For the past couple of weeks I’ve been testing a Nokia Lumia 1020. Its biggest (and perhaps only) talking point is its 41 megapixel camera. It’s an insane number of pixels to cram in to a smartphone camera sensor. More pixels on a small sensor normally means poor quality imaging, but many have been hyping up the awesomeness of Nokia’s all-camera device. So, I had to put it to test against what I – and many others – believe is the best all-round smartphone camera system on the market: iPhone 5s.
While it doesn’t have as many pixels as the Nokia, it has some fancy image processing, lets in good light and its shutter speed is impressively quick. But how do images compare for everyday photography?
It’s important to note that whenever I compare cameras on smartphones I do my utmost to make it fair. That means shooting the shot from the same distance, focussing on the same subject in the same lighting conditions and not touching any settings. Leaving everything on automatic. If I wanted to test Nokia Lumia’s customizable “professional” settings against the iPhone, I could have done it through downloading a third party app, but I decided to go all-auto to see what happened. After all, most consumers will never change any settings on their phone camera.
The one thing you’ll notice immediately is the amount of light let in by the Nokia in lower light conditions. The image is much brighter, but that does have its issues here and there. Look at the striped cushion on top of the bass amplifier. The iPhone’s image picks up the stripes perfectly, where as the over-expsure on the Nokia fades the two colors in to each other, leaving no definite stripes.
One area that always surprises me with the iPhone 5s is the depth of color and contrast on the end image. Looking at the colors of the wood and the moss, there’s slightly more tone and vivid-ness to the iPhone’s picture. And unless you blew both images up to a larger size, you don’t notice too much difference in sharpness.
As I mentioned earlier, the Nokia’s lowlight performance is impressive. The Telecaster’s headstock is almost exactly the color your eye would see in good light. Its maple-yellow tone is much better than on the iPhone’s almost pine-colored look.
Again, the Lumia outperforms the iPhone. It captures much more of the rainbow-like effect left on the road.
Here’s one that really surprised me. I was testing the camera’s auto-exposure. Normally, focussing on the dark part of the image would force the camera to boost exposure, making the brighter parts of the image pure-white. The affect you see in the iPhone’s image is much more like what I’d expect. Lumia, no matter how many times I tried refocusing kept the image dark and showed the detail on the curtain behind the flowers. It was pretty weird. iPhone clearly shows better detail and color on the leaves and flower petals.
If you’ve been reading many of my ōlloclip reviews, you’ll know I like to take a lot of close-up or macro shots. In this case, I clearly haven’t used any extra macro lenses, but I wanted a close-up of my Luke Skywalker keychain. On the iPhone (above) you can see it’s pretty well in focus, and even manages to add a bokeh (background de-focus) of sorts. The Lumia, on the other hand, did not want to play ball. I tried taking the image 6-7 times, even moving further back, but it just didn’t want to focus on Luke. The best result is below:
As you can see, my “best” attempt with the Nokia was taken further back, and still just wouldn’t focus. I tried the same with a few other objects, and it seems it’s just a common problem with the Lumia. It does not like close-ups. I had the same issue with the 925 and 920 when I tried those last year.
Here’s one shot that impressed me with the Lumia. Like I mentioned with my shot of the flowers. Focussing on the brighter parts of the image normally darkens the image, focussing on the dark parts does the opposite. In this case, I focussed on the same point in the sky just next to the chimney in the background. The iPhone made the railway really dark, in fact, you wouldn’t see it but for the light reflecting off the steel tracks. Lumia – on the other hand – manages to get the detail and contrast in the sky and clouds and still boost exposure in the bottom 2/3rds of the photo. I was well impressed. Even using HDR on the iPhone didn’t achieve results like that.
I took the image of our fruit bowl to see how both cameras handled bright colors. I have to note, again, the Lumia did not like focussing on the Apple which was closer to the lens than the tangerines. However, it did capture more life-like colors on this occasion. The iPhone darkened the image, added more contrast and depth.
It may just look like a random shot of a shop, but there was good reason for me grabbing the shot of my local, traditional coffee shop. It’s the only place in my city that roasts its coffee beans on location so 1) It smelled amazing. 2) That large extractor fan to the left of the shot pumps out clouds of smoke from the roasting process, and I wanted to see how the cameras picked it up. Smoke and steam are hard things to shoot, and both struggled. But, there’s clearly more visible in the Nokia’s photo.
The last set of images are all about one thing: detail and zoom. Lumia’s extra pixels should mean that the details are much clearer when you zoom in. So, I stuck the miniature model (supplied with the phone) on top of my HiRise. Ignoring the fact that the iPhone’s colors on the shot seem far more natural this time. (Lumia’s end image is pretty yellow, tone-wise – perhaps faulty White-balance).
There’s clearly no competition here. The iPhone’s end results on zooming in to the image is less smooth. Edges are jagged and pixelated, making it much harder to see any detail. The Lumia is the opposite. Edges are pretty smooth considering the size of the subject and its distance from the camera. It’s still not completely noise free, but it’s good. The ability to reframe the shot within the camera app UI is very cool.
Would the Lumia replace my iPhone? No. It wouldn’t. There are lots of advantages to the 1020. Most important is that it allows you a huge range of customizable settings. You can set ISO levels, shutter speed, white balance. All the things you could do on a bespoke camera. And that’s the problem. Using the iPhone’s camera is great because you really can just point and shoot and – in most instances – get good results. To get great results with the Lumia in a lot of instances requires a lot of fiddling with settings. I may as well grab my DSLR.
On the whole though, the Lumia is a fantastic camera. It’s sharper, copes vary well with contrasting light conditions and massively outperforms the iPhone in lowlight. It might not be my cup of tea, personally, but it could well be yours.