczi | Published: Aug 30, 2013 at 16:35:08 UTC349
The Nokia Lumia 1020’s innovative 41-megapixel sensor breaks new ground in terms of image quality. The rest of the phone is about what you’d expect from a flagship handset in 2013: it’s fast and fluid in everyday use. Its screen isn’t as high-res as the full HD displays on several of its competitors, but it’s certainly sharp and boasts very good sunlight visibility.
The phone feels solid in the hand and its rounded edges provide a decent grip in normal or photographic use. The two-stage shutter release makes it feel more like a real camera. In its black or white finish options, the 1020 is stately; the yellow variant is for people who want to be noticed.
Features & Operation
Apart from its stupendous resolution, the 1020’s standout feature is its 2.7x semi-lossless digital zoom. It does a decent impression of an optical zoom in the phone’s 5-megapixel output, with very little image quality degradation at the long end of the zoom. With the phone configured to save both the 5MP file and the full-resolution image, you can “re-zoom” post-capture.
The default camera app is a powerhouse that experienced photographers will welcome. It offers nearly full manual control of exposure parameters, including shutter speed, ISO, white balance, focus, exposure compensation and flash mode. These controls are accessible with one touch from the main screen, making them easy to manipulate. There are no customization options, but the good interface design takes the sting out of this. The one control we’d like to see pushed up out of the menu nest is the aspect ratio picker, since the 1020 features a true multi-aspect ratio sensor. Despite its advanced features, the default app works well enough in full-auto mode to allow point-and-shoot operation.
The native Windows camera app doesn’t do much more than take pictures, but Nokia provides some more features via “lenses,” or imaging apps that launch from within the camera. The most useful is the panorama lens, which delivers well-stitched panos that are over 9,000 pixels on the long side.
The Smart Cam lens offers a number of functions. Some are quite useful: the Best Shot mode lets you pick the best of a ten-shot burst, and helps offset the lack of a conventional burst mode. Change Faces helps get group pictures with everyone’s eyes open. Remove Moving Objects is useful when it properly detects the object you want to remove. Others, like a mode that superimposes multiple copies of a moving object in a single frame or one that simulates dramatic motion blur are fun but a little gimmicky. Another lens app, Cinemagraph, creates animated gifs, if that’s your thing.
One feature that we missed on the 1020 is an HDR mode. These are becoming standard and help capture scenes with both very bright and dark parts.
While the 1020’s general operation is smooth and snappy, its camera drags a bit. Shot-to-shot and start-up times lag the best by a significant margin. You feel this when whipping the phone out to catch a fleeting moment or shooting a quickly evolving scene.
The Lumia 1020’s image quality is best-in-class: in both bright and low light conditions, it delivers impressive performance. In good light, the high-resolution sensor captures a tremendous amount of detail, even in darker, low-contrast parts of a scene that many competitors tend to smear with noise reduction. Colors are punchy but generally well rendered. The 5MP images are nicely sharpened and ready for sharing.
In low light, the 1020’s large sensor and stabilized lens combine to produce impressively robust image quality. Even at ISOs as high as 1600 and shutter speeds as slow as 1/2 sec, the 1020 captures sharp images with a lot of usable detail. Still higher ISOs yield very good results at lower resolutions. For the minimal resolution requirements of social media sharing, it’s difficult to find a lighting situation dark enough to prevent a usable photo.
The 1020’s xenon flash has more power than the LED flashes on most phones. This means you get a more even light with more reach than the competition can deliver.
The Final Word
The Nokia Lumia 1020’s innovative zoom and impressive image quality set it apart from all competitors. By nearly every metric, it takes better pictures than any other phone on the market.
Its imaging Achilles heel is its camera app’s sluggish shot-to-shot and start-up times. While many phones feel nearly instantaneous on both fronts, the 1020’s four-second delays can feel very long. Whether you find this negligible or nauseating depends on your personal style of photography.
Of course, no phone only serves as a camera. The 1020’s Windows Phone OS is slick and snappy, but its app support leaves something to be desired.
Mobile photographers who prize image quality and can live with a little waiting, even those currently committed to another platform, should absolutely consider the Lumia 1020. On the other hand, if your main goal is capturing snapshots to share on social media, the points against the 1020 will weigh more substantially.
There are 73 images in our Nokia Lumia 1020 samples gallery. Please do not reproduce any of these images on a website or any newsletter / magazine without prior permission (see our copyright page). We make the originals available for private users to download to their own machines for personal examination or printing (in conjunction with this review), we do so in good faith, please don't abuse it.
Unless otherwise noted images taken with no particular settings at full resolution.