The Nokia Lumia 1020 runs Windows Phone 8, and in the United States, is exclusively available on AT&T.
Aside from the camera, I didn’t notice any other substantive changes with the Nokia Lumia 1020 versus earlier phones in its series.
Understanding the Camera
The big news with the Nokia Lumia 1020 is the insane 41-megapixel PureView lens. Beyond the absurdly high megapixel count, the Lumia 1020 also has a large 1/1.2″ sensor; that’s significantly larger than the sensor in your average smartphone, although it is a hair smaller than the sensor used in the Symbian-based Nokia 808.
When you take images with the Lumia 1020, two versions of the photo are actually taken: One is a raw 34 or 38 megapixels (depending on the aspect ratio), and the other is an oversampled 5 megapixel image.
SEE ALSO: Hands On With the Nokia Lumia 1020
The camera uses the extra megapixels to capture as much information as it can, and then uses some oversampling voodoo to create a great looking 5 megapixel image.
Although there is no optical zoom on the Lumia 1020, you can effectively do a 3x optical zoom by cropping your photos. This is a standard trick DSLR users will know well. The results are solid, but make no mistake, this is still a fixed-lens camera.
Getting the full-resolution photos off the camera is actually more difficult than I expected — at least, if you’re a Mac user. For whatever reason, the Windows Phone for Mac software doesn’t let you view and transfer the full-size images. I had to use a Windows computer to get the images off. For most users, that might not matter, but it’s still worth pointing out.
Along with the 41-megapixel sensor, Nokia released a brand new Nokia Pro Camera app for Windows Phone 8. This app is really tremendous, and while the traditional camera app is also available, I don’t think most users will want to use it.
Taking some serious cues from the Samsung Galaxy Camera, the Nokia Pro Cam app makes it super easy to make manual adjustments to shutter speed, ISO, exposure, brightness, and contrast and focus.
Check out this image I took with a four-second exposure. The only edit I made was to auto-adjust the color in Photoshop:
After you take an image with the Nokia Pro Cam app, you can open that image in another program to edit and make adjustments, or you can edit the zoom and crop within the Pro Cam app. Resulting crops are saved to the camera roll.
The app also plays nicely with third-party lenses, which means you can take panoramic photos or use Smart Camera to pick out your best shot.
I found the camera interface and controls to actually be easier to use than the dumbed-down camera. This was partially because of the awesome manual rings, and also because I appreciated the tap-to-focus points that don’t automatically release the shutter. This is how the iPhone’s camera works, and I find it superior to the tap-to-focus-auto-shutter mode that other smartphones employ.
A half-press on the dedicated camera button also acts as focus, and a full press releases the shutter.
Image quality, as you would expect, is quite good. You can check out two images directly from the camera in this Flickr set to see the Lumia 1020 in action.
In my tests, I found that it was good in a number of lighting conditions. Thanks to the camera’s large sensor, it worked well even in low-light settings.
Although you can use the Lumia 1020 by itself, the camera is really best served by its $79.99 camera grip accessory. The grip transforms the Lumia 1020 from a large Windows Phone to an oversized camera. It reminds me of the old explorer camera
I had as a kid; it feels good in the hand, but does have some considerable bulk.
The trade-off for that bulk, however, is that you get an extra battery pack for the phone, a dedicated shutter button and a tripod mount.
The only problem with the grip is that it makes an already large phone that much less pocketable. Sure, you can carry it in a purse or large jacket pocket — and it comes with a handy wrist strap — but the shell very clearly takes this device out of the phone zone and into the pure-camera zone.
Who Is This For?
On paper, the Lumia 1020 ticks all the right boxes: good specs, good performance, great camera. It has two major flaws, however: size and price.
Most of us use our smartphone as our primary camera because it’s just easier to take it with you, rather than carrying around a pocket camera or DSLR. The problem with the Lumia 1020 is that it adds significant bulk to the equation. In fact, it might not save any space over a smaller pocket camera made by Nikon or Canon.
The secondary problem is price. At $299.99 with a two-year AT&T contract, the Lumia 1020 is an expensive phone. This would be alright, except that other than the camera, it’s virtually identical to the Lumia 920 or Lumia 928. The Lumia 920 is just $99.99 at AT&T, and $49.99 at Best Buy. Amazon even sells it for a penny.
So you must ask yourself, “Is the camera $200 to $300 better than a standard Lumia 92X device?”
I assume that most people who are willing to spend a $200 premium for the camera on their smartphone are more likely to be the type of user who also carries around a separate camera; if that’s the case, then I’m not sure this product has any core advantages. Plus, the Lumia 920 and Lumia 928 have excellent cameras.
Then there’s the problem of ecosystem. Although Windows Phone has made some great strides in the last few months, it still doesn’t have the array of photo-sharing apps you’d find on Android or iOS. Without apps such as Snapseed and Camera+, I couldn’t help but feel limited in terms of editing options, despite the amazing quality of the images themselves.
At the end of the day, the Lumia 1020 is a good phone with an excellent camera. I just don’t think the camera is enough of a reason to recommend it at this price. At $199, the Lumia 1020 would be a no-brainer. At $299, however, the picture is a bit fuzzier.