Nokia Lumia 1020 Review – The Nokia Lumia 1020 boasts, as its centerpiece, a camera with a large 41MP sensor which enables super high resolution images and lossless zooming. Is this the perfect camera phone for photography enthusiasts? Find out in our Nokia Lumia 1020 review...
It’s taken 18 months but the PureView technology has finally made it onto a Windows Phone 8 platform, and has been refined and improved along the way. What’s more, in the Nokia Lumia 1020 PureView it has lost weight, toned up, had some cosmetic surgery and is now something of head turner, but how does it perform? Just how good are the images from that 41MP sensor?
We put it to the test to find out. Note that this review focuses almost exclusively on the Nokia Lumia 1020’s camera, not its overall performance as a phone, web browser or gaming device. You can find out more about the phone as a whole here.
The 41MP sensor
The sensor in the Nokia Lumia 1020 is unlike anything found in any competitor’s phone. For a start, Nokia has managed to accommodate all those 41 million pixels not by making them smaller but by making the sensor bigger – a whopping 1/1.5″ to be precise (although its slightly smaller than the one in the 808). To put that into perspective that’s bigger than the chip used on almost every enthusiast compact, including such well respected models as the Canon Powershot G16, Panasonic Lumix LX7, Fujifilm X20 and even the Pentax Q7 Compact System Camera.
You can’t shoot 41 megapixel images though, because it’s a multi aspect ratio sensor. It uses 38 million pixels to produce the standard 4:3 ratio images, and the rest are used to provide the extra width when you switch to 16:9 panoramic images (34MPs), which are genuinely wider, rather than just being the 4:3 ratio image with the top and bottom cropped off, as most phones (and cameras) do.
A camera phone that just produced 38 megapixel images would be of limited use because the files would be much too big to share easily, so by default the 1020 produces smaller 5MP images using a technology called over-sampling, in which seven of the sensor’s photo-sites are grouped together to make each of the five million ‘super-pixels’ for the smaller images.
The resulting superior light gathering power ensures better detail and lower noise, especially in low light, than you could get from a straight 5MP sensor. But the point of this technology is that you can zoom digitally up to three times without the resolution falling below the default 5MP output – more that adequate for most social media (it’s the upper limit on some sites) and for making small prints.
It does this by effectively reducing the number of photosites in each superpixel as you zoom until, at 3x magnification, there is no more oversampling and the image is a native 5MP. This makes for a much more elegant solution to providing zoom on a smart phone than the hefty Samsung Galaxy S4 zoom, which is basically a zoom compact with a built-in phone (even though that does have the benefit of a 10x optical zoom and is still 16MP at full zoom).
Crucially for the enthusiast photographer, if you use the Nokia Pro Cam app, you get the option within the settings menu to also save the full unzoomed 38/34MP image as well. This means that you get an image far higher in resolution than anything available on any other phone (besides its predecessor). But it also means that you can go back to that full size image on your phone and re-crop at a later date if you wish, creating an entirely different image to the one you took originally.
Design and Features
Nokia Lumia 1020 Review – Design and Features
The Nokia Lumia 1020 is a large phone, slightly thicker and at 158g somewhat heavier than average, but not objectionably so. (As a comparison the iPhone 5s is 112g). In fact some users may prefer the extra heft. The body, rounded on the sides with a flat top and bottom, is made from polycarbonate and comes in a choice of black, white or yellow.
On the back, centred and one third of the way down the phone is a circular protruding platform about 5mm high housing the camera, with its Zeiss lens and Xenon flash. Clearly, with such a large sensor it wasn’t possible to keep the camera flush with the body of the phone but Nokia’s implementation looks a lot more elegant than the bulbous lump on the end of the 808, and by making it black on every handset makes it stand out especially well on the white and yellow versions, so that becomes a distinguishing feature of the 1020 and hints at the seriousness of what’s under the bonnet.
The lens is a six-element Zeiss optical offering a focal length of 27mm in the 4:3 aspect ratio, or 25mm in 16:9 mode. The lenses float on ball bearings to provide proper optical image stabilisation, which gives the phone a slight rattle if you shake it. (Don’t worry about that – Nokia makes a feature of it).
Also housed on the camera mound is a Xenon flash for still photography, which is not only much brighter than the LED that most rivals use but the faster duration is better at stopping movement. The LED has not been dropped however, as it’s still needed for video recording.
Down the Nokia Lumia 1020’s right hand side is the power/stand-by button, a volume rocker and, for photography, a dedicated shutter button. Nokia is among the few companies to provide one, but it’s generally a more stable way to take a picture than prodding the screen, and the great thing about it is that it’s a two stage release, just like a camera, so you half depress for focus and exposure, and to activate the image stabilisation, then press fully to take the shot.
