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Nokia Lumia 1020 review

Its 41-megapixel camera is great but still eclipsed by iPhone and others

Published: July 2013
Photo: Nokia
Photo: Nokia

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Nokia is making a lot of noise about the 41-megapixel camera on its Lumia 1020 smart phone, so the camera experts here at Consumer Reports tried out a press sample to see whether it lived up to the hype. It does, but only to a point. Though the Lumia 1020 takes the sharpest still pictures of any smart-phone camera we've seen, with phenomenal performance under low-light conditions, color accuracy was an issue. And video quality was only fair under low-light conditions, far below the performance of phones such as the iPhone 4S, iPhone 5, and Samsung Galaxy S 4.

Our engineers will be putting the Lumia 1020 through our full battery of tests soon, and we’ll give you our take on its performance and other features. In the meantime, here are some of the results from our camera tests.

Stellar still images

Photos taken with the Lumia's still camera were astoundingly sharp, revealing the smallest details of objects relatively far away, such as the lower rows of an eye chart. And low-light performance was even more impressive, thanks to the Lumia's optical image stabilizer and backside illuminated (BSI) sensor. The Nokia grabbed details that on other cameras would have been obscured by grain and shadows. Its closest competitors in this area are other Nokia 900 series smart phones and the Nokia PureView 808.

But we can’t confirm the heavily promoted 41-megapixel spec. The actual maximum resolution of images we took with the Lumia's still camera was 38.2 megapixels.

Photos appeared to have a bluish tint under most lighting conditions.

Color accuracy was a problem for the Lumia. Photos appeared to have a bluish tint under most lighting conditions. That problem applied to the 38.2-megapixel images and the smaller 5-megapixel copies the camera automatically produces to facilitate sharing on social networks and cloud-based servers and other activities that consume lots of data. But those color-accuracy problems may be resolved with a firmware update.

So-so video

Video performance under good indoor and outdoor lighting conditions was also very good, though slightly marred by the same bluish tinge as still images. Under low-light conditions, video quality was only fair, appearing relatively dark with an inordinate amount of grain.

Great controls

The Lumia's Pro Camera app presents an arc of a half-dozen individual controls for manipulating exposure levels and other adjustments. They include manual-exposure settings such as shutter speed, ISO, manual focus, white balance, and exposure compensation. Consumer Reports' camera expert Terry Sullivan found those controls to be nicely designed and easy to use. You can slide the controls to make precise selections, and they worked pretty well. You can also set the camera on auto and let it select those settings for you.

The adjustments made using the Lumia's Pro Cam app appear instantly on the display, preventing unpleasant surprises. Consumer Reports image engineers found the adjustments presented on-screen accurately matched what actually happened to the image file.

Overall, the controls are more versatile than what you’d find in most digital cameras but not quite as sophisticated or varied as those on the Samsung Galaxy S4 Zoom, which even allow you to select the aperture and offers a wider variety of scene modes. Plus, the S4 Zoom includes an actual optical zoom lens, which is typically superior to digital zoom.

Powerful flash

Most smart phones have a flash, but this one is far more powerful than the usual LED type, closer to what you’d find on a digital camera—a big advantage when shooting in dark environments.

Bottom line

Color accuracy issues aside, the Lumia 1020 has one of the best still cameras we've seen on any phone—and even some point-and-shoots. But you'd better pack another smart-phone or camcorder if you're planning to shoot videos in dark environments.

Check our cell phone buying guide and Ratings.

—Mike Gikas and Terry Sullivan

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