Detail and Basic Image Quality
The Lumia 1020’s 34-megapixel images blow away the competition in terms of the sheer amount of detail rendered (in good lighting). Side-by-side, the Lumia shames the Galaxy S4 with incredible reproduction of detail for a phone camera.
The Lumia 1020 also has a very wide field of view when shooting in widescreen, with an equivalent focal length of 25mm (in the 35mm standard measure). As standard, the Pro camera mode created both 5-megapixel and 34-megapixel images - the lower-res one shrinks the image while trying to retain as much detail as possible.
The cut-down 5-megapixel shot retains a good level of detail, but clearly uses some sharpening techniques - revealed by the white outline around the Gherkin.
Up against the competition...
Of course, such a high-resolution camera sensor also helps to reveal the deficiencies of the phone’s plastic lens. The Lumia 1020 has a decent six-element lens, but the image gets very soft towards the outer edges of the picture - it’s only really the middle third of the frame that’s particularly sharp. Towards the extreme edges of the photo there’s flat-out distortion of objects.
This is only made quite so obvious because of the high-grade sensor, though, and even ‘proper’ lenses suffer from this sort of softness at the edge of the frame. So why are we mentioning it?
It affects the worth of the recompose feature that’s a key draw of the Lumia 1020 camera – you can ‘reframe’ the 34-megapixel shot post-shoot, zooming in and rotating the frame to produce a new fairly high-quality 5-megapixel one.
Having soft-edged photos limits how much you’ll be able to zoom in without seeming that you have done so in the final pic. But, still, it’s far better than you’d get with just about any other phone camera.
Reframe lets you make funky recrops like this in seconds
In short, the Lumia 1020 is excellent in terms of the sheer amount of detail is can render when given a well-lit scene. For some photos taken by the pros, check out our page of pics taken by famous photographer David Bailey.
Low-light Performance and Flash
Is the same true when the lights go down? Performance is well above average, but for the best results you need to understand how the Lumia 1020 works.
The keys to low-light success with the Lumia 1020 are optical image stabilisation and the Xenon flash. Both can be used to create much better-than-average shots in rubbish lighting.
First, let’s tackle optical image stabilisation. The Lumia 1020’s lens ‘floats’, in that it can be tilted many times a second using tiny motors that live in the phone’s camera housing. This lets the phone take sharp (or relatively sharp) images using longer exposure times without using a tripod. Using a non-OIS camera, you’d end up with a blurry mess, as even a surgeon’s hands aren’t completely shake-free.
When shooting static objects, the Lumia 1020’s stabilisation is excellent, capable of making shots in mediocre lighting far less noisy and far less washed-out than they would otherwise appear. When fiddling with the shutter speed in the Pro Mode, we were quite amazed at how long an exposure the Lumia 1020 can indulge in without becoming a blurry mess (assuming you don’t have the DTs).
However, when shooting people OIS is far less useful. A longer shutter speed turns moving limbs into blurs. Unless your shots are entirely posed, OIS does not result in good low-light photos of people.
You can see this effect in this shot of News Editor Luke taking a swing at Urban Golf - a golfing simulator.
Flash-less, low-light, sharp action shots are impossible unless you go full manual
That’s why the flash is here. The Nokia Lumia 1020 has an exemplary flash array – employing a ‘standard’ LED light to aid focusing in low lighting and a powerful Xenon flash. Also known as ‘a proper flash’ around these parts.
Xenon flashes are useless as a focusing aid because – unlike LEDs – they cannot give off a constant stream of light but a quick burst that lasts just a fraction of a second long. But why are Xenon flashes better than LEDs? Much as other phone makers may say their LEDs are on-par with Xenon flashes, there are significant benefits to the Lumia 1020’s Xenon type.
It offers a far more even spread, greater range and less of a tonally imbalancing effect than just about any LED flash. It’s a reminder that LED flashes aren’t really flashes – they’re torches.
