A non-photographer's view of the Nokia Lumia 1020

A non-photographer's view of the Nokia Lumia 1020

Summary: Nokia's newest flagship phone, the Lumia 1020 Windows Phone, goes on sale this week. What's a non-photographer think about this device that's all about the 41 megapixel camera?


Since Nokia unveiled its flagship Lumia 1020 device a couple of weeks ago, many photographers I know have been drooling over the device.

Me? Being the most marginal of picture takers, I was wondering whether a Windows Phone that is all about the 41 megapixel camera would hold much appeal.

Nokia officials are fond of reciting the statistic that the camera is routinely in the top three things users evaluate when choosing a phone. I am an outlier. If you look at my current camera roll on my SkyDrive, nine out of ten of my pictures are snaps of craft beers I'm drinking and logging into Untappd.com -- all for research for Windows Weekly Beer pick of the week, mind you. 

So it was with some trepidation and skepticism that I grabbed my yellow Lumia 1020 loaner that I received courtesy of Nokia yesterday morning and hit the streets with it.

Again, I am very different from most of the other reviewers who are writng about this device -- but maybe not so different from a segment of the potential Lumia 1020 buying audience. When I look at phones, the camera is an afterthought for me. I care far more about the device's weight, battery life, feel in the hand, and, of course, the availability/price on my carrier of choice. On this front, I can happily say that the Lumia 1020 is the first Lumia phone I've held that didn't scream "unwieldy brick."

Also keep in mind, unlike many tech bloggers, I am not a product reviewer, so I don't take gadget shots. I have zero digital SLR camera experience. I was worried, going in, that the 1020's camera and camera software would leave me overwhelmed.

I decided not to try to read up on the 1020's camera beforehand -- beyond perusing the very brief instruction sheet that came with the phone and said little about the camera controls. There are tutorials built into the Lumia 1020 to show users unfamiliar with things like ISO and white balance how these can be altered manually (via settings on rings on the view screen). These helped me a bit. There are also other apps, including Nokia's Creative Studio software, Panorama and Cinemagraph for creating custom images and videos.

I figured out after a few initial frustrating moments that you don't try to set up a perfect shot with the 1020. You shoot first, and crop/zoom and ask questions later.  You seemingly have to go into your SkyDrive image file on a PC or tablet (or wherever you are saving your photos) to see both the original shot and the one you've altered, as only the altered image automatically shows up on the camera roll on the phone. You also don't tap the screen to take a picture, like you do with other Windows Phones; tapping the screen simply focuses the shot. Instead, you click the camera button or tap the camera icon.

So how did I do? Here are a few shots I took in Grand Central Terminal at rush hour yesterday. (The first two are examples of the original, quick shot and the reset/zoomed one made from the original image. The remaining two in this set are simply the original shots, untouched.)


Not too shabby -- even when being jostled and shoved by the usual crowd of polite New Yorkers rushing for their trains. I was less happy with my results, however, when attempting to shoot in low light -- something at which the newest Lumias supposedly excel. I tried with flash; without flash; no focus light; auto. Nothing really seemed to help.

Here are a couple more shots -- first the obligatory beer shot (something this craft beer lover cares a lot about perfecting). It's OK, but I think my HTC 8X has taken some shots equally as good:



I realize it's not a mug-to-mug comparison, but here's a beer pic I took with my 8 megapixel HTC 8X camera in low light:


One more low-light image using the 1020 yesterday from inside my favorite local, which came out a little better:


OK, Lumia and photography experts: I'm looking for any tips and tricks you have for me (especially around low-light images). I'll be tinkering with the 1020 over the next week-plus to see if there will be more camera-phone photography in my future.

As far as the non-camera-specific components of the 1020, I was really happy, as I noted above, to get to try out a Lumia phone that wasn't a massive, slippery slab. With a 4.5-inch AMOLED display, a matte finish, and an only marginally protruding camera (given its size/complexity), the 1020 felt like a phone I wouldn't hate toting around. (For a full list of specs, go here.) I really liked the "glance" screen, which is the always-on clock that Nokia is including with some of its newer Lumias as part of its "Amber" stack of updates that build on top of the GDR2 Windows Phone OS release.

I have to say my initial impression of the 1020 is positive. The shining star, the camera, aside, this is a nice Windows Phone. And if you are one of the majority to whom a smartphone camera really matters, the 1020 definitely should be on your "check it out" list. Sadly, in the U.S., this phone is an AT&T exclusive, and at $300 (with a two-year contract), not a cheap one.

For a review by someone who knows a lot about smartphones, check out my ZDNet colleague Matthew Miller's write-up on the Lumia 1020.

Topics: Windows Phone, Microsoft, Nokia


Mary Jo has covered the tech industry for 30 years for a variety of publications and Web sites, and is a frequent guest on radio, TV and podcasts, speaking about all things Microsoft-related. She is the author of Microsoft 2.0: How Microsoft plans to stay relevant in the post-Gates era (John Wiley & Sons, 2008).

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  • Lumia Fan

    Mary Jo,

    Nice mini-review, and hearing you say it's not a "brick" is very encouraging.

    The best tip for low-light is turn off the flash for those. Using a flash keeps it engaged in normal mode and doesn't do any low-light processing instead keeping a more realistic photo.