The button also doubles as a short-cut from the home screen straight to the camera (the Pro Cam app, by default, but you can change that). As with other phones, you can also tap the screen to set the focus and exposure to that part of the scene, and use the on-screen ‘soft shutter’ button to take a picture, if you prefer. The screen itself is 4.5 inch Gorilla Glass, boasting a 1280 x 768 resolution, and a pixel density of 334 ppi. This isn’t the biggest or highest resolution available but it beats the iPhone on both counts.
Windows Phone 8
It’s worth repeating that the Lumia 1020 runs on Windows Phone 8, which looks very different to the Apple iOS or Android platforms, but is still very intuitive to use. Access to the 1020’s functions are achieved via a mosaic of tiles on the home screen which are fully customizable by the user in their size, placement and even colour. Some, such as the calendar and Facebook apps have ‘live tiles’ that display the latest entries without having to go into the apps themselves.
Although the interface looks great and works well, Windows Phone has only a 3% market share at the moment, which is reflected in the breadth of apps available in the Store, with only about a fifth of the range of apps of its main rivals. Microsoft is working hard to catch up, but in the meantime there are significantly fewer photography apps than are available on Android or Apple iOS. For example, there’s not even an Instagram app yet. Luckily the Nokia Lumia 1020 comes with a suite of its own apps, or ‘lenses’ as Nokia confusingly calls them.
Nokia Pro Cam
Nokia Pro Cam is the app that anyone serious about photography should be using, as it’s the only one that can save the full resolution image. This hi-res file behaves a little like a raw file in some respects in that whatever zooming you applied at the time of shooting, and whatever processing actions you performed afterwards, are made to the 5MP over-sampled image, so you can always go back to the high res version and start again.
If you change your mind about your zoomed crop you can undo it, or move the crop marquee around the image to create a new composition. If you want to get that high-res file off the phone though you have to connect it to your computer to do it, you can’t send it wirelessly.
In addition to this unique dual capture functionality the Pro Cam app also provides an unusually high level of manual control, using a cool and easy to use interface. A small control panel at the top of the screen (in landscape orientation) shows icons for Flash, White Balance, Focus, ISO, Shutter Speed and Exposure Compensation. The icons are a little small and close together for all but the pointiest of fingers, but pressing each icon launches a curved line on the screen upon which a virtual control button slides up and down, changing the settings of that particular parameter.
A dedicated Camera Grip case, complete with shutter button, tripod bush and extra battery pack, is available as an optional extra in the same colours as the phone, for around £45
An easier option for the chubby fingered is to press and slide the soft shutter release button towards the centre of the screen, so that all the curved lines appear at once, covering the screen in concentric rings, like a school text book diagram of the solar system in which the shutter button takes the place of the sun and the ISO, White Balance and other buttons are the planets.
The reason for the lines being curved rather than straight vertical or horizontal becomes apparent as soon as you use it, as they follow the natural arc of your thumb as it pivots from your hand.
The range of control offered by the settings is impressive for a phone. The ISO range stretches from 100 up to 4000, while the shutter speeds extend from a super-fast 1/16,000sec all the way down to four seconds. Each parameter can of course be left in its default auto position.
In addition to these settings the triple dot Options menu offers further control. You can choose the aspect ratio you want to shoot at (4:3, 3:2, 16:9), whether you want to save just the 5MP version or the full res 34/38MP version too (and why wouldn’t you), and turn face detection on and off, among other things. There’s a handy two-second shutter delay button to reduce camera shake and a useful tutorial area with an instructive video for those who need a bit of help.
Nokia Smart Cam
Those for whom ultimate image quality is less impressive the ability to perform cool tricks that will impress their friends should head over to the Nokia Smart Cam app, which offers a menu of clever effects based upon a high speed burst of images.
These are not new – they appear on some of Nokia’s other handsets and some of them are also available on Samsung and HTC handsets, but they’re quite impressive and for many users are certainly a fun alternative to the straight-laced perfectionism of the Pro Cam.
It works by shooting a burst of ten 5MP images at a rate of 4fps, and then presenting the user with a series of options about what to do with them:
> Best Shot: The simplest option is just to let the phone pick which it thinks is the best image, which you can then either save or pick a different one.
> Change Faces: take a group photo with Smart Cam and you can swap the faces between shots to create a composite containing the best expression of the sequence for each person.
> Remove Moving Objects: it’s annoying when someone walks past in the background of your shot just as you press the shutter. With this mode you can remove them – the camera paints in the background from other frames in the sequence.
> Action Shot: Creates a strobe effect with multiple images of a moving subject superimposed onto a single background, each on a separate layer so you can delete them individually. You can either keep them all or just select the one or more that have the perfect positioning.
