It’s been said in the reviews all over the place: the Nokia Lumia 1020 has an absolutely superb built-in camera, as good or better than most “point-and-shoots”. Some would even put it on par with some low-end DSLRs if you can be bothered to reach page 8 or 9 in a Google search.
I blindly ordered my 1020 online after just handling it a couple of times. I relied on those online reviews to show me that I was doing the right thing by selling my Nokia 808 PureView and effectively switching out one 41MP camera-phone for another. And in the last 4 months or so since I’ve owned and pretty much exclusively used the Lumia 1020, I’ve been thoroughly impressed. Not only with the quality of the photos it produces, but the video as well. The ‘Rich Recording’ to my ears sounds splendid.
But before my 808 PureView, I had already turned my back on another great Nokia device, the N9. The N9 also sports Carl Zeiss optics, albeit with a ‘measly’ 8MP camera. But before I had bought the 808, I was getting some truly cracking results from my MeeGo-powered cyan friend.
BUT! Before that… I must admit that the N9’s predecessor (for me anyway) was a phone that didn’t exactly sport the best camera available. Not wanting to opt for an onscreen keyboard at that point in time, I had chosen the Nokia E7 with its amazing full landscape qwerty keyboard, but unfortunately, a rather lackluster 8MP “fixed focus” EDoF camera, which was fine for snapping landscapes, but utterly terrible for any thing close-up. During my time with the E7, I would carry around a second device if the situation called for some photo snapping. And no, that device wasn’t an N8, because my wife owned that and wouldn’t let me use it, which is fair enough. No, the other device I used to carry around, was a quite lovely Panasonic Lumix DMC-FH20 point-and-shoot with a 14MP camera sensor and 8x optical zoom. Before the current era of worthy cameras built into phones, yes, there was a time when we actually carried cameras around to take pictures!
So the other day I was talking with a friend who owns an iPhone 5S, and he hardly ever takes photos with his phone. He carries around his DSLR because he’s a photographer (a real one!), and to him the thought of taking photos on anything that resembles a telephone makes him baulk. Incidentally, the photos he has taken on his iPhone he says look perfectly fine, but he is a professional snapper, and wouldn’t dream of relying on that for vacation photos or even cityscape snaps around NYC. I suppose one doesn’t eat hamburger when you’re a filet steak aficionado. Or something like that.
Anyway, in our chat, he was a little skeptical that my reliance on the Lumia 1020 as my sole device when on vacation was well-founded, and he believed that even a cheaper $100 point-and-shoot would do a better job because “it is an actual camera after all, and that’s really just a phone” – and don’t worry, showing him countless shots taken by my Lumia 1020 (and even my 808 stored on my laptop) did little to convince him. His stance was: yes those photos are nice and all, but if you’d used a “proper camera” the results would be much better. Of course they would on a DSLR, I argued. No, he said. On a cheap point-and-shoot. Hmmm. Maybe he is right?
So I decided to put it to the test.
I charged up the battery for my Panasonic camera, and decided to take some similar shots with that along with my Lumia 1020 and Nokia N9 to compare. Now, when I first thought about doing this comparison, I decided to do what other camera comparers might not; I decided to use the best settings for each, because in my mind, if I was going to use any of these devices I would use them at their best settings. So setting all three to, say, 5MP and then comparing wasn’t going to happen. I think pushing them to their limits is a little more interesting and I can then see how each device fares when they’re each at their best game. Obviously I expected the N9 to fall short of the Panasonic and the 1020, but it’s in there just for fun.
It was a particularly grey and gloomy morning in New York today, but at least the light was fairly even and not too bright.
Please bear in mind, this comparison is far from scientific and so I wouldn’t take it too seriously. If anything, it just shows that all 3 devices take decent photos, but as you may expect, the 41MP sensor on the Lumia 1020 does outshine the other two when photos are zoomed in upon to see some truly amazing detail.
For all of the photo examples below, they are in this order:
TOP: Panasonic DSC-FH20: full 14MP mode
MIDDLE: Nokia N9: full 8MP
BOTTOM: Nokia Lumia 1020: hi-res photos (not 5MP)*mode
* As you may know, the Lumia 1020 automatically takes two version of a photo, one at 5MP resolution and another at 38MP. In order to ‘extract’ the hi-res photo, I had to connect the phone to my Mac and use the free ‘Nokia Photo Transfer’ app. Each of these photos is roughly 8 megabytes in size, which is huge when you consider most photos from a phone will be around 1 or 2MB.
Click on each photo to see its full resolution.
**UPDATE** I forgot to mention earlier that WordPress only allows photos uploaded that aren’t any bigger than 7MB each. My original 1020 shots actually came out at about 8.5MB, so I had to squeeze them down slightly in order for them to be uploaded. So the 1020 photos below, aren’t, in fact, at their maximum possible resolution. Sorry about that! But it does go to show just how bloody good they are!
First up: an outdoor street scene
Just for fun, I cropped the yellow sign on the building to see if I could see any real difference between the 3 devices, including if there was a difference on the 1020 between both of its ‘modes’:
Next is another outdoor street scene:
Of course, when you zoom in, it’s only the 1020 that can make out the detail on the building in the far off distance on the right. The building company is ‘Rockrose’, and this is only discernible on the 1020’s shot:
Next is a medium distance shot of an old alarm post that used to be used to alert the fire department, probably in an era well before mobile phones existed in just about everyone’s pockets! I took this photo as I was lacking a willing human companion, so this… well you get the idea.
Next are some interior shots, starting with a close-up of a plant on the windowsill. No flash was used as there was plenty of natural light, and both the Panasonic and the N9 were set to their respective “macro” settings. As the Lumia does not have this setting, I used the 1020 trick of zooming in on the subject and then tapping the screen to refocus.
Lastly, I wanted to put all three flashes to the test. Only the N9 lacks a xenon flash, but the dual LED still did a commendable job of picking up the detail on our busy bookcases.
I’ll let you draw your own conclusions of course, but I will say that this has made me think twice about selling the Panasonic camera. Apart from picking up the kind of detail that would only really be important for some really insane crops, it still does a fine job when pitted against the mighty Lumia 1020. Colours seem more natural with the standalone camera, and the flash in the last photo didn’t give the overall shot a ‘yellow’ look to it that the 1020 produced (I thought this had been fixed with Nokia Black!). The N9 on the other hand struggled a little today, probably because it didn’t have the lashings of bright sunlight that it likes. The macro shot was commendable though, something I always found the N9 to be quite adept at, as seen in this shot from a few years ago, taken in bright sunlight outdoors:
So, to my photographer friend: yes, you’re right, taking along a separate camera of decent quality (even from a few years ago) still is a good solution. However, while the Panasonic held its own, it is physically another device in my pocket, and one that cannot share photos to social media, make calls, etc., etc. So given the choice of more bulk or one device that is more-than-capable of taking fantastic photos and do everything smartphones do, I choose to stick with the Lumia 1020. It’s also the best camera I’ll always have with me for moments like the one below. My morning subway train was approaching, but I reckoned I had a few seconds to grab what I thought would be a great shot:
If I took my friend’s advice and settled for a more average smartphone plus the Panasonic, I think I would’ve missed a great opportunity here because there’s a miniscule chance that I would’ve had the camera with me. At the end of the day it comes down to what you want in a mobile phone. Some will require the best possible integration with Google services because that is important to them. Some will want the best possible platform and hardware for gaming. For me, it’s all about the camera, and yes, I am a huge fan of Nokia hardware (and its community!), and with the slew of new whistles and bells coming with 8.1/Blue, I should be all set for a while.
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