Do you need 41 megapixels? Our Nokia Lumia 1020 camera review
Peter M Ferenczi | Published: Aug 30, 2013 at 16:35:08 UTC349
Compared to the sometimes overwhelming cornucopia of shooting options we see on the latest Android handsets such as the Samsung Galaxy S4 or HTC One, there aren’t a ton of bells of whistles directly integrated into the 1020’s camera apps. Notably lacking are a burst mode, though this is offset by one a “best shot” feature discussed below, and an HDR feature.
The 1020 does have one trick up its sleeve though: if you’ve enabled saving of full resolution files, Pro Cam lets you 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.
The rest of the 1020’s extra features are packaged as “lenses,” which is what Microsoft calls image capture apps that launch directly from the camera. These are basically independent apps: you can also start them from the app menu.
Nokia Smart Cam
The Smart Cam lens fires off a burst of 10 frames in about two seconds and then presents you with several options for processing them. Its Best Shot feature 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.
More exciting is the Action Shot mode, which isolates a moving subject across the frames to create a single photo that looks like a layering of several. The effect is a crowd pleaser.
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.
Change Faces addresses the perennial problem of getting a group photo with everyone’s eyes open and mouth closed. You can pick the best instance of each person’s face to form a composite group photo. The feature generally works well, but since faces have to be fairly large in the frame before the 1020 picks them up, it won’t do much for bigger groups of people.
Finally, 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.
Smart Cam is definitely fun, and although we’ve seen some of these tricks before (especially “best face” type functions), Nokia makes these modes far more useful by allowing you to do the processing one step at a time. Most implementations require you to pick the best faces or action moments immediately after you’ve taken the picture, which takes you out of the moment and has you fiddling with your phone when an even better picture might present itself. Smart Cam stores the 10-frame stack in a proprietary file that you can process at any time, making all of these functions far more useful than they’d be if they required immediate processing. You can also reprocess (using the same effect or a different one) at any time.
Our only gripe is that a bug seems to keep the app from finding previously shot Smart Cam images like it's supposed to — you have to manually sift through the Camera Roll to dig them up.
Nokia provides a Panorama app for capturing wide vistas. Nearly all phones offer some version of this function, and they all work pretty much the same way: hit the shutter and pan as smoothly as you can. This is fast and intuitive, but it has some drawbacks. Most importantly, the still images that are stitched into the final pano are taken while you’re moving the camera. For bright, outdoor conditions, shutter speeds are generally high enough to hide this movement. But for lower-light, indoor panoramic opportunities, the panning speed is often enough to blur the final image.
Nokia’s approach is a little more labor intensive, but it allows the individual frames of the pano to be taken from an unmoving camera. 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 takes 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 for most realistic applications and more than some of its competitors. The pan-less technique does allow for sharp panos indoors, though stitching together images in which architectural lines shift from frame to frame (because of lens distortion and close subject distance) leads to less natural-looking panos than more typical outdoor distant views. You can take vertical panoramas as well, but only with the phone itself in vertical orientation.
Nokia’s Cinemagraph lens is an oddity that creates animated stills by shooting a short video clip and then letting you choose which parts of the image remain still and which move.
You’re admonished to hold the phone steady while the 1020 collects the clip. It then identifies areas of the screen with motion and lets you decide which ones to include in the moving part of the final output. This is at best a rough guess on the phone’s part, but you can fine tune the result by painting a mask on parts of the image that you want to keep still.
Whether you find this app cool or gimmicky will depend on how you feel about the animated gif craze and super-short-form video services like Vine. Anyone drawn to the 1020 by its image quality might balk at an app that generates 800 x 448 pixel output (which looks even lower res thanks to gif compression). But if this is your bag, Cinemagraph is a reasonably elegant implementation.
Nokia steers you towards sharing “cinemagraphs” on a proprietary website: if you want to share by email, for example, it prompts you to upload the cinemagraph to Nokia and send the link. You can also copy the actual gifs off the phone.