> Motion Focus: creates a slow shutter speed panning effect by keeping the subject sharp while motion-blurring the background.
The Smart Cam app stores these bursts in stacks, which you can go into and edit at any time so you don’t have to decide on the spot.
Pretty much every phone can shoot panoramas, but Nokia’s Panorama app works a little differently. Rather than sweeping the phone in a single arc you take a series of still images, moving the phone between shots. An on-screen target ensures perfect alignment and takes the picture automatically when the circles line up.
It’s a little more laborious and time consuming but the benefit is that the camera is stationary as each shot is taken so it should be sharper, especially in low light when slower shutter speeds are required.
The most gimmicky of the built-in apps creates selectively animated still images, made from short video clips, in which you can select by drawing on the screen which parts you want to be static and which you want to move. The result is like an animated GIF that has a certain comedy value with the right subject but its 800 pixel output and limited usefulness make this an app you probably won’t use very often.
After you’ve taken a picture you have two built-in options regarding editing. The basic app allows for little more than cropping and auto-fixing, so it’s best to select the Creative Studio app, which offers a greater range of options. On selecting an image for editing you’re first presented with a scrollable strip showing the picture au natural and with a variety of mostly underwhelming colour-cast filter effects applied, such as Jade, Aquamarine and Amber.
The filters on some rival devices are better, though of course additional effects can be added with third party apps such as Flickr, which is available for Windows Phone. That said, the creamy mono Ivory filter looks great with the right subject.
Having selected the version of your image you want you are then presented with four editing menus.
> Fix: cropping and red eye removal. You can crop to fixed aspect ratios from square to panorama or go freestyle.
> Adjust: the most useful controls are here – colour balance, brightness, clarity and vibrance. Unfortunately there are no shadow or highlight adjustment options, nor any sharpening tools. All are adjusted using sliders, there are no touch-edit features in this menu.
> Blur: this menu enables you to apply a radial (circular) or lateral (‘tilt-shift’) blur to your image, and adjust both the size and positioning of the area of sharpness, though not the degree of background blurring, and the lateral blur only works in the landscape orientation. There’s also an option called Focus Object, which is where you can get stuck in with your finger and draw your own masks for blurring/sharpening. It’s a little difficult to be accurate with stubby fingers, but it isn’t designed to replace Photoshop.
> Play: here you’ll find a selective colour tool called ‘colour pop’ where you can preserve a single colour in your scene (the reds, for example) and turn everything else mono. It can work well with the right subject. The other option, ‘collage’ is more a presentation than editing tool and lets you arrange a selection of photos into a multi-image collage.
Nokia Lumia 1020 Review – Performance
The first thing you notice about the camera is that it’s a little slow to come on – about 4-5 seconds, whether you press the shutter button or tap the tile. Its dual-core Snapdragon processor and 2GB of Ram seem to struggle a bit with the task of managing that enormous imaging chip.
It’s a bit sluggish between shots too, taking about five seconds in the Pro Cam app to process all that data before you can shoot again. This isn’t necessarily a big issue – photographers have always understood the need to sacrifice speed for higher image quality, which is why more landscape than sports photographers use large format cameras – but it can be a little frustrating when you are faced with a fast changing scene.
The answer of course is to switch to Smart Cam mode in these scenarios which, once it’s take a similar time to boot up lets you shoot a burst of ten shots at 4fps, but only at 5MP resolution.
The shutter lag is about on a par with most smart phones. Exposure isn’t instantaneous so capturing ‘decisive moments’ can be a challenge. Focus acquisition is reasonable in good light, less so in low light, but is generally accurate, and at least the picture taking process can be speeded up a little if you switch to manual focus.
The image stabilisation was effective enough to produce sharp images as low as 1/15sec in our tests, with careful shooting technique, and with a steady hand you could go lower still, while video looks smooth even when tracking a moving subject.
A stand out feature of the Lumia 1020 is the screen. It may not be the biggest or most resolute on the market but it’s unquestionably the easiest to see clearly in bright sun. The colour and clarity are excellent, and images really ‘pop’ on the screen. So much so that they never look as good once you get them off the phone and view them on your PC. The screen itself is responsive to the touch too, and there were no issues around sensitivity or lag time.
The Xenon flash is a lot more powerful than the LEDs on most other phones, but the results are just as ugly as those from every other camera. It does make a more effective fill light in bright sun, and does have the extra oomph if there’s no alternative but in low light, if your subject is static, you’re more likely to get better results if you turn it off and rely on the camera’s image stabilisation and superior high ISO performance.
Nokia Lumia 1020 Review – Image Quality
The main purpose of the 1020’s camera is not to produce enormous 38MP image files, but to produce outstanding 5MP ones. However, the fact that you can have both means we need to look at both. The 5MP images are quite simply in a different league to the output from your typical camera phone.
At low ISOs images are very clean and sharp with virtually no sign of noise. Fine details that you wouldn’t expect to see, such as the individual hairs on a dog, or the window panes of an office block on the horizon, are clearly visible. Our MTF charts indicate that there is a marked fall off in sharpness towards the edges of the frame but in real world shooting there are few situations where you would notice this.
This graph shows the difference in sharpness between the centre (red line) and edge (green line) on the Lumia 1020. Ideally these lines would be closer together.
Using the digital zoom still produces excellent results up to 3x magnification, at which point you hit native resolution, and while images are a little less crisp than without the zoom they’re still superior to the images from many competitors’ unzoomed images, and once you start zooming on rival phones the image disintegrates much moreso than the 1020’s do.
In low light the Nokia seems reluctant to go above ISO 800 in auto mode, preferring instead to use a slower shutter speed and give the Image Stabilisation system some exercise, and at this level noise is still low enough to ensure that image detail is still remarkably good, with even fine text and the texture of brickwork easily discernable. Switching manually to speeds above ISO 800 and noise becomes much more visible, but is still very good at ISO 1600. Even at ISO 3200 images are noisy but usable. It’s fair to say that this is the best low light performance we’ve seen on a phone.
The main limitation of the 5MP file is its maximum size – just 22x16cm at 300ppi, though you’ll have no trouble at all getting a decent A4 print at 225ppi, and few people print beyond that size. Switch to the 38MP version though and you have an image file capable of a 60x45cm print at 300ppi. Viewed on a PC at 72ppi it would require a screen 2.5 metres wide to see the entire image at 100% magnification.
Exposure, Colour and Dynamic Range
Shooting in a wide range of conditions – inside and out, in sun, fog, rain, into the sun, and at night – failed to trip up the Nokia Lumia 1020’s exposure metering, which unerringly turned in a pleasing interpretation of every scene it was confronted with. Colours are punchy if bordering on oversaturated for some tastes, though well within what most consumers would prefer.
The white balance was also generally accurate, though there was an occasional tendency to boost the yellow in warm light and produce a slightly cool result in overcast light. The Lumia 1020 has the widest dynamic range of any phone that we have yet tested, with our IQ Analyser tests turning in a figure of 9.46 stops. (This compares with the iPhone 5’s 7.83 stops for example).
This means that it retains details in shadows and highlights that many other phones would lose, but our experience indicates a slight bias towards the former in high contrast situations where only one can be saved. One minor disappointment is that there is no decent way to manipulate this within the device. There’s no HDR mode (you’d think that would be something they could add to the Smart Cam’s repertoire) and only a crude contrast slider in the editor.
The Lumia 1020 gives you a choice of resolutions and frame rates and at the highest settings the video quality is very good, with saturated colours and lower than expected noise levels in low light. The image stabilisation does a reasonable job of smoothing out moderate movement but won’t perform miracles if, for example, you’re doing something like mountain biking. Although there are fewer manual controls than with stills its still possible to manually adjust the white balance or switch to manual focus to avoid any focus hunting during recording (though the AF is generally fairly good).
Sample Video clip:
Nokia Lumia 1020 Review – Verdict
In the Lumia 1020 Nokia set out to produce the best image quality of any phone camera, along with the ability to zoom without that image quality disintegrating. It has succeeded on both counts. Both the full resolution and oversampled 5MP images are simply outstanding, and indeed better than those from most compact cameras.
In good light the images are as sharp and noise free as you could wish for on a camera phone, and even in low light it can produce good pictures from situations where you wouldn’t previously have expected to get anything usable. The 1020’s party trick – the ability to go back to the original image later and select a different crop, or undo the crop altogether – is excellent too.
Image quality is important but it isn’t the only the criteria that needs to be considered, Fortunately the Lumia 1020 scores well in most areas. It looks distinctive (though looks are subjective), is comfortable to hold, has an excellent screen, manual control, a camera shutter button that feels right, and in the Smart Cam app a suite of high speed tricks that are useful for action and group photography.The Windows Phone 8 interface looks good, is easily customizable, and very intuitive to navigate around.
The main downsides to the Nokia Lumia 1020 from a photographer’s perspective are:
• The lack of available apps (photo or otherwise). Microsoft really needs to catch up with Android and iOS in this area, as it’s probably the biggest deterrent to purchase.
• Sluggishness between shots. The image processing speed needs to be beefed up on the next version.
• Fall off in edge sharpness. The edges of the frame are soft compared with the central area. Although relatively few pictures have fine detail at the edges of the frame, those that do may highlight this deficiency.
Sample Image Gallery
These are just a small selection of images captured with the Nokia Lumia 1020. For a full range of images, visit our Nokia Lumia 1020 review sample image gallery.