There are some practical downsides to using a Xenon, though. It’s far more power-hungry than an LED flash – one of the reasons why Nokia produces a camera grip with an extra battery (around £70) – and takes a short while to recharge. This compounds the issue of the Lumia 1020’s relative camera sluggishness (in terms of shooting performance, not focusing).
The Nokia Lumia 1020 doesn’t like to compromise on photo quality, but there are sacrifices it has to make elsewhere.
Depth of Field
One of the best reasons to have a good camera is to take arty-looking shots that you can show off to your friends in order to look terribly clever and talented. The easiest way to do this is with a shallow depth of field shot.
This is where your foreground is in focus, but the background is nice and blurry. That blurriness is known as bokeh, and the Lumia 1020 isn’t too bad at making it. The level and quality of bokeh a camera can create is based primarily on the camera’s lens, but the crop factor of the camera’s sensor also affects it.
Comparing the Lumia 1020 with the HTC One, it’s clear that the Nokia phone is capable of creating superior shallow depth of field effect than its rivals. Forgetting that the Lumia shot is both sharper and more vivid for a minute, the plush toy is far blurrier, bringing out the squash bottle with far more style. And yes, we probably need to invest in some more props.
Here are some quick shots of the shallow depth of field effect in action.
The other top way to show off to your friends photographically is with a macro shot – an extreme close-up that tries to offer as much fine detail as possible.
Here the Nokia Lumia 1020 disappoints a little because its focusing distance isn’t anything to crow about. Get the camera any closer than about 13cm and it won’t be able to focus on a subject – the wide angle 25mm focal length really doesn’t help here either (making photos appear further away from the subject), and we were left wishing we could get a few centimetres closer to the action.
However, analyse your shots post-shoot and you’ll realise the high-quality sensor does mitigate. You can’t get that close, but you can capture some great detail without much effort.
VS a ‘Proper’ Camera
It has its issues with shooting action sans-flash, and with shooting speed. But the Lumia 1020 is a king among mobile phone cameras. However, is it really a match for a ‘proper’ camera? The shot below (taken in a near-pitch black room without flash) comparing the Lumia 1020 with the CSC Sony NEX-5R, tells you all you need to know.
Shot flash-free, handheld - demonstrating the benefits of a large sensor with large sensor pixels
(for the record, both of the above shots look pretty dreadful full-size)
There are just a few extra Nokia Lumia 1020 camera bits to cover. Although there’s no HDR mode built-in, you do get a Panorama ‘lens’. This isn’t a special one made just for the phone’s high-end camera, and it’s not as good as the iPhone 5’s full-resolution panorama mode.
It captures the shot at severely reduced resolution, resulting in pretty disappointing images. You’re probably best off manually stitching your own panoramas if you’re looking for a shot of a landscape to treasure and/or blow up, or looking for a better panorama Lens.
The Nokia Lumia 1020 isn’t at the cutting edge of headline features when it comes to video capture. Phones are starting to incorporate 4K video capture, where the 1020 is stuck at plain old 1080p.
In reality, this is more than enough, and the phone has far more worthwhile features. The best is in-video optical image stabilisation.
The same lens motors that eliminate the shaky-hand effect in photos are used in video, and they eliminate the tremors that make handheld video look so amateurish. It won’t perform miracles – jolts will still register as jolts and when pushed the OIS can cause a screen tearing effect, but it increases the quality of casually-taken video a good deal.
It’s a slightly offset-from-centre 1.2-megapixel sensor that’s only really there for selfies and video chat. It’ll record low-res stills and 720p video too, though. Video quality is much, much softer than that taken with the rear camera, but it’s far less noisy than it could have been.
What’s far more notable is the Lumia 1020’s audio capture. Like the Lumia 925 and Lumia 920, it uses stereo ‘HAAC’ microphones, which Nokia calls ‘Rich Recording’ mics.
Recording quality is good, but there’s no magic ‘gating’ of recorded audio to block out unwanted ambient noise. What it can do is record much louder audio than a normal phone without distorting. Unfortunately we didn’t get a chance to record a gig with the phone, but recordings in noisy environments like the London Tube didn’t suffer from distortion.