I don’t write about every new camera phone but this one is a big deal. Yesterday, Nokia officially introduced the highly-anticipated Lumia 1020 Smart Phone with Windows Phone 8 OS and some very impressive new camera features. Based on sample photos Nokia is sharing, and the buzz from journalists who attended the launch, the Lumia 1020 could be the new camera phone darling of the photography community. What sets it apart from other Smart Phones is Nokia’s groundbreaking 41-megapixel PureView camera sensor and an image-stabilized, 6-element f/2.2 Carl Zeiss lens.
The camera sensor in the new Nokia Lumia 1020 is an updated version of the sensor they introduced last year in the 808 PureView phone. It’s a little bit smaller than the original, but the Lumia 1020’s 1/1.5-inch PureView sensor is still 3 to 5 times larger than the imagers used in other camera phones. It’s actually larger than the sensors in most point-and-shoots – a.k.a. “real cameras.” Nokia also flipped the sensor over for a “BSI” backlit design, which allows more light to reach each pixel for improved low light performance. Accordingly, the Lumia 1020’s maximum sensitivity has been increased one stop to ISO 3200.
More pixels does not necessarily mean better photos. That’s something camera journalists have been trying to teach people for a few years. So if you’re feeling suspicious of Nokia’s 41-megapixel sensor, good for you. However, the PureView sensor isn’t just another case of marketing people trying to convince us that more resolution means better photos. It’s not the resolution or size of the PureView sensor that makes it interesting so much as how Nokia uses that resolution. The camera can capture 34 or 38-megapixel full-resolution images (16:9 and 4:3, respectively), or 5-megapixel images taken from the center of the sensor. The camera is actually optimized for 5-megapixel images. Nokia says the 5-megapixel images are the perfect size for sharing, plus they’re “oversampled,” meaning they combine up to 7 pixels to make one “superpixel.” Nokia says, “oversampling technology ensures that these 5MP images are incredibly sharp, natural and low noise.” All that resolution can also be used to zoom. It’s not the same as having an actual zoom lens, but in the 5-megapixel mode the Lumia 1020 camera has a 3x 27-74mm zoom range (4:3). You can also zoom in and out (unzoom) and straighten tilted horizons after you’ve taken a picture. That’s because even when you’re taking a 5-megapixel photo, the camera also captures a full-resolution image – a feature Nokia calls Dual Capture.
To direct light to the sensor, the Lumia 1020 has a new 26mm f/2.2 Carl Zeiss lens. Nokia wanted the Lumia 1020 to capture sharper photos so they had Zeiss add another element. The new, more corrected lens has 6-elements: one precision glass element backed by 5 high-performance plastic elements. The Lumia 1020 is also the first Smart Phone ever with optical image stabilization, which helps compensate for shaky hands at slower shutter speeds. The optical improvements, high-resolution sensor and image stabilization work together “to produce some of the sharpest images possible by any digital camera.” Note that they said, “any digital camera.” That’s a pretty bold statement.
To help photographers take full advantage of the camera features in the Lumia 1020, Nokia created a new camera app, Nokia Pro Camera. It’s an intuitive touchscreen app that offers manual control of ISO, white balance, shutter speed and more: “With a beautiful interface that visually demonstrates how settings will affect the final photo or video, Nokia Pro Camera makes it easier than ever to capture, edit and share photos and videos with unrivaled clarity.” You can check it out in action in the video, below:
Regardless how whiz-bang-neato the features are, every camera (and camera phone) is ultimately judged on the quality of the photos it produces. Nokia provided a whole bunch of high-res sample photos take with the Lumia 1020 and they look great – much sharper and with tons more detail than anything I’ve seen from a camera phone to date. I don’t know about,” some of the sharpest images possible by any digital camera,” though. That’s a reach. But as far as no-compromise image quality in a Smart Phone, Nokia has definitely raised the bar. The only thing missing from the phone is a real zoom lens. Zoom lenses, bigger sensors and my Eye-Fi card are what have kept me loyal to pocket point-and-shoot cameras. I just want more than camera phones can offer. The Nokia Lumia 1020 brings the image quality, but it still doesn’t have a zoom lens. Optical zoom just isn’t something that can be replicated with a fixed lens Smart Phone.
Here are a couple of Nokia Lumia 1020 sample photos to look at. The first one has been resized from 7712 pixels wide down to 2500 pixels so it’s easier to load and view. The second image, below, is a 100% from the original file. For more sample photos, scroll down to the bottom of the article.
The Lumia 1020 captures full HD video at 30 frames per second with stereo sound. The high-resolution sensor allows for 4x zoom with full HD video and 6x at 720p. For video conferencing and self-portraits, there’s a secondary 1280 x 960 f/2.4 camera on the front of the phone.
As far as Smart Phone features go, the Nokia Lumia 1020 is powered by a dual-core 1.5-GHz Qualcomm Snapdragon S4 processor and runs on the Windows Phone 8 operating system. It has a 4.5-inch WXGA (1280 x 768) Gorilla Glass “Super-sensitive touch” display, which supposedly ever works if you have gloves on. Like the iPhone, the Lumia 1020 relies on built-in memory – 32 GB, to be exact. For connectivity it has Wi-Fi, NSC and Bluetooth 3.0. It can also operate as a Wi-Fi hotspot for up to five devices. It operates on GSM, LTE and WCDMA networks.
The Nokia Lumia 1020 is scheduled to be available through AT&T in the US on July 26th. It will sell for $299.99 with a two year contract. I’m seriously considering trading in my Samsung Galaxy S3 for one of these babies.