    Anyway, I'm anxiously awaiting my preorder to be shipped, as you know I'm a big fan of the Lumia series. It's nice seeing some "real world" results too.
  • Exposure

    Cameras often over compensate, making dark scenes too bright and vice versa, I would force the exposure down into the low negative range (-1/3 to -1, depending on the scene) when you're in low light. This will make the shutter speed faster and should result in less motion blur.
  • The first couple of images look fishy to me.

    But the rest show a fine sense for artistic composition.
    • and the fish doesn't seem very fresh

      • Actually...

        Actually, though it is impossible to really tell, I gotta disagree with you. One of the signs to determining freshness in fish is the clarity of their eyes, & these eyes seem to be very clear. Gill color is another sigh, odor, feel, scale condition, etc. So while there are many ways to judge, in this case the eyes are the best & perhaps the only way to tell that these are fresh fish.
  • A non-photographer's view of the Nokia Lumia 1020

    Vibrant colors, clear pictures. This is what all cameras in phones should strive for. Right now it is the best camera on a phone and I can only hope Verizon gets something equivalent to this.
    • You really should go see a doctor

      Your eyes are seeing things that don't exist :)
      That or you should look and read the articles before posting :P
  • I know those pictures don't show much

    But I see lots of grain, washed colors, low contrast... sometimes it seems also bad focusing.

    http://connect.dpreview.com/post/1305711237/lumia-1020 has a better test and it compares it with other devices.
    Edge performance is terrible for Lumia, lens have issues there, grain is better (and not as ugly) as competition in low light.

    Overall Lumia is better than iphone and s4 but not much metter, a lot better than Lumia 920 (that is not bad in low light though).
    • seriously?

      you post a link here and think nobody would click on it and trust your comprehension abilities?

      - lens have issues there, turns out all smart phones as well as most point and shoot camera have the same issues as well

      "We caught some serious lens flare while shooting this construction scene. The large lens may be to blame, though this can be a common problem with smartphones that don't rely on lens hoods to shade the lens."

      - Overall Lumia is better than iphone and s4 but not much... do you derive this conclusion based on this: "Despite the lower lighting level, the Nokia is able to out-perform its rivals by a healthy margin"?

      or maybe this?

      "We can only truly give very a preliminary conclusion at this point based on a day of playing with the device, but we are excited about what we've seen so far... From an imaging perspective, the Lumia 1020 appears to be just what we'd hoped: a more advanced version of the PureView technology that blew us away when we first saw it on the 808. And this time around, the Lumia 1020 has even more to offer the photographer who wants to use their mobile as a serious camera. "
      • I post the link so nobody could go see it :-P

        And I saw the comparison images, do you want to tell me where my short remarks are wrong?
      • About edge performance

        Not flare I'm talking about, look at edges from the samples - contrast is dismal on both lumias - you can argue it's not very important.
        If you don't trust me still I can post crops ;-)
  • eh?

    The fish close up is out of focus
    The flower's ISO is way way way too high
    • thanks for the critique

      Like I said, I am not a photographer of anything but beer. If a pic looks good enough, I am happy with it. I don't notice that the close up is out of focus or anything off about the flowers. I am sure mileage will vary for others who notice these kinds of things.

      Mary Jo Foley
      • the beer photos are plain awsome

        way better than fish )
      • You can never take enough photos

        of beer and beer mugs.
      • do not worry

        A mobile phone camera will never be able to match the performance of a DSLR. A performance related to proper focus, fast focus, instant firing the shoot, stable hold in the hands etc. Especially the ability to use real and zoom optics. A DSLR is however much bulkier and heavier.

        Mobile phones don't generally make much better photos than what you made without good training and most importantly - chance.

        By the way, good analysis of the Lumia 1020.
    • The close-ups...

      ...of the fish and the flower, if I'm not mistaken, are cropped/zoomed shots of the picture above them. Given that, I think they look pretty damn good. I don't know of any other smartphone camera that will let you crop like that and get even a decent result.
  • You can't be serious!!

    How can you say that the HTC beer photo is on par with the Nokia? Just glancing the two photos, the difference in quality is immediately apparent.
  • Good Samples!

    I like photos raw and untouched. So my first goal when I take pictures is to make a good shot the first time around such that I would need no cropping (because I composed/framed the scene just right) and no editing (because the lights and colors are captured the way I wanted them to be). I like flash-free photography (even in low-light), which I think truly tests the camera's capabilities to the limit. Achieving little to no graining as your ISO can possibly allow in dark shots is a reward by itself. ;-)

    Your pictures are actually good demos. My favorite is your shot of the goat cheese's price tag. ;-)

    I like the details on the zoomed in fish.

    Most cameras are not good with shades of blues and violets. Based on how you remember the flowers, did 1020 capture the colors right?

    I'm not sure if you zoomed in to the flower you focused on when you took the shot. But besides the blur and grains, considering the size of the flower, the zoomed in version allows you to see details that you can't see from the original.

    Detail and quality-wise, the beer mug shot from Nokia Lumia 1020 is many, many, many folds better than the one you sampled from HTC 8X. However, the comparison may not be fair (I am guessing): you used the flash on the 1020 beer mug but there's no flash on the 8X photo. If you used flash on both, then 1020 clearly wins.
  • tip

    Install the Intellicam lens app. It shows previews exactly as they look (instead of lower res) and has helped me get better